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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No Strings Attached

This is a close up of the last pic on the last blog. The main hall was set up as a giant cafe and the stage was used for performances. The Irish dancing was quite outstanding. In fact as you can see this one was really OUT-STANDING.

Cheers Gillian

100 Years of St. Michael's

The three Campbell sisters got dolled up and went back to their old school for its Centenary celebrations. The school is St Michael's Catholic Grammar School in North Finchley in north London. The Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus started teaching children on the same site, one hundred years ago. There is a group called St. Michael's Old Girls (SMOG) and many of them were there searching for "old" school friends and even "older" teachers.
Over a thousand people gathered in a giant marquee, set up across the three tennis courts for a mass with lots of music and speeches, finishing with a rousing rendition of the school song.
The women in the row in front heard me singing and turned around and exclaimed "Gillian!". Dear Frances and Ilona who I have not seen for 42 years. Teachers I met later on also declared that they could recognise me by my voice.

I started at the junior school, which is now closed, in 1958, in time for the Golden Jubilee. Fifty years later I was able to return for the 100th anniversary. The building on the right of this entry archway houses that early junior school, chapel, gymnasium, classrooms and..........
......the room behind the brown door in this picture. I spent a day in solitary confinement in the small office behind that door for having the temerity to change the maths homework on the blackboard. At the end of the previous day my best friend Clare and I, thinking that everyone had already gone home, changed the page and exercise numbers by adding a few noughts. We were hugely entertained by our daring but the next day a few of our classmates claimed that they had been unable to find the set work. When the culprit was asked to own up I did not hesitate because I expected a reprimand. Instead I was ensconced in the office with a new box of pencils and a ream of lined paper. I was told to write lines. "I must not change the homework on the blackboard". I was left to do so all day with a short break for lunch with the kindergartens.

I spent 37 of the last 47 years, writing on MY blackboard everyday. I loved it and always allowed students to come up to the board to add or change things, but, only while I was watching them. I fully understood then the territorial claim a teacher has on their blackboard.

After the official celebrations we toured the school watching performances and sipping tea and eating cakes and bumping into other old girls. I'm thrilled that we went and I was delighted to re-establish contacts with some of the SMOG of 1966. I'm hoping through the ones I made that day to find and communicate with even more.

Hello to all those I met that day. It is wonderful for me to be able to re-establish those links and feel that I have returned to the England I left behind nearly 38 years ago when I took off for Africa and later Australia. I look forward to seeing many of you again soon

Cheers Gillian

p.s. There is something quite special about the last photo which I shall blog about soon.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Gum Tree Goes

This is a picture of the giant gum tree at the bottom of the garden. It has caused concern because it is causing considerable damage to the shedding and wall, which are listed historic buildings. On Thursday a large cherry-picker arrived in the back lane and the Wynd was closed off as the removal of branches began.
It was a tricky job because of the position of the tree and the fact that ten telephone wires ran through the branches. I found out the next day that three lines came down as branches fell, but fortunately mine was safe. They others were still being repaired late Friday evening.
The cottages to the east of the wynd were without phone lines for a couple of days.
There is of course an enormous gap where it was. But there are five other large trees down there and my eyes will soon become accustomed to the empty space.
BUT what will I do with all the gigantic logs? They also left a mountainous heap of branches with the glib statement that "they would all rot down"! I'm not impressed by this. It is a garden, not a forest and it would take decades for the pile to rot down enough. It is in fact a lazy finish to the job and a disappointment to me that the estate would should show so little consideration for one of their properties. I shall think on it during next week and decide what to do. I would appreciate any advice

Cheers Gillian.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sock It To Me

I have finished my blue socks at last. Just lately socks seem to be taking me more and more time to finish. The toe on the second sock in this pair, lingered on the needles for a month!
It was the lovely Lana Grossa tweedy wool which I get from Tabbyblog
The dark blue and purple tweed colour is my favourite and this is the easy ribbed pattern from Wise Hilda Knits It's a k3p1 rib as you may be able to see by the reverse on the folded down one.

I have two balls of it left in the colours shown and I have a queue of people wanting socks but not in these colours. Shame. I shall start the brown ones anyway, because they may be alright for someone on the list. I shall keep the red ball for some more for myself and go in search of more colours.
I'm away for a few days and always travel with some sock knitting because it's so easy to carry, specially when Sue makes you a lovely bag to carry all the paraphenalia in. Socks needles don't get in the way of people sitting next to you and the rows are short and can be interrupted if you are knitting relatively plain socks.

And here's some more that I made earlier!
Again in the Lana Grossa Tweedy wool.

Cheers for now


Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Escomb Saxon Church...Skull and Crossbones

You can be sure you are really dead if this is your gravestone. The skull and crossbones are reflected in another stone on the opposite side of the path. If someone can translate this latin comment, please can they let me know what it says. I failed latin O'level. I need help.

This is Escomb Church . It is the oldest intact Saxon Church in England and more information can be found here
We spent some time exploring the outside and the inside of this church. I took some pictures of this Millenium Door Hanging, which has wonderful cameo embroideries set into the whole door-sized panel. This is a bit blurred but it is particularly evocative of the north-east... It is a giant LEEK.
After this we went shopping and castle visiting which I shall report on soon.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Not Much Knitting News

A few days ago, I saw this out of the upstairs window. It was obviously a funeral heading for the village church at the east end of the green. I have heard of funeral walking before but this was the first time I've ever seen it. The man in the top hat and umbrella (yes, dear reader, it was raining as usual in Staindrop) was leading the funeral cortege. All the rest of the traffic just banked up behind it. It took about twenty minutes to get the flow of traffic back to normal. As you can see too, the house across the road is a Raby Estate house and has the familiar blue door.

There is no knitting to show off at this stage but the nights are drawing in and Paul O'Grady is back on telly. I love old queens and particularly, witty ones. There is nothing like him in Australia. That might make some of you want to emigrate straight away! So after shopping I got on to cooking. Using my trusty old aga I did my own version of Ready Steady Cook.

I had made a trifle yesterday, bottom right. I made a large fish pie (fish in cheese sauce with mash and Red Leicester cheese on top, bottom left, then a ragu (spag bol sauce) shown middle right and then a zucchini (courgette) potato frittata, shown top of bench at left and then left some dried fruit soaking in Earl Grey tea to make a fat-free-fruit-loaf tomorrow.

I still have a long list of household tasks which have been neglected but I'm a happy bunny because it all looks so good.

Because the weather has been warm and rain free for a few days the hay is drying and getting rolled into bales and is making it's way up the Dales to farms who will need it for the winter feed for their stock. Tractors and trailers loaded with bales of hay are all moving west at the moment.

I was out on a ramble on Friday and we had to go through a farmyard full of cows, calves and other bovines. (I'm never really sure if they are BULLS or not so I just squeeze myself into a small group so that I'm surrounded by a soft protective layer of human flesh). But the ground was still a quagmire. The harvest has been poor and much has been ruined because they couldn't get it in because the ground was so boggy. The bovines reacted to us by doing the same as the ones in M's Welsh holiday.

I'm off to the High School Centenary Reunion this weekend. A small school was started on the same site as the one that now exists, a hundred years ago. I have not been back to St Michael's Catholic Grammar School for Girls in North Finchley since I left 42 years ago. Next weekend the three sisters will all roll up to the centenary celebrations together! So will lots of their friends and siblings. I shall take some photos.

On my return there will be some knitting and a bookfair to get ready for.

Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mines and More

I have spent some time sorting through the calendars of events published by Natural England, AONB, Durham CC, Teesdale Events, and local papers and google in order to decide what to do in my own "Rambling Calendar" and today's was one I had been looking forward to for a long time so here is Part Two.

This continues the journey through the social and industrial archaeology of Upper Weardale.

The first picture shows the Bouse Teems or Bouse Steads at Slitt. The lead miners were not paid a wage but got themselves together as teams to work certain sections of the mine and load their efforts into one of these enclosures, which had a railway running across the top which dropped your daily efforts into your teem/stead. Each teem/stead was processed separately and your team was paid accordingly. They bargained with the owners as to how much they would be paid and so had some ownership of their income but guess who usually won?

Low Slitt mine had the longest vein of lead minerals and was mined back into the hills for 14 miles. At the northern end of Slitt Wood is the area where the rock was worked...the washing floor. There is a large flattened area where the rock was bashed by hand, lighter debris washed away by water and a hydraulic engine was used to crush the larger slabs and send gushes of water to slush away the lighter debris. One of the pictures shows the gravelly bits left behind on the washing floor by all or any of these processes.

There was such a shortage of flat working surfaces (sounds like a kitchen) that they culverted over the burn. An amazing feat of drystone walling, seen here, is now being held together by mortar and BH funding.
Once you get to the top you can see into the West Rigg Open Cut. This is a basin which has been mined for its central lead vein and then quarried for its surrounding iron ore. You can see the cut made into the centre of the lead bearing quartz.

Last but not least. On our way back down the fell we passed an area where some people are repairing the drystone walling. Hopefully this will enclose a high meadow which will be able to re-grow. This picture shows the layout of a patch and the wooden frame used as a guide to maintain the shape. The old walls were 6 foot at base and 6 foot high. An equilateral triangle. But todays are taller and slimmer. Aren't we all? With more modernised engineering it can be done.

I'm thrilled by all my learning today and anxious to learn more.
Next week I promise to show you more of the knitting and dyeing and the moving of the chook shed.

Cheers Gillian

Slitt Wood

Slitt Wood is on Middlehope Burn, which flows south to the village of Westgate where it joins the River Wear. Westgate and Eastgate were the boundaries of the Bishop of Durham's Forest or hunting grounds.
This ancient remnant of woodland is an SSSI (site of special scientific interest). Wild flowers abound, such as dog's mercury, wood anemone and bluebells. Dog's mercury is a bizarre and fascinating name. If I can find out why it is so named, I shall let you know.
At High Mill is this waterfall and there are many more upstream, cascading over the ever changing carboniferous rock strata. Harder rocks resist erosion and become falls.

If you climb right to the top of the fell which overlooks the Low Slitt Lead Mine at the northern end of the wood, you can look down at this view of the tree tops. Such a small piece of woodland and so important. In the distance are the spoil heaps of the lead mine ( more of that in the next post).

Giant spoil heaps sit in the front of the wood with a distant and misty Weardale .
In early times Woodland and Forest were not really comparable terms. Woodland was indeed an area where trees grew closely together but Forest was classified by the activities allowed....hunting, mining and some farming. Sheep were not allowed because they competed with deer for grazing but cattle were allowed. They graze in a different way and in earlier times were considered to be suitable "forest" animals. So this Slitt Woodland was once a small part of the Bishop of Durham's Forest. The Bishop's lands were vast and their designation as forest or park allowed differing land uses to develop. Evidence of much Roman occupation is emerging and Romano-British social archaeology as well as the industrial archaeology was the subject of a guided ramble I did today in this area. Thankyou to Tom Gledhill for a wealth of fascinating information and to Paul Frodsham for stirring the "How did it happen?" pot.

It is great to be in the company of the leading experts and to hear them bounce ideas around and be included in the discussion. Although I admit I know so little that I added little. I even got tired and glib towards the end and simply suggested that they should dig a few holes to sort out what was below!!!

A great afternoon. And this is only part one of what I learnt.

Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 7 September 2008

I Made It to the Top of the Hill

I climbed to the top of a fell today.

This is a great achievement for me. A year ago I was so unfit that I had trouble climbing a flight of stairs, so I started rambling and this year have increased it to a couple of 5/6 mile walks a week or one slightly longer one.
Luckily in the North-East of England there are so many groups running rambles that the choice is wonderful. Many of them have a theme (local history, wild flowers, tree identification etc) and a leader provides a commentary and handouts and a map.

BLISS! I love being taught. I'll listen to anything. I follow along like a puppy looking at everything and hanging onto every word. When I get home I have forgotten most of it but I have books and can look it up!

Today was a ramble to Cronkley Fell on the southern side of the River Tees. It is in full flood with all the rainwater and the release of water from Cow Green Reservoir up the dale. On our return the flow had increased and the water was brown with sediment.
I have progressed from my early stumbles to stepping out more confidently in "all weather" gear and proper boots, but today was still a challenge because...

* It had been raining nonstop for two days and hazardous weather warnings were widespread. It continued to rain for about 75% of our time out on the fell (total time out there=6hours)
* The walk was described as "strenuous". This was because we had to climb up and over the Whin Sill to reach Cronkley Fell. Lots of steep bits and the wet weather made everything much more difficult.
* We were to study lichens which flourish on slippery rocks.
* All waterways were in flood and most had doubled their depth and width by the time we returned in the afternoon making dry-foot crossings akin to a circus performance.

But it was all worth it. If you look carefully at this picture, in the bottom half you may be able to identify a green grassy basin with some rocks around the edge. It would be about twenty feet across and is the remains of a bronze-age homestead. Built in a circle with the doorway down wind of the prevailing one and with about nine long poles supporting the roof in a radial pattern. Spreading out from the farmhouse are some more stones which indicate the walled fields which surrounded it. I stood there for ages just soaking it in. There is nothing to stop you from taking your picnic to the middle of a bronze-age home and having lunch where they would have had theirs. Probably a bit different in content. I had some turkey and chutney sandwiches on white bread. I wonder what they would have had.

Going east from the settlement is the drover's road. This winds its way up the slopes of Holwick Fell. It was built for the pack-horses and some wagons which carried materials to and from the mines and across the Pennines generally, from the 14th century onwards. Mines provided minerals such as lead ores, iron ores, coal, limestone and dolerite.

The limestones provide basic conditions and the dolerite of the Whin Sill provides acidic conditions so there is a large variety of flowering plants, lichens and mosses to be found. We were in search of lichens.

We were led by Mike Sutcliffe, a self confessed fanatical lichenologist. And, Yes! dear reader, it is liken not litchen if you are a lichenologist. Litchen gives you away as being a definite non-lover of lichens. In fact you may even prefer mosses!!!

This picture shows about twenty different species of lichen. They all look the same until you get your hand lens out, put your knees on the wet ground, stick your bum in the air and look closely into the lens. Then they look like the terrain on planets from other solar systems. REALLY WEIRD and WONDERFUL. This is a good link for pictures.

We sat on wet boulders in the pouring rain to eat our picnic lunch and took it in turns to disappear around the corner to pee. This is quite an experience when it raining so hard that your bum gets wet as soon as you pull your pants down and even wetter as it hits the heather. This is a "girlie" thing of course. In fact the whole lunch thing only took a few minutes because the weather was so bad that only three nutters like me turned up to take part so there were five altogether. Mike, John, Meg, me and the Natural England Volunteer Leader...Angie. Guess what, though? We all loved it and had a great time and were glad we did it and not something else, even in all that rain. I'm off to trawl the internet for a hand lens so that I can go round looking like a lichen fanatic!

When I got back to Staindrop it stopped raining. Eerie.

Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Chicken Run On It's Way

I bought a chicken coop which came with a readily attachable run. The "run" is shown in the first photo. It is still in its "flatpack" state.

I would like to pretend that I did it all myself. I have been holding a few pieces in the right place for R to just zap it all together and the tools are all mine. It was probably easy enough to manage if I had four arms and hands but I was able to borrow a couple of capable ones. In fact he did quite a good job on his own while I chatted to a friend on the phone for a while or so.

The coop was suppose to be able to be assembled by one person in half an hour, but because all the similarly shaped pieces were not numbered it took the two of us over an hour and a half. This included removing pieces that had been put on back to front and/or upside down.

The cat is wondering where to find more birds ( please let me
know if you have a nifty way of stopping the cat from catching little bluetit babies apart from locking her indoors).

Cheers Gillian

Northumbria and all its Wonders

My VERY favourite English coastline is the Northumbrian section. The first picture here shows the famous view of the Castle at Lindisfarne, Holy Island.

I took a friend to visit the island, which can only be reached at low tide. There are these castle ruins at the end of the island and ruins of the monastery in the centre of the island which is where this photo is taken from.

There are serious warnings about getting off the 'island' before the tide comes in again because if you miss it you are stuck for another 6/8 hours. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway.

There were so many people there that day that we took off for Bamburgh.
I love this castle. As you can see it looks out to the North Sea. The weaponry must come from a few wars. We enjoyed lunch of fresh, local crab sandwiches and then headed home

The next day we headed out to Piercebridge to review the Roman ruins just beside the village. This picture shows the protected remains of the Roman bits. The village is built on top of the original Roman fort and there is still a bridge over the Tees river at the same place that the Romans built one.
There are many Roman remains around this area and the roads are often straight for long distances suggesting their origins were Roman.

Cheers for now