Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Day Trip with Johnson Coaches

On Saturday we went on our first Johnson Coach trip, being picked up from Kenilworth. We had flipped through the brochure, and David found something that he would like to go on, and said I was to treat him!

On the way out I snatched one of the books I received from the book pyramid scheme I had been on, and really enjoyed it, I just had to finish it in two days. I liked the book, and it was quite evocative of the countryside of Shropshire through which we were driving. I enjoyed the format too, which was very original, and I shall be looking for other books by this author.

Off we went for a day out on a preserved steam railway in Mid Wales, running from Llangollen along the Dee Valley. David loved his day, and I did too. Although it rained for our coach trip down, it cleared and we had good weather throughout the day.They had some super revamped train coaches and I particularly liked the autocoach, from which the views along the Dee Valley were superb. There were bluebells and primroses and lambs along the route.

I even had the cheek to call down to a loco parked by a bridge, asking the driver to open up his fire box, as I thought it would make a good picture. I think all the other photographers, men, had thought it too, but didn't have my cheek to ask.

Trees and local flora

Just over a week ago, thanks to my Warwick friend Penny's tip that a walk led by Steve Falks, Senior Keeper of Natural History, was being planned under the auspices of Warwick County Council, I spent a superb morning at Warwickshire's Police Headquarters at Leek Wootton.
The Mansion built in the 19th Century, can be seen from the walks through the golf course, but it was quite something to see inside. The local pink stone was used to great advantage in the magnificent central hall, and in the dining room, the talk started with a presentation about the families who built the house, with coffee and biscuits, then we went out for our walk. It was going to be one the hottest days so far, and the organisers covered every eventuality with bottled water and sun screen.
I was ready with my camera, but hey failure again, similar to what happened when I set out to photograph the snowdrops as Blacklow Hill. Spooky or what, we were less than a mile away, however it may really be a failing battery. Apparently they have a life of about three years, and I had my camera for about 5 years. I also ought to have taken a note book to write down the special plants we found, that is now on my next take it with list!
Steve Falks showed us around the grounds together with the Head Gardener. There were some wonderful tree specimens, and around the lake we found some rare plant species. I hope to receive some good photographs form Steve in due course.
One of the first unusual plants which I was able to identify was Claytonia. They are not native but come from North America. There were huge drifts under some of the cedar trees, and were thriving in the deep conifer leaf litter which could only receive slanting sunshine.
The last time I had seen it growing was in a friend's garden in Spain, up in the hills, on ground which had been conifer forest. They had been sown as a salad item. and with permission, I brought some home from Leek Wootton, to plant out in the garden. I had been particularly attracted to the plant on account of its lime green leaves, and the pleasing shape of the cauline leaves of above which the small flowers emerge. They are really the prettiest thing to find amongst salads.
Another very green thing happened to me there: Penny presented me with a really lovely cotton three quarter lime green sleeved cardigan. It will well worn this year, just the colour of my handbag! I was just tickled pink that Penny should think of me so.

Kenilworth Castle Elizabethan Gardens

For the past four weeks, I've been up at the Castle, one day a week, helping to get the new Elizabethan Garden in order ready for its official opening this week. I had originally volunteered over a year ago, and was delighted when I heard from them in March. Working alongside another garden volunteer: Julie, has been fun. We have a lot of laughs and get on well, and have now arranged a day when we can both go, and work together. This is Julie sat on an oak bench on one of the paths. A lady of leisure rather like myself, she is a trained gardener, who also volunteers one day a week at a National Trust House. Julie works one day a week at present for paying customers.

There are a large variety of plants in the sections but we both agree that the real stars will probably be overlooked: the self seeded wall flowers growing wild on the Castle Walls.

The first week, when the fountain was being built, we were asked not to take any pictures. As we worked we also watched the carvers putting the final touches to the various scenes carved into the white Carrera Marble.

Yesterday however I took some, as that very evening, Kenilworth residents were being invited to view the gardens. I've helped to weed the beds, dead head the hundreds of thrifts which edge some of the beds, and hoe the sand and gravel paths. Yesterday it was all hands to the deck with workers from other English Heritage sites coming over to help. I know that Fiona, the Head Gardener will be delighted with the way the garden is looking for all the visitors this week.

Yesterday was the day that Kenilworth residents were invited to view the gardens. I did right to reserve a place as the event was well over subscribed. We dressed for the occassion, smartly as one does in Kenilworth, and I enjoyed meeting some friends and introducing David to them. After the welcome drink and canapes, the crowds descended into the garden, which looked fabulous with the flowers glowing in the evening light. The team must have worked like the clappers after I had left, as the beds and paths looked spotless. It was also the first time I had seen the fountain working . The carvings are excellent and hopefully English Heritage will soon publish a guide explaining the various panels.
Earlier in the day the Guinea Fowl were making quite a racket, but they seemed to be much more quiet during the evening. The pheasants were strutting their stuff and the canaries I think were settled in for the evening. I think they sensed that soon the crowds would be leaving as heavy and dark clouds amassed and like many, we made a quick dash home after only 15 minutes or so in the garden. The Aviary is quite stunning, with its jewels set just under the roof, and its fine mesh, knitted, yes, looks like garter stitch in fine steel. At least no one will be able to poke fingers or anything else and worry the birds.

With the wonderful wide paths, I was amazed at the number of people who walked on the narrow grass edgings, which had been so very carefully groomed. I think they will have to put some Keep off the Grass Signs.

New Shoes

Last Friday, we set out as soon as Mr S returned from work, to go forth and find some new shoes for me. Well not just shoes but something than would keep me upright and walking or cycling. I do get problems and when I am unwell, the pain can be dreadful. Mr S had been trying to get me to try something like a walking type of trainer and I had decided to try Lockwoods which is between Leamington and Warwick. I had spied this shop on one of our recent drives out, and had been looking out for it since having had it recommended to me by Warwick Sports Shop.

What a shop! It was really well stocked, but most of all the Service was very good. My feet, yes each one, was carefully measured, whilst I sat up high on a carpeted platform. It certainly made it easy for the fitters to measure, and check feet. After chatting at length, about my problems, needs and type of activities, various solutions were discussed. I was fitted out, with an excellent and very comfortable pair of comfortable shoes. The picture doesn't show the little bits of mango well, but I do have a nice pair of hand knitted shocks which matches well, and now I'll have to look out for nice yarns, to knit complementary socks.

On the way back, we celebrated with a nice drink by the canal in Warwick at the Cape of Good Hope. We caught the warmth of the evening sun at a bench by the canal and chatted with a nice couple, and the chap on the verge of retiring, was planning on visiting every pub in Warwick during his first couple of months. Hopefully we shall be able to read up about this. Well I did go on about how much I liked blogging, and explained that if I could do it, he could too, and he could take pictures of the pubs too. It was my friend Judith who encouraged me to start my blog before I left Swindon.

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Its seems such a long time since I last posted on my blog, so here I am again. I've just baked this coffee and walnut cake, done all the washing up, so when Mr S walks in after work, and finds me cosied up with the laptop, we shall be ready for a nice cup of tea, cake and a chat.

For the recipe I revisited my old three volume Delia Smith's Cookery Course. Recently I have felt that my sponges could be improved and went back to basics, reading all her blurb. The oven temperature at Gas Mark 3, seems to have been the answer, rather than No 4. I warmed the walnuts for 5 mins in the oven, whilst it was heating up, before chopping up, to bring out the flavour of the walnuts. The butter cream was from Good Housekeeping, again a very old copy, but used a smaller quantity.

I've had a busy couple of weeks. All my own doing really, and most of it fun, but it has meant that some of my routine activities have been placed on the back burner for now. One thing that I have been missing is going to a knitting group on Tuesdays. I have missed my friends, and hope to start again after next week.

One of the reasons I didn't do one week when I could just about have done so, is that my only knitting at the moment is a pair of socks for David called Jeweled Steps, using Cat Borthdhi's Master Numbers System, and yes it does work. Because I have to keep referring to my magic numbers and also the pattern, which I have slightly modified, it is not the sort of knitting to sit and chat with.

Normally I try to have only one or at the most two projects on the go, and I like to complete projects. However I was flicking through the Spring 2009 copy of Interweave Knits, and found Vicki Squares article: Start as Many New Projects as you can, got me thinking. I'm not going to follow exactly in her footsteps, but I have now realised that with a variety of current projects, say three of different types, there will always be one that suits the situation: easy knitting, challenging knitting, go faster knitting etc.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Violets are welcome weeds in Kenilworth

Since coming to Kenilworth, I've noticed all around lovely violets. They appear here and there, and last year I brought into the garden a much more lavender coloured one which I found in a corner of a friends garden. When we walked to Ashow in February, the Church bank was carpeted with them. I like the violets and leave the self seeded ones in the garden.

In my garden in Swindon, celandines were the local colourful weed, but I did not feel quite so welcoming to them, except under the plum and apple tree. I noticed in Basingstoke the grass verges were bright with primroses, and on our trip this weekend to Cirencester, cowslips edged the route.

Around Kenilworth, the woods are famous for bluebells, however I can report that only a few are out. We tried Crackley Woods yesterday and Bullimore woods today, but I reckon it will be at least a week before the show really gets off the ground.

Easter Chick

After a tasty lunch at Veronica and Matthew's, we spent the afternoon at Marlow. We went to view a craft show there, and Veronica went ahead and picking up her sister Tamsin on the way, we met up and had a look around the rather small show.
All five of us walked along the picturesque shopping areas and adjacent court yards. Seeing a bright orange planter with box ball, we had to stop for a photo opportunity for this Easter Chick, a delightful present from Tamsin. All the Wastell family enjoy their crafts and we were delighted by this gift.
Afterwards we took our picnic tea to the river side, and enjoyed home made scones, cream, strawberry jam, Veronica's home made hot cross buns and absolutely delicious chocolate fudge, and coffee. We were close to fancy parked up river cruises and enjoyed the variety of high tec prams and buggies parading along the riverside walk.
On the river we saw our first ducklings for 2009: a proud Mallard with 12 ducklings.

Giving away a shap shawl

A couple of days before Easter we agreed to go down to see Matthew and Veronica at Basingstoke. At Christmas when we went down last, Veronica admired my shap shawl and said how much she liked it and I asked what colours she liked, and said just the 'same as yours'.

I had balls left over, and having weighed my shawl and the balls, it seemed that I would have just enough. However because of the amounts of different colours, I had to knit a smaller centre square, but with a larger border. The shawl had been completed a few weeks previously, but now I had to wash and dress the shawl quickly.

On Good Friday, I woke up at 6 and started the process. I left the shawl to soak , but all the time, I washed and rinsed the shawl, so many emotions were stirred within my breast. I just loved this shawl, and the fact that I had so many qualms about whether I would have sufficient yarn, carefully leaving sufficient for the last lace edging. I had only 4 metres left! I loved it and just imagined having two complementary shawls, or even keeping the new one and giving Veronica the older one. However I got out my shap shawl and decided that that was the one for me. After all it had been lost and returned, and had succoured me over the last few year, somehow there was too much of me is associated with the first one.

Here is Veronica's shawl stretched with wires and drying in the conservatory

The yarn was hand spun and dyed by an unknown benefactor.

Here it is on the dining table just before our departure.

Through the Kenilworth WI, I have some kind and generous new friends. Pat Slessenger, who is a great knitter, sent me a Post Card of 'The Village Map' Alnmouth, with a Blessing. What was also amazing about this, is Alnmouth is one of our favourite places in Northumberland, and I had even seen this Millennium wall-hanging which was created by the village community hanging in the village hall.

I have another great knitting friend who also sends me wonderful post cards. The last one I received was one of a stained glass panel from Cragside in Northumberland. It brought back memories of our two visits there whilst staying in Alnmouth.

Coming back to the Shap Shawl, it has been given with love and I am so pleased that someone as lovely as my daughter in law will have something to tuck around shoulders, legs or feet, when comfort or warmth are needed.

Here is the Blessing from A Little Book of Celtic Blessings

Blessings for a Hand Made Garment

May you wear the garment to Shreds!
May you wear the garment to Tatters!
May you wear the garment
With food and music
In every place
As you would wish:
With health
With friends
With love
With the Grace of the Threefold Spirit

Sunday, 19 April 2009

More Gardening Pictures

Here is one of my two special auriculas. This one is called Clouded Yellow. Although Gardener's World in its new format is not quite to my liking anymore, there were two items which appealed to me. I loved the the small auricula wall hug staging and have suggested to Mr S that I would just love him to build me one for my Christmas Present. The other tip was using a tea bag at the bottom of plant pots.
A couple of weeks back, Mr S fancied some strawberry jam, and for the first time in years, the cupboard was bare, and after reading the labels on the jars in the shop, bit the bullet and got two tubs of strawberries and made some. It was well worth it, but with giving a couple of jars away, and scones, cakes etc., more jam making is on the horizon. I would to be given some rhubarb to make some rhubarb and ginger jam, giving a jar of course to any benefactor.

Today we visited the first garden this year from the Yellow Book. We went to the Garden in Church Lane, Lillington. We both loved the huge variety of plant and shrubs and all the corners which were just packed with treasures. They have some lovely auriculas and lots of other collections. They are open again in May, and I shall try to be there. I also found out that there is a plant fair where growers from further afield have interesting plants, at Leamington on Sunday 3 May.
Usually Mr S looks forward to teas at the gardens, but there was non at the Lillington Garden, and quite honestly there was no room to accommodate these. Afterwards as we had a walk around the area which is new to us, we walked back through the church yard. The Church on one side appears to be Victorian but on the side away from the road there is an older section of wall. Mr S when spying their lovely side building wondered that the Church had not cottoned on to the open garden, and opened up themselves offering teas in aid of the Church.
The weather has been superb today too, and on our return we had scones, new season home made strawberry jam, clotted cream and tea in the garden. Last weekend I made a Victoria Sandwich which we had in the conservatory.

The reason I made this last Sunday, was to obliterate the memory of disappointing cake which we had at a newly opened tea shop in Station Road in Kenilworth. The cake looked lovely, but I don't think they used butter, the cake was light but with no flavour, and I wonder whether mixes had been used. Their cakes look beautiful and they specialise in decorated birthday and wedding cakes.