Pottering about on the canal, great fun!

ducks 7boat

Last week we went to see some friends who have a narrow boat. They decided a year ago to buy a boat and live on it, and 1 year on their still enjoying a life on the water. So we drove down to Stafford to meet them, a County I have never been to before, but I have to say it is beautiful! Lovely lanes twisting and turning around the canals and the most wonderful houses nestled in what seems a very rural area. It is a challenge to find places to park close to moorings but after several wrong turns we found them waiting for us to arrive and thankfully the kettle was on. I had made some gluten-free sticky date cake which went down a treat and our friends had made some really rich chocolate brownie. Their boat is amazing, a home from home, and they certainly weren’t eager to get back on dry land.

two boat:bridge

Before lunch we went down the canal for a couple of miles, leaving our car behind to collect later. It’s like being in another world, calm and quiet, no hurrying, just the slight rumble of the engine ticking along. We were lucky with the weather, a bit cool but the sun shone and people were smiling. We soon stopped and moored up for lunch. Walking around on a narrow boat is strange to begin with, it’s hard to be in the kitchen together and there’s a lot of squeezing past each other!

canal boats

But it’s all worth it because you see the countryside from a different perspective. There are lots of interesting buildings, amazing architecture and you see the gardens of people’s houses that back onto the canal. Some people live on their boats and have permanent moorings where they have greenhouses, sheds and gardens. It’s a really intriguing world to observe as you chug along.

bridge:lift

One of the added bonuses of being on the water are the reflections that change throughout the day. Whether it be sunny or dull, each has its own merits, even when the rain falls it adds a new dimension to the view. We wouldn’t have nearly so many bridges without the canals criss crossing the countryside, some of which are amazing feats of engineering.

bridge2

This one had a telegraph pole in the middle of it! None of us could work out why you would put one there but it makes an interesting addition to the bridge. The time seem to pass quickly and soon it was time to consider parking up for the night. Once the boat gets warm it’s very cosy and after a tasty supper of fish pie we settled in for a good chat by the fire and some  homemade damson gin. I have never slept on a narrow boat before even though my Dad had one for several years. I had spent many a day on it but always needed to go home in the evening so I was looking forward to spending the night on the water. So after much juggling around the bathroom arrangements we all went to bed.

mist canal 2

In the morning the mist was heavy, and as you can see, more reflections, even when visibility is limited the water casts such beautiful colours. It was still dull and the air was chilly but I was eager to get out and take some photos before breakfast. This one is my favourite, the red of the hull is vibrant, pushing its brightness through the mist.

alan&janes boat

This is our friends boat just as the mist is lifting. The one’s on the other side are permanent moorings. We had a quiet nights sleep and breakfast would be ready soon, just time for some more pictures!

me&boat

Drinking a cup of tea on the canal side on a misty morning is bliss! A bit chilly, but it’s worth it. I’m not one for having my picture taken, I much prefer to be behind the camera, but a certain someone insisted.

me canal2

Still warming my hands! People are very friendly on the canal, everyone says hello or stops for a chat. This man is off to get some bread and taking the dog a walk whilst riding his bike.

bike canal

The last of my misty photos, there are lots because I love the atmosphere and how a scene can change so much with natures natural soft focus. The air feels different and smells have a dampness to them in the spring which changes to humid as the temperature rises come the summer time.

mist:building

 We had walked to get our car the previous afternoon and parked it nearby to where we spent the night. But now it was time to move on as we had to go home later that day and there was lots more to see. The next stretch of canal was very still and enchanting, trees hanging heavy over the water, the perfect place to see a kingfisher and later that day we saw one. Like a streak of iridescent blue they follow you up the canal, just keeping a safe distance, ducking low across the water.

boat reflections

When a boat passes you there is a slight rocking depending on how close they get to you! But this bit of the canal is wide and straight and easy to navigate.

canal encampment

This group of boats were really interesting. There was three boats together, two in pretty bad repair but the central one had a fire going. On the river bank there was a van, a vintage car, several outbuildings, a motorbike and what looked like some sort of business going on. It seemed rude to stare as there were a couple of people busying themselves, but I would have loved to have a look round.

boat close

We then came upon this boat and it was my favourite so far. There was lots of wood on the roof and a fire burning steadily. It was the most romantic boat and obviously a full-time home, very pretty.

canoe

We pulled up at a picnic spot for lunch when this man arrived in his canoe, got out and sat and had his lunch by us. We offered him cake but he declined! Very soon we were joined by two beautiful deerhounds, their eyes are so sad and endearing and remind me of the lurchers we used to have.

deer hound2deerhound

It was time to collect our car and go home. But just as we started to set of we were joined by a man out with his grandson and dog called Arthur. So we all walked along together for a while and chatted. It took a while to get Arthur’s picture as he never kept still!  We found out that Robin owned a Lavender Farm called Shropshire Lavender Farm   Robin told us about the bird boxes he had made with Sam, his grandson and about the lavender chocolate eggs they make which sounded amazing and all the different types of lavender they sell. I imagine the aroma is incredible when harvesting, they must be permanently chilled out!

arthur

It was time to go. It’s hard to pull yourself away from the tranquility of this environment, but we had to head home and I was missing Alfred, especially as you meet so many dogs on the canal. But we have had a great time and we will be back, so there’s only one thing last to say, a BIG thank you to our dear friends, Alan and Jane for their hospitality…..I’ll bring more cake next time!

Alan,Jane&Andy

Who’s that in the background?

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Life, death and the beauty it can create

trees curch

On thursday morning last week I found myself in a beautiful Cemetary in Kendal. It was early morning and the light was wonderful, dark shadows and a touch of lingering mist. Often it has been suggested I go to see the crocuses at this time of year, I was not disappointed. The timing of my visit was strangely poignant as the previous day had been one of great upset and the coming of this fresh spring morning was tinged with sadness. Archie, our dog we got as company for our older dachshund had to be put to sleep. He was four and had developed eye problems, the start of a condition called Lafora. It took us all by surprise as we had only had him for 4 months, but in that short time we all loved him dearly. He was a handsome boy with a gently quirky nature and he very quickly crept into all our hearts including Alfreds, who loved cuddling up to him. So my thoughts for the last few days have been a little somber. A dog can so easily get to a part of you no human can. They love you unconditionally and if you love them back the rewards are immeasurable.

church:crocus

But life moves on and sunny spring days enable us to turn our thoughts away from sadness. It felt calm walking down the paths between the graves and vast swathes of crocuses, the silence broken only by the bustling of the birds, so happy in the morning sunlight. This was their place, I was just a visitor and in being so felt I should tread quietly. Their morning routine was searching for breakfast, rustling through leaves and singing such notes you find hard to believe can come from the throats of such small birds! I even saw a tree creeper winding its way up the yew trees, picking off the insects as it went. The crematorium fits into the setting with discretion and dignity, complimenting the lines of the graveyard. There is no harshness here, just a gently respect for those who have departed.

gravestones

I don’t generally find graveyards depressing, and certainly this one has an unregimented beauty some don’t. There are lots of old graves covered in lichen and speckled by the ravages of time. So many lives and tales we will never know, but all of them representing a life lived whatever that may have been like. We all like to romanticise the life and death of our ancestors but I’m sure their lives were not so very different from our own, they just had a different setting to sort out their problems in. I believe every generation thinks their problems are worse than the people who came before them, perhaps they’re just different problems.

crocus kendal

There are always interesting trees in graveyards, Yews are synonymous with the places we lay our departed to rest.  The Weeping Ash in the background is reminiscent of creepy trees in children’s fairy tales and looks as if it could become animated on a dark moonless night. I have never seen so many crocuses, they encircle the trees and flow gently down the through the grass.

crocus3

There is so much space for contemplation as you walk down the winding paths leaving the graves behind to admire the colour peeping up from amongst the grass. Someone has really put some thought into making this place beautiful. I imagine those who are burried here would be pleased if only they could see the glorious spectacle above where they lie. I saw only one person as I wondered around, camera in hand, and that was a man in the distance near the crematorium. He was working in the early morning sunshine collecting leaves and tidying so all who came here could feel the peace that this place exudeds by the nature of its purpose.

crocus:statue2

This statue stood alone amongst thousands of daffodils and crocuses, so numerous I would have had trouble getting close enough to read the inscription. But sometimes meanings are clear without words.  I have enjoyed my visit despite the circumstances that led me here, a need for tranquility amongst those who have gone before us. Our rituals surrounding death are for the living, it’s the way we try to comfort ourselves in times of grief, trying to make sense of the this world, this life and where we fit into it all.

squirrel

Certainly this little fellow was enjoy the morning, collecting the bounty he had hidden to keep him through the winter months. There were lots of squirrels scurrying about, jumping through the dried leaves, darting between the gravestones. I just missed one sat happily on top of a rather grand gravestone sorting out his tail, grooming and washing his face, but he was off before I could take his picture! If Archie had been with me he would have chased this little creature given the chance, but today I was alone, but he was in my thoughts, and that’s what this place is for, to give yourself a quiet moment to reflect about the ones we love, even dogs.

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Archie, a grand little dog xx

A dull day, a walk and some simple sketches.

Sometimes when the weather is grey and the sky holds no light to warm the soul and no colour to lift your spirits, it’s hard to be creative and one can spend a lot of time-wasting time! Today was one of those days. Somehow the light never quite made it through the clouds to wake me up. It was a sleepy sort of day….and a Monday! Not my most favourite day of the week and was worsened by the dullness of it. But I did go for a walk, the air was still and natures colours were all on hold till the sun shone again. There was nothing shouting at me to be seen but despite this the birds were still singing oblivious to the ruminations of my thoughts as to the blandness of the day.

Walk over, I returned home and decided to bake some caramel shortbread and tackle the household chores. The dull day was demanding boring jobs to be done. Why spoil a sunny day! Carmel shortbread seems to take forever, lots of waiting for things to cool down. This was fine, I could fit other jobs around the waiting. I still managed to fit in a couple of 5 min sketches of my four-legged friends. They seemed equally uninspired by the day, preferring to sleep most of the time.

alfie sketch lying

Although Alfred is our dog and we love him, he is without doubt a very peculiar shape! If he was fatter he would make the perfect foot stool. He is a wirehaired dachshund and at 9 years old-looking very grey and scraggy. He loves the fire, blankets, toast and tea.

alfie lying sketch

He looks a little strange on this one, his nose is a bit pointy, but sometimes it looks like a mouse. We have to trim his beard because he has bad teeth and the hair irritates his gums.

I did another sketch from my imagination of a lurcher. We had lurchers for about 20 years so their shape is etched in my mind. They are beautiful creatures and I miss them dearly. They are graceful and elegant with wonderful gentle natures.

Fern sketch

I sketched this as a rough idea for an easter card requested by a friend. The friends in question have a lurcher called Fern. She’s blond with a rough coat very similar to one of our dogs called Martha.

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Martha stole our hearts as did all our lurchers.

al&fin

This is Alfred when he was only a ‘wee’ baby cuddled up with Finley, another of our lurchers. Alfred loved to cuddle our lurchers whether they liked it or not! He would climb on top of them when they were sleeping and make himself comfy amongst their fur. Alfred was black and tan then, the same colour as Archie is now. I’m digressing now from sketching and the dullness of the day, to reminiscing about the wonderful dogs that have shared my life, but that’s ok, it took my mind of the housework for a bit. I will show you the results of my Easter card design closer to Easter…..just in case someone who shouldn’t see it does. It’s looking very cute!

A pleasant day, coffee and Cake!

leighton mossI’m so lucky to live just down the road from RSPB Leighton Moss, it is a place of constant pleasure and surprises. But this morning was a special visit because both our daughters came with us for coffee and cake! You guessed it, Mothers Day! So at 9.30am of we went, hoping to miss the crowds! It was a pleasant walk with signs of spring around every corner. When we arrived, surprise, surprise, it was quiet! Just a few men eating bacon sandwiches and an absence of women? It was early and the scones were just going in the oven, the atmosphere was jolly and expectant. So we ordered from the wonderful selection of cakes, gluten-free brownie and ginger and date crumble with coffees all round, oh, and a toasted tea cake – delicious!  It wasn’t long before people were arriving with the smell of scones in the air and being greeted by the welcoming staff. We got the seat by the window where an array of birds land on the feeder outside, blue tits, chaffinch, bull finches, robins, great tits, coal tits and nut hatches. There is a constant feeding frenzy, and sometimes a woodpecker arrives! So after much chatter we went on our way back home across the fields passing the lambs. Nature doing it’s best to break through the cold winters earth to give us the beauty of spring. It’s still early, but everything is there waiting to burst into flower. The buds on the trees and bushes, the delicate blooms hiding in the undergrowth waiting for the slightest warmth from the sun to push their heads up and shine in all their glory!

crocus

The crocus is one of my favourite spring flowers, such brilliant centres of orange or yellow. The day was fairly dull and not ideal for photography, so here’s one I took earlier in the week.

the row pond

Even dull days can make a picture more interesting sometimes. We walked past Bank Well, a local pond, and checked for frog spawn but couldn’t see any around the edges. It always seems a little dark and grim in the dip where the pond is even when there is sunshine, but none the less beautiful for being so. Some places have an eerie atmosphere or even feel a little uncomfortable, as if you’re intruding on the wildlife that inhabits it. Perhaps one should whisper and tread lightly through such places, after all, we’re just visiting the home of the creatures who live there……

tree shadows

Later in the day we took our dogs for a walk and caught a glimpse of sunshine, you had to be quick! But hey, daffodils and lovely tree shadows. How wonderful a plain road can look with the addition of a few shadows. We all wait for spring in anticipation of the summer to come and when it arrives it lifts the spirit and lightens one’s step. It’s easy to sound ‘corny’ about the arrival of spring but why not? It is something you shouldn’t ignore because it shows us nature is doing what it’s supposed to and gives us hope. So enjoy.

rabbit field2

This is our regular dog route, just a half hour from the front door, through the woods and across this lumpy bit of land which intrigues me because of the numerous meadow ant hills. There are often cattle or sheep grazing here, only ever a handful which makes it feel very old-fashioned, like being in a Thomas Hardy novel. The changing of the seasons in just this tiny bit of land is so varied and witnessing all it has to offer is fascinating. Soon there will be orchids, cowslips, wild garlic and dog violets littering the hillocks and paths.

sorrel2

Sorrel, catching the last of the evening sunshine. The seed heads are amazing even when shriveled and dry.

daffodils

Back home to enjoy my Mothers Day flowers, some beautiful narcissus from the Scilly Isle. The scent is so strong it has filled the house!

book:alf

The evening is cold now and it’s time to light the fire and maybe sketch those pesky sleepy dogs, but it seems Alfred has decided to take a sneaky peek at some ‘high brow’ literature instead of enjoying some warmth by the fire!

Experimenting with dresses!

I have loved sewing for as long as I can remember. It has always seemed natural to me to make things. The fact that you can take some cloth and turn it into something useful or beautiful seems magical! Cloth starts of as a flat flowing piece of potential and it’s only limitations are one’s imagination. I have always made my own clothes since I was about 11 and it still excites me! Walking into a fabric shop brimming with wonderful cloth is heaven. When buying fabric you should always feel it’s texture and it’s flow, letting it fall down your body to see how it will hang. choosing the right cloth is crucial to the success of your finished garment. Years ago it was easy to find an array of wonderful fabric but it is much harder now. Despite the popularity of The Sewing Bee there’s limited chose in the few fabric shops there are. Etsy is an option for linen, this being one of my favourite fabrics. Also Linnet in Japan has wonderful fabrics and simple dressmaking patterns, all available on the internet.

I recently found some patterned cotton fabric in my local Fabric shop desperate to become something exciting! It had been hidden away for many years, possible 20 plus, and had re-emerged due to an ownership change. Lovely quality with a vintage feel about it……so what to do? Having rooted through my ‘stash’ I found some complimentary stripey cotton fabric and some decorative braid. An interesting mix, and then some old lace was asking to be added to my creation!

full dressdress back

The dress falls from under the bust in gentle gathers and buttons up the back. I can’t decide if I’ve made it to folksy! It has turned out beautifully, with the combinations of fabric and embroidery, but I do feel a bit ‘Little house on the prairie!’

back detail dress side

neck detailside dress

I really enjoyed doing the embroidery, in colours to match the braiding at the hem. The buttons are a lovely muted cream like the lace at the neck edge.

skirt hem

I have enjoyed making this dress, merging different patterns together and using bits and bobs I have collected over the years. It does look a little like a costume dress, but so much more interesting than the regular fashions available in the shops. I have always enjoyed making historical costumes and have made many over the years for different events. Dressing up in the fashions of another era is such a pleasure and allows you to be someone else! I’m hoping there will be an occasion when I can wear this dress, but then perhaps everyday should be a dressing-up day!

A good day for a walk and some photography.

The day started cloudy and overcast with the potential for rain. But it was a pleasant surprise when the sun came out and we were blessed with a beautiful day!  To start my day I had a walk to the Wolfhouse Cafe to enjoy a coffee with a couple of friends, but no dogs today, they stayed at home stretched out on a cushion in the sunshine.  Alfred always gets the best spot!

sofa arch&alf

Archie is difficult to photograph because he is so dark, his eyes disappear. Guess who’s sofa this is?

alf cushionalf cushion2

Alfred is looking old these days, but is so cute. Unfortunately he has lost a few teeth and he dribbles, so he always has a soggy damp mouth and the hair has gone a bit brown – lovely when he gives you a kiss! For the rest of the day I took the opportunity to photograph one of my dolls whilst the light was good. I made her as an experiment using glass eyes instead of painted eyes. She does look a little startled but I think she has character. She is jointed and moves a little like a puppet. Her head also moves and she has a solid sculpted body and painted on shoes. Her dress is vintage liberty with hand dyed silk ribbon with embroidery. Her bloomers are hand dyed muslin to match her dress. Her hair is a wig which I made from mohair and she feels lovely when you hold her, she’s sort of surreal.

doll&teddy full

Just in case your checking out the books it’s Fifty Sheds of Grey! Very funny! The bear is not mine, she’s made by Needful friends, one of my favourite bear makers.

doll& bear doll glass eyes She has no name yet, I have to live with my creations for a while before they become someone. Sometimes I don’t give them a name because the people who buy them see their personality and choose their own name. It alway’s intrigues me the names people choose according to what they see in my dolls, often something I don’t see, but that’s what makes it so interesting. A personality can emerge from a piece of clay and become its own self, it fascinates me!

Alfred and Archie

sofa dogs

First there was Alfred, or Alfie, he gets called lots of things, but he’s cute whatever you call him! He arrived in our lives nearly ten years ago for our daughters birthday, a tiny wonderful bundle. Believe it or not he was the same color as Archie, but now he’s grey and a bit ‘smelly’. He’s always had a strong character and a very expressive face and responds like a mood barometer when he’s in a room with us. If your sad or cross he come’s to comfort you, nuzzling and scunching his nose up to your face whilst making cute little noises…….it’s really quite touching! When he lies down by the fire on his bed, occasionally a wood spark pops out and lands by him, he gets up and tries to push the cinder away with his nose until it’s off his bed! We only witnessed this lately and we now put the guard up, poor wee man!

alfie chairalfred coat

Alfred loves the sunshine as it cascades through the living room window in the mornings. He follows it round balancing on cushions in search of the warmest spot. But…..the cold he hates! So I knitted him a jumper, which I extended to cover his long back. It’s pure wool Rowan tweed and I have to say…..he’s not keen, but he’s happy once he’s out feeling the benefit. Plus, he get’s lots of compliment and attention, even if he does look embarrassed.

the boys3the boys close

And then there were two…. Along came Archie! Fours years old and in need of a home. Alfred was starting to suffer from anxiety, common in older dogs. So the Vet suggested some company may help. With that in mind we went about finding him a pal. Archie came from Norfolk and was suffering from a lack of attention and love. He was quiet and shut down, scared of cars and didn’t know how to receive or come for love. Three months later he is a different dog. Enjoys his walks, comes for cuddles, barks at the postman, kisses us and shows his love clearly, as we do to him! Every day he gets better and his true character is coming through. He’s cheeky, funny and thinks he can fly, jumping off anything, which is scary! But the best thing is Alfred loves him, no more anxiety, brilliant!

the boys

I have been trying to sketch them lately. I am using a drawing pen to stop me adding detail as I would be tempted to do so if using a pencil, or rub out mistakes They take a couple of minutes, mistakes and all. You have to be quick as they seem to know I’m drawing them, and move, which is very anoying. I’m going to try and sketch them everyday to see how I improve, and perhaps add some watercolour eventually.

Alfredalfred2

Both sketches are Alfred. He’s such a scuffy, greasy looking dog. His nose looks like a little mouse!

LIVING IN A BEAUTIFUL PLACE

I am fortunate enough to live in a beautiful place and there is not a day goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars for ending up in such a wonderful environment. It was purely by chance I came to visit a cottage by the sea some 25 years ago and fell in love with Silverdale, even the name sounds delightful! I don’t live in the same house anymore, but the sea is just a short walk away. The stroll down the hill to the shore is a joy, even when the wind gets you on your journey. When I first came to live here, the shore, as it’s called locally, was mostly salt marsh, a wonderful place to walk and peer into the pools teeming with aquatic life. The marsh has almost gone now, the tides have eroded it away giving the sea free reign to cast its spell in a new and interesting way.

the shore

RSPB Leighton Moss is a short walk from my house, and according to Chris Packham serves the best lemon drizzle cake ever! I agree with him, it’s wonderful and gluten-free, which is a bonus for all you non-wheaties. I have to say, I do spend quite a bit of time there, any excuse for coffee and cake – after a walk of course! Leighton Moss offers some wonderful photography opportunities, even if you’re not interested in birds, wonderful light and landscape whatever the time of year.

leighton moss reeds2 leighton moss reeds

One of the most amazing happenings at Leighton Moss each year, is the gathering of starlings, or murmurations as they are called. This spectacular display attracts thousands of visitors each year and is truly a sight to behold. They do fly low in huge numbers, so you have to watch your head – and wear a hat, or you could go home with more than you came with!

starlings

The light starts to fade, the colours turn golden, and a fiery red glistens across the water. A stillness pervades the air before it is filled with the sound of starlings in flight. There is just a hint of rain casting circles in the water, followed by thousands of droplets as they fly overhead.

starlings 2

The darkness descends, as the clouds encroach, and the sky becomes thickened with tiny specks before they drop into the reeds in a noisy frenzy to settle for the night.

Wet – damp – miserable day!

2 dogs

Sunday today, and it’s wet and cold! Sometimes on a winter’s day in England the temperature may not be that cold but the damp really makes you feel like it gets into your bones. Today was one of those days. Alfred and Archie, our two wirehaired Dachshunds, had no intentions of venturing outside as they hate the rain, so the view out of the window was the next best thing! Didn’t really achieve much today, but I did make some gluten free scones and in the afternoon decided to go to a friend’s house and share them – what are rainy days for if not to enjoy some company and eat!

scones scones tub

After several disasters, this is my best recipe for gluten-free scones, you can’t tell they have no wheat flour in them, or so everyone tells me! Served with some home-made apple and cardamom jam and a fresh pot of Earl Grey tea – who cares about the weather!

janets chair
Janet’s cat Woody.

Good chat, plenty of tea and a beautiful house occupied by our friends cats…..and them of course!

Poppy sitting comfortably, her eyes matching the cushion perfectly.

A wet day can pass much quicker in the company of friends, but it was time to go home and see our dogs as Woody and Poppy would not have enjoyed their company. The evening was drawing in and it was time to light our fire and settle for the evening, not a bad day after all.  Certainly Alfred and Archie seem happy!

dogs fire
It’s a dogs life!