Tag Archives: travels

Road Trip to Royal Worcester

20 Jan

I’ve been spending quite alot of my time travelling up and down motorways for work recently – I usually work in Yorkshire, but in the past few months I have also had a few projects in the South West of England. Although the long drives on congested motorways have left much to be desired, it’s been great to have time to explore a different part of the country.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been taking pottery classes for the past few months. A tiny proportion of readers may actually think I am slowly improving at pottery…but the jury is still out on that one!

Anyway, on a recent trip to Bristol, I had the chance to visit the Royal Worcester museum on my way back to sunny Doncaster. Royal Worcester ceased production after nearly 260 years in 2009, but some of the finest works have been put on display at the Royal Worcester Museum, which stands on the site of the original factory.  I thought a visit might give me some pottery inspiration, and I would learn a little bit about design trends and production methods.

DSC_0221

Whilst I was there, there was a presentation by one of Royal Worcester’s professional ceramic painters. Ken Russell. As I visited on a quiet afernoon, I took my opportunity to ask Ken lots of questions, and he did his best to answer all of them!

DSC_0224

Ken was working on some very intricate painting on teacups and saucers. He explained that the plate was fired then gilded, and then he needed to use a resin to painstakingly build up dots across the piece, which could then be painted when they reached the desired height.

DSC_0222

Ken explained that the glaze used would sit proud on the resin, giving the exquisite texture on the piece, but without the resin, the colours would not have any height. There were so many stages in completing a plate, and Ken explained how the process needed huge amounts of focus and concentration, as one mistake could mean starting the whole plate from scratch again.

DSC_0255

The pattern that Ken was imitating was from a famous Royal Worcester collection called the Dudley Service, which was made for the Countess of Dudley in the 1860s. The original set was so admired that a replica was made soon after, for the public to view. This replica set was on display at the museum, and I was amazed to see how fine the porcelain work was – when a cup was held to the light, the porcelain was so thin that the portrait painted on the outside was illuminated!

DSC_0257

Given the concentration needed, I decided to leave Ken in peace and have a look at some of the other exhibits. The items on display were beautiful, intricate, and faultless. Although I have no realistic hopes of ever being able to produce a pottery item like those on display, I was at least able to get a few ideas for techniques I could use in my evening classes.

I especially liked the neat beading around the top edge of this pot (above) – this would certainly be something I could incorporate into an item. I also thought the Japanesque tea service was interesting, with its lozenge-shaped cups and saucers and raised flowers on the surface.

However, my favourite item of the day was a small, novelty tea pot, which Ken suggested I check out. This little teapot was produced by James Hadley in 1882, and is based on the characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera. It is called the ‘aesthetic teapot’, and one side depicts a foppish man, eaching a green jacket ornamented wiwth a sunflower. On the reverse, you can see his female counterpart, also wearing green, but this time it’s a smocked blouse, decorated with an arum lily.

The Gilbert and Sullivan opera on which this item was based was apparently a satire of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake. Despite the obvious stylisation of this item, it is still a fully functioning teapot, fusing art and function. However, I’m sure if James Hadley were alive today he would be horrified to learn that his satirical teapot had become the very thing it once mocked – art for art’s sake, as its sole purpose now is for visitors to view it and marvel at its design.

Despite what Hadley would have thought, I still loved it, and am glad I had the opportunity to view the beautiful creations at Royal Worcester. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the visitor centre, I would highly recommend a visit!

 

Scandimania Pt 4: Gothenburg

14 Jan

DSC_5410

After a few busy days in Oslo, I arrived in Gothenburg in need of some rest and relaxation. Fortunately, the next 48 hours were not going to be another bustling city break – after a quick sightseeing tour of the city, I would be taking a ferry out to the Southern Gothenburg archipelago for some much needed peace and quiet.

DSC_5350

Gothenburg is fast becoming one of the hottest places to visit in Northern Europe. It’s cuisine, music, art and nightlife is attracting visitors from across the world, and after spending the afternoon there, I could see why. Despite the weather being overcast at best during my time there, the city felt buzzing, with lots of amazing independent boutiques, record stores, coffee shops and bars.

DSC_5366

In order to escape the inclement weather, I retreated into a wonderful coffee shop in the traditional Haga district, where I sampled a mouthwatering apple and almond cake, topped with pumpkin seeds and candied walnuts. It was absolutely delicious, and gave me the energy I needed to make the next stage of my journey, to the island of Hono, about an hour away from the centre of Gothenburg.

DSC_5372

I arrived by ferry, late at night, at the home of Sarah and Graham, which I found via AirBNB. The home was previously Sarah’s grandparents, and her grandfather had built the home himself. I had a beautiful, peaceful apartment on the top floor of the house, and Graham thoughtfully provided me with home-made bread and freshly-laid eggs. My R&R was off to a good start!

After the miserable, drizzly weather the day before, I was amazed to wake up the next day to sunlight streaming through the windows. Somehow, the fates had decided to grace my island stay with glorious, uninterrupted sunshine. I decided to make the most of it, and borrowed a bike from my lovely host Sarah, so that I could explore the island of Hono, and the neighbouring islands of Foto, Ockero and Halso, which were reachable by bridge.

The weather was perfect for cycling. Equipped with some bread and cheese in my rucksack, I set off on my adventure. The entire day was so peaceful – the island itself is home to breathtaking, unspoilt scenery and surrounded by deep blue waters.

The islands seemed almost deserted, with the exception of the areas around each harbour. At the first harbour I passed, I noticed a small shop was selling delicious local preserves, which I felt obligated to sample! The fig and hazelnut was to die for, and became a perfect accompaniment to my picnic on Hono beach.

DSCN5543

Being on the islands allowed my thoughts to easily unwind and settle, leaving me with space and energy to appreciate the simple things in life – sun reflecting off the water, the sound of the breeze filtering through the trees.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Soon enough, as with all the other stages of my trip, it was time to move onwards to a new destination. I felt so relaxed that I was actually ready to head home, but this would have to wait for just a few more days. It was time to travel towards my final stop – Copenhagen. This little creature did his best to accompany me on my journey, but sadly I had to leave him behind! Until next time, little kitty.

 

Christmas Confectionery Cavalcade!

9 Jan

Some days at work are better than others…

A few weeks ago, I was informed by my manager that I would be taking the Eurostar to Brussels for the day, for a Conference. As I have never been on the Eurostar before, I was delighted at the prospect, and spent the preceding week before the trip, bouncing around the office like a kid at Christmas.

I have visited Brussels briefly, once before, when my lovely friend Charlotte and I were stranded there overnight after a disastrous Belgian music festival. We were tired and had tents and sleeping bags to carry, so had been in no mood for sightseeing – perhaps this trip would give me a chance to see the city in a different light!

DSC_0033

My excitement slightly wore off when I discovered how much of a flying visit my time in Brussels was going to be – we would have around an hour an a half to sightsee, and the rest of the time would be spent in meetings. Oh well, ninety minutes was better than nothing! I certainly didn’t waste my time, and used it to visit Brussels Old Town. The two things that the city is famed for (besides sprouts, of course) are chocolate and waffles, so I thought it was only right and proper that I sampled as many of these tasty treats as I could in the time I had.

DSC_0031

Delectable liqueur truffles and chocolate-covered cakes, biscuits and waffles…

DSC_0032

…adorable solid chocolate characters and exquisite fudges and caramels…

DSC_0042

….every imaginable chocolate-based spread, sauce and dip. I was in heaven!

Although my trip was short, my chocolate tasting inspired me to have a go at making some confectionery as gifts for Christmas this year. My creations may not be quite as classy as those I tried in the artisan confectionery boutiques of Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!

I had been lucky enough to receive a book on making confectionery from my brother and sister-in-law for my birthday – Sweets Made Simple by Hope & Greenwood. Some of their recipes looked so mouthwatering that I nearly ate the pages! I decided to give some of their truffle and fudge recipes a try.

DSC_0169

Firstly, I tried making delicious, refreshing Gin and Lime truffles. The recipe was really easy to follow, and recommended chilling the mix, and then rolling into small balls and coating in cocoa powder. However, I found that the mix was a little too soft, so I opted to coat the balls of truffle mix in milk chocolate to make the truffles a bit more stable. This obviously involved melting large quantities of chocolate in a bain marie, and generally making a chocolatey mess. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta go it! to decorate the truffles, I finely grated a small amount of lime zest, and used it to garnish the top of each truffle before the chocolate set.

DSC_0168

After the success of the gin and lime treats, I attempted a second truffle recipe from the book. I tried the recipe for white chocolate and limoncello truffles, which I thought would be perfect as my brother Alex and his new wife Kate brought me some limoncello back from their honeymoon in Italy earlier in the year.

Again, I found the ganache a little too soft, so I painted tempered white chocolate into a confectionery mould, and painstakingly filled each chocolate cup and left it to cool, before sealing with a layer of white chocolate and popping out of the silicon tray.

The finished result was glossy, pyramid-shaped truffles, with a pleasing snap as you bit through the chocolate, to reveal a creamy, citrusy centre. Divine. Painting the moulds took a fair bit of time, but the finished confection was certainly worth it.

DSC_0267

For my last sweet treat, I decided to make a non-boozy option, for a change. A recipe in the Hope and Greenwood book had caught my eye – Black Forest Fudge. Well, with dark and white chocolate and the addition of morello cherries, what’s not to love?

It was my first time at making fudge, and I’m pleased to say, the result was really successful. I followed the instructions very carefully, using a sugar thermometer to remove the fudge mix from the boil when it hit 113 degrees exactly. I then combined the grated chocolate, poured into a silicon case, and liberally topped with halved morello cherries.

DSC_0209

I found that the first attempt was absolutely delicious, but a little too crumbly. However, on successive batches I got better at mixing the chocolate through thoroughly, easing the melted mix into the corners of the tray before it sets, and using a hot knife to cut the squares more neatly.

Ever reluctant to waste anything I have produced, I collected up the crumbs from the crumbly fudge and refrigerated them – perhaps I could use these as an ice cream topping, or better yet, maybe they could be churned into an ice cream of their own? I will make a note to try this as the weather warms up!

In sucessive batches, I also increased the quantity of cherries, as they were simply too delicious. My favourite thing about the fudge is that it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sickly – once you’ve had one square, it’s hard to resist another! So, next time you see me and I’ve gained a stone, blame the fudge.

DSC_0210

To complete the repertoire of Christmas edible treats, I bottled up some sloe gin (reprised from last year’s success) and also baked a few more batches of the Swedish sugar and spice cookies. Never let it be said that I would let friends and family go hungry (or sober) at Christmastime.

 

Scandimania Pt 3: Oslo

3 Jan

After the tradition and tranquility of Trondheim, my arrival in Oslo was a jolt to the senses – as soon as I stepped off the train, I felt like I was in an entirely different and exciting city. I arrived after dark, and was dazzled by an impressive display of lights from every building. This is a beautiful city by night! I strolled along the waterfront, and simply tried to take it all in.

I’m warning you in advance – I didn’t have time to do any crafting whilst in Oslo, I was too busy immersing myself in everything the city had to offer. To be honest, I feel like I fitted so much in to 4 days there, I barely know where to start…

DSC_0268

Taking my cues from the bronze tiger at Oslo Centralstasjon, I decided to spend my first morning prowling around the city, getting lost and finding treasures. I started my day at the Akerhus fortress, which, from its imposing position on the waterfront, has defended Oslo for hundreds of years.

DSCN5113

I was really lucky with the weather – every day was cold, crisp and sunny. Many of the locals I spoke to asked me why I had chosen to visit Norway in November – most tourists either come in the warm Summer months, or during Christmas. At this time of year, the city is relatively uncrowded, and the colours of the leaves turning added to the gorgeous surroundings.  From the walls of the fortress, you could get a fantastic view of the city, and a great perspective on the Radhus, Oslo City Hall (below).

DSCN5098

It’s free to visit the Radhus (a welcome fact when you’re staying in one of the most expensive cities in the world), and the building is simply magnificent. As this is the City Hall, it’s a focal point for the city, and I learned that the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place here every year.

I was really impressed by the amount of decoration on every surface within the hall. As well as the enormous murals that make up many of the walls, there are also huge friezes of geometric patterns, whose colours shift as they travel across the walls. I visited the City Hall in the late afternoon sun, so light was illuminating different parts of the artwork as I looked around. Amazing!

In particular, I loved the stylised birds in the staircase, and and the sheer scale of the murals. I learned that Henrik Sorensen was responsible for the beautiful images on the wall of the main hall, with othern Norwegian artists contributing to the works in other parts of the building, such as the one below, taken from the Festival Gallery, designed and painted by Axel Revold.

I could have spent hours looking at the art and the murals here, but sadly I arrived only 40 minutes before closing. I would definitely visit here again, especially as I didn’t get a chance to look at some of the tapestries on the walls, which were also made specially for the City Hall. 

DSCN5321

As I had just seen the home of the Nobel prize ceremony, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look round the Nobel Peace Centre next, before continuing my exploration of the city. It was really informative, giving lots of information on who has won the peace prize each year, and even walking you through how a candidate is nominated and selected for the prize.

There is art everywhere you look in Oslo, which adds to the feeling that it is a vibrant city. Despite the fact Norway is much colder than the UK, all the outdoor artworks encouraged me to spend more time outside, rather than cozy and warm inside.

With this in mind, on the second day I decided to hire a bike and cycle up to Vigelandsparken, one of the main tourist attractions in Oslo. The park is home to the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. It is is the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, and it contains 212 sculptures of men, women and children, all produced by Vigeland himself during the 1930s and 40s.

The sculptures are all made of either stone or bronze, and some are life size, whilst others are absolutely enormous! My favourite work was a fountain, with bronze trees around the perimeter, which each had a person sitting inside the branches. Around the walls of the huge fountain were bronze tiles depicting all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings, friends and lovers.

It’s inspiring to see one artist’s vision in its complete form – the whole park is a testament to Vigeland’s work.

The next stop on my Oslo expedition was the place that kickstarted the whole Scandinavian journey: ever since learning about the Oseberg viking burial ship on a BBC documentary a few years ago, I have become fascinated by Viking culture, and have been reading Viking sagas and learning as much as I can. It was this interest in Vikings that inspired my Orkney adventure earlier in 2014, and it was a desire to see the Oseberg ship which got me thinking about planning a trip to Norway. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be here!

One of the greatest joys of visiting Oslo out of season, was that I had the Viking Ship museum almost entirely to myself! It was just me, three Viking ships, and a handful of other stunned visitors, for the few hours that I was there. As soon as I walked in, I was brought face to face with the elegant bow of the Oseberg ship, the most preseved Viking ship to have ever been found. It is a myth that Viking burial customs meant that the dead were deposited in boats, which were then set on fire as they sailed into open waters. In fact, many boats were buried beneath the ground, containing the dead and any objects that they might need in the afterlife.

The Oseberg ship was found in a field around 100km south of Oslo in 1904, and the fascinating thing about its discovery was that it did not contain a King or Warrior, but a wealthy woman and her younger servant. Little is known about the pair, but aboard the boat with them were slaughtered farm animals, chariots, caskets and valuables. Considering the ship is over 1200 years old, the quality of the carvings is exceptional. I learned that these originally would have been brightly painted, and when the boat was originally unearthed, the colours were still visible. However, in order to preserve the ship, scientists had to use chemicals that did not save the paint.

DSCN5207 (2)
This was absolutely a bucket list activity for me – I’m so glad I got to see it!

I needed to come back down to Earth after my Viking ship adventure, so I spent the afternoon strolling around the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is five minutes’ walk from the Viking ships. At the Folkemuseum, you will find buildings from different eras from across Norway – a sort of medieval theme park! It was really relaxing wandering through the various farmsteads and traditional villages.

 

Just as the sun was fading, I found myself walking towards a genuine Norwegian stave church, on the top of a hill. It had been transported from a town called Gol, an hour North of Oslo. The church was built in the 1200s, but was transported to the Folkemuseum in the late 1800s when the people of Gol proposed demolishing it to make way for a new church. It was mind blowing to be standing in the doorway of a building that was over 900 years old! I nabbed a passing tourist to take a quick snap of me, but I realise the pictures don’t do it justice. Fortunately, for this one, I don’t really need pictures – every time I think of the stave church, I can still smell the incredible scent of 1000 year-old, smoky, pine sap coming from the walls of the building.

I can’t believe one city held so much excitement! I wanted to get every last drop of experience out of Oslo before I had to leave, so on my final afternoon, I had time to quickly take the train North, out of the city, to Holmenkollen,  the famous ski jump used in the Lillehammer winter Olympics in the 1990s. Despite my fear of heights, I bravely made it right to the top – the views were totally worth it.

DSCN5447

After a thrilling week in Norway, it was time to wave Ha det! to Oslo, and return to Sweden. However, I wasn’t sad to be leaving, because I know I will definitely return to this amazing country.

Scandimania Pt 2: Trondheim

28 Dec

Right, I know I’m taking my time in posting blogs at the moment – life has been frantic and I’ve hardly known whether I was coming or going. I’ve really been looking forward to spending an hour or so, casting my mind back to my amazing Scandinavian adventure, and sharing my memories here on the blog. Here goes!

So, after waving a fond farewell to Stockholm, I took a flight North West, to begin 6 blissful days in Norway. It was my first visit to this beautiful country, and I divided my time between two places which couldn’t be more different – firstly, the historic city of Trondheim, in Central Norway, and then onto the capital city, Oslo, in the South. It truly  was a tale of two cities.

DSCN4932

I am lucky enough to have friends that live in central Norway – Emily is originally from England, but teaches at an international school in the historical city of Trondheim, and lives there with her Norwegian boyfriend Magnus. When they heard I was visiting Scandinavia, they kindly said I could stay a few night with them, and see what Trondheim has to offer!

It’s a beautiful, traditional city, which actually used to be the capital of Norway until 1217. It was founded by the Viking Olaf Tryggvason, and there is a tall monument to the man himself in the centre of the city square.

DSCN4935

I only had 2 days to spend in Trondheim, so I tried my best to fit as many sights as possible. The city itself is peaceful and picturesque, especially the idyllic Old Town area, with its brightly coloured buildings.  I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nidaros Cathedral,  as well as walking all the way up to the Kristiansen fortress overlooking the city.
DSCN4954

I was happy to see that the city was not immune to guerilla crafters! Many of the statues had been adorned with handmade orange scarves, which I’m sure the statues were grateful for, given that it was just above freezing!

Of course, no holiday would be complete without some crafty purchases, so it will not surprise you to discover that I found a wonderful craft supplier in Trondheim. In the evening, I met up with Emily to stroll around the town. Down a quiet cobbled street, I spotted M. Sommer, which supplied an abundance of ribbons, buttons, trimmings and fabrics. The shop is something of a Trondheim institution, and has been in the same place for 125 years!

It was difficult to know what to pick, when there was so much to choose from! Finally I found the perfect souvenir – some ribbon in the colours of the Norwegian flag. This will be perfect for decorating an item for my flat. I also picked up some lovely blue and green glass beads, as I thought I could probably make a necklace that would remind me of the light sparkling on the waters of the Norwegian coastline.

On my final evening, Emily and Magnus took me to a traditional Norwegian diner in the Old Town. It was called Baklandet Skydsstation and served wonderful, hearty Norwegian food. The diner itself was beautifully decorated with handmade cushions and old portraits and embroideries. I had the most delicious meal of poached salmon in a broth, and I even had a little taste of Magnus’s wild reindeer stew!

I felt refreshed and relaxed after my brief break in Trondheim – the next stage I had to look forward to was a scenic, six-hour train journey through the mountainous Norwegian landscape, towards Oslo.

DSCN5015

Thank you to Emily and Magnus for making me so welcome in your beautiful home city! Onward to Oslo…..

DSCN5000

Scandimania Pt 1 – Stockholm

29 Nov

I am back from my adventure to Scandinavia, and I had an amazing time. I saw so many beautiful places, visited eye-opening galleries and museums, tasted various Scandinavian cuisines, and met so many inspiring people that I barely know where to start!

I guess, in that case, the only logical place to start would be at the beginning. I began my trip by flying into beautiful, crisp, Autumnal Stockholm in Sweden. I had a fantastic few days here, filled with museums, galleries, river cruises, history, art, amazing food and new experiences.

My first stop in Stockholm was Djurgarden, an island midway between Norrmalm and Sodermalm, where many of the main museums are situated. There was one that I had been waiting patiently to visit for ages: Skansen. Skansen was the world’s first ever open-air museum when it opened in 1891, and contains reproductions of Swedish villages and communities from different eras.

 

You are able to visit a 19th Century High Street, replete with a smithy, a potter’s, a bakery and a glassworks. Guides kitted out in historical dress are on hand to answer questions and demonstrate the skills. I was able to watch the glassblower creating beautiful Christmas baubles in her workshop, and also spent some time watching a pair of silversmiths creating bowls.

There are also houses and farm buildings which have been transported from across Sweden for preservation at the museum. It was a bit surreal to be walking between virtually deserted villages, occasionally catching a glimpse of someone in period dress. As you can see, the souvenir headband from my Scottish adventure was getting well worn!

DSC_0066

If you are visiting Stockholm and want some tips for what to see, I would definitely recommend checking out the Vasamuseet, which is also on Djurgarden. It was completely amazing! The museum houses the Vasa ship, which sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was refloated and preserved in the 1960s. It’s absolutely enourmous, and the salvagers were able to preserve the ship almost in its entirety. My completely rubbish photo does not do it justice. Maritime history is a huge part of Stockholm culture, and the Vasa really felt like the jewel in the crown of all of the city’s exhibits.

Even when I wasn’t visiting museums, I thought Stockholm was a really cool city to walk around and get lost in. I spent hours strolling around in the old town of Gamla Stan, which is full of gift shops and boutiques, and round the suburb of Sodermalm, where much of the action of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set.

One fact that I learned whilst in Stockholm is that The Moomins are some of Sweden’s national treasures! The original stories were actually written by a Finn called Tove Jansson, but were originally published in Swedish – they seem to have an enduring appeal here.

DSC_0072

I spotted some gorgeous Moomin cookie cutters during my wanderings around Gamla Stan, and I can’t wait to use them to produce some delicious Swedish cookies. I also couldn’t possibly leave Sweden without a souvenir of the iconic Dalecarlian, or Dala horse.

My time in Stockholm seemed too short, but soon enough it was time to move on to my next destination – an excursion into Norway for a few days before returning to Sweden. Next stop, Trondheim!

 

Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.

 

After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!

DSC_0102

My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Scottish Craft Adventure Part 3 – Orkney

1 Oct

 

Finally, I have found time to tell you all about the last stint of my Scottish road trip – a visit to the Orkney Islands.

DSCN2942

Orkney is an archipelago around 8 miles north of the Scottish mainland, made up of around 70 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is an amazing, mystical place, where it can be seemingly sunny, rainy, windy, overcast and foggy all at the same time. Orkney is popular with fans of ancient history and archaeology because of it’s UNESCO world heritage status for the neolithic structures you can visit there.

I took a ferry from John O Groats, past the Old Man of Hoy, to the town of Stromness on Mainland (the largest island in the Orkneys). The sun was setting as I made the crossing, giving the most amazing light as I took pictures of the Old Man, a huge, ever-changing sea stack which uncannily resembles a figure, stood in the crashing waves, guarding the islands from trouble.

On my first morning on Orkney, I drove out to see the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000 year old stone circle, which I thought would be very much like Stonehenge. Not so! Not only is the Ring of Brodgar the most northerly stone circle, is is also utterly enormous, at over 100 metres in diameter. It is also positioned on a stretch of land between two lochs, which means the light reflecting off the water makes the whole environment feel utterly magical.

The Vikings invaded Orkney around 1000 years ago, and believed that the stones were actually Gods who, after a night of revelling, stayed up too late and were turned to stone as the sun rose. The stones are so large, that as you look up at them, with the clouds moving quickly in the background, you can almost imagine that they are coming back to life.

 

 

I also visited Skara Brae, which is a neolithic village that was completely covered in sand until a freak storm in 1850 ripped the coast line apart, revealing the untouched stone dwellings beneath, perfectly preserved. I’m not even going to try to describe the place – suffice to say, this is Bucket List stuff: one of those sights you simply must see before you die!

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of stepping inside a number of neolithic burial tombs, not least the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay, and the world-famous Maeshowe on Mainland, which pre-dates the Pyramids (!). The experience was certainly something that I will never forget, not least because I was following a long line of visitors to the ancient site – the first people to discover the site were the early Viking warriors, who used Maeshowe as a shelter during their raids. So, amongst the amazing stone carvings almost 5000 years old, you will spot lines of Viking graffiti, written in runic alphabet. Simply amazing.
DSCN3357

Of course, my trip wasn’t just about neolithic adventuring – I also made sure I found time to sample some of the best that the Orkneys had to offer. Not least, ales from the Orkney Brewery, and a wee dram from the acclaimed Highland Park Distillery. Well, it would have been rude not to…

I also, predictably, immersed myself in the arts and crafts heritage of the islands. Orkney makes this super-easy for visitors, by promoting an annual Orkney Craft Trail, which signposts you to artisan workshops, galleries, boutiques and exhibitions.  I found myself on a virtual treasure hunt across the islands, looking for the next Craft Trail sign, leading me towards some of the islands’ hidden treasures.

I spent a lot of time on South Ronaldsay, a large island to the South West of Mainland, which is reachable by road bridge. It was here that I visited the Tomb of the Eagles, and also had the chance to visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, a stunning place of worship built and decorated by Italian POWs during WWII. You can still sense the blood, sweat and tears of the POWs that went into building it – the Chapel was a real labour of love that gave the prisoners something to focus on, and deserves a blog all to itself really!

DSCN3204

Whilst there, I chanced upon a fantastic studio which was a yarn shop, gift boutique and art gallery in one. It was called The Workshop and Loft Gallery, and it was hidden down a street in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. The Workshop is a craft cooperative which was set up 35 years ago by local artisan producers. It stocked knitwear, textiles and yarns, as well as jewellery, ceramics and wonderful art work from local artists.

It will come as no surprise to you that I ended up buying some local yarn as a souvenir of my trip – especially as it was lambing season whilst I was there. Across the islands you could hear the bleat of sheep and watch the gamboling of cute fluffy little creatures as they learned to use their legs for the first time.

 

I bought some skeins of yarn which had been transported down from North Ronaldsay island, of an aran weight. The rare breed, North Ronaldsay sheep are unusual, due to the fact they live on a diet of seaweed. I don’t know if this adds any special quality to the yarn!

DSCN3532

Also on South Ronaldsay was the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, which was filled with the impressive, large scale tapestries of local artist, Leila Thomson. If you are lucky (sadly I wasn’t), you can watch Leila work from the gallery. Her tapestries are moving (emotionally not literally!) depictions of life, death, nature, family, memory and the Universe….pretty big themes! If you make it to Orkney it’s definitely worth seeking out this gallery –  the pictures on her website simply do not do the works justice.

Anyway, with time being short I also spent as much time as possible exploring mainland and some of the other neighbouring islands. Mainland is home to many artists and craftspeople, with one notable one being potter Andrew Appleby, known locally as the ‘Harray Potter’, after the name of the Mainland Parish in which he works. Andrew runs Fursbreck Pottery, which has shops in both Kirkwall and Stromness. I throught the items were beautiful, and I couldn’t resist buying some handmade ceramic buttons to remember my trip by.

DSCN3527

I also visited countless other studios and galleries, but I don’t want to bore you completely! Suffice to say, the heady Orcadian combination of ancient historical sites, wild landscapes, and creative outlets left me fizzing with creativity and ideas.

DSCN3242

I took hundreds of photos of natural textures, which hopefully I would like to recreate in some craft project, using my North Ronaldsay yarn, my Fursbreck ceramic buttons, and a few other things that I picked up along the  way.

DSCN3031

Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some features that remind me of the fascinating layers of history I encountered across the islands – Neolithic burials, Viking graffiti, and WWII buildings.

DSCN3033As we know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually it was time to begin the 14-hour, 580 mile journey South, back to Doncaster which I have always affectionately thought of as ‘The North’. This holiday taught me that it is anything but! Thanks for being patient in waiting for posts from my adventure, I hope they were worth the wait. I promise to be a little quicker in writing up the results of my makes from the items I picked up along the way!

12 days, over 1000 miles, and an unforgettable adventure.

Scottish Crafting Adventure – Edinburgh

7 Sep

As mentioned several weeks ago, I spent the Easter break on an epic road trip across Scotland and the Orkney Isles. Unbelievably, I had 10 days of sunshine out of 12 – I was surprised to return with a tan from a holiday so far North.

DSC_0044 - Copy

I had an utterly fantastic time, going on lots of beautiful mountain walks and bike trails, discovering breathtaking nature and wildlife, and, of course, partaking of a generous helping of arts and crafts.

My adventure started in Scotland’s bright and bustling capital, Edinburgh. The city is full of the most wonderful gift boutiques and yarn shops. I spent a lot of time (and money) in the Grassmarket area of town – in particular, at these two shops:

The Red Door Gallery, 42 Victoria Street, is a fantastic find for handmade items and quirky gifts. The staff in there are really helpful and were able to give me information on the designer of any item I picked up. I finally fell in love with a pair of gem-shaped, laser cut perspex earrings, which had been designed by Orcadian jewellery designer, Kirsteen Stewart.

P1030388

Just a few doors down the road from The Red Door was K1 Yarns, a veritable treasure trove for those of us that want high-quality, unusual and locally sourced yarns. I pretty much fell in love with every single skein I picked up in the shop! However, using my superhuman willpower, I managed to resist, as I was hoping to engineer a trip to Kingcraig Fabrics into my holiday.

P1030390

Edinburgh is a fascinating city, full of history, mystery and heritage. After touring the Scottish Parliament, walking up to the Observatory on Colton Hill and perusing what felt like a hundred souvenir shops on the Royal Mile, I was in need of a break before tackling the touristic behemoth, Edinburgh Castle.

Right near the top of the hill sits a Tartan Weaving Mill, which was just the sort of crafting break I was looking for! As well as being able to buy every imaginable shade and pattern of tartan, you can actually watch it being made in the basement of the building.

I hadn’t realised there were so many different patterns of tartan! You were able to buy the material by the metre, and there was also a good selection of offcuts to choose from. I really wanted to buy some materials which I could use for a patchwork project when I returned home. Therefore, I chose three offcuts of tartan, each being a different design but similar shades of colour.

During my trip, I also had time to visit the utterly amazing National Museum of Scotland – so inspiring! There was so much to see in there, but of particular interest was the exhibition on traditional Scottish weaving. I also spent quite a lot of time looking at the Pictish and Viking exhibits, in preparation for my sightseeing further North.

P1030343

Alas, it was finally time for me to leave this beautiful city and resume my journey North towards Royal Deeside. Of course, there is always time for a little crafting en route, as I had booked in to make a paperweight at Caithness Glass. However, on my way there, I found an absolute gem of a craft shop: Lagom Felt Studio, in Crieff.

P1030454

Tracy and her husband run the shop, which is a specialist fibre art shop and craft workshop. They stock a wide range of weaving and felting materials and tools, with a specific emphasis on Scottish alpaca fibre and locally-sourced rare-breed fleeces. The pair were really friendly and were happy to chat about any items I picked up. Tracy also mentioned that she too has a blog, which is here!

Tracy is super talented and runs workshops on wet and dry felting, from absolute beginners to intermediate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to come to a workshop on my trip, as I was only passing through the area. However, I will try to make a detour on my next Scottish trip!
DSCN3525

As you know, I find it virtually impossible to leave a craft shop without purchasing something. This was bound to happen at Lagom Felt, as all their items were gorgeous. Firstly, I bought a remnant reel of handspun yarn, which I thought matched my Edinburgh tartans quite well. Secondly, I spotted a basket full of gorgeous, unique, hand fired clay buttons, each of which was glazed in lovely colours. As you can see from the picture above, I chose the oak leaf, which, for me, really symbolises Scotland. When I was a child, we regularly visited a place called Craigendarroch, which means ‘Hill of the Oaks’…but more about that in my next post.

I guess this rounds up the first few stops of my trip, so that’s enough for now. Next time, the Scottish Highlands!

Paperweight making at Caithness Glass

7 Jun

On my Easter trip to Scotland, I arranged a visit to a place which I hadn’t been to since I was a wee nipper – Caithness Glass. The factory and visitor centre is in Crieff, Perthshire, and I remember being dazzled by the sight of craftsmen blowing hot glass and plunging implements into roaring furnaces to make stunning glass pieces when I was young.

DSCN3988

I read on the Caithness Glass website that they offer visitors the chance to make their own glass paperweight – this certainly appealed to me! I presumed I wouldn’t get to actually influence all that much, but I was happy to have the chance to see close-up how glass items were made.

P1030436

I arrived at the visitor centre and was introduced to Martin, one of the craftsmen who works at Caithness. He showed me around the workshop, pointing out the furnaces, the kilns, the workstations. He said that the first job was to choose the colours for the pattern inside the paperweight.

P1030439

The colours are formed by granules of coloured glass – displayed on a series of shelves in colour order. Martin told me that the coloured pieces work much in the same way as pottery glazes – some of them melt at different temperatures, giving different effects. Also, some of the granules are fine, like a coarse sand. Others look more like ice cream sprinkles, or are as coarse as gravel – all of these will affect the melting and mixing speeds of the colours, so will affect how the finished piece looks.

I was given some metal trays to collect colours on. I chose a fine, pale grey, a coarser pale yellow and a granular, dark blue. We set them out on the worktop by the furnace for mixing into the glass.

P1030440

Martin collected a big blob of molten glass on the end of the pole, and began turning it evenly, to ensure it stayed centred on the pole. Every so often, he would hold the pole still, so that the glass would bend to one side. He would then flip it over, to keep the glass moving properly. He then gave me the pole, and together we rolled the molten glass in each of the coloured trays, to fix my chosen colour flakes to the molten glass. Then, the whole pole went back in the furnace to heat the mixture up to a good temperature for working on.

 P1030441

Martin then asked me to sit down and begin rolling the pole against the metal rails – this allows the glass to start cooling whilst keeping its shape. I was given a wet, wooden, curved mold, which I used to shape the top of the glass blob whilst cooling it slightly. He was a very patient teacher! I was surprised at how heavy the glass was, so it took a little getting used to – I eventually got the hang of the technique to roll the shape.

P1030447

I couldn’t see the colours which had been added, but Martin explained that all the colours disappear whilst molten, and would return when the glass cooled.

P1030446

I was then given a metal spiky tool, which I used to poke dents all over my blob. Martin explained how this was going to create air bubbles in the finished design. More glass was added, and then we went back to cooling and shaping the glass again.

P1030444

Using large metal tongs, I created a neck to the glass blob, which would become the base of the paperweight. After a while, the glass had cooled to around 900 degrees (!) so I was able to use a sharp knife to score a line around the narrowest part of the neck. Martin then took the pole over to the cooling kiln, and firmly tapped the pole against the worktop – the finished paperweight cleanly broke off, like magic!

P1030451

Glass is brittle when it cools too quickly, so at this point, it went into a cooling kiln, at a degree of 500 degrees, so that its temperature could lower gradually over the next 24 hours. Then, it could be removed from the kiln to continue to cool.

P1030452

The whole experience took around 25 minutes, and it was great fun! I feel like I really learned a lot! It was great being in the real workshop where all of the Caithness paperweights are made, and to be making my item alongside other craftspeople making items for commercial sale.  Martin was a great teacher and answered all of my incessant questions. He even agreed to being in a workshop selfie!

DSCN3998

You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to post about my glassmaking experience, as it took place 6 weeks ago. Well, as I was in the process of gallavanting around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the lovely staff at Caithness said they would send my paperweight home for me at the beginning of May.

I eagerly awaited its arrival, but sadly, it did not appear! I became increasingly despondent as I checked the post box, day after day. I checked with Caithness to check it had been posted on time, and it had. After checking with the post office to no avail, I came to the conclusion that it had been lost in the post. How disappointing!

However, just last week, I received a phone call from Caithness. My paperweight had been on a jolly tour of the postal service of England and Scotland, and had arrived back at their factory. It was sent once again and arrived here last week. I am so utterly delighted with it! It’s not only a wonderful souvenir of my holiday, and a memory of a fantastic experience at the workshop, but also I love the way the colours swirl around inside the globe.

The wonderful people at Caithness even engraved the base of my paperweight with my name and the date that it was made – preserving my amazing holiday for years to come.

DSCN3997

…and perhaps my favourite feature – from this angle, it looks like it’s smiling!

PHMMcr

Goings on at the People's History Museum, Manchester

Never Too Experienced

The lifestyle scrapbook of an honest lady who will always have something to learn.

Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess

Tea, Dinosaurs and Feminism.

NUT in SPTA and Delta Academies

A site for NUT members in SPTA/Delta schools

NUT Area 3

Organising & campaigning news & casework updates from the NUT Yorkshire Midland Region (Area 3)

ginjointjen

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Funky Air Bear

Traditional & Modern Knits

PEEKO CRAFTS

Ramblings of an Irish knitter and yarn addict

My OBT

My daily quest for One Beautiful Thing (OBT)

Lattes & Llamas

we live for wool and bleed espresso

%d bloggers like this: