A River Runs Through It

The river theme for my yarns started with this yarn I blogged about yesterday. When I was planning it, the lustre of the wool once scoured really caught the light like sunlight playing off water and so I thought a watery theme would give a good yarn name as well as giving a sense of place. It helped with my decision to enhance that by adding 20% silk for a really shimmery lustre that is brought out strongly on the dyed shades.

I’m lucky enough to live in a really beautiful place. Wales is a very varied country and the scenery never fails to nourish me whether I’m at home or travelling elsewhere. At home we are on the top of a hill looking down into valleys – or cwm – whichever way we look.

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We catch quite a lot of weather here! The high level of rainfall drains off our wet clay soils and, along with the natural springs that rise all over the land, flows into the ditches we have to maintain. And at the bottom of our fields, this water run-off starts to form a very baby stream which almost dries up in summer. In the rare summers that it is scorching hot, it’s nice to go down under the trees and listen to this tiny waterway trickling its first “steps” to the sea.

It flows into the brook down to the village and from there into the first small river it turns into – the Afon Miwl. This joins up with the River Severn which is our local main river – or Afon Hafren in Welsh – and from there carries on to England and meanders its way south before heading out into the Irish Sea at Bristol. From small beginnings powerful things can grow and I liked the thought that the small batches of fleece my sheep were growing on our little fields were slowing gathering together before being turned into a proper grown up yarn.

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Late last Autumn I started to wind and dye a few skeins to test out my colour palette. When it came to photographing them, I knew I had to go down to the river and take the wool back to where its namesake flowed. This walk down the Captain’s Pitch is one that Marley and I enjoy occasionally – despite the fact it’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a local man murdered on his way back from chapel in the distant past!!

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The October light filtered through the trees for just half an hour or so as I tried to catch the colours (and not topple my basket of yarns off the bridge into the stream!)

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The colours played nicely against the moss of the bridge.

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And the soft shaded light really brought out the lustre.

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There are remains of various mills around this area. The farmer who lived at our smallholding before us was very interested in local history. Before he died he tried hard to enthuse me in the same passion. Sadly in my late teens and early twenties I didn’t fully appreciate all he wanted me to understand, nor had I yet developed the love for my new home, something that takes time to root and flourish. I thought he’d told me that the mills along here were sawmills and that the oak they milled from this land base was felled to provide timbers for the ships for the Royal Navy fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

I asked for help from someone who has long been associated with local history and textiles in this area and who was also a mutual friend of my farming mentor and she kindly corrected my hazily remembered misinformation, for which I was very grateful. She explained that although later they were converted to grain and sometimes sawmills, in the 19th C they were in the main fulling mills used for the local flannel cloth industry which was in its heyday in this area. As you might imagine, I was delighted to know that the mill was used for woollen textiles rather than wood!

She also directed me to the Cynefin project archives of the tithe maps for the area so I could see for myself the “flannel racks” or tentering frames where the wet woollen cloth was stretched and dried outside after fulling. They’re marked on land behind the trees opposite the bridge where I took the yarn photos above. This shows very clearly to what use the power of the river was being put – and in the 1840’s it was most definitely for wool! This screenshot detail of the overlaid map shows the racks as well as the Walk Mill woollen factory and river.

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I’m a bit clumsy with technology, although it is undeniably as useful to me as it is to others. In the main I prefer to do things by hand, it sits more comfortably with me and I find working things out by hand less frustrating. So when it came to making yarn labels for this yarn and for my other dyed yarns I wanted to draw – literally – on the landscape around my home. Whether looking west to the Cambrian Mountains as above or Snowdonia

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or behind us to the Kerry Ridgeway bordering England or to the soft undulations of the fields around my home…

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…wherever you look are hills, mountains and misty valleys; sheep, cattle and trees. They are connected to each other sustaining, shaping and evolving with the humans that tend them all. I started to sketch a stylised version because these are the things of my daily life.

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Which eventually turned into this label for the Hafren and Gwy yarns.

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And in the case of this Afon Miwl yarn, I’m able to bring the detail right down to the animals names!

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Afon Miwl is quite a sleek drapey yarn with little elasticity. Although it knits as a fingering weight / 4 ply yarn, its dense 80% longwool/ 20% silk worsted construction means its yardage is closer to sport weight yarn at around 290m / 100g (or 317yds / 3.53oz). It is in 100g hand-dyed skeins and is priced at £22.50 per skein. Colour batches are small, around 3 skeins in each colour batch.

It definitely lends itself to shawls and lace knitting. I think it would be amazing woven and hope there may be a few remnants after skeining that I can try this with myself.

I haven’t skeined all of the yarn yet but there will be around 150 skeins in total. And that’s it. I’m unlikely ever to make this yarn exactly like this again. The first batch of around 50 skeins will go on sale shortly once all the labelling is complete. Do feel free to sign up for my newsletter (subscribe button on my website www.barber-blacksheep.co.uk) to be informed of the planned update time.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my yarn project and will maybe want to knit with it too!

Advent: Christmas Eve

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An old photograph – we’ve not had a snowy Christmas for a few years.

But this is “home” and it’s prettier than the winter we’re having at the moment!

Home.

I feel so very blessed. My family are the people I love most (closely followed by my animals of course!) and I am lucky enough to have seen all of them in the past few weeks which is unusual. But the past two days as we and our neighbours have met and called on each other to exchange cards and gifts and wish each other well and see how each other are I’m reminded over and again how the people I live near are also like family to us. How much we rely on the love and goodwill of those nearby, even when our own relatives are so very far away.

We don’t make much of a festive fuss. “Things” have never really mattered that much to me. People do. The greatest joy I know is to spend time with someone I care about and enjoy their company and friendship. If that is the most precious thing someone can have then I am rich beyond measure in the people I have in my life and I am grateful to have everything I could possibly want in that. I hope I have given of myself to those who need companionship too. None of us take each other for granted but at this season when we all take the time to say “thank you for being there” to each other it cements the bonds we share. Almost like resetting us for another year of living and working together.

I know there are many without, not just at this time but all year round. More than usual, those who “have not” are more on my mind and I find myself asking if I can do more about this. So many people who do not have someone to look out for them or just to care enough to ask if they are OK. Knowing how fortunate I am to love and be loved, I want to keep this in mind for the coming year, not just at Christmas time.

Wishing you joy, peace, love and good cheer this season and for the coming year xx

Tempus fugit (when you’re having fun)

The past week has involved a good deal of dove-tailing the different areas of my life. It’s been kind of busy – even more so than usual – and wow, hasn’t it gone quickly! Today has been a day to pause, reflect and hibernate just a little because it suddenly got rather chilly here with the wind blowing down off the first snows tipping the mountains to the NorthWest this morning…

It’s been a good week including lots of time with various friends from around the UK on trips out and celebrating gatherings closer to home. Making, writing, sketching, thinking, planning, walking, eating good food … and rather a lot of old fashioned grafting! Although this week we had help in for the major job of breaking up a large part of our farm yard and relaying the concrete which had become damaged over the past 10 years by frost and salt in the more bitter winters. It’s a job that needed doing for a while so although the new surface currently looks as stark as bleached bones, we’re rather pleased with it. We can work on “prettifying” the surrounds next spring!

I’m continually amazed at the glory of this Autumn though. One thing I’ve always thought I’d love to do is to go “leaf peeping” in another country renowned for Autumn/Fall colour. This past week though, I feel replete with all that arboreal Wales has offered during October. It couldn’t be better and it’s right here outside my door…

Here’s a few glimpses of the fun I’ve had both at work and play:

Baking butter cookies and roasted pumpkin soup this morning

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Around home with my animals and daily life:

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A change of scene for a day, exploring somewhere new and catching up with old friends.

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I didn’t have my camera last night for our neighbours’ awesome Bonfire Party they host each year but this is definitely something not to be missed, although sadly this year a few people weren’t able to be with us. As usual we finished off by roasting our faces and marshmallows sitting on the straw bales we loan for the occasion. There’s nothing quite like being huddled together round a fire with home made food and drinks, laughing with your neighbours to feel like you’re reinforcing bonds that will last through joy and adversity – and they do (marshmallows optional extra).

These times together are so cherished by us all that we were only halfway through the evening before our conversation turned to our next two usual gatherings – at Christmas and New Year and even projected onto the possibility of a new Midsummer madness!! Smokey smiles all round!

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What I can’t show you is the progress being made on the Spinner’s Advent Calendar – it’s top secret until December of course!

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I’m working my way through packing the pre-orders, they were so popular this year and I’m really grateful for that. There may possibly turn out to be a couple of spares at the end of this. My Ravelry group update thread is the best place to watch for the chance to snap one up…

What I can show you is the newest addition to my stitch marker range – Autumn Sheep! Now in stock.

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There are more things in the pipeline once the Advent Calendars have winged their way to their new homes. So many things to squeeze into the time. It’s all good!

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October. The trees are not stripped bare, not yet (sorry U2). They are however turning some glorious colours that make my heart sing and I’m struggling not to turn every fibre I dye into a mirror for everything I see around me.

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Sometimes I can’t help myself though when gradients flutter from the hedgerows on my dog walks, begging to be plucked and arranged…

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Yet again, it’s been another kind Autumn. Last year the good weather went on and on into November right up until we’d done some of the hedge laying and then Winter suddenly crashed in with downpours that wouldn’t stop. However, the beginning of this month – so warm and sunny – has given way to fogs and the kind of damp chill mornings that seep into your very bones although thankfully it’s still dry. I’ve layered up on handknits and am turning over possibilities (had I the time) for new garments to cast on. Time for everyone to wrap up now…

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Almost all the apples are now picked and in the cellar waiting for me to find time to crush and juice them. There’s a lot going on just now and they will keep for a bit whilst we turn our attention to things that really can’t delay.

Before the rains come we need to tackle a job that’s been put off for some years. When we built the house the landscaping round it got left and somehow, as so often happens, just never really got finished. Grass grew over the soil and rubble areas, frosts and rains made the square edges of the plot crumble and slide in and during summer it’s a never ending job strimming the grass just to keep it from seeding and in winter it turns into a quagmire that gets trampled indoors by eager dog paws before they can be halted.

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Not to mention the fact that the temporary front door “step” into the house has been an old wooden pallet propped up on spare blocks for far too long. When it’s wet, it’s slippy. Last winter I slipped over on it myself whilst helping my elderly dog get outside and broke my big toe. It still clicks madly as a reminder that next time it might be somebody else that gets hurt and it might not just be a toe!

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Apart from being messy and unsatisfactory, it’s also not good for a house largely constructed of timber and organic materials to have earth and grass so close to it. The logistics of clearing out what has fallen in and building the retaining wall that never quite got done constituted a fairly large headache. But a headache we can’t really afford to ignore. Because access becomes impossible for more than half the year, we had to do it now or leave it for almost another year – the summer is far too busy with other jobs to contemplate it. It was now or never.

A mini-digger and mini-dumper were booked for yesterday and today along with the ever-marvellous Phil who can do anything it seems. It is no exaggeration to say that I would not trust a single person other than him to manoeuvre heavy machinery in such an awkward spot fraught with the potential for utter disaster. Having said that, even I had misgivings when I saw the size of the “mini” digger and Phil patiently pointed out that a really baby digger wouldn’t have the reach to scoop out the bottom of the pathway so we needed a larger one to do what was required.

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent an awful lot of the past two days flinching and literally holding my breath as he inched the monster-muncher meticulously around the house that took so much blood, tears, toil and sweat to construct. I trust his judgement and skills implicitly but even so, I was heartily relieved when the machinery could be sent back to the hire company.

This does mean that everything from this point on has to be done entirely by sweat and muscle though … and we’ve done a fair bit of this already today. I’ve spent most of the time with pickaxe and spade, reminding myself of upper body muscles I rarely use whilst digging out the footings for a retaining wall. The digger could only reach certain parts and so manpower – and woman-power, however feeble – was called for!!

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The pictures at the beginning of the job were taken yesterday morning just as we were about to start. By close of finish today we’d reduced it to a dusty soilscape ready to receive hard “lamb-skating” as Phil calls it. The image in my head of happy little woolly animals careening about in a carefree manner bleating joyfully puts a smile on my face that sees me through the sweat and grit.

I think I’m going to need to visualise a lot more lamb-skating in the coming weeks as we deal with this lot!

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It needs doing and it will be worth it in the end. I suspect I will be staring glumly at liquid mud if the rain comes soon though … so I hope it stays dry for me and my skating lambs until Christmas this year!

 

Nuts about Autumn

We’re back into my favourite season again! September has been changeable and October certainly didn’t start promisingly yesterday but today is glorious and crisp, chilly and sunny. All the hope and beauty of Autumn, crystallised in one dewy, smokey, morning that begs to be wrapped in a hug of woollen knits and natural fabrics whilst cherishing a cup of cocoa…

I’m not really done with summer or our short Welsh growing season yet though. I’m doing too many things to concentrate on the veg plot properly and as ever, I realised too late how much I was going to miss fresh tasty veg from the garden to make the best of it. I did squeeze a few things in the areas I managed to weed in time but this year I decided to really try properly to extend our growing season in the polytunnel instead of growing summer mediterranean veg in there only. I’ll come back to that in another blog post to show you what I’ve managed so far and what I’m planning.

Outside our temperate climate is heavily into autumnal orchard fruits just now. Some have been picked, I missed to gather the damsons altogether so no damson gin this year (but mum put a few in the freezer). And although the blackberries have been amazing, we have a cupboard bursting with jams and jellies so any bramble jelly would probably not get eaten for a few years! I’ll make a blackberry and apple crumble later today but otherwise I’m happy for the wild birds to stock up rather than gather and freeze fruit we probably won’t use.

One fruit I most definitely want to rescue before the wildlife get it though is a rather special first appearance of walnuts.

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The house my brothers and I grew up in had a neighbouring garden with a prolific walnut tree in it. The squirrels would strip it each year and bury the nuts in our garden. I spent many hours watching them as a child, chewing the green husks, digging furtively whilst keeping a lookout and patting the ground back over. Invariably a lot of these walnuts would get forgotten by the absent-minded furry thieves and we often had seedling walnut trees popping up which my father would lovingly dig up and pot on. He’d give the small tree-lets to friends and when we moved here he brought the last baby trees he’d grown on with us and planted three that grew big enough in the hedgerows on our new farm.

They all survived for some years. Two are definitely still growing although one got plonked down in an unfortunate place in its container and became pot bound and is still rather tiny due to the restricted root system now too deeply entrenched to dig up easily. One over the far side of the farm I haven’t checked on for a while, it may have got lost and trimmed off in the hedges as it’s alongside the road. Those hedges get cut by machinery each year so we can’t always control how much gets cut back!

But the third down our drive has grown and grown and now overshadows our polytunnel. I can’t bear to cut it back though, I’d rather get a new polytunnel. Walnuts take some 20 years to fruit although you can buy grafted varieties which fruit sooner. Daddy’s Walnut has never fruited but to me it’s a special tree, it reminds me of him and his love of nurturing living things and is a link not just to him but to my childhood home. We discovered this week however for the first time ever it has just a smattering of nuts, it felt like a kind of birthday gift.

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I don’t know if the squirrels will steal these before they ripen. But in a way it doesn’t really matter – I’m just happy Walnut is settled enough after 19 and a half years to have nut-children of her own. It would have pleased Daddy immensely to know it had finally fruited more than 20 years after he carefully scooped it out of our garden flower borders to give it a chance at a future elsewhere. I wish I could tell him…

The orchard we planted a decade ago has definitely come into its own.   Despite our harsh climate, the constant battle against weeds and occasional butchering by my escaped sheep, the apples have marched on like the stout troopers they are. The pears and plums lag behind and the cherries are really too delicate for this high up. But apple-picking and juicing is only just around the corner now and the orchard looks so pretty with all the different varieties … in a wildish overgrown kind of way.

The quinces have cropped extraordinarily well – Vranja normally only puts out a couple of fruit – if that. This year she is covered. Not really sure what to do with all of them as they are too hard to juice and will need to be processed some other way involving cooking … that’s an awful lot of quince jelly and cheese!

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Almost no pears but the Duchess has done her best. They aren’t very pretty but once ripe the peeled pears are tasty and I’ll be making pear mincemeat with them most probably.

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Brambles aside, there are still a few autumnal soft fruits. My favourites; raspberries and alpine strawberries are welcome at breakfast or with some yoghurt for dessert.

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Not everything growing in the orchard is a fruit or nut. You may remember the goslings we hatched earlier this year? They grew into large white geese in the space of weeks and are full-size lawnmowers that have done a great job of keeping the grass down without the aid of fossil fuels. It’s said that geese eat as much grass as a cow. I thought that was a granny’s tale but now I’m starting to believe it! Adult geese just nibble but hungry growing goslings can rival teenage lads for the amount of food they can pack away!!

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My mother’s hives have done really well this year too. We had more than enough honey and because we don’t farm them to sell honey my mum decided to leave the last crop of honey on the hives for the bees to keep over-winter instead of feeding them artificially despite the supers being rammed full of capped honey. Unfortunately this kindness may have backfired as the heavy honey crops have attracted raiders … one hive is able to hold its own but the other had lost its queen and had a virgin queen later in the season. This one has been heavily raided by wasps and the bees have had their hands ? feet ? full trying to defend the hive. You can see one just coming in to land here behind the darker coloured bees.

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The bees will valiantly drag out any intruders, trying to pull off legs and wings, dropping the heavy wasps over the edge of the flight board. I watched one last week fly staggeringly some 5 metres dragged down by the wasp in its grasp and then it carefully dropped the stripy burden into a spider’s web stretched between two grass stalks before flying back to the hive. I was amazed at such a deliberate action and may have let out a cheer for the clever bee. We try to help them (and next year we’ll be taking the honey off!) by shutting down the entrance and putting out wasp traps.

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But only time will tell if this colony has been weakened too badly too survive the winter. It’s tricky because wasps too have their place. I’d just rather they didn’t kill our our bees!

There’s always something to be done when you’re surrounded by growing things! So far we’ve got most of our wood under cover and there’s hay and straw in the barn. But the apple-juicing is the next major task and I’ve still more wood to cut up and stack before the winter closes in. Onwards to next week with gratitude for the kind weather we’re having. Long may it last…

 

Hyggeligt

I’ve always been fascinated by words; individually, their etymology, their use and construction in sentences as a means to convey information or emotion. I don’t converse in other languages (a sad failure on my part) but I am intrigued by words from other languages also, especially those that don’t translate well and remain unique to their own tongue.

Hygge – a Danish concept and  Norwegian word – is one of those words that has percolated into my consciousness over the past couple of years, especially in the cooler seasons when hygge comes into its own and more people talk about it.

As I am not Scandinavian, hygge is something I have to really think about to try and understand. If indeed I can. Its loosest association in English appears to be “cosiness” – surely a universal concept. But as with other words that don’t translate into other languages, reading more about it, hygge seems to be so very much more intriguing than just being cosy.

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Cosiness is something intrinsic to fibre artists the world over, especially those of us who work with wool. Knitters, spinners, dyers, knitwear designers; however much we enjoy summer, lots of us secretly long for the crisper days that allow us to dig out treasured woollen hand knit items, lovingly crafted and carefully stored.

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Grey rainy days pen us up inside and beg us to light the woodstove or a candle, find a mug of something warm and comforting and pick up needles and yarn.

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Autumn and Winter turn us more inwards to search for inspiration within. The darker days and longer nights perhaps allow for more hours to devote to crafts. And the chilly evenings and crisp mornings give us the excuse to cast on exciting new projects, peruse patterns and buy fibre, yarn and books…

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To a non-Scandinavian fibre-loving person, hygge would seem to be present in pretty well all of the tactile enjoyment of our craft – from inception to finished item – and the pure pleasure that creativity brings. Days off for me invariably involve time to sit and spin with a mug of good coffee and something tasty to nibble on. It will always be drunk from a hand thrown chunky mug and appreciated slowly to fully invest in the enjoyment “making” brings me.

I feel hygge when I carefully lay out ingredients in readiness to bake, when I enjoy the pure aroma of handmade soap whilst washing my hands, in the cool earth crumbling beneath my fingers as I plant out tender seedlings or harvest home grown food. In the kneading of bread, the line of a poem, the shape of a letter being laid down in ink on fresh paper…

Hygge however seems to be much more than the cosiness of our surroundings or simple enjoyment of the things we do alone. More than material possessions. We hygge when we meet with family or friends, enjoy a moment or a meal together. Whilst reading about hygge and the Danish way of life recently I found the following thought very interesting:

Hygge stems from a society that is focused on people rather than things. It is linked to the language of love and to the idea that real wealth is not what we can accumulate but what we have to share

So hygge seems to mean a kind of happiness and generosity of spirit. But so often happiness of a kind has been linked to a striving for something, a nebulous something that is perhaps achieved only occasionally and has to be chased down like a rare butterfly eluding our net or purchased in an experience. In my early twenties I felt trapped by my work and by illness, happiness was something I’d felt I had long since lost and in the words of my doctor when I sobbed in his surgery I could no longer “see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Giving up my job was the terrifying non-choice I took but I’d reached the bottom of the hell-hole I’d somehow fallen into and there was no place else to go. Hurrying through the days without living them mindfully, I’d suddenly been brought up short. Slowly I returned to the light. Family, nature, faith, whole foods, and being outdoors in natural daylight all played a part in nourishing mind, spirit and body. I had no income, no future plans, saw few people and had very little in the way of material possessions and no money to buy new ones or to go out socialising. Despite the apparent lack of trappings of the modern world I did discover something I’d not had for many years. Peace…

In between the new activities that filled my days; learning to grow vegetables, reading and study, spending more time making and building, finding alternatives to owning, buying and having things, I discovered a truth I had overlooked in my race to achieve something, anything, je ne sais quoi. Happiness was not ecstasy. It was contentment. Having less, doing less but accepting those limitations with simple gratitude gave me a peace I’d not experienced since childhood. I felt like I’d come out into a whole new world. I learned to invest in each moment and live in the present. I felt that the past and the future were linked by a trail of “nows” and that living each moment fully would build a better life. In the frugality I felt like I’d learned the secret of happiness and for a season nothing could shake that.

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In everything of course though there are good and bad moments. In time dark days returned and with them a level of pain previously unknown. The newly learned lessons of contentment were rattled and shaken by storms which often threatened at times to snuff them out altogether. But again family, faith, nature, the love of friends and now spinning and knitting gave me threads to hold onto and weave into the chaotic fabric of my life. And dotted in and amongst the turmoil I tried to find small oases of what I think were hygge or at least hyggeligt (hygge-like); moments to shut the door and sit and spin for a while, perhaps lighting a candle and sit with the window open listening to the night sounds or taking a few moments to properly savour a mug or plate of something thoughtfully prepared. Love pulled our family through the dark canyon to the other side, albeit each of us to our different shores.

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Since then there have been times when I’ve managed to live each moment fully and times when I have utterly lost sight of this. Pondering on the word hygge in recent weeks it reminded me of this need I feel to live each moment mindfully and find contentment that is in the here-and-now rather than always thinking ahead to what the future might bring. Perhaps. One day. Maybe.

I know there are busy times ahead and uncertainty. Winter is always our longest season here; we spend the short summer months preparing for the longer colder darker times, storing, mending, preparing. As we move into Autumn with the prospect of greyer light and fewer hours to pack things into, it increases my feeling that I need to savour each moment for what it really is and be thankful. This season to try make my life a little more hyggeligt. Piece by piece. Moment by moment. It will be good.

I’m almost tempted to say I can’t wait!

 

 

Island Song – v.4

The final trio of colours in the Island Song collection take us into the purple range of hues. They are Bramble, Penrhyn and Guernsey.

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Spiky thorn                                                                                                                                                    and tangled scrub;                                                                                                                                   sweet purple stains her lips and tiny hands.

Our family has always enjoyed gathering food from the wild. When we lived in town, dog walks and picnics in the country always seemed to involve foraging for wild food for some kind of meal or preserve or other. I don’t know if we were odd in doing this or not, for us it’s normal. My father had a well-thumbed copy of Food For Free by Richard Mabey which he would consult as to the more dubious species; sometime he could persuade us to partake of them and sometimes he would just have to plough into whatever it was on his own. One of our parents friends was convinced we were trying to poison him by serving slices of Giant Puffball fried with slabs of traditionally cured gammon and refused to eat it although it was perfectly delicious and quite safe. But though I love seafood, even I baulked at picking winkles out of their shells with a pin; I remember watching fascinated as my dad thoughtfully chewed and swallowed before admitting to “rubbery and gritty”.

Some of the more mainstream flavours of the wild are favourites across all our families now; my nephews and nieces have been initiated in the annual excitement that is exploding bottles of Elderflower Champagne, so full of sugar it can dissolve your teeth but delicious and yeasty, even when you have to strain out the tiny insects that were hidden in the frothy white blossoms you pick in full sun. We’ve also bred the next generation of prawners – something of a competitive sport across our much wider extended family as to who can get the longest prawn or biggest haul (weighed in ounces, shell on) and whose successes have been diligently recorded in pencil on the kitchen cupboard door for longer than I’ve been alive (my aunty still seems to hold the current record from August 2000 which appears to have been a bumper year).

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Blackberry picking is probably the most acceptable form of foraging though and isn’t just confined to slightly bonkers forager families like ours. My father and oldest brother were the best and most dedicated at blackberry picking, I was never as keen. The headlands are thick with wild bramble scrub and those blackberries are tainted with salty sea spray and less palatable. But around the cottage the bramble thickets yield sweeter, plumper berries and despite the savage thorns that lacerate unwary little bare legs, the brambles are never completely eradicated to supply the delicately scented berries to colour and flavour the ever popular blackberry-and-apple compote, crumbles and pies.

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Penrhyn

Heather grey                                                                                                                                              riven cold rock;                                                                                                                                              yet warmed by fire, the hearthstone welcomes home.

Most of us think of slate as a blueish grey. Slate of course comes in many greyish hues though depending on the minerals present in the rock as it was formed and for a grey fanatic like me I find this endlessly fascinating.

Welsh slate is famous throughout the world for its beauty and quality as a building material and for decorative use. It’s very smooth and durable and has been exported widely. Although a lot of slate that is used in Britain now is imported from India and China because it’s cheaper, Welsh slate is still highly sought after  – if you can afford it!

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There are several slate quarries in Wales, Penrhyn Quarry the one that inspired this shade is still active and is in Bethesda just on mainland North Wales below Anglesey. The slate from here is generally considered to be the finest slate in the world. It’s also the quarry that I photographed the quarry lake blue in from yesterday’s post. Whilst the slate quarrying business continues further up, the lower section now houses the activity centre Zip World where you can fly over the quarry and lake on a zip wire … if that’s your idea of thrills!

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The steps to the cottage and other areas are in the gorgeous purple shade known as Penrhyn Purple (or Heather Blue or Bangor Blues) and to me it’s a comforting and soft shade that seems warmer than the stone itself. A cool 590 million years old, it’s so old it’s beyond imagining and puts human history into its perspective of having only just happened by comparison. The slate steps themselves having only been in situ for a mere 130 years…

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This soft purple grey is the first shade I envisioned to dye for this collection. It’s the one I’ve had to dye most often to get right and it’s an elusive colour to photograph. Perhaps that’s fitting for such an ancient colour; it’s allowed to be a tad awkward!

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Guernsey

Horizon,                                                                                                                                                     waves slap the keel;                                                                                                                                 hand on tiller, a sailor tacks for shore.

This is a slightly odd one but nevertheless it is a very strong association of colour for me. Guernsey is for the warm navy blue shade of guernsey jumpers or jerseys – the Channel Islands seem to have had a monopoly on the naming of these sea faring sweaters!

Made from densely spun smooth 5-ply wool yarn knitted at tight gauge, they’re designed to keep out wind and with wool’s characteristic of being warm even when wet; guernseys must have saved lives of seafaring folks by staving off hypothermia. Now most people will go to sea wearing quite technical manmade fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable. But even when I was little, all our jumpers were made of wool and we all seemed to have guernseys for pottering around on the shoreline or in boats. Flicking back through our family photo albums for this project, it struck me that in the earlier photos, all of us were in guernseys, my parents, us, family friends. Later photos from the 1980’s as we grew, we children were in cotton sweatshirts although my parents continued to wear wool. This photo taken of me in Anglesey on the headland with the sea behind shortly before my first birthday shows me in my first guernsey – oversized to grow into with rolled up sleeves! My mum tells me it was a pale blue shade – I don’t remember this jumper, just the later dark blue ones I had to wear at my first school. It’s possibly the only photo I can show you of me as a small child, rather embarrassingly I was somewhat averse to wearing clothes as a littl’un as scores of family photos show! There is another amusing photo of me half naked having a sitz bath in the washing up bowl on the lawn … but still wearing my guernsey…

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My father wore his guernsey as his not-at-the-office clothing for weekends and around the house so to me it is the one garment that is inseparable in my mind from him. My mother has it still and I asked her if I could photograph it to show the colour I had in mind when I was dyeing the shades. Despite years of regular wear, it’s still in excellent condition, just a tiny bit of fraying at the neck where it grazed his neck which I need to darn. Otherwise – perfect. A really sustainable garment which just shows how economic a well designed and constructed wool garment can be – in stark contrast to the sad throwaway culture of fashion we have now where garments can wear out in a matter of months or even weeks.

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Guernseys (also known as ganseys) and other similar tightly knit wool sweaters were worn all over Britain and other coastal areas of maritime countries and so are a part of our collective heritage for lots of us regardless of where we live. Some have wonderful intricate stitch patterns; lore suggests they could be regional to allow identification of lost fishermen although I don’t know how true this really is. Nevertheless the beautiful patterning of ganseys is a massive subject on which I personally know little but has been explored extensively by modern knitwear designers to as a rich mine of textile culture. It is something I’d like to explore in my own knitting in due course. They can also be different colours – there are some gorgeous shades available now in traditional gansey yarn.

To my mind though a traditional guernesy  is a simply constructed tight knit, plain stitch jumper with the ribbed neck and cuffs, split hem, straight neck line and the simple rib and garter pattern at the armscye. And it’s always always deep navy blue…

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So there you have the final three shades – I’ve finished up on the colours that are perhaps most personal to my memories of being “in a place” rather than the ones that are directly inspired by Anglesey itself. But that is my hiraeth; the true meaning of longing for the place in time that you can only visit in your memory but never truly return to.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the background to the colours too. I will do another post with the colours all together so you can see how they work that way. In time I’d like to do more of just a few of the colours in different combinations to help those who might find it harder to visualise how they work.

But for now I need to get back to finalising the yarn itself, there’s still work to be done on labelling and skeining and dyeing and the product listings so there will be a little pause before it comes into the shop. Thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane; I’m so looking forward to seeing how you take the colours into the future in your knitting projects!

Island Song – v.3

The third trio of colours in the Island Song collection remain in the blue-green part of the spectrum. They are Squill, Llyn and Breakwater.

Squill

Powder blue,                                                                                                                                           nestled in grass;                                                                                                                          shimmering stars like fallen flecks of sky.

Spring at the coast is fresh and full of delicate colour. In the height of the summer, the air seems thick with the compellingly whiffy tang of rotting seaweed and the wiry grasses seemed flattened and baked dry by sun and endless feet. But Spring washes everything clean after the winter storms and in April and May the grass is alive with flecks and sparkles of wild flowers.

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I really love the scattering of Spring Squill (Scilla verna) across the headlands. Our holidays as children were only ever in late summer or early autumn – I know if I’d been here at Easter or other spring holidays I would have been trying to gather these miniature lilies to make tiny bouquets for mice and elves…

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Llyn

Azure pool,                                                                                                                                                   light refracted;                                                                                                                                               icy depths suck the warmth from sunlit air.

I don’t know if journeys with young children are easier these days with all the in-car entertainment available to distract them, but with nothing more hi-tech than multiple rounds of “I Spy” and stopping to let out car-sick kids who’d tried to read, the long road trips to go on holiday must have been something of a chore for poor parents.

We lived just off the old A5 and so barely deviated from it all the way up through Wales. It was a good 3 hours drive plus though and I’m sure my parents hearts must have sunk after a few minutes to hear me piping from the back seat “are we nearly there yet Daddy?”

As I grew older I think I understood that to reach heaven a certain amount of traffic induced hell had to be endured. Nevertheless I would be caught out every trip in Snowdonia, still some hour away from our ETA. As we would pass Llyn Ogwen (llyn being the Welsh word for lake) at the base of craggy Tryfan I would be convinced we’d reached the sea (having a child’s hazy grasp on altitude and sea level) and probably took some pinning down by my brothers as I freaked out with excitement (by the way, I still freak out with excitement when I see the sea now more than 30 years later). That lake; it got me every time…

So I wanted to include a llyn/lake-inspired blue in this collection and there are beautiful lakes on Anglesey too one of which I may include in due course as a extra complimentary shade. However for colour contrast I’ve taken poetic licence here and chosen to represent the turquoise of the quarry lake in Bethesda just a little further up the road from Llyn Ogwen. The sediments and minerals in quarry lakes reflect and absorb different ends of the spectrum of light which gives their spooky brilliant blue appearance. Despite their tropical appearance, quarry lakes are actually bone-chillingly cold and can be very dangerous to swim in. Quite a few people get into difficulties swimming in these beautiful but deadly places – much better to admire them from a safe distance instead.

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Breakwater

Restless seas                                                                                                                                            roiling ever in;                                                                                                                                               the sea wall soothes and calms the anchored ships.

I couldn’t not include a sea-green. Without the sea, an island doesn’t exist. Without the colour sea-green in my life, I curl up and die! Not really of course! But it is one of my most favourite shades.

It’s almost impossible to capture the depth of colour or the variety of shades the sea can turn as the light plays on it and the weather systems change it’s nature. I chose to name this shade “breakwater” because the sheltered side of that kind of sea wall captures the shade best to my mind. Deep sea water but relatively calm without the surface wave action to cut up the light and change it’s colour.

The Holyhead Breakwater is an incredible piece of building work. At 1.7 miles in length, this huge 19th century sea wall runs out into the ocean like a crooked arm protecting the harbour from the rolling Atlantic crashing in almost unchecked (well apart from Ireland conveniently taking the brunt of course!). At the end stands a small square lighthouse.

Years ago I spent two nights floating within the nestled arm of this breakwater moored to a floating pontoon, rocked to sleep by the relatively calm motion of the sea interspersed with the quiet surging swell as yet another ferry passed the end of the sea wall on its way to Dun Laoghaire or Dublin Port. I also spent a very miserable drizzly day learning to manoeuvre a sailboat under power and MOB drill for my Competent Crew; think reverse parking and three point turns with added drift and wet sheets (ropes) whilst wearing by-then very smelly oilskins…

Outside the wall, the grey waves smack into it on their long journey in. Inside the wall on calmer days, like the one I visited recently, the sea is a smooth rippled blue-green colour that shifts in hue  with the scudding clouds.

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I know the colours are now quite blue-green heavy – I suppose that’s mostly because they’re my favourite shades! But hopefully there is a shade for everyone amongst them.

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And tomorrow you can see the final three shades to complete the set and how they all work together.

 

Island Song – v.2

The next three colours in the collection are Beaumaris, Marram and Seaglass.

Beaumaris

Unyielding,                                                                                                                                               impassive stone;                                                                                                                                            cool olive waters guard the flinty face.

I didn’t visit Beaumaris as a child – at least not that I remember. We would hop onto Anglesey via the Menai Bridge and speed north to our beloved holiday without deviating. Beaumaris is only a few minutes drive further east and although day trips out did take us to the south of the island, Beaumaris isn’t one of them that I recollect.

I did however visit it for the first time on one of my first holidays away with my own friends. Rather inevitably I dragged a couple of them back to Anglesey and we stayed in a B&B in the centre of the island and went to various places including my old stomping grounds and had the lovely surprise of finding some of my extended family staying there at the same time. They treated my young friends and me to afternoon tea with Barabrith. It was the last time I saw my lovely and talented great aunt who had inspired me so much more than I ever realised with her crafts and kindness to my family. She was 98 years old and I’m glad my last memory of her is on holiday sitting smiling in her chair at the cottage she’d lovingly decorated with handmade things over the years and shared so generously with many members of her family and friends.

The next day my friends and I did a little driving tour around the east side of the island and visited Beaumaris Castle. I have photos of the three of us smiling through the stiff sea breeze up on the battlements and being photobombed by tame seagulls hopeful that tourists might have food scraps they could scavenge!

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Beaumaris Castle was built by Edward I as a means to finally quash the Welsh who were causing him so much trouble by their refusal to be tamed and pay homage (or at least pay homage without their fingers crossed behind their backs!).

Started towards the end of the 13th century it was in fact never finished. Nevertheless it is a beautiful castle and has a very green (!) moat surrounding part of the castle walls and this moat is the inspiration of the green shade – an olive-y, mossy hue I am becoming increasing fond of apparently when I glance into my wardrobe!

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Beaumaris is corrupted from the French “beau/beaux marais” meaning beautiful marsh/es – the marsh on which the Norman castle was built and which originally meant it could be reached directly by ship on one side. Now the marshes are drained (I think it’s the car park actually!) but the incomplete ruin is still a fascinating place to visit. Because I had Marley with me on this trip I didn’t pay to go in again, we just peered through the railings to take photos but I want to go back again for another visit.

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Marram

Whip dry grass                                                                                                                                           halts shifting dunes;                                                                                                                               quick fingers bend it to the weaver’s will.

Marram is the papery silver green grass that grows along sand dunes in coastal areas everywhere. It has very long roots which anchor the dunes and stop them shifting with the weather and coastal erosion. Thus anchored, other species can establish themselves on the dunes amongst the marram grass – natures very own gabion boxes.

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Sand dunes with marram on were never that appealing to me; the dry fronds would tickle my bare legs as I ran along the coastal paths and every child knows the best kind of sand is the damp sort on the beach that you can build sandcastles out of or half-bury your long suffering daddy in…

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Marram Grass is far more interesting to me as an adult because of my interest in textiles. Marram has been used extensively by coastal dwelling and island people to weave into mats, baskets or creels and even nets and lobster pots. This is especially true of Newborough which is further south from where we stayed which had a thriving industry based on marram weaving. In the 14th century the new borough was partially buried by the dunes and in the 16th c the Elizabethan government ordered more planting of marram to stabilise the dunes and it was illegal to uproot the plants themselves.

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Marram grass weaving continued up until the 20th century. I don’t know if anyone still knows how to weave with it now – I would love to find that out! I did find this picture online of one marram weaver Ellen Williams of Newborough making mats (although to me it looks a little more like braiding). Finding out more about the marram weaving industry is on my very long list of things I want to do!

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Seaglass

Shattered shards                                                                                                                                 tumbled through waves;                                                                                                                       embedded frosty jewels in salty sands.

Beachcombing is still one of my favourite pastimes. I love hunting for interesting treasures washed up along the shoreline. Driftwood, mermaids purses and sea foam tossed from the sea. Unfortunately in the past four decades I’ve been beach combing, the stuff the sea churns up increasing includes vast quantities of plastic and a walk now along a beach after winter storms is a heart breaking lesson in what destructive and filthy creatures we humans are and how we soil our own environment.

Sandy beaches are great for playing on but the most interesting ones to me are pebbly ones. Delicate shells and interesting colours stones grab your attention if you keep your eyes peeled. My most favourite of all is searching for sea glass – there is just something wonderful about the frosty smooth finish of the sea, the thrill of hunting for different colours and wondering where it comes from.

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It will be no surprise to my spinning and knitting online friends that my favourite shade of sea glass is the pale aqua colour that looks like a Fox’s Glacier Mint. Each time I walk on a beach I keep an eye out for sea glass and on my favourite sea glass hunting beach it’s rare that I won’t find just one tiny fragment nestling amongst the stones…

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So you now know half the colours. Do you have a favourite yet? Can you guess what other shades might follow? How might you combine the ones you’ve seen so far!

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Stay in touch for the next three shades coming soon…

 

Island Song – v.1

I’ll split the colours into four blog post of three colours each – four verses of the song if you like!

I’ll start with the shades Anenome, Parys and Gorse.

Anenome

Motionless,                                                                                                                                                blood clots on rock;                                                                                                                     underwater explodes like crimson stars.

When I was tiny I was very afraid of deep seas. To my timid imaginations, all kinds of known and unknown beasties lurked beneath the cool green glaze on a still day or the rough choppy grey waves. Whilst nothing would have stopped me from joining my family on a fishing trip or rowing around the bay, I could be sent into a panic quite easily by my brothers teasing rocking of the boat even when our father would tell them off for frightening me. 

I was much happier when I could paddle about in the shallows with my net and bucket and most favourite of all were the rockpools filled with all kinds of fascinating and infinitely less scary creatures. Even the “crabbums” as I called them back then were smaller and easily avoided – they wouldn’t nip my chubby pink toes dangling in the tepid water warmed by the sun.

Sea anenomes always fascinated me. So vividly red and blobby when exposed at low tide, I loved watching their delicate tentacles waving under water and how they would shoot back when touched oh so softly with my fingertip.

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Parys

Eerie,                                                                                                                                                                the scarred crater lies;                                                                                                                          bleeding ancient rust from the shallow earth.

Parys Mountain (Mynydd Parys) is a place that doesn’t feature in my childhood, in fact I had never been there until a few weeks ago when I went specifically to see it and take photos for this project. However Anglesey is somewhere of massive geological interest generally, the rock formations everywhere are fascinating even to amateurs and the orangey coloured ironstone in the headlands I scrambled over is everywhere and is part of my association with the place.

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Parys Mountain is also known as The Copper Mountain;  as a fantastically rich copper resource it has been mined for almost 4,000 years since the Bronze Age. Although its value was recognised since prehistoric times, it came into its own in the 18th century when it was the most significant copper mine in the world and contributed to the islands economy and established nearby Amlwch as a significant town. Whilst I chose it as the inspiration for the intense, rusty, coppery orange I wanted, there are many shades in the Great Opencast and I want to revisit these colours at some point in my dyeing – a literal mine of colour!

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Visiting it on a hot, still day gave the eerie impression that I had suddenly landed on another planet, perhaps on Mars. Very little can grow on the acidic earth, heavy in metals and the bare, richly coloured heaps of rock give an other-worldy feeling that follows you as you walk. I think Marley found it a spooky as did, for once he behaved and didn’t pull on his lead!

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Standing looking down into the vast open mine it’s incredible to think it was largely created simply by men with hand tools and gunpowder, a point made by the information signs at that point. Miles of tunnels run beneath the opencast; apparently it is estimated that more than six million tons of copper, zinc and precious metals still lie in this mine. Even the pools of standing water are rusty orangey red…

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Gorse

Coconut                                                                                                                                                           and honey’d spice;                                                                                                                                  exotic scents on a salt-tanged ocean breeze.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Gorse is everywhere in Wales and indeed most rural places in Britain! I most notice the scent of it though when I’m at the coast; it has that sweet smell that to me seems like a cross between coconuts and freshly baked banana bread! Warmed by the sun, I would run through head height gorse and rosa rugosa bushes to get to the beach and the smell would fill my nose and make me hungry for cake.

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Yellow is not a colour I can wear and I find it tricky to use. But a small amount of yellow lifts so many other shades, it’s amazing how it works with other colours and brings them to life with its zesty punch.

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I loved how the gorse added a bright focus in this picture with the Welsh Mountain sheep, the Menai Bridge and the infamous stretch of the Menai Straits called The Swellies, the part with dangerous tides and whirlpools that can be navigated at slack water. I moored beyond here just the other side of the Menai Bridge for two nights some years ago on a yacht trip sailing round Anglesey. Some of the crew wanted to go through The Swellies but our skipper was a bit lazy and told us it wasn’t really that exciting and said no!

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I hope you like the first three shades.

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I’ll be back soon with the next three in the second verse of the Island Song!