Friday, May 22, 2015

The month that vanished

To my horror I’ve realised that it’s nearly three weeks since my last post and I simply do not know where May has gone! When I last posted we were still in the far north, with the General Election looming, closely followed by our planned return south. Since we arrived home, almost a fortnight ago, life has been a blur of unpacking, garden tidying, service planning and general catching-up with people and commitments and it’s only now starting to slow down to a more manageable pace.

It has been good to realise yet again that the new house is a very welcoming place to come home to. It’s also been fun to come back to a garden which was still almost dormant when we headed north and see what is now making its presence felt. I even managed to remember to take my camera with me on a walk to and from a church meeting in the village to capture something of our rather different surroundings and perspective down here in the valley.

So here, from a still cool and showery Mid-Wales, is a glimpse of our new normal.

Half-timbered Mid-Wales

Hedgerow country

Hills to the right of me

Hills to the left of me

On the bridge looking upstream...

...and across the road looking downstream

Along the winding road to home

Monday, May 04, 2015

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

For much of my childhood the highlight of the summer was our annual Wakes Week holiday at Fleetwood or Morecambe or another of the even then slightly faded but much loved seaside resorts which line the Lancashire coast. If we couldn’t manage a whole week, there would be at least a day-trip or two, always by train. My memories are of buckets and spades, sandcastles, donkey-rides on the beach and first paddling, then swimming, in the always chilly waters of the Irish Sea.

When we moved to Mid-Wales in the early 1970s the resorts changed, but the pattern of occasional day trips to the seaside, now by car, continued while our children were small, though with wonderful countryside immediately around us, the pull of the coast rapidly diminished. Instead it was their grandparents who took our two for a week at the seaside from time to time.

Now in retirement we are lucky enough to spend extended periods of time in close proximity to a very different kind of coast, empty of resorts, and with not a promenade or wrought-iron pier in sight. Instead, within a very few miles of where we stay, there are cliffs and sandy beaches, little coves and tiny harbours, sandbanks where seals can sometimes be spotted sunning themselves, and the kind of tempting, uninhabited islands that children’s stories were written about in my youth.  And what is even more wonderful is that, far more often than not, when you go there you will have these magical spots entirely to yourself.

So come with me on a short tour of our favourite corners in this small area of the eternally fascinating and unspoilt coast of the North-West Highlands.

We begin on the Kyle of Tongue, that wide, shallow estuary
 to which Ben Loyal and Ben Hope form such a magnificent backdrop.

There we find the sandbanks, where, if you're lucky,
you may see seals sunning themselves and occasionally 
rolling over into the water to catch themselves a quick snack.

Continuing north along the Melness peninsula, we come to Talmine Bay.

Here, as well as its pale sand and pebble beach,  is the small stone jetty 
which turns this corner into a safe harbour for small boats
and a final resting place for a long-abandoned one.

Towards the tip of the peninsula lies one of our favourite places, 
 the tiny former fishing hamlet of Port Vasgo in its little bay,
its boats long gone and half its cottages now in ruins.

No gentle sandy beach here, just knife-edged rocks, 
through which those long-ago fishermen laboriously cut a channel
 to allow their boats to be winched up out of the water to safety.

From Port Vasgo you can walk west across sheep-nibbled turf 
to a tiny, nameless beach, tucked between cliff and rocks.

Even Perpetua reverts to childhood dreams here.

Another quarter turn to the left and from the rocks you can see Midfield beach, 
though you can only access it by clambering precariously across the rocks, 
or more sensibly via another path from inland.

It's back to the car to drive round to the inner edge of the bay 
and lovely Achininver beach, where you climb down  wooden steps
and across tussocky sand-dunes to reach the water's edge.

And finally, for a proper view of those Enid Blyton adventure islands, 
we need to drive to the other side of the Kyle 
and look back across to Melness and its hidden gems.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A month full of memories

“April is the cruellest month” wrote the poet T S Eliot in the opening lines of The Waste Land.  Forgive the poetic exaggeration, but I do find April an emotional month, filled as it is with so many significant family anniversaries and the memories that accompany them.

The first in my grandfather’s birthday on the 3rdBorn in 1889, he died at the end of my first term at university in 1965, having been an ever-present influence in my childhood and youth. My memories are still vivid and full of gratitude for having known him.

Almost a fortnight elapses before the next dates arrive, starting with the birthday on the 15th of the uncle I never knew. My mother’s baby brother Jack died within a few weeks of his birth in 1921 and she grew up an only child.

Thankfully the next birthday is a happy one – that of our eldest grandson, who turned 16 on the 17th and is bidding fair to be as tall as his 6’4” father! It’s hard to believe this mischievous toddler now has his head down over his books, revising hard for his GCSEs.

Grandson #1 trying to walk on water

The very next day we celebrated the birthday of my niece and goddaughter, now in her thirties and waiting happily for the birth of her first child in the summer. It’s wonderful to see the wheel of life continuing to turn like this and to know I will soon be a great-aunt again. Where are those knitting needles?

Two sets of cousins -  the birthday girl below

The next date is one that will always be etched in my heart. On the 20th my dear father died, only minutes before midnight and the beginning of my mother’s birthday on the 21st. They had been married for almost 37 years, had brought up five daughters and had given them the very best start in life any child could wish for. I can never be grateful enough for the sacrifices they made to support us through school and university on working-class wages, an education neither of them had been fortunate enough to enjoy.

After that came my birthday on the 24th (the last of my 60s – help!) closely followed by a twin celebration on the 29th. For DH and myself there was the milestone of 47 years of married life, while at the same time we marked the day when Grandson#2 reached the status of teenager. Where have those thirteen years gone? Blink and you’ve missed them.

Grandson#2 finding it a rather slippery place to be

There are plenty of other significant family dates scattered through the year, but in no other month is there such a concentration. If not a cruel month, April is certainly a poignant one for me - a rainbow mixture of happiness and hope for the future, mingled with an enduring sense of loss.

PS  Don't tell DH, but I forgot to include another significant April date - the anniversary of our first meeting on the day before my 21st birthday. That truly was my lucky day.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April showers with a difference

While the rest of the UK has been continuing to bask under blue skies and warm sunshine, up here in the frozen north we have gone in just 4 days from this:

to this:

The promised return to winter materialised with a vengeance today, with my walk to church this morning taken in the teeth of a fierce hail shower driven by a bitter northerly wind. Thank goodness the church is not much more than a quarter of a mile away! The service was followed by a walk home an hour later in windless calm and amid gently falling snow.

Since then calm and fitfully sunny intervals have alternated with driving, heavy hail, sleet and snow showers which sweep along the valley from the sea to the north, hiding the castle, kyle and mountains from sight. It’s been an afternoon for quiet knitting, accompanied by tea and hot, buttered toast, interrupted by the occasional dash to the window to watch the weather change yet again.

Who stole the castle?

As I write it is snowing hard, but by the time I post this, the sun may be out again and the water droplets glittering from every twig of the still leafless silver birch in the garden. April at her most capricious.

Postscript:  It was worth waking early and braving the cold of the conservatory to capture this view before the sun moves round behind the mountain until the afternoon. We had more snow overnight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Capricious April

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there”  Robert Browning may have had a point, though he was writing from the lush warmth of an Italian spring, rather than the chilly dampness of a northern Scottish season. The last fortnight’s scattering of lovely sunny days may soon seem like a dream if the weather forecast for this area is to be believed. 

With luck the promised showers will be of rain, rather than the snow which accompanied our journey north at the beginning of the month, but wintry showers are not beyond the bounds of possibility by the weekend.

Thank goodness DH and I took advantage of the sunny weather to get out and about a bit. The landscape of the North-West Highlands is wonderful whatever the weather, but in sunshine it is truly spectacular and our respective cameras have been working overtime.

The road north on a snowy April Fool's Day

Ben Loyal the morning after our arrival

And a week later after a beautifully sunny Easter.

The Kyle of Tongue heading north to the sea

A symphony in grey - no leaves to soften the trees yet

Clouds over the mountains of Sutherland herald a change in the weather

A very different sunset this evening

Still, at least the disappearance of the sun gives me an excellent excuse to abandon gardening for family history research, which is proving ever more absorbing as I learn the techniques of finding and assessing the wealth of information available online. Knitting too is coming on apace, with the weekly knit & natter group enabling rapid progress on my latest pair of socks. 

I’ve also been busy reviving the almost forgotten art of knitting a new toe for the socks which DH’s iron toenails have worn into a hole. There’s too much work in a pair of hand-knitted socks to throw them into the bin at the first sign of weakness and it’s been fun giving a couple of pairs a new lease of life, even to matching the pattern of the self-patterning yarn. I knew it was worth keeping all those remnants of yarn from the many pairs of socks I’ve knitted over the past few years.

Now all I have to do is to spend more time on my shamefully neglected clarinet and my life will be in perfect balance again, which is more than can be said for Simon’s rather bedraggled cat.