Friday, October 24, 2014

FO: Plethora of Hats

A cold chill has swept the land.  After a bit of petered-out hurricane Gonzalo blew through England, it went from balmy and windy, to rainy and windy, to cold and windy in a 24 hour period.   Sweater weather!  Cuddly hats and snugly scarfs and indulging in all sorts of edibles that you've been turning your nose up all summer.  Sweet potatoes and soups and sweet potato soup, squash and crispy sweet apples and I've not turned down any offers of hot chocolate.

I've been plugging away on hats.  It's become a bit of a joke in my knit circle: another week, another hat.  And it's true, I've been knocking out about one a week.  These aren't difficult patterns, and most of them are worsted-weight, so it only takes me a few hours a piece.  

As always, fantastic gifts.  All of these are being flung to the four corners of the earth.

First up: 


The Botanic Hat, a clever little Stephen West Beanie.  It's completely reversible, and looks remarkably different when you give it a flip.


See?  The best thing about this is that when I finished, I weighed the leftover skeins and realized I had enough for a mirror-image:


The pair of hats used exactly two skeins of Rowan Lima, an alpaca yarn that makes me rethink alpaca yarn.  It's velevety.  Instead of being twisted into plies, it is chained, so it makes for less drapey structure-less fabric as it seems to behave much more like wool.  It's not bad at all..


Another creating- the Windsor Hat.  It's a free pattern on the Rowan site and I loved how feminine and girly it was (and I'm not a girly girl by any means).  The pattern was a huge pain in the ass though- it was written Rowan-style to be knitted flat, which is as complicated as you could possibly get.  Still- it is slouchy and warm and after a glance at the pattern, I was able to improvise and knit it in the round, and all was right in the world once again.

The yarn was an odd skein of Creative Worsted, a wool/mohair blend, and the pink was leftovers of Swans Island worsted Merino from my Wayfarer scarf.  


This bad boy is going to a friend of mine who just moved from a balmy climate to a cold one:


It's the Greenery hat.  I made an extra-thick brim so it can be worn as a big slouch or doubled over the ears (which hides the cabling a bit, eh?).  The yarn?  Ah, the yarn.  A few skeins of wool yarn I picked up at Monoprix in Paris out of pure curiosity.  While I miss Monoprix badly (like Target in the US, they had great chic clothes) this yarn was not the best.  It was really dense- this hat is heavy!- and had a weird acrylic-like squeak even though it was pure wool.  It's not terribly scratchy though, and I think it will keep a head very warm.

Finally:


I used all the scraps that haunt the flat from the ghosts of hats past and made a Kex hat, another  reversible beanie from Stephen West.  I've been making a ton of his patterns lately...I just find they are brilliantly unisex and uniquely constructed.  

I have some more projects to flaunt, but some are gifts and need to be gifted first, but I'm enjoying this sudden drop of temperature to inspire me to cover everyone I know in wool.  



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chilterns

The London tube is expansive.  It's the third-largest transit system in the world, and finding living quarters close to a stop is what motivates many real estate deals.  

I was quite surprised to find out that if you take the Metropolitan line to its furthest reaches, you end up in the hills in the countryside.  No matter than it was nearly two hours on the tube and I should have just taken the faster light rail to get there, the novelty of taking the tube to the Chiltern Hills was just too much of a novelty to pass up.  

I picked up a guide to the Chilterns by the local tourism board that makes for a nice 8 mile circular, starting and ending at the train station in Chesham.


Passing through town to get to the hills, I noticed a prettified construction barrier:







Finally, out passed the church, the trail climbs into the hills.



Big, beautiful expansive hillsides.  The Chilterns make up part of the Ridgeway- the downs that cut across the north of London, and home to the Ridgeway National Trail.  I've been wanting to hike it- I love the hills and it's close enough to London for it to be an easy out, but there is no public transportation to the trail head and you have to walk three days before you can get your first public transportation back to the city.  I don't want to hike it that badly.



Probably the most magic thing about the hike, aside from taking the tube here, were the numbers of Red Kites I saw.


Dozens of them!  Some of them quite close.  I couldn't turn around and see a patch of sky without seeing one swooping down and harassing all the rest of the avian world.  




Oh, and there were brambles.  So many brambles.  Although the trail cut through a bit of suburbia and I was never far from a backyard, no one had picked a single berry.  They were all for me!


I hike slow to begin with and having food for the taking lining the trail side is downright dangerous.  

Which wouldn't be so bad except I kept getting lost.  Even with a map and compass, there were just too many trails and unmarked branches, and if I got off the trail, I had a hard time rectifying the written instructions for the route I was supposed to be on.


But ah!  There was a pub on route.  Which was closed.  Pubs aren't supposed to close on Sundays!


Altogether, not a bad walk, but not my favorite either.  I somehow managed to lose my Oystercard on the trail- it must have slipped out of my pocket during a vigorous berry reach- which I had never done before.  I guess taking the tube to the trail has its hazards.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wetlands

I had been wanting to get out to the London Wetland Centre since I had heard about it.  This sprawling marshland was very close to central London- you can take the Piccadilly line and walk across the Thames to get there.  That's pretty amazing.  Not too many cities have the kind of foresight to decide not to drain a swamp, let alone create one where there had once been a reservoir.


I waited until I had a nice sunny day and headed out with my giant telephoto lens.  Autumn is a great time to birdwatch here in England as all the birds who had spent the summer at points north are on their way to Africa then, and there are other winter visitors that start trickling in.


One thing I didn't realize about the Wetland centre is that it was set up as a bit of a zoo.  They had a big cafe and visitors centre, and they accommodate school groups regularly.  They had a lot of birds from all over in open-air enclosures with their wings clipped, with the common theme of "these are all birds that depend on wetlands all over the world".  I don't know how I feel about that, and they have come under fire from the public and from naturalist about this practice.  I guess they figured the general public wouldn't be satisfied paying admission for sitting in a blind hoping to see something other than seagulls and mallards.

Still, it afforded the ability to get good close-up shots of birds that normally would be a far-off smudge on the screen.  This was fine by me as some of the birds were just fantastically beautiful.

Tundra Swan

Bufflehead Duck
White-headed duck



Eider
Pintails

After a jaunt around the zoo, I made my way to the marsh, where they had blinds set up all around, and a tall fence as well.  You were invisible to the wildlife, and if there weren't too many screaming kids around, you could see quite a lot.   Tons of ducks and gulls, lapwings, lots of herons, a handful of divers.  It was bountiful, and some of the blinds had telescopes and binoculars, which were really handy. 

Red-breasted Merganser
Grey Heron

It took me most of the afternoon to walk around the marsh, stopping at each blind for a vantage point, studying what was there.  Hoping for a sighting of a shorebird or a peregrine falcon, but no luck there.  A falcon supposedly lives on the roof of Charing Cross hospital right across the Thames, and swoops on over from time time time when he is sick of dining on pigeon.
  

Jackdaws

Parts of the trail they had planted with local meadows, with beautiful wildflowers and the songbirds and butterflies they attract.



It seemed very remote, but at some points, you look across the marsh and ah, it is indeed London.


Shags
Gadwalls, with their black bottoms

Great crested grebe
My favorite sightings were those of the Shoveler ducks, with their comically oversized beaks.  They flock to the Thames in huge numbers in winter.  


I also so quite a few Teals with their painted hussy faces.




All this kissing-close to Central London.


I also saw a water vole, nimbly climbing up a bird feeder cage while his cousin the Norway Brown could only watch.  I got a glimpse of one last summer at Rainham Marsh- they are acrobatic little climbers that shimmy up and down reed stalks in the marshland.


Worth a trip out?  I guess...I was happy with my sightings and the ease of access from the city.  Having the zoo there kind of put a damper on things, and if I did it again I would probably find an RSBP site to give my money to instead.  Some online research showed much outrage not only about the clipped wings of their birds, but they also had allegedly gotten in the habit of shooting mallards that had gotten into the exhibit enclosures.  I hope that they were at the very least enjoying some roast duck if they were going to be shooting the wildlife they were claiming to protect.