Through a different lens.

Hello again.

Sometime last week when I made my way into the Hidey-Hole, I found that I just didn’t have the urge to do anything particularly arty. I know this is entirely normal and nothing to fret about, but I wondered if there was anything I felt like doing that might be even vaguely art-related.

And suddenly I had the answer – I decided to take a photo of every piece of work in my stash.

Photographing the Stash

The stash is in fact two A3 sized cardboard boxes from Amazon and two A3 sketchbooks, which are where I put the artwork that I deem finished – either because I’ve reached a point that I’m happy with, or at least I don’t feel like taking it any further, or because I have reached the stage of really not liking something and I want to move on with a fresh start.

The stash has been steadily growing over the last two years and in all that time, I’ve almost never been back to look inside and see what I’d been creating. Which to be honest has always been my way of going about things.

It was/is the same with the textile art pieces that I make. The enjoyment is all in the doing, in the stitching, so once it’s completed, I lose interest and just want to move on to the next piece as fast as possible. Off the completed work goes to the stash, totally forgotten.

Anyway, I followed through and duly took each piece from the stash, put it on the kitchen table, and took a picture.

Well, what an eye-opener!

I rather think I could write a book about the revelations that came up while doing it – although you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to bore you silly about it all now – but I thought I’d mention a couple of things that really surprised me.

The first thing, is just how different a picture can look in the photo compared with how I think it looks in real life – I’m not talking about the quality of the reproduction or colours, no, what I mean is that in many of the pictures I can see (or not see) aspects of composition, contrast, colour use, focal points and things like that, which aren’t anything like so clear in the flesh.

I’ve heard some other artists say that they take photos of their work whilst working, but this is the first time I’ve really begun to understand why that might be helpful.

One thing that I noticed particularly was that I don’t really achieve enough contrast (for my liking) – and that’s something I hadn’t realised before.

The other thing that really struck me was that in fact there does seem to be an element of style and subject beginning to show itself, despite my concerns that everything is simply random. It may not translate to other viewers, but I begin to see some themes in process, colour and subject that I found oddly reassuring.

As I went through each piece, I tried to decide if they were finished, or whether they might be reusable in some other way. I knew there were several pieces that I had stopped working on without feeling that I’d resolved them. I’ve put those selections into another box, so perhaps the next time I lose the urge to carry on with the current piece, I might dip into the box and see if anything sparks my interest.

It took a couple of hours to take the pictures and I didn’t go back to look at them straight away, but I’m so glad to have taken time to do this. I’ve just been going through some of them again to show you a few, and while doing it I made other discoveries that I’m sure will help me – and who knows, that might carry on.

Somehow the detachment of time and looking at a photo instead of the real thing allows an opportunity to be your own constructive critic. And it certainly helps that when you go back over a lot of work, you begin to see patterns that aren’t otherwise obvious.

(I’ve littered this post with a tiny selection from the photographed stash – it seems that I paint trees far more often than I thought…).

In other news…

I had a lovely afternoon in Worcester on Sunday. A flying trip with the daughters. The river and the cathedral were looking gorgeous. How exciting to see everything beginning to unfurl for spring – hooray!

Until next time.

Anny x

Garden aspirations

Hello again.

It’s that time of year when all sorts of things that have been lying dormant in the garden suddenly start to reappear.

Of course, the main things that reappear in my garden are the bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercup and green alkanet, but hay-ho, some things are sent to try us.

On the plus side, although I am a very average and intermittently enthusiastic gardener, we do have some extremely talented squirrel gardeners who over the years have managed to plant – in lovely and appropriate locations – an ornamental cherry tree, several horse chestnut trees, a hazel, a most attractive hellebore and a handful of hyacinths.

I like to imagine that it’s their way of thanking me for providing them with so much free food via the birdfeeders – or perhaps they just enjoy the challenge.

Last year, we did manage to make quite a good show with a selection of plants chosen with much care entirely on the basis of having strong slug repellent properties (did I mention that we have slugs here – hoards of them?).

I’ve been poking about in the border, but I’m not sure how many have survived the winter – to be honest, I actually can’t remember where and what I planted. So, it will be exciting to see what comes up.

We have had a couple of early trips to the garden centre to indulge in our fantasies of herbaceous borders and cottage gardens. It’s wonderfully inspiring, but I’m conscious that there’s quite a gulf between my expectations and the reality in our small north-facing plot.

I suspect that my gardening aspirations are deeply coloured by the numerous visits over the years to proper gardens, especially the ones attached to stately homes. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I imagine myself another Miss Jekyll, commanding drifts of white flowers to magically appear and last all through the summer. Ah well.

Since discovering the joys of collage, I’ve been trying out a variety of ideas for pictures. Am I alone in finding that the art techniques and indeed subjects covered, that are most appealing to me as a viewer are rarely those that I seem able to actually create?

For instance, I love to see work in subtle, earthy tones. Moody, ethereal landscapes are often what I enjoy by other artists. But when I try to do something similar, it just doesn’t work. Or perhaps I should say it hasn’t worked yet, who knows what might happen at some time or other.

But for now, when I make art in whatever medium, it seems that I have to use colour. Almost all my stitched art features strong colour, bold yellows, purples, reds and greens. It seems so far at least to be the same with collage – bright colour rules.

I wonder to myself about this. Somewhere inside, I seem to feel that neutral shades, earth tones and textures are – how can I express – more sophisticated?

If pressed, I’d say this is a throw-back to school days when we were told that serious artists use neutral palettes, bright colour is what children play with.

Well, just lately, I’ve realised albeit with a slow dawning, that there’s nothing wrong with bright colours, in fact using colour is a really good way to bring joy into art. I know it’s not for everyone, that’s the way of art, nothing will appeal to everyone and nor should it. But there is a place for bright, colourful artwork in the world and if it so happens that it’s the kind of art I seem to produce, then that’s fine.

And then I thought, well, maybe, as I enjoy looking at gardens probably more than actually making my own, why not try to paint/collage some pictures of gardens. I spent a happy hour or so trawling through old photos that I’ve taken at various stately homes and gardens. Here are just a small selection. They’re my starting point. I’ll see where they take me.

Ascott House
Cawdor Castle
Baddesley Clinton
Chastleton House
Packwood House

I’d like to thank all the people who work in the gardens at these places. I hope they know that the gardens are just as important as the historic houses for many visitors.

Until next time – all best wishes

Anny x

An early Bath…

Hello again.

Spring is in the air – can you feel it? I’m so ready for the turn of the wheel this time. 

A day out in Bath

A couple of weeks ago, I headed off for a day trip to Bath – my first visit there in over two years.

It was wonderful and really did perk me up no end. I was delighted to find that the stall in the covered market ‘Not Cartier’ was still there. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of sparkly bling which speaks directly to the magpie in me. It’s also the best place I know to find interesting broaches. I decided a while ago that I would wage a one-woman campaign to resurrect the wearing of broaches, and so you won’t be surprised to hear that I brought a couple home with me.

I was also incredibly lucky to find that my favourite posh hippy shop had a sale and so having tried on more clothes than I have for years, I also brought a new frock and a tunic top back with me. I live with this vision of becoming someone who usually wears dresses and woollens in a cool and chic way. But somehow when I get up each morning, I seem to reach for the jeans and fleece and stay in them until bedtime. Oh well, who knows, maybe this time…

Anyway, Bath was just what I needed. I didn’t take many photos because it was extremely cold and I didn’t hang about between shops/cafes etc, but I did take this photo of a nonchalant gull. There’s a bit of an issue with gulls in Bath and there are signs all over the place asking people not to feed them. This chap was sitting about four feet from just such a sign – you could see the contempt in his eyes.

Hidey-Hole stuff

Back in the Hidey-Hole and it’s been more collage fun.

I wish I could convey the pure happiness that I feel while I’m cutting and gluing. But it’s even better really, because this process of creating papers, painting backgrounds, sticking paper down, painting again, stitching again – repeat until finished – manages to let me incorporate so many of the techniques I’ve been experimenting with over recent months and gives me a way to bring everything together.

Collage also has the distinct advantage that it seems to have enforced periods of waiting – mostly for glue or paint to dry – which are absolutely perfect for feeding the washing machine or putting the vacuum round. I do enjoy being in the hidey-hole, but the fact that I can have all this fun whilst still keeping most of the other plates spinning seems especially fortunate.

And then there’s the needlepoint.

Yes, I’m still stitching. It is such a perfect form of meditation – for me at least. 

Last night I finished the most recent piece. I’ve tried to take a couple of photos but you know how tricky the light is here. I’d say that one photo slightly underplays the saturation of the colours, whilst the other goes a little far the other way.

A little underplaying the colours.
A little overplaying.

I’m not going to exhibit any of this textile work, but if anyone would like to have it, perhaps to make it into a cushion cover or to frame – or whatever you can think of, please send me a message. I’m open to offers. Bear in mind that it’s just a piece of hessian/burlap approximately 12” square, stitched in a variety of threads – silk, wool, linen. I’ve had my enjoyment in the making, so if it could have another life with someone else, that would be wonderful. 

And so there we are for now. I hope that you’re having fun in whatever way gives you happiness. Until next time,

Anny x

The Secret is Process

Hello again.

This is a fairly long post – but I hope you’ll read it…x

I thought that today I’d talk a little about something that’s sparked a creative leap for me. 

And it’s really so simple, I can’t think how I forgot about it (because I suspect I did already know it, and you do too, I’m pretty sure).

So what’s the revelation? Just this, don’t worry about the end product, concentrate on the process.

I’ve just learnt this lesson the hard-ish way. So I thought I’d write about it here in case it helps anyone who’s in the same predicament, and also so that if/when I forget it again, I can pop back and give myself a poke in the proverbial.

So, a little background.

My art journey really took off when the needlepoint artwork I’d been creating just for the fun of it, came to the attention of some extremely lovely people who encouraged me to make it available for sale.

I was delighted to find that there were indeed people out there who liked it enough to want to own it themselves. This was a massive boost to my self-confidence and I started to think of myself as an artist, rather than just a woman who stitched quite a lot.

This lovely cycle went on and on for a few years. It felt great. I wrote about stitching, I met other artists, I sold some work.

Ah, but you know there’s going to be a but don’t you…

Yep, you’re right.

Creativity, as with so many other things in life, comes in cycles. And just as I’d enjoyed the ride for some time, eventually the enjoyment dwindled. Hand on heart, at some stage, just before the pandemic as it happens, I realised that making stitched art had stopped being really enjoyable. It had become a source of discontent. I still liked the feel of stitching – the process of stabbing cloth with a needle and painting in threads – I just stopped creating anything that I thought was good to look at. Which is not really where you want to be if you see yourself as an artist who sells their work.

I decided to embrace the lockdown and have a break.

Although in fact, I did still stitch because the process kept me calm, I just stopped caring what it looked like.

Instead of giving so much time to threads, I picked up my paints for their first outing in many years. It was fun, but I had a mindset that told me as an artist I should be creating good work, and even to my eyes, it was pretty obviously not all that good at all.

So I went back to pastels. I’d loved them when I was a teenager. And yes, I still loved them, and no, I couldn’t exactly promise you I made anything even vaguely decent.

So I tried a whole raft of other media – and then I mixed a whole load of media together. Result? More mud and dissatisfaction. Although, perversely, also a lot of fun and happiness…go figure.

In mild desperation, I decided that I should go back to basics and draw. I drew. Turns out I can draw, not all that bad at drawing. But the results? Just not inspiring – not for me and I very much doubt for anyone else either. Dead end.

Slightly deeper frustration set in. What was the problem? Why couldn’t I bring anything to the point where I felt it was good art, good enough to share with random strangers? 

More thought and more googling. Of course, the answer was that proper artists are inspired by a topic, a place, a thing, landscapes, still-life, abstract, florals, realism, a message they want to share with the world. In short, they know what they want to paint, they know what they want to communicate. They did the work and developed their style – something unique, some eloquent, recognisable means of artistic communication.

Excellent. Now all I had to do was work out what I wanted to paint, communicate, focus upon.

How? Ummm, maybe by painting the things that inspire me, give me joy, fascinate me, intrigue me. Hooray. I should paint castles, ruined abbeys, hill forts, mountain scenery, stained glass windows, stone circles, standing stones, ancient monuments, Norman church architecture, medieval manuscripts…..argh!

Slight problem here. Over the years, I’ve tried to make work inspired by all these things – the things that actually really do excite and intrigue me – and nothing has ever come off that felt even remotely like good art. Oh yes, I can draw a castle, a standing stone, a hillside. No problem there, it’s just not going to leap out and shout at me, let alone anyone else ‘look at me, I’ve got something to say!’ To be honest, it’s just boring.

A much deeper despondency set in. Face it, I’m not an artist. Stop pretending to be. Give up.

And then, fairly randomly, I was given a Gelli printing plate for Christmas.

I’d never used one before – had no idea what to do with it. But once the Christmas festivities were over, I sloped off to my hidey-hole and started to play.

The hidey-hole.

For the first time in years, since the time when I needlepointed purely for the hell of it, I played with materials with absolutely no expectations, no ideas at all of where I wanted to go. I gave myself over to the process of printing unpredictable and unrepeatable sheets of colour.

And inevitably, there comes a time when you see this rapidly growing pile of coloured papers threatening to topple over and spill into the next room and you think, I really should come up with a way to use these.

What I actually decided to do, was to stick them over a piece of mylar I’d previously painted on. I discovered the welcoming arms of collage.

Suddenly, all the other media I’d spent time experimenting with seemed to find a place within this ‘new to me’ process. The mylar I’d fallen in love with for its ability to stay flat whatever you poured over it, makes an excellent base for the collage. The preparatory scribbles to free your hand and mind suddenly provided an interesting textured background, the acrylics dabbed and scored also made a great background. Pastels it turns out are a great way of planning composition. 

In short, all the aspects of using the various media I’d been playing with that I most enjoyed but couldn’t master singly, seemed to offer themselves as parts of a process that felt exactly right for me. It turns out that I was a collage/mixed media person and I never knew until I let myself go.

Now, here’s the thing.

I was so excited by the process, I didn’t give a thought to the end result. I just cut up little pieces of paper and stuck them down over the painted background. I put things wherever they seemed to want to go. If I didn’t like it, I stuck something else over the top. I carried on. No expectations, no focus, just process.

The first couple of pieces took on quite an organic flavour. I’ve never really had much time for pictures of flowers, but somehow that’s what appeared. And do you know? They felt right to me – they express me. I could never have told you that I was inspired by organic shapes and flower colours, but that’s what I seem to produce.

And that’s where I am as we speak. I gave up totally on trying to paint any particular thing and instead embraced a process, with no expectations, just enjoying the feeling of relaxation as I cut and stuck as the muse decided. I have no idea if any of it is good enough art, the daughters are complimentary, but hardly an unbiased audience. It doesn’t matter. This is the first work I’ve made for ages that pleases me, and that it turns out makes all the difference.

I’m not suggesting that this is a process you should try – you’ll have your own. But what I do think is helpful, is to stop thinking about end results and instead get into the flow of your preferred process. 

I have no idea where I’m going with this, and that’s alright. For now, I’ll just keep playing and seeing what happens. Do I still think of myself as an artist? Actually yes. I make art. That’s all there is to it.

Phew, this has been a long post. Thanks for reading.

One more thing before I go. 

Instagram

Just to say that part of my ‘letting go’ was to stop posting on Dreaminginstitches. I just felt that I’d done all I could there. However, after a couple of months, I missed having somewhere to post my occasional photos other than here and I wondered about beginning a new account, which would have no strict focus – exactly as this blog is intended – just random stuff. And so I created a_mingled-yarn over on Instagram. If you use the platform and would like to find me there, that would be lovely, but please, only if you really want to. 

There, this is definitely the end of the post.

Much love

Anny x

In and out in December…

the Grand Union canal.

It’s no secret that I tend to find the low-light days of winter something of a challenge, which is why I’m delighted to say that so far this year, I’m managing to stay pretty buoyant. Maybe it’s the generally mild weather we’ve been having or just a determined effort to stay relaxed. Whichever, all I can say is that we’re now really close to the solstice and so far, so good.

Part of my strategy for staying well is to get outdoors as much as I reasonably can. It used to be easier when the Delinquent Dog insisted on a decent daily walk, but the old chap isn’t up to all that these days and we have to content ourselves with short strolls near to the house. I miss getting out into the woods and countryside so much and try hard to get out when I can.

We’re lucky to live a short hop away from the Grand Union canal, which would have been the perfect place to walk the Delinquent Dog, had he not come hardwired with the urge to attack any other furry creature he might meet. Narrow canal paths do not lend themselves to quick avoidance detours – not without getting very wet at any rate.

I’ve taken to having a quick walk along the tow-path every few days without the boy (you can see how glorious the weather was from the picture at the top of this post on a recent stroll). And there have been occasional walks around the Park at Woburn – always a delight.

There have also been proper days out.

First, a trip to Worcester with both daughters. We were there a few days after Storm Arwen which had brought down one of the stone pinacles from the tower of the cathedral, which crashed through the roof below. If you look carefully you might be able to see where the tarpaulin is now covering the hole. The pincacle came from high up on the tower, so all-in-all I’d say it was lucky not to have been a worse outcome.

the damaged roof at Worcester Cathedral

We happened to be in Worcester on the final day of the Christmas Market, so it was fairly busy, but also rather lovely. Twinkly and smelling of mulled wine – quite put me in the festive spirit.

the Guildhall, Worcester at dusk.
excellent message I thought…x

Later that week, I met up with my brother in Worcestershire and we headed off to Hanbury Hall for tea and cakes and a wander around the house. This year they’ve decorated the house in the style of Christmasses of the 1970s and 1980s and oh my goodness! What a good job they’ve made. I haven’t laughed so much for an age.

We spent our afternoon remembering toys, films, tv, pop music and food from our youth. It was magical! Tacky, but totally magical.

It wasn’t just indoors that had been decorated. Every one of these little trees had a glitter ball on top – over 200 of them, how fabulous!

Meanwhile, back indoors, there has been more needlepoint. I’ve given up trying to think about what I’m doing and instead I’ve fully embraced the stitch to relax vibe that I used to have. For now, that feels absolutely the right thing to do. I’ve always thought that stitching was primarily a meditative practice and so it feels again for me.

this is the current piece – rocking orange…x

There’s something snuggly about sitting on the sofa in the evening, listening to the TV and quietly sewing. Well, it works for me.

It’s a funny old time of year and I hope you’re doing alright. Stitching keeps me relaxed and calm, but do whatever works for you. We’re all different.

Anny x

Last week we…

Is it me, or do these school holidays seem to come around faster and faster?

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. Number Two daughter was in Paris on a school trip until Friday, so Number One daughter and I went around and about. We managed a trip to London – culture and shopping again – we’re getting good at it. Then a visit to Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham (I’ll post about that on Mists of Time as soon as I have a chance), and then we decided that we should carve a pumpkin, even though Number Two wasn’t going to be back in time to enjoy the trick or treaters.

IMAG3796

And then, on Saturday, the highlight of our week – perhaps the highlight of our year – we went to Stratford, to see David Tennant in Richard II.

IMAG3806

We booked the tickets so long ago, we’d had a lot of time to get excited about it, but in the event, it was even better than any of us could have hoped. I have absolutely no problem in admitting that it was the attraction of our almost all-time favourite Dr Who (I’m of the Tom Baker generation), that made us go along to what you’d have to say is not perhaps the top of the Shakespeare picks, but oh my goodness, how brilliant it was.

Our party included two fifty-something ladies, a seventy-something lady, two middle-aged men and four teenage girls, and each one of us came away absolutely enthralled. In my opinion, nobody does Shakespeare like the RSC – so many people think that Shakespeare is difficult to understand, but go to the RSC productions and they make it entirely understandable – if our teenagers knew what was happening, anyone could – simply marvellous.

So if having someone like David Tennant in the cast is what it takes to bring in the next generation of Shakespeare lovers – that’s fine by me. (Oh and he was incredibly good – of course).

Back down to earth now…

 

 

-)O(-

 

A churchy day out in York…

Warning: this post contains gratuitous references to bell-ringing. Anyone with allergies to bells should stop reading now.

York is one of my favourite cities in the UK, and I was delighted to be able to spend the day there last Saturday.

Now of course there’s more than enough to keep you happy and occupied in York for days on end, but we were there for a bell-ringing event, so inevitably the day was dominated by visiting churches.

York Minster is one of the granddaddies of gothic architecture and an absolute ‘must-see’ at least once in a life-time, but we started our visit to York with a very special tour of the two towers of York Minster that house the incredible Minster bells. For bell-ringers, the best bit was the fact that a peal was being rung during our visit, so we could see, hear (and feel) the sound of the bells in action.

The NW tower houses Great Peter, a huge bell, one of the biggest in the UK (10 tons), which sounds the hours, and the quarter bells.

If you want some idea of how Great Peter sounds try this YouTube clip here (but imagine it so loud your teeth rattle).

The SW tower holds the ringing bells. As they were being rung, I didn’t take pictures, (I was too scared I’d drop the camera into a swinging bell). We went up onto the roof of the SW tower to get one of the most amazing views of the city. The weather was so good we could see for miles. (Actually the sky was that amazing deep blue, but I’ve had to adjust the pictures to show the details). I just adore the gargoyles on the pinnacles.

Click on the pictures for a better view.

After enjoying our very noisy tour, we strolled along to St Olave’s Church in Marygate.

This was a wonderfully gentle antidote to the size and magnificence of the MInster. Of all the churches we visited on Saturday, this was my favourite. You know that feeling in some churches of serenity, calm, peacefulness – well that’s St Olave’s.

The font cover soars into the air – click the picture to see it better.

By contrast, St Wilfrid’s church, built close to the Minster is all about sturdy Victorian values. As an example of its type, it is pretty amazing, but my own response was to feel over-powered.

Some of the family went in search of other bells, but I went in search of refreshment (lager shandy – not my normal lunchtime habit, but it was soooo hot!).

Later we headed off to St Lawrence’s Church, just outside the city walls. The girls were competing in a striking competition there, so mother mode took over and I didn’t take photos – in fact I sought shade and a place to sit where I wouldn’t be in the way. St Lawrence’s is another Victorian church, built on the ground of an earlier church. All that now remains of the original church is the tower – a slightly forlorn relict. But the most poignant element for me was this derelict tomb – so sad and with a rambling white rose growing wild across it.

IMAG1861

After the excitement of the competition, we took a very slow walk back to St Helen Stonegate, which was acting as the hub for all the ringing events. They had a little mini-ring set up and the girls enjoyed having a go – it’s quite different to the normal ringing we do. The lovely people at St Helen’s laid on lashings of tea and cake – they understand their audience very well indeed!

I’m afraid I gave up taking ‘proper pictures after that. We went on to St Michael Le Belfry (the church where Guy Fawkes was christened), where the competition results were given. Suffice to say it was extremely exciting and quite out of the blue, our team won. I’m not going to embarrass any of them with ‘proud mother type’ pictures – but it was fantastic and I am incredibly proud of all the young ringers who took part.

During the afternoon, I’d re-visited some old-haunts in the city. I was disappointed to find that Taylors of Stonegate had been renamed Betty’s – I know it’s all the same firm, but Taylors had a certain something special. I nodded at the Judges Lodgings – which used to be my favourite place to stay in York, I’ve spent some happy times there. And of course, no visit would be complete without saying hello to this little chap…

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Apologies for a rather indulgent post – it was a beautiful day I will always remember.

Now, get out into the garden and soak up some rays!

A touch of printing…

Scan 2I’ve finished cutting the lino I mentioned in Symmetry. This is how it looked at the first printing.

Both daughters want to colour it in, and I admit, I do too, so there might be more to see another day. I get enormous enjoyment from doing these linocuts. Anything that forces you to go slowly and take your time, is probably a perfect way to meditate.

Symmetry…

I’ve been working on a new linocut today. As with the needlepoint, I find the process becomes meditative as you get involved – it’s huge fun – just like being a child again, approaching a technique just for the hell of it, not expecting anything.

I must have been designed for repetitive tasks – something in them carries me off in my imagination.

Anyway, I digress….

In case you were wondering, this is the piece I was sketching out.

Scan_2

When it was sitting on my desk with the copy sheet flipped to the side, I was suddenly struck by the symmetry it created.

I don’t normally ‘do’ symmetry – even when I try it never works, but here it is without any input at all (well if you ignore the piece of Sellotape that was holding them together).

And I rather like it.

Scan

 

Strange how things sometimes work out…

First frosts, last roses…

We’ve had a few frosts here this week. Yesterday, I couldn’t help noticing that one of my roses was still putting out blooms.

After I’d walked the dog, I took the camera into the garden to capture the splash of colour – the frost already turned to water.

The roses have been good this year and I always feel a bit sad as we go into the winter without their rich colours to warm us up.

I thought that might have been the last, but on a closer look, I found these…

 

I suppose they might not make it to full bloom, but these perfect buds give me a little thrill – there’s something so beautiful about roses.

Hope you’re warm and cosy.

Prague Spring

In which a city break to Prague produces a cultural overload.

Prague Castle & St Vitus Cathedral from the Charles Bridge.

Last week, a few girlie friends and I, took a short break to Prague, Czech Republic. It was a belated birthday bash – we thought a quick culture fix might be just the thing for four middle-ish aged women.

I’m ashamed to say that until we went, I knew next to nothing about the history of Prague. But we did our best to give ourselves a crash course on Czech history and planned our trip to Prague to see as many of the city’s highlights as we could.

Old Town Square, Prague

Well, to put it mildly, I was overwhelmed by Prague. I’d heard people say that the city was a mix of Gothic medieval and Baroque architecture, but it hadn’t prepared me for the sheer concentration of these beautiful buildings. After the first hour or so if saying ‘wow!’ as we turned every street corner, we agreed that it is possibly the most gorgeous place we’d ever been to.

(I might still put Rome at the top of my list, it is steeped in a certain grandeur, but if someone told me that I would have to go and live in Prague, I’d leap at the chance).

Prague's medieval Astronomical Clock

I was struck by the politeness of the people we met. Everywhere we went, from the customs lady at the airport, through to the taxi drivers, the hotel staff and all the people we met in the shops, cafes and churches, we were treated very well and with great courtesy. This is a friendly, welcoming city.

Car drivers stop for you at street crossings!

A lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the city, that I’ve rarely experienced anywhere before.

As to the culture. Well, clearly this is a very musical city. Concerts were taking place at lunchtime and in the evening at numerous venues.

There is a puppet theatre that stages puppet shows for adults and children – Don Giovanni was on offer last week.

Museums abound. You could easily spend days exploring all the treasures of the city.

But for me, it was the churches that stole the show. St Vitus’s Cathedral dominates the Prague skyline, but despite being told how big it is, and being able to see it in front of you, I couldn’t believe its incredible beauty once inside. It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The stained-glass windows took my breath away.

English: Alfons Mucha's stained glass window i...
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Already overwhelmed with Gothic magnificence, we later visited St Nicholas’s church in the Castle side of the city. This church is a baroque extravaganza. Apart from a few uprights, there are hardly any straight lines in this church. Everything is huge, gold, marble and executed with enormous flourish.

As if the city weren’t enough by day, in the evening, it is beautifully lit. It’s like walking through a fairy tale. Spires and towers glow and light up the sky.

Prague is not a big city. You can easily walk around it and I’d say that’s the best way to experience Prague. There are cafes and bars everywhere, so it’s easy to pace yourself. I had some excellent coffee at a little Italian cafe in the late afternoon, which set me up well for the evening.

Prague
Prague (Photo credit: RachelC)

If you go, make sure you see the Charles Bridge in the evening. The bridge and the Vltava River, are iconic Prague and look wonderful bathed in the evening light.

English: View on Vltava river, Charles Bridge ...
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Our visit was a short one; back home, I feel that it might have been a dream, it has certainly cast a spell over me and I can’t wait to go again.

 

Culture score: 10/10

Politeness score: 10/10

 

 

Cawdor Castle, Oh, Yes Please…

I have to be honest – I’m insanely jealous of the people who own Cawdor Castle. I first went there with friends in 1995 and from the moment I walked inside, I felt comfortable – it’s one of those places, where you feel that you could just slip off your shoes, and curl up in a chair with a good book and a mug of tea.

We went back there this year, on the return leg of our Scottish Odyssey, this time taking our daughters too.

Gorgeous Cawdor Castle

My youngest daughter has promised to buy it for me, so that when we’re very old, we can retire there – how thoughtful of her!

The husband thinks it’s more of a house than his idea of a castle, and I suppose you could think of it that way, but for me, it’s simply divine.

Now I don’t propose to give you a room by room description of the interior – the late Earl Cawdor, did such an excellent job with the room guides, that it would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that if you go there, buy the guide-book, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re studying country house style, then Cawdor would be a perfect place to visit. It seems to sum up everything you’d need to know, if you were wanting to re-create the style. I just love soaking in the atmosphere.

Cawdor has a very good restaurant, (although don’t expect things to happen quickly, just relax and read the guide-book while you wait for your lunch). And just next to the restaurant, is a rather nice little book shop.

This year, I was impressed by the trailing nasturtiums in the pots around the courtyard. Somehow, everything at Cawdor seems lush and well cared for.

The gift shop is definitely a cut-above the average stately home offering. Last time I went there, we bought a plush bat, which now hangs (upside down), in the bell tower at our local church.

This year, we couldn’t find any bats to add to the collection, but there were lots of other lovely things to tickle your fancy. Be strong – or give your wallet to someone else to look after for you – or you’ll find it difficult to get out empty-handed.

An avenue in the garden

Whatever you do, don’t miss the gardens. As with the rest of the castle, the gardens are gorgeous – the sort of thing you’d just love to have at home. Full of inspiration for the gardener. There’s a maze, but they won’t let mere mortals go round it – sad really, but it’s still impressive.

It’s also one of those gardens, designed to have hidden places, you come upon by surprise.

Looking through the branches of a Cawdor giant.

Perhaps best of all, are the walks outside the gardens through the woods. They’re graded and signed, so you can choose the distance that seems right to you, but they’re not difficult, so if you have time, go for a stroll. Some of the trees are huge and there’s a river running through, which you cross and re-cross by a variety of bridges.

If you’re hoping for a Macbeth experience, it’s probably going to disappoint you. The castle wasn’t built for years after Macbeth died, and it doesn’t really go over the top on the connection at all.

However, if you’re interested, there are some fascinating pieces of artwork, dotted about the place. I think the late Earl must have been a collector – I admire his taste.

So, Cawdor Castle remains an enormous hit with us and we’re looking forward to our retirement there!