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Knit and Natter Friday #10

It’s been another productive week for the Knit and Natter Group, who brought along these items for the charities we support. We meet every Friday from 2.30-4pm at Alnwick Medical Group’s Lower Building. Work in progress today included a jumper, a baby cardigan, a colourful bag, socks, and a hat to match the lovely purple and white premature baby coat in the picture.

We were talking about a tv programme that some of us saw the other night (about health). Apparently knitting is good for you! Of course we all knew that. If you learn new skills, then you lay down new neural pathways and that’s really good for your memory. Even experienced knitters are always learning new techniques. Reading patterns is a skill in itself, like learning a new language. Also, that gentle repetitive action of knitting has a calming effect (like doodling, or stroking a pet). Then there’s the social value of communal knitting and nattering and donating knitted items to charity. Basically its all great!

How do think knitting benefits you?

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Scone of the Week #7

Today we returned to one of our favourite scone stops: The Rocking Horse Cafe at Rock Midsteads Farm. To get there from the A1 north of Alnwick, take the turn off for Christon Bank and after a few hundred yards you will see signs to follow for the cafe.

As usual we got a warm welcome. The Rocking Horse is one of the most dog-friendly cafes I know and many of the customers bring their four-legged friends along. Today the humans were joined by a Bedlington Terrier, a West and the cafe’s two resident border collies, Sam and Tess. Sam obviously thought that we were deprived as we didn’t have a dog with us, so he kept us company. What a friendly soul he is, and so well-behaved.

The cheese scones were as delicious as ever, served warm, with generous pats of butter and no foil wrappers to wrestle with. They were crumbly without being dry, with a good flavour and a decent crust. One of the best!

I ordered hot chocolate – and had a choice of types – either powder or proper chocolate. I went for the latter.

After a while of stirring the chocolate on the swizzle stick into the hot milk, it dissolved to make a deliciously chocolaty drink, perfect for a cold, blustery day.

I was sat next to the namesake rocking horse, so couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Since our last visit, one of the cafe staff, Janet, has opened a dog-grooming business next door and she splits her time between the two. Her new venture is called Hair of the Dog. I just love the name!

As we left, I noticed that the woods by the farm entrance were carpeted with snowdrops. Simply breathtaking.

I’m still under no illusion that winter is not over. Despite being so close to the sea, which can take the edge off the cold, we still get deep snow some winters, and little or none in other years. So far, all we’ve seen here in Northumberland this winter is a dusting on the tops of the Cheviots. Have you had snow where you are ? (Don’t forget to say where that is.)

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On the Coast: Ponies, Eider Ducks and Signs of Spring

We had a drive up the coast today and came across these ponies on Annstead Dunes , a Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve north of Beadnell. This was a small herd of six Exmoor Ponies, one of our native breeds. They were brought here some years ago as part of the reserve’s management plan. Several groups of ponies graze on the course grasses, which allows wildflowers to grow, improving the biodiversity of the site.

The Exmoors are very distinctive: bay with a pale “mealy” muzzle, pale underside and ring around the eye. We catch sight of them regularly when we drive up this stretch of coast, sometimes grazing, sometimes trotting along the dunes in a tight herd. It’s always lovely to see them.

We drove south to Howick, where there is a place to park by the Northumberland Coastal Path. K took the dog for a walk while I looked around to see what I could see and did some knitting.

The sea was quite calm, so conditions were reasonable for spotting whales and dolphins but nothing was about, and not many birds either, just a few gulls and a pair of eider ducks.

You can just make them out as dots on the water: the striking black and white male and the drab brown female. Eiders often mate for life. It’s too early in the for this pair to be breeding yet though.

With nothing else about, I got on with my knitting. I’m still making my socks -it’s a very compact portable project for knitting on the go.

There are some definite signs of spring about. We saw these winter aconites growing under a hedge on our trip out today.

All of a sudden there are clumps of snowdrops everywhere, including these in our garden. We do often get snow in February or even March, so winter will be with us for a while yet, but it always feels positive to see the first flowers of the year.

What is your favourite sign of spring?

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Sock Finisher

When I was working on a pair of socks at Knit and Natter Group the other Friday, one of my knitting friends told me about an unfinished project that had been sitting in the cupboard under her stairs for about ten years – a pair of socks for her husband.

I could totally understand her frustration – the socks were being knitted on double pointed needles and I too had unfinished socks for a few years for exactly the same reason. I got over it though – someone introduced me to short circular sock needles and I’ve been using that method ever since (read about it here).

I offered to finish them and she brought what she’d done so far to the group on Friday. As the pattern used 2.5mm needles, the same as the socks I’m working on, I swapped mine on to other needles and was able to get started on finishing hers on the circular needles. One sock was complete and the second one was part way through the leg, so once I’d transferred it on to my needles and put some stitch markers in it was fairly quick going.

The yarn is a self-striping four ply in subtle shades of blue and brown. The stripes knit up beautifully and evenly – I haven’t used a self striping yarn like this before and loved it – you can really see your progress as you get through the stripes and it made it easier to match up the placement of the heel and toe divides – I didn’t need to count rows, just match the stripes.

Of course I had to use the double pointed needles when I was part way through the toe shaping, but I can cope with that: it was only for the last few rows. It hasn’t taken long to do at all and I finished it tonight, including grafting the toe closed using Kitchener Stitch, and darning in the ends.

I hope my friend’s husband like them. He has had a bit of a wait! I don’t know him, but he was the clever chap who made my knitting bowl, so I’m really glad to return a favour.

Have you ever knitted socks for other people? Who?

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Knit and Natter Friday #9

Friday’s Knit and Natter at Alnwick Medical Group brought more lovely charity knits (including those pictured here). There are two “fish and chip baby” tops here (in peach and orange/brown/white), each with matching hats. These were among the first items the group started to knit, following news from one of the practice GPs, who had been doing voluntary work in a clinic in Africa – there was nothing to keep newborns warm in the maternity unit and they ended up being wrapped in newspaper (like fish and chips) – hence the name. These simple tshirt tops have been a great solution.

Also pictured are a couple of premature baby outfits, destined for the unit at the RVI, Newcastle. Both are very pretty and that lilac/white/pink one is a really lovely colour combination.

We also have a couple of fabulous hats here. The red and green one with the bobble was made by the husband of one of our members, using a knitting loom – she reports that he really likes using the loom. He’s one of the contributors who make charity knits but don’t actually attend the group – we have several ladies who make beautiful charity knits that are either dropped off at the surgery or send them with friends who do come along.

The Knit and Natter Group is held every Friday at The Lower Building on Infirmary Drive from 2.30 to 4pm. We make a voluntary contribution of £1 towards posting the charity knits to where they are needed and tea/coffee and biscuits are provided. Some members make the charity items, others work on their own projects. Some knit, others crochet. There’s always a lot of expertise and experience in the room to help out beginners or assist with problems.

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No Scone of the Week (but Good Cake)

There were no scones where we went today, but the cake looked good so we stayed and had some of that instead.

We were at the Paw Prints Coffee Shop at WCF Pet and Equestrian on South Road, Alnwick, close to the the Aldi supermarket. There aren’t many places for a cuppa and a snack in this part of Alnwick, away from the town centre and the tourist haunts. But being handy for Aldi and having it’s own car park should attract customers, even those who simply want a takeaway coffee (currently on offer for only £1).

Being inside a pet/equestrrian supplies shop, Paw Prints is of course dog-friendly. The menu is very limited however. They only serve hot and cold drinks, a small range of home-made cakes and pre-packaged biscuits, cereal bars and crisps. The staff were great – very helpful and friendly (and quite apologetic about the absence of scones).

We opted for coffee and walnut cake, which was lovely: home-made with a nice texture, just the right amount of icing and a a generous sprinkling of walnut pieces on top. It was served with proper cake forks too. Our drinks were fine. – filter coffee and hot chocolate, but nothing fancy (no whipped cream or marshmallows), though the tall, thin mugs with saucers looked quite elegant. It was all very reasonably priced too.

The cafe has been open since just before Christmas and they plan to expand the offer to include sandwiches (and scones, I hope!) It provides a low cost alternative to the town centre venues if you just want to get a quick snack to eat in or take out.

Do you have a favourite kind of cake?

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Family Walk

It’s been a busy week. I really needed to get on with some book editing so I needed a couple of days away from the blog to get some more done. I mentioned before that I’m helping a friend with her third fantasy novel – read about it here.

I did have a lovely trip out on Sunday though. Our daughter lives close to Druridge Bay Country Park. We (K, myself, daughter, son and dog) went for a walk (or in my case, a scoot – I use a disability scooter) around the lake that afternoon. The afternoon sun was shining but clouds were beginning to gather and it was cold.

The paths are good, so despite the mock threats, there were plenty of routes round the lake without negotiating this row of stepping stones.

There were lots of families, dog walkers and cyclists about and Buddy the labrador was in his element. He absolutely loves it when the whole family is together. He wasn’t sure about the swans though. They had come out of the water along with the ducks and a large flock of gulls when someone started to feed them.

We all went back to daughter’s house for hot drinks. I’d lost all feeling in my fingers, despite gloves, so knitting was out of the question for at least half an hour. I was soon back at the socks though!

It was so good to be out with the family – it’s not often that we do something all together like that. Do you have a family activity that everyone enjoys?

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Knit and Natter Friday #8.2

This afternoon it was our weekly Knit and Natter Group at Alnwick Medical Group, which runs from 2.30pm to 4pm on Fridays, in the Lower Building.

Once again, the members have made a beautiful selection of charity knits , but today we were focussing on some of the blankets made by our group. All of those in the picture are made of small squares sewn together. Whether these are knitted or crocheted (like the pretty pink and white one) , it’s a great way to get started if you are learning for the first time, with help on hand if you need some support

A lady recently brought a partly completed blanket into the surgery. She can no longer knit so couldn’t finish it. One of our members has now completed it (the lovely leaf design at the bottom of this picture). Haven’t they both done a great job?

Have you ever given someone else a project to finish, or completed one for someone else?

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Knit and Natter Friday #8.1

It’s that busy Friday that happens once a month when both the monthly group and the weekly group I’m in are on the same day.

First up this morning was the monthly group at The Amble Pincushion. Knit and Natter sessions are on the 3rd Friday of every month from 10am to 12, cost £4.50, including refreshments , raffle entry and 10% discount in the shop on the day. This lovable giraffe toy was made by one of the group for her baby granddaughter. It seems to have started a trend because, by total coincidence, another group member won a knitting kit in the raffle, to make, as you’ll have guessed……a giraffe.

We were talking about the newly-refurbished Alnwick Playhouse too. The shop team have been getting regular updates from one of the staff members who is a member of the Alnwick Stage Musical Society who will be performing Jesus Christ Superstar in late March. This will be their first show to be staged since the renovations.

We were also discussing casting on and binding off. I learnt the cable cast on method when I was little and used nothing else for years until I learnt the thumb or long tail method fairly recently. I now know there are absolutely loads of variations to use depending on the look and amount of stretch needed. Some are very plain, others are quite decorative. We were all pouring over a book that one of the group was given recently, that had full instructions for each and suggestions of the sorts of project each would be most suitable for. It’s always great to learn something new.

Do you have a favourite cast on or bind off?

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Scone of the Week #6 (with a Theatrical Twist)

We were back to our usual weekly scone-tasting today and decided to try the new cafe in the recently-refurbished Alnwick Playhouse. This was a great opportunity to check out what’s new in this popular local venue.

We got one of the last tables available in the bistro section (it was the busy lunchtime period)- there are additional tables in the foyer but it all seems to fit together well. It was good to see the place full of people again after such a lengthy closure for the renovations. The staff were helpful and our coffee and scones arrived quickly. The drinks were served in generously large cups with saucers and the scones were just warm and served with foil wraps of nicely soft butter. I wasn’t sure why the scones were sliced. I prefer to pull them apart to see the texture. They may have been a little under-baked for my taste, possibly bought in rather than made on the premises, but quite acceptable. There were some very scrumptious-looking cakes in the counter cabinet.

I do like the lunch menu, which had a good varied selection of classic sandwiches, including the local ham and pease pudding stotty, salads, soup and some with a Moroccan flavour (using ingredients like chickpeas, falafel, halloumi), It all looked very appetising and portions look generous, The staff were attentive and cleared tables quickly: it always looked tidy during our visit. It did seem a on the expensive side, but not excessively so. It’s a welcome addition to that part of the town, open to the public whether or not you are at a theatre performance.

The town has eagerly awaited completion of this multimillion pound refurbishment, following a massive fundraising effort. Alnwick Playhouse has always served its community well, with an impressive programme of theatre, music, comedy, dance and film, including live broadcast West End theatre productions, opera and ballet.

Many local people have been on both sides of the footlights at the Playhouse as amateur and school shows are given a high profile too…. and rightly so. Their standard is very high (and that merits professional performance space which brings out the best in our performers and musicians. I once spoke to some holidaymakers in the interval at a junior amateur production. They were staying nearby so thought they’d spend an evening at the theatre. Initially they been disappointed, thinking that the show that night was “just a school play” but soon changed their minds and were so impressed they wanted to come back again.

Now it’s re-opened! I’m impressed with what they’ve done to the place – thoughtful consideration of how to improve facilities AND retain the unique character and features of the building. That’s never easy but I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job. They’ve opened up areas of the building I didn’t know existed, to integrate a re-sited public library/information centre (and the cafe) alongside the theatre and gallery. It isn’t at all cramped though – it actually looks and feels more spacious. It’s a really clever use of space

There are some good improvements to accessibility too and I had a brief look at some of these. The entrance ramp has been resurfaced and the metal railings replaced by toughened glass, which doesn’t block the cafe’s view of the street. The handrails on the steps seem better too. The reception/box office counter is lower. The lift to the upper floor is easier to use as it’s not tucked into an awkward corner like before, but the beautiful spiral staircase has been retained. The gallery space looks more spacious, making use of previously dead space and flexible seating. Only the bar is still not fully accessible. It never has been so I won’t miss it! I hope to go to a show soon and try out the auditorium for accessibility – reports are good so I’m confident it will be a good experience. The young woman at reception/box office was really helpful and knowledgeable about the building’s accessibility.

Enough! I’m sounding like the brochure. I need to stop (and knit). I’m sure there’s scope to do that in the Playhouse too.

Do you have a local community theatre? What makes it special to you?