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Back To Blogging: On The Needles (1)

Stitches By The Seawater is back after a bit of a break, so I thought I’d begin with current projects. I always have more than one on the go and this is the most recent cast on.

I won the raffle at a knit and natter group this week – 5 small (25g) sample balls of Stylecraft Amor – it’s an Aran weight blend of 40% super wash wool, and 60% acrylic., featuring some lovely variegated colours

The five different colourways in the pack have some colours in common so I reckoned they could all be used in the same project.

I’ve chosen to knit a simple infinity scarf in k2 p2 rib. Hopefully, if I use the colours in the right order, ithey will produce a shaded effect. I’m knitting in the round and cast on 220 stitches with my 5.5mm circular needle.

At the moment it’s quite portable (I always like a small project to carry around) but as it grows this will be the perfect knit and natter project – nothing complicated, no counting of stitches, no charts to follow, no measuring (I’ll just continue until the yarn is all used up), just round and round with the k2p2 rib!

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Sheep Show at Hadrian’s Wall

We love going to country agricultural shows , whether they are big affairs like the Northumberland County Show or much smaller events, Like the Roman Wall Show at Steel Rigg, one of the most scenic parts of Hadrian’s Wall.

Although this is a spectacular location, where the Roman Wall can be seen on top of a sheer cliff, it is bleak and exposed here and usually pretty windy as it was today – though fortunately not raining!

It always amazes me how much of the wall remains, 1900 years after it was built. It just goes to show what a great feat of engineering it was, complete with protective ditches, a road so that soldiers could move easily along its length unseen from the other side and dotted with mile castles and forts this has to be one of the greatest defensive structures ever built.

This is sheep farming country and the show gives local farmer the chance to compare their stock with others competing in the sheep classes. Prizewinning sheep are sought after for breeding stock and enhance the reputation of the breeder, which could mean higher prices at stock auctions. It’s also a great social event where farming families can get together, by the sheep pens or in the beer tent.

There is also a fell race for human competitors…that’s pretty tough hilly terrain to run over. Dogs are represented too. A hound trail, where dogs race to follow a previously laid scent trail through the hills is always fascinating to watch, and there are rings with classes for terriers, hounds, retrievers and collies. Wren tried her luck in a retriever class.

What a lovely afternoon in this rugged part of Northumberland.

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Friday Night Cocktails: Tequila Sunrise

I’ve always wanted to try making this colourful cocktail. Its history is just as colourful, originating in the 1930’s at the Arizona Biltmore resort (with rather different ingredients giving the layered “sunrise effect) but made popular in the 1970’s. Two bartenders at the Trident in Sausalito, California, Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice, are credited with inventing the drink in its current form. At the start of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour Mick Jagger was at a party there and ordered a margarita, but it was suggested that he tried a tequila sunrise instead. He loved it and soon the rest of the band and their entourage were drinking it too. They asked for it everywhere they went on what became known as the “Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour”. The drink shot to fame and The Eagles even recorded a song titled “Tequila Sunrise” on their Desperado album. At one point the recipe appeared on the labels of Jose Cuervo tequila.

The sunrise colours result from the use of different density liquids. The red comes from grenadine, a heavy pomegranate syrup which sinks to the bottom of the glass of the glass.Tequila sunrise,tequila,cocktails,friday night cocktails,he lighter tequila and orange juice float above the red layer until mixed.

Here’s how I made it, using the following ingredients:

  • 1 measure tequila
  • 3 measures orange juice (you can use freshly squeezed if you like, but mine was from a carton)
  • 2 tablespoons grenadine
  • ice
  • orange slice and cherry to garnish.

Normally you would use a highball glass but I used a gin balloon. Half fill the glass with ice and add the tequila and orange.

Stir well until the outside of the glass feels really cold and the liquid is well chilled.

Very carefully pour the grenadine from the spoon down the side of the glass and watch it sink to the bottom

Add the garnish to the edge of the glass and it’s done!

You should mix together before drinking (although the “sunrise” is lost).

The grenadine sweetens it a lot and some recipes add lime juice to sharpen the flavour. the alcohol can be diluted by adding more orange juice or concentrated by adding triple sec (eg Cointreau).

It’s certainly easy to make and spectacular to look at but I have to say it’s not my favourite cocktail – I found it very sweet – somehow tequila seems to work better with sharper flavours like the lime in a margarita. It would make the perfect drink for a 70s party though, with lots of Stones and Eagles music of course!

Always drink responsibly.

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Wildflower of the Week: Cow Parsley

First posted 22 May 2020

From April to June our hedgerows, road verges and meadows are filled with the frothy white flowers of cow parsley. It is the earliest to flower and one of the most common of a large plant family, the umbellifers, which all have similar shaped flower clusters or umbels, made up of tiny individual flowers on stems radiating from a single point in a sort of umbrella shape. The family includes several food plants and culinary herbs, including carrot, celery and and parsley, but also some extremely poisonous species such as hemlock and fools parsley and also hogweed which has a highly irritant sap that can cause quite severe burns.

The flowers are carried on metre high hollow stems. As they appear quite early in the year, they are are a great food source of both pollen and nectar for insects.

The leaves are arranged alternately along the stems and are fern-like: triangular and finally divided. When crushed they smell of aniseed.

Cow parsley spreads rapidly, producing large quantities of seed and also though spreading rhizomes. It is on the increase in the UK. Like the nettle, it enjoys fertile soil and increased agricultural fertiliser use has benefited it. This may be to the detriment of smaller plants that become smothered out by the taller cow parsley. It is considered an invasive species in parts of the US.

The plant has a variety of old names. including hedge parsley, wild chervil, keck, lady’s lace and Queen Anne’s lace. In some parts of the UK it has the rather gruesome name of mother die or mummy die. Children would be told they would lose their mothers if they brought it in the house – to deter them from picking it and the highly poisonous hemlock that it resembles.

Though cow parsley is edible, eating it or using it medicinally is not to be encouraged in case it is mistaken for its deadly relative. It has also been used as a mosquito repellent.

The lacy flowers certainly make very pretty addition to our hedgerows in late spring and early summer.

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Amazing Alpacas at Northumberland County Show

As I mentioned in a post last week, we went to the County Show last Friday, the first time this event has been held for three years. I spent quite a while watching the alpaca competition.

Since the last time the show was held I learnt to spin yarn and was lucky enough to be gifted a large quantity of raw alpaca fibre, much of which has been prepared, spun and knitted up into various items. For this reason I’ve developed a bit of an interest in these charming animals so it was really interesting to watch some of the classes.

It’s always fascinating to hear an expert share their knowledge and that certainly happened here. The judge took to the microphone after giving the results of each class and explained the reasons for his choices in detail. He described the good (and less good) points on each of the animals. He began by saying what he thought of he conformation of the animal (its basic shape and proportions, as with all animal judging): he wanted to see a straight back, strong legs and good build for the age of the alpaca (youngsters will still be growing). He was also judging the alpaca’s fleece: its length, density, fineness and condition. Some animals seemed to like the process better than others. some were happy being led into the ring by their owners and stood beautifully still while the judge felt their body shape through that lovely thick blanket of fibre. Others protested a bit!

I got chatting to one of the exhibitors who had won an earlier class. Her small herd is a fairly recent venture. She was absolutely delighted to get such a result at her very first show and didn’t quite believe it when the judge placed her animal first.

I have been spinning and knitting with Suri alpaca for a while since some was given to me by some lovely friends of my brother and his wife – it’s quite different in texture to the much more common Huacaya alpaca. Having got to know the fibre well, I was delighted that there were some classes for Suri – I had never seen one of these alpacas in the flesh so I waited around to watch them in the ring.

A couple of the Suri competitors

They look quite different from the fluffy Huacayas, . The locks of fibre hang down like dreadlocks. The Suri breed are quite rare, making up only about 10% of the population.

The Suri class

My other reason to visit the alpaca tent was to pick up a fleece. I’ve previously plied hand dyed alpaca singles with black sheep wool and I love the effect when it’s knitted up. At some point I’d like to do a bigger project like a sweater on similar lines in pure alpaca. I have used black acid dye but it seemed a better idea to use a natural black fibre. A couple of weeks back I picked up some grey alpaca for one of my online knit and Natter Group from someone who keeps a small herd near here. She had no black fibre herself, but put me in touch with Debbie Rippon from Barnacre Alpacas. There is a large established herd of some 300 at Barnacre, including black animals. Debbie was exhibiting at the show and agreed to bring a couple of fleeces with her for me to have a look at.

A corner of the marquee was set up with a few stalls selling knitted items in alpaca, made by some of the exhibitors. I’d arranged to meet Debbie there and she showed me what she’d brought – two gorgeous fleeces, one brown-black and a stunning blue-black which I chose. This came from a female names Hippolyta, her first fleece as a youngster.

Hippolyta (photo D Rippon)

I’m looking forward to prepping and spinning this beautiful black cloud of fluff!

Also located in the alpaca tent were members of the Tynedale Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, demonstrating their work. It was lovely chatting to some fellow spinners and they invited me to come along to a future meeting, which I hope to at some point over the next few months.

Considering the alpaca were only one small part of the show, I certainly got a lot out of spending some time there.

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Friday Night Cocktails: Strawberry Daiquiri

A few weeks ago we spend a very enjoyable evening sipping cocktails at Tigerlily in Edinburgh and it crossed my mind that I should make my occasional foray into cocktail making more of a regular occurrence. Friday night cocktails have become a highlight of the week since then.

Last week it was cocktails for two as Daughter was staying over. Scottish strawberries are in season at the moment and I had some in the fridge so the strawberry daiquiri seemed like a good choice. Its a fruity, refreshing but potent mix of strawberries, white rum and lime juice, perfect for summer evenings.

The original daiquiri (without the strawberries) is named after an iron mine and beach in Cuba, where an American mining engineer, Jennings Cox, is said to have invented it. When the mine was purchased by US congressman William A Chanler in 1902, he introduced the drink to New York. The Daiquiri has similarities with 18th Century British sailors’ grog, which combined the rum ration with lime, rich in vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and sugar.

A mixologist once told me that a good cocktail should include strong and weak, sweet and sour elements. This gets its alcoholic strength from the rum, diluted with fruit and fruit juice. Lime provides the sour element, sweetened with strawberries and added sugar.

Ingredients (to serve one)

A handfuls of strawberries (4-5 large ones plus another for garnish)

2 tsp white sugar (more if you prefer a sweeter mix)

1.5 oz white rum

1oz lime juice

Method

Blend all the ingredients then add to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain (to remove seeds) into a martini glass. Garnish with a strawberry.

I didn’t strain the strawberry seeds out, but that doesn’t affect the taste!

Delicious and very summery!

Always drink responsibly

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Wren The Rocket

Daughter’s Labrador, Wren, is now going on for 11 months old and doing really well with her gundog training. She is now doing marked retrieves (when she sees the target being thrown) and unmarked retrieves (where see seeks out a target that was planted unseen). She’ll also observe a target being thrown and remember its position until told to fetch it later. It’s all very impressive to watch her do this out on walks. She has such a strong drive to retrieve and it’s great to see her doing something that she not only enjoys but is exactly what retrievers were bred for.

On Friday Wren got a chance to show off her skills. We were at Northumberland County Show. COVID restrictions cancelled the previous 2 shows so it was lovely to be back among the food and craft stalls, and watching breeders and owners show their animals. There was a dog show and all sorts of livestock classes: cattle, sheep, goats, alpaca, even chickens and rabbits. We watched a friend ride in one of the many equestrian classes. Wren’s chance to shine was the gundog scurry.

This involves a series of marked retrieves against the clock and requires the dog to jump obstacles both approaching the target and when fetching it back to the handler.

Daughter was quite nervous – the scurry always attracts quite a crowd. Wren loves her work though, and despite all the distracting sights, sounds and smells all around her she immediately focussed on the job. Wren waited at the start with Daughter, watching the target being thrown, then Daughter gave the command and the clock started. Wren was off like a rocket! She leapt the straw bales heading straight for the target, then brought it back almost as quickly, and presented it to Daughter.

She had a few tries, going perfectly every time and was lying in second place. She went back to try and improve her time later in the day, ending up only 2 seconds behind the leader. There were many older, more experienced gundogs competing. What an impressive scurry debut for young Wren! We are all very proud of her. She’s really a credit to Daughter and all the hard work they have put in with the training.

See a video of Wren’s scurry here.

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A Quiz for The Queen

Here in the UK we’ve had an extended bank holiday weekend to celebrate The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. With televised events every day and street parties going on up and down the country, It’s been impossible to miss.

Where I live we’ve been planning our own street party for weeks.

Part of my role was to set a quiz, with questions connected with Her Majesty and the Jubilee. I thought I’d share it with you, so here it is!

1The Queen is our longest serving monarch. Who had the second longest reign?
2What is the chemical symbol for platinum?
3Where was Princess Elizabeth when she learned of her father’s death.
4What was Queen’s biggest-selling UK hit song?
5Who is 5th in line to the Throne after the Queen
6Who was Dookie?
7Who played the lead role in The Queen’s Gambit (award winning Netflix drama series)?
8Where exactly was The Queen born?
9Who had a hit with the song ‘Royals’ in 2013?
10How did The Queen ‘arrive’ at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, surprising everyone?
11Who was the second actress to play The Queen in TV’s ‘The Crown’?
12If you wear purple with gold braid, red sleeves and a black hat, what is your job?
13What are The Queen’s middle names?
14Who designed Elizabeth’s wedding dress?
15When is the Queen’s actual birthday?
16What or who was ‘Burmese’?
17How many British prime ministers have there been during the Queen’s reign so far?
18What is Cullinan II and what is it part of ?
19The Queen’s coat of arms includes two animals. Which one is on the right of the shield?
20How many grandchildren does the Queen have?

I’ll post the answers later in the week. Enjoy!

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The Great Herring Disaster Memorial

The North East Coast is dotted with fishing villages, which have had fluctuating fortunes over the years. Today they are popular holiday destinations, with many a former fisherman’s cottage renovated into an expensive holiday property. Small commercial fishing boats remain, especially in the larger ports, along with pleasure craft, but the former herring industry , formerly a major employer, has all but disappeared.

Over the Scottish border in Berwickshire, the herring industry was virtually destroyed overnight. On 14th October 1881 the fleet set out in calm waters. Following a week of stormy weather when they couldn’t sail, money was tight and bait was beginning to rot so the fishermen were anxious to work, even though the barometric pressure was very low.

The wind changed and a hurricane force storm blew up. Fishing lines were abandoned and the ships raced home but only a handful made it to port. The rest of the fleet was not so lucky. Some boats were smashed on the rocks nearby, others capsized. The families of the fishermen looked on in horror, powerless to help. 189 lives were lost, leaving 78 widows and 182 fatherless children.

A series of four sculptures by Jill Watson were dedicated in 2016, on the anniversary of the storm, to commemorate the disaster. They depict the widows and bairns of the stricken fishermen looking out to sea overlooking the harbours of four fishing communities on the Berwickshire coast.

The northernmost of the artworks is in Cove, which lies north of St Abbs and south of the Torness nuclear power station. The village is tiny, situated at the top of the cliff. The harbour is privately owned, accessed by a steep gated path, which goes through a tunnel in the headland to the reach beach and harbour. Cellars leading off the tunnel, were once used to store fish but are now sealed off for safety. The landowners request that photos of the harbour are not published to maintain the unspoilt character of the place, but here you can just make out the buildings at the edge of the hidden bay and harbour.

A barometer stands set into a rock at the corner of Cove car park. This was restored and resited there in the 1990s. The plaque indicated that this was presented around 1861, predating the fishing disaster. There is a cruel irony that this provided the means to predict the fatal storm.

The bronze cast sculpture overlooks the sea as the wives and children of the fishermen did. The adult figures stand about 20cm high. Each one represents a real person , the families of the 11 men of Cove who were lost that night.

The next sculpture is in St Abbs. This attractive village is popular with divers, both for its abundant marine life and the wrecks offshore.

The road leads down the hill to the harbour car park but the sculpture is at the top, again overlooking the harbour.

Moving south to Eyemouth there is a much larger artwork in the series, appropriate to the size of this small town and that it suffered the greatest loss of life in the storm of 1881: 129 of the 189 who died. This represented some 10% of the male population and there are more figures depicted here to represent larger numbers of family members affected.

Looking closely at the figures, the detail is quite remarkable. Some look out to sea, others’ faces are contorted with grief.

Some of the women battle with their shawls as they are caught by the wind.

Some have babes in arms and try to comfort their children or each other. Still others pray.

Though most of the figures stare out to sea, at the back of the sculpture the detail is still as perfect. A pair of women hug to console each other.

Confused tiny children are comforted by an older sibling..

It is incredibly moving, a perfect memorial not just to the fishermen who died but the families who suffered as a result of that loss. An appeal raised a large sum to support the widows and children, the equivalent of over £4m in today’s money. Queen Victoria was one of the contributors.

The final sculpture is at Burnmouth. The village sits at the foot of cliffs down a precipitous road.

The artwork is on the harbour wall.

This small village lost 24 men in the storm, a huge loss for such a small village.

I’m glad to have seen all four pieces, which are a credit to the artist and make a truly poignant memorial to those lost on that fateful October day.ove