You may remember that, a little over a year ago, I passed my driving test (woohoo!) This has had a big impact on my life, and particularly on my daily walks with Bruce. Instead of just striking out from my front door, I can now drive a few miles, and explore further on foot. One of my favourite walks over the past year has been the circuit from Milarrochy Bay to Balmaha and back, along the West Highland Way, following the shores of Loch Lomond, starting and ending at this tree. The woodland around Loch Lomond’s south-east shores abounds with wonderful oak trees, which, between the 17th and 19th centuries were managed in a semi-industrial fashion for the production of charcoal and dyestuffs. Sessile and English oaks sit side by side in the woodland, aged by time and weather, their twisted roots and trunks defining the edge of path and shoreline. Being a focal point for the particularly lovely view west across the loch, the spindly specimen at Milarrochy bay is probably one of the most photographed trees in Scotland. I am deeply fond of this tree, and can’t help photographing it too. I love its twisted roots and limbs, its distinctive combination of delicacy and sturdiness, its profound resilience. In all seasons it is utterly beautiful: each time I see it it is different, and yet it is always itself – “still, and still moving” as T.S Eliot put it in East Coker. I’ve taken photos of the tree in all seasons and weathers. All of these photographs were taken with my phone, and I think you can probably tell that I upgraded my old model last February. . . The photograph at the top of this post shows the tree last weekend, and here it is over the course of the preceding year.
Finally! A break in the weather. It is beginning to feel vaguely Spring-like at last.
Primroses! Things in bloom on my doorstep again!
Bruce and I have been making the most of the weather on our daily walks.
You can see the water levels of Loch Lomond are rather high – a result of the near-biblical rain we’ve been having of late.
One of my greatest pleasures on my walks is observing the way the weather (of which there is a lot out here) transforms familiar objects. The light, for example, is different every single day. This tree (a favourite) looks different each time I see it. Yesterday it was all but submerged.
Tom has been making the most of the weather too – running the Deeside Way – a 33 mile race in preparation for the Highland Fling. I rather like the lo-fi jam-jar lid ‘medal’. 4 hours 19 minutes! Well done, Tom!
I had hoped to show you some knitting today – but there is honestly not much to see. For the past few weeks I have been working on a garment with an, um, “atypical” construction. Today I had to concede that despite my best efforts it really hasn’t worked out. Now, if you were ever in need of a tightly-fitting woolly superhero outfit that sits on the bias, then what I have created would suit you rather well. Sadly, though, this wasn’t quite the look I was after. Time to rip it out and start again!
Here is another yoke — this one’s name is self-explanatory — Foxglove.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about my first year of rural living has been the wildflowers that grow around my home. Just a few yards from my front door are a wide variety of environments from heathland, bog and lochside to deciduous woodland and roadside hedgerows. Walking through this landscape every day, I have found it fascinating to observe the wildflowers emerging, coming into bloom, taking over the landscape, and falling away to seed. Back in the spring, I began keeping a record of the wildflowers I spotted on my daily walks (mostly within a 4 mile radius of my home) by recording a photograph on Instagram. (If you are interested, you can find that series of pictures under the hashtag #todayswildflower). I found that the simple act of taking a photograph of a plant, and later looking it up in my reference guides meant that, by the end of the summer, I had learned a reasonable amount about local wildflower habitats, the time of their flowering, their relationship to other plant varieties and so on. I discovered some wonderful plants I’d never seen or noticed before – grass of Parnassus, scarlet pimpernell, butterwort. I also learned to look anew at flowers I thought I knew reasonably well – such as foxgloves.
I love their pink spires, their sheeny blooms, their downy leaves, their beautiful variegated interiors, the surprising deep beetroot purple of their stems. I knew I wanted to knit the foxgloves up into a yoke, and really enjoyed developing my chart for this design.
Foxglove is the only design in the collection to use three colours in one row. (I have a neat trick for this, borrowed from Elizabeth Zimmermann, which the pattern describes in full).
This yoke is in the Shetland style. It is knit in the round and steeked; the garment has some shaping after the arms are joined, and the yoke pattern itself is relatively shallow, and placed high up on the neck. That said, in my experience the necklines of many Shetland yokes have a tendency to ride rather too high – this one shouldn’t, and is intended to sit quite neatly at the throat.
As you can see, by the time I’d actually managed to knit my sample, summer was turning into autumn, and it was no longer foxglove season.
But we managed to take these photographs among some Rose Bay Willowherb which were going to seed, and which seemed to provide an appropriate local wildflower backdrop
The yarn I’ve used is, of course, Jamieson and Smith jumperweight – the perfect yarn for a Shetland-style yoke.
I have another yoke in this collection which was also inspired by a Scottish wildflower. More about that one tomorrow.
It is a year today since we moved from Edinburgh to this wonderful spot. We absolutely love it, and are all enjoying our new life here. An inhabitant of towns and cities all my life, I have always loved the outdoors, and have often yearned to live in the country. . . and being here at last has already made a massive difference to my mindset, my outlook, my work, and most certainly my health. Outdoors walking every day, I feel incredibly connected to my surroundings and the changing seasons: every day is subtly different, and I love tracing the turning of the year through the appearance of wildflowers and the songs of different birds. I have learned the privilege of recognising wild animals as individuals (not just “a hare” but “that hare”) and have enjoyed encountering many different beasties on my daily walks from newts to hen harriers. There are still many mornings when I wake up, find the world around me absolutely breathtaking, and can’t quite believe I actually live here. I wonder if this feeling will ever go away – I rather hope it doesn’t. The eighteenth-century women, whose letters I used to work on, were very fond of quoting Micah 4, the bit that comes after the swords and ploughshares about sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree. All I can say is that here I have at last found my vine, and my fig tree, though, this being Scotland, I’ll definitely have to erect a greenhouse if I actually want to grow them.
Here are some photos from our first year in our new home.
This is the view from the top of our lane yesterday evening. The large hulking hill to the right is Ben Lomond, with the Arrochar “Alps”, including the Cobbler, to the left. The weather continues to be amazing. Everything is coming to fruition. My tomatoes are ripening.
I am impressed with my peppers, also grown from seed. . .
. . .and I am cutting courgettes and sweet peas every day. The sweet peas grow more luminous and psychedelic. Each day I cut a bloom that seems more wildly neon than the day before.
I planted several different cultivars, but am totally useless at keeping tabs on what’s what, so I’m afraid I have no idea of their names…
Meanwhile, inside, things are coming to fruition too as I now have seven completed YOKE designs. Numbers eight and nine are on the needles, which just leaves number ten for the collection to be complete. I’ve been steadily charting and grading and writing patterns, and Mel and I have been knitting away since April. It is extremely satisfying seeing the collection really coming together now, and to look at the group of distinctive garments hanging in my studio, all of which sort of feel like me. Another exciting phase of the project is about to begin, as I am soon to start working on, and writing about, some different regional styles and practices of YOKE knitting since the 1940s. I’ll say more about this aspect of the book shortly, but for now I’d better finish knitting this sleeve. . . Hope you all have a lovely weekend!
Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about an important difference between Dogs and Humans.
This is where I live.
It is a good place and there are many things I like about it. My human companions also like this place. But although dogs and humans both can both like a place, it is not often for the same reason. This is one of the many curious but important differences between us.
For example, one of my favourite walks goes past these trees.
I like these trees because they mark the entrance into Good Field, a location where maximum fun is to be had. But Kate likes these trees because they are dead and alive at the same time.
Past these trees is Good Field – one of my all-time favourite spots. Whatever the weather, the grass of Good Field is always wet and the ground of Good Field is always squishy and soggy. In Good Field can often be found deer and hare who are fun to chase, and if the cows pass by, they kindly leave an interesting mess behind. In Winter the mud of Good Field grows deep and dank and in the Summer Good Field’s plants grow thick and high. Good Field is a place for bounding, for leaping, for getting wet and dirty, and for gingering oneself up with all kinds of funky smells. In all seasons of the year, then, it is an excellent place to be.
Now, Kate does not like Good Field for its mud or for its interesting aroma. Nor does she seem particularly happy when she trips into the cow mess, or wades clumsily through the waist high grasses. In fact, the qualities I most admire about Good Field are things Kate merely tolerates, or on occasion actually seems irritated by. I have heard her mutter words such as “ballache” as she stumbles, is bitten by a horsefly, or, as today, gets muddy trousers after falling on her arse. So why on earth does Kate take me to Good Field if she herself does not enjoy the many delights it has to offer? The answer is, of course, that it contains Things of Human Interest.
Good Field’s Things of Human Interest are these Old Stones.
Now, I am hardly ever diverted by Things of Human Interest, and I have to say that these Old Stones strike me as rather commonplace. Certainly they carry no significance for a dog like me.
And yet I am tolerant enough of human foibles to dutifully sit and pose.
Dear dog comrades, the moral of this tale is to joyfully accompany your companions when they wish to visit Things of Human Interest. That way you are likely to spend time in really excellent places, like Good Field.
One of my great pleasures at the moment is observing, photographing and finding out more about, the wildflowers where I live. I’m surrounded by lots of different kinds of environments – hedgerow, water, woodland, heath, mountain – and these are full of so many wonderful flora, some of which I had never noticed or knew the names of until recently. Just opposite our house is a path that forms part of the West Highland Way. This path is lined with an old wall, and growing around and through this wall, some foxgloves have recently been putting on a spectacular show. I decided I had to take some photographs of them yesterday.
I think I am starting to understand the allure of botanical drawing. Sadly, I cannot draw for toffee, but I am certainly enjoying capturing the detail of my local flora with my camera.
In other news:
I had great fun reading the animal names in the comments to the previous post! After excluding those who couldn’t enter, the randomly selected winners of the Toft party tickets are Pootle the cat and Iris the hawk . . . ahem . . . I mean Lucy and Janine. Congratulations! Could you please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your prize?
Tom’s appendix-less state means he can’t run or cycle at the moment, but this has been quite good, as he’s been able to join me on my walks. Yesterday we popped up Conic Hill and it was a grand day for it.
Conic Hill is just a few miles from where we now live, and though Tom has run here many times in the past year, it occurred to me yesterday that the last time I climbed this hill was nine years ago when we walked the West Highland Way. Here is Tom looking down from the hill across Loch Lomond in 2005:
And here in a spot slightly further down yesterday:
A lot has changed since then, but as he says, he looks pretty much the same from behind.
I think of all the lovely views of Loch Lomond – and there are many – that this one is my favourite.
Its just something about the sense of space up here – the meeting of sky, land, and water, and perhaps especially the way that the Loch Lomond islands stretching away in the distance lend the view a pleasing and very distinctive sense of perspective.
Dorothy Wordsworth felt similarly about those islands when she saw them in 1803, though her view in this passage is the precise opposite of ours (she’s looking South and East from Inchtavannach and we are looking North and West from Conic Hill)
“We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water.”
I thought of Dorothy Wordsworth yesterday as we looked down toward Inchtavannach, and gave her a mental wave.
If you are ever in the area and fancy going up Conic Hill, I really think the views are best from this direction, and its a much nicer walk this way too. Park at Milton of Buchanan; walk up the track past Creity Hall, join the West Highland Way as it snakes up the hill; descend into Balmaha; stop for a welcome ice-cream, or pint at the Oak Tree Inn, take a look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then walk back along the road to Milton. The circuit is 7 miles with around 350m / 1100 ft of ascent.