Monday, 26 January 2015

The Butcher of Sheepy things

Like I said in a previous post, I somewhat lost my knitting mojo after then holidays.  Once I got all the gifties sent out to the four corners of the globe, I sat down and looked around and just couldn't find the inspiration to do diddly.

I dislike unfinished projects in general, which is why I was disgusted with myself for having a hat brim sitting on the shelf for more than a month.

A long stretch of simple knitting in the round was abandoned in favor of just not wanting to deal with it for 14 inches.  

I did chip away at a crochet blanket for a while:

The Babette, the best way I could think of to use up all the scraps of sock yarn that I've accumulated the past few years.  A memory of socks and shawls and sweaters, slowly being pieced together in a colorful spread of clown barf.  However...I now need to create more scraps as I'm running out of yarn for it.  

Part of this big stall was the fault of this jumper:

An incredibly warm men's Icelandic lopi sweater called Riddari, knit in the natural colors of sheep of the Birtish Isles: Black Wesh, moorit Shetland, white BFL, and steel gray Suffolk.  It was lovely to knit- the wool was rustic and had a lovely sheepy smell, and it was comforting and joyful to make.

Once I was done and blocked, I decided I didn't want it to be a pullover- a zipper install to let it be worn open would be a good idea since it was extraordinarily warm. So I crocheted steeks, slicked it from nave to throat, and basted in a lovely vintage brass zipper.

Hours later, I was in a mass of ripped seems and bits of thread.

No matter how carefully I install a zipper, no matter how many tutorials I read and follow step-by step, I can not get the stupid giant bulge out.


I'm at a loss as to what to do- after picking it out and re-sewing it, trying to keep the fabric loose and the tension even, the bulges would not go away.

Should I try again, send it off to a pro to pic, or try to sew it back up and call it a pullover?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Swimming in Dartmoor

Not content with walking a full week, we left Wales and headed south to Dartmoor national park for a weekend of hiking in the moors.

Unfortunately, the weather conspired against us (finally!).  Overnight, the world turned into a raging torrent, and driving rains made the visibility nil.  While we were happy to walk in the rain, a raging storm was another story.  Dartmoor can be featureless, and it would be quite easy to get lost on the open moors once the fog rolls in.  

It started to clear, so we hopped in the car and drove to a nearby trailhead, passing raging rivers and washed-out roads and super puddles of hydroplane goodness.  By the time we got there, we were once again in the thick of it.  We napped in the car for a bit, then decided to take drastic action.  

We cozied up in the Warren House Inn, feasting on delectable rabbit pies and scrumpy, a hard apple cidre drink that was quite strong and warming.  Usually, we save the big meal for a victory post-hike splurge, but with nothing much to do, we decided to go for it.  

The Warren House is the best kind of pub: remote, ancient, low-ceilinged, roaring fireplaces, and a creepy poster in the women's toilet.

We stopped by one of the National Park Centres after our warming lunch.  The ranger was friendly and talkative and knowledgeable, and told us which hikes would be off limits as the streams were way too high to make crossings feasible.  He recommended a walk that was mostly in the forest up to Bellever Tor.  We got ambitious and turned it into a 5 mile loop. 

The tors here are iconic- large, free-standing rock stacks on the tops of an otherwise smooth hill.  

It was wet, and blowing.  These people were taking shelter in the tor, trying to eat lunch.  

But a place like Dartmoor is almost best enjoyed in bad weather.  It lends a certain sense of doom and gloom that you just can't get on a sunny day.  Even with my feet squishing inside my boots with every step, I was content to soldier on.

We continued on to Laughter Tor, then back to the car park through the moors and woods.

What is most remarkable about Dartmoor is how much stuff there is here, hidden in plain site.  Standing stones, hut circles, villages, stone circles, cairns, pillow mounds and mines dot the OS maps with so much information that it is difficult to get to point A to point B without wandering off to explore.  The helpful ranger had pointed out a few good ones to check out on the maps- entire villages of bronze-age settlements are still found, completely free for you to explore if you are so inclined.  Not one of them is signposted...the ranger said that "If we signposted one, we'd have to signpost them all,  we'd have nothing but signpost marring the moors".  So with a map and a compass, you can find all sorts.  This apparently was a very high-demand real estate area back in the day.  

 We hiked until dark, and then headed back to dry off and warm up- we got soaked even with waterproofs with the wind driving the rain, but we stayed relatively comfortable as long as we kept moving, and we were thankful anytime we were in the trees and a bit out of the wind.

The next day, we had less rain, but the fog was thick and eerie.

We left our tiny, warm cottage and headed back up into the moors.  Despite multiple changes of newspaper and leaving them in front of the radiator all night, the boots were still damp, so the socks were doubled.

We left the car park and started headed up to Hookney Tor, with thick fog rolling in.

Bennet's cross

Looking back, we could see the Warren House pub....

And then a few minutes later, we could not....

 From Hookney Tor, you can look across to Hameldown Tor, but snuggled in the little valley is something remarkable:


A prehistoric farming village, complete with 24 stone huts inside a stone wall.  

 A very pregnant pony....

The ponies running wild on the moor are a bit more refined and pretty than the ones in Wales and Cornwall, and they have their own breed registry.

Soon, we were back in the thick fog on Hamel Down, with a skewed sense of direction.  The ravens, also blind to their environment, were flying low and letting out loud grawks, mysteriously appearing and then fading back into the thick fog.  

The subtle colors were making me swoon- tiny closed buds of heather, juniper and wintertime grasses.

This, I loved:

In the middle of the moor, Warren House gets its own signpost.  It was a sign from above: after 8 miles, we were ready to turn back and get one more rabbit pie before heading back to London.

We did get distracted though:

A row of orderly standing stones, laid out by some ancient tribe.

Once again, Dartmoor revealed itself as the kind of place that I'd want to go back to.  There's so much to see and explore, you could entertain yourself for ages.

We did have a really nice parting pie and scrumpy, then hopped into the car and drove back to London.  I couldn't ask for a more amazing winter hiking week.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Worm's Head: Conquered by Some, Admired by All

We spent the rest of the week hiking around Gower.  It was fantastic. It's a really special place, and it's a compelling argument for exploring the countryside on foot.  While not as mighty and expansive as the neighboring Pembroke peninsula, it was effortless hiking. 

And by effortless, I mean it was easy to find a trail and make a nice loop.  Some of the hills were kind of tough!  By no mean mountains, but just a good stretch of the legs, and plenty of wind to whip your hair around and redden your face on top.  

Rhossilli Downs
We had invited a couple of friends along for a New Year celebration, which involved cooking a nice dinner, drinking a few bottles of fizzy, then heading over to the local pub.  It was quite surreal as we were the only foreigners there and drew a mix of curiosity and bewilderment from the locals.  Ah, and there was a band playing all of 6 songs, and the only people on the dance floor were the women, and the men just sat at the tables drinking beer and watching.  It was like high school (except I never went to a dance in high school) and the city-folk were definitely the more exuberant dancers.

The next day, a head-clearing walk from Three Cliffs and Oxwich bays back to Port Eynon in a gale.  

We got covered with mud and blowing sand and soaked to the skin, but warmed up nicely next to the fire at the end of the day.  It's safe to say that we all slept like rocks that night.

Having the cottage was really a fantastic idea.  Not only did we eat much, much healthier than we would if we had to rely on whatever random pub we end up next to, it was fantastic to have the option to laze around when the rain and wind got too much (not that we took a day off at any point...but the option was there).  Cooking dinner and drinking wine every night, playing board games and singing along to Kenny Rodgers- this made for a much more memorable experience, and no one at the YHA down the road were tormented by a bunch of nutters.

Oxwich castle
 A loop up Llanmadoc Hill made for a fantastic walk.  It was steep, there were ponies and not too much else on the top, and coming back down we a fantastic beach walk.

This beachy area along Loughor Estuary was stunning- there were thousands of wintering sea birds, no people at all for miles, huge mounds of dunes to escape the wind in, middens of picked-over mussels and oysters thanks to the birds, and a ghostly iron lighthouse far into the bay.

Our last bit of walking was a big one, and probably the most stunning day of walking yet.

We got up early to hit the tides right, and wandered out across the causeway to the storied Worm's Head, which had taunted us with late-night low tides all week.

This is probably the only hike I've ever done that had a coast guard station with spotters watching your progress, lest the tide swallow your escape route.

We picked our way across, and started up the steep and muddy slopes.

We got to this point, and I stopped.  This was not my kind of hiking.

So I sat down on a sunny rock and watched the painfully slow progress of crossing an impossibly craggy puzzle.  My ankles would have snapped instantly.

Thank goodness I did decide to stay behind- they told me it only got worse.

And the final scramble to the top as indeed a trail-less scramble.

Well, that was fun.  Self-preservation makes for uninteresting photos.  I did have good company with some Herdwick sheep though.  I've never seen these outside of the Lake District.  The fact that they can survive on the fell-tops means they don't mind a seaside holiday on such an unforgiving little island.

On the way back across, we literally stumbled upon a gray seal pup.

Suspicious of us, but unwilling to give up his sunny rock.

Once back on terra firma, we headed up to the highest point in Gower, Rhossilli Downs.

We watched a group of hangliders make their way up with equipment, waiting for the wind to calm enough for a fly.

The views were stunning from the top.

There was a bronze-age carin near the top- a huge circular rock pile- and lots of burial chambers.  Ancient man knew how to pick the best spots to spend eternity.  

The way down the equally steep far side of the hill, which was a bog, we all had fun slip-and-falls, leaving our bums wet and interesting mud splatters on our backs.

Then a long walk back on the beach- perfectly flat, seemingly endless.

Rhossoilli beach had a rather famous and picturesque site: the bones of a ship, wrecked more than a hundred years ago.

There was also the ghost of the original Rhossilli village along the shore- built too close to the beach, the villagers eventually forced to move to higher ground.

A beach holiday in which not a single bikini was donned.

We lucked out with the weather- having one stormy day to contend with in a week of winter hiking.  In love, I am.  The people were friendly to a fault, the trails were fantastic.  I was in my element.

Dreams of the Pembroke coast now dance in my head.  September coastal hiking, anyone?