Monday, 29 August 2016

Creative home life

Well, it's the end of my two weeks holiday from work and the time has just flown. I feel ok about going back even though it's unlikely I'll be getting any proper time off until Christmas. No, I'm not at all depressed about that!!

Still, I've had a lovely relaxing time off. There are days out to tell you about but I thought I'd show you some of the more domestic and creative things I've been up to first. So, the last two weeks, I've been:

Embroidering: working on my bird embroidery (pattern from Stitch magazine). This is a slow burner to pick up as and when.

Planning: do you remember the slow stitch book in my last Year in Books post? It gave me an idea for circles of colour to remind me of our time in Northumberland. I got out my Anchor colour chart and started playing around with skeins of thread. Not sure if the idea will go anywhere but it whiled away a pleasant hour or so.

Quilting: I've finally started quilting my latest quilt after leaving it lying around for probably a year. Much dithering has taken place in the interim trying to decide on a pattern. In the end, Jackie from my quilt group suggested circles and showed me how she'd used them: I was sold. I'm using iron-on wadding which is supposed to mean you don't have to tack before machining. Well, I gave it a go but have gone back to the tried and tested tacking method. And done a lot less unpicking as a result.

Crocheting: Another slow burner but less so since Chickpea asked me to make her a blanket. She's picked out a pattern, we've chosen the yarn and she'd like to put it on her bed in winter. Ha ha! Luckily she didn't specify which winter! Now I'm under pressure to get this one finished and have fallen back in love with crochet. It's just so easy to pick up in the evening.

Jam-making: the ingredients had been lying at the bottom of the freezer since last autumn and I'd just used up my last jar so it was time to make more. This is blackberry, elderberry and crab apple. I've never had such a struggle making jam. Three times I had to boil it. Three times!!! It usually works first time without fail so goodness knows what went wrong. All's well that ends well though as it's delicious.

Baking: banana and walnut pie - recipe from Tamsin Day-Lewis. This was another attempt to use up freezer ingredients ie all those bananas which had started to go brown but I couldn't bear to throw away. Needed more of them to be honest. The filling is a bit like a cheesecake and is a really unattractive beige colour - probably the reason for putting a nice golden sugary crust on top!

Jigsawing: I do love a jigsaw and always have one on the go. A friend of my Mum's loaned me this and it was a lovely one.

Gardening: lots and lots of gardening. I decided to clear this border which was overrun with bamboo and crocosmia plus a conifer and other ragged shrubs. Much of it had to be done on hands and knees because of the tangle of tree roots. There's something so soothing about getting your hands in the dirt.

A nice, newly cleared space needs some pretty plants to fill it. These are courtesy of a garden centre voucher my lovely friend gave me for my birthday.

I also bought some candy-stripe tulip bulbs to put in the spaces.

Mowing: I've enjoyed the no-mow area on the lawn which I created for 30 Days Wild. Sadly the wildflower seeds never germinated but it still looked pretty with the tall grasses and our handmade teepees. Gone now though. I decided to mow it away today to give the lawn some time to recover before the winter. I'll have another go at a wildflower patch next year though.

Harvesting: this is the sum total of our blueberry harvest! The plant clearly doesn't like it much here so it will be relocated to Dad's. The rampant gooseberry and rosemary bushes probably overshadowed it.

Hope you all had a lovely long weekend. Only 4 days to the next! Back soon. xx

Friday, 26 August 2016

Plas Mawr

Today, we're back in Conwy to visit an Elizabethan town house, Plas Mawr, which in English means 'Great Hall'. It's such a beautiful and interesting place that I thought it deserved a post all of its own.

Built between 1576 and 1585, it's considered one of the finest surviving houses of that era and is run by Cadw, the Welsh government's historic environment service. Cadw, pronounced kadu, is Welsh for 'to protect'.

It was built by Robert Wynn, a member of the local gentry who served under some senior officials to Henry VIII. This is an extract from the information leaflet. There's also an excellent audio tour which had lots of information about the house through the ages.

This is the first room you enter on the tour. The front of the building you saw above was actually the gatehouse and the main building is across a small courtyard behind it.

The house is renowned for its plasterwork and you can see why. Cadw took over the house in 1993 and spent 42 months restoring it at a cost of £3.3 million. The plaster has been painted as it would have appeared in 1580 and was just stunning.

The kitchen, always one of my favourite rooms and I wish you could experience the smell of the straw strewn across the floor - it was heavenly! Just like Aberconwy House in my previous post, it had a wooden cage suspended from the ceiling which was used for proving and storing bread, away from rodents.

The parlour. The plasterwork either side of the main window dated it to 1577. Above the fireplace was the coat of arms of Elizabeth I, which apparently means it would have been used to host senior guests. It also has a plasterwork ceiling covered in emblems, one of the many in the house - I'll show you a closer look at another ceiling shortly.

When Cadw took over the house, the brickwork was exposed. However, during the restoration project, it was re-rendered to how it would have originally appeared.

These roof attics would have housed servants.

This would have been Robert Wynn's bedchamber, complete with ensuite! The coat of arms features his own and his wife's.

Beautiful ceiling.

I think this was his wife's bedroom.

And this is known as the great chamber. Notice the painted plasterwork again which made it bright and colourful. The walls had also been hung with tapestries on tenterhooks, as they would have been for decoration and warmth.

The fireplace features the Order of the Garter and the initials of Elizabeth I.

The last part of the tour took us to the top of a small tower with lovely views across the town and harbour.

The day of our visit was also my birthday and I couldn't have chosen a better place to spend it: it was absolutely fascinating.

Well, I can't believe it's almost the end of my 2 weeks off: the time has just flown. There have been days out, lots of gardening and some crafting too. Will share with you at some point. Hopefully I'll be back before the end of this long bank holiday weekend but, if not, have a great time. x

Monday, 22 August 2016


For my birthday at the beginning of August, there was only one place I wanted to go. Somewhere I could breathe salty sea air, with stunning views and surrounded by history. Welcome to the small Welsh town of Conwy.

It was actually the second time I'd been in less than a month as Chickpea and I met up with a group of friends here in July. The photos then are a mish-mash of the two days which you'll see ranged from mist and drizzle to glorious blue skies - and that was just one of the days! You'll also notice the tide in the harbour comes and goes as it was out on our first visit and in on our second. Just to confuse you!

There's lots to see so let's get going. Conwy is dominated by the castle, built by Edward I between 1283 and 1289. I've visited it a few times over the years but not on either of our recent visits. In fact, the last time was when my American friends were over almost 10 years ago: many happy memories :)

We parked at the back of the castle and walked past this row of twelve latrines to enter the town. Can you believe these cost the equivalent of £45,000 to build? I hate to think what the wall would have looked like in those days though - eurghhh!

Edward I also built the walls which surround the town and you can still walk along them though they're pretty steep and slippery in places.

There are great views over the surrounding hills, even in the drizzle.

And stunning views of the castle and town next to the river Conwy from which it takes its name.

At the end of the wall, you descend down to the river.

On our first visit, there was an event going on with stalls all along the quayside.

The RSPB stand, who have a reserve nearby, had a display of owls.

Another bird we saw a lot of was the jackdaw which has a special place in the town's folklore: people born within the town walls are known as jackdaws.

One of the most traditional industries in the area is mussel fishing, celebrated by this sculpture. They are still gathered in the centuries old way by hand raking.

All along the quayside, there was another kind of fishing going on: children fishing for crabs. You could buy a bucket, line and bait from a shop nearby.

It was very popular and very fruitful - we saw bucketfuls, all of them tossed back into the water later.

Further along the quayside is one of the most famous tourist attractions, the smallest house in Britain. It's squeezed into a gap between one of the wall towers and a row of terraced houses and has a floor area of only 10 feet by 6 feet! You can see photos of the tiny interior here.

On our first visit we followed the path which takes you along the side of the river to where it empties into the sea, though we didn't go quite that far. There were lots of oystercatchers probing the sands.

Back in the town, we're heading across one of the three bridges which cross the river parallel to each other. The oldest is the suspension bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1822-26, which you'll see more of in a moment. The second is Robert Stephenson's railway bridge, built in 1846-48 made of two giant iron tubes. The third is this modern road bridge.

There's also a tunnel under this beautiful estuary.

Our destination was the Toll-keeper's house which stands at the entrance to the suspension bridge, both now owned by the National Trust.

It's a tiny place and was once home to a family of six. Worth a quick visit if you're a Trust member.

The suspension bridge itself is free to cross so we did just that, making our way back towards the town centre.

Next stop was another National Trust property in the town centre: Aberconwy House. It's a medieval merchant's house dating from the 14th to 15th century. Until the National Trust took it over, it was in danger of being dismantled and shipped to America!

There are only a few rooms, decorated in different periods. We were fascinated with the wooden crate suspended from the ceiling. The guide explained it was used for proving dough and storing bread to keep it away from mice.

The bedroom is decorated in Victorian style when the house was being used as a temperance hotel. It's a lovely old place with wonky, creaky floors, old timbers and uneven stone walls. I much prefer these kind of properties to the grand stately homes.

There's another old building just across the street from Aberconwy House. The date above the door says 1589 but I've just been reading an article which says they've discovered it has parts dating back to at least 1441. It was a pub for a long time but is now privately occupied. The owner has created a website which documents all the renovations including a 'before and after' video (fascinating if only for a glimpse of the mosaic-covered bath shaped as a stiletto!).

We're now looking down the high street towards the arch in the town wall leading to the harbour. Aberconwy House is the last white building on the right.

Turn to your left and there's some lovely plaster decoration on the side of a building.

We were stood in front of this building which dates from the 1930s and used to be a cinema. Now it houses shops and a lovely cafe, Amelie's, where I had my birthday lunch.

In the gable end, there's some lovely decorative ironwork with peacocks and squirrels.

At the top of the high street is a statue of Llywelyn the Great (c1172-1240) who dominated most of Wales for 40 years - if you wish, you can read more about him here.

Just off the high street is St Mary's and All Saints church.

We were here to see the low iron cage in the churchyard. 'We are Seven' is a poem by Wordsworth which it's claimed he wrote after a conversation with a child he met here: the seven are the child and her siblings, alive and dead.

As we end this part of the visit, why not help yourself to a bunch of herbs from the community garden?

I picked a stem of lavender and put it in my buttonhole where it released its fragrance all day long.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the tour of this beautiful and historic town. There's just so much to see and enjoy. And I'm not finished yet! There's one more building I want to show you but it deserves a post all of its own, and it's not the castle! x

PS There's a free town trail and map which you can download here and covers most of the things I've shown you and more.