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Humpback Throwback

There have been sightings of a humpback whale on the Northumberland Coast recently, which is very exciting. The animal is not too close to the shore and seems to be feeding and behaving normally, which is a good sign that it is not going to beach itself, so fingers crossed that it is ok. The exact location of the sightings is being kept a closely guarded secret by the wildlife groups monitoring the whale, and rightly so. With current lockdown measures here in the UK, only essential journeys are allowed so any visiting would-be whale watchers are being discouraged.

All this brought back memories of a wonderful trip to California some years back. One of the highlights of our trip was a boat trip in Monterey Bay to watch the humpback whales. Today I’ve been looking at the photographs I took at the time.

The first thing you’d see as a whale surfaced would be a puff of white spray from the blowhole

Then a huge dark shape would appear, rolling back under the waves.

Sometimes as the whale dived, its massive tail fluke would become visible

Sometimes we were close enough to hear and smell the whale’s breath and feel the spray.

On a couple of occasions (sadly not caught on camera) a whale completely breached and leapt clear of the water, which was incredibly spectacular. It was such a privilege to see these magnificent creatures at such close quarters – and now one is visiting my part of the world!

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Sea and Sunshine

It’s been a glorious day today here in Northumberland. We headed to Howick for a dog walk and there was a parking space by the Coastal Path so K and Buddy headed off for a walk and I sat and knitted and watched the birds.

There were two pairs of eider ducks swimming close to the shore showing some breeding behaviour, throwing their heads up. The females are a nondescript brown (and fairly well camouflaged when they are on the nest) but the males are a striking black and while – you can’t miss them really. My favourite thing about eiders however is the sound they make – they don’t quack, they coo!

There were also lots of fulmars flying about. They nest on the cliffs here. Superficially they look like gulls, but whereas gulls have a “W” shaped outline, with bent wings, the fulmar has straight wings and glides over the water – it is more closely related to the petrels and shearwaters. If disturbed they spit a foul smelling oil. Not nice!

A few oystercatchers flew past emitting their piping call.

I was lucky enough to see a couple of dolphins swim past – all summer when there was loads of dolphin activity along the coast we saw nothing and here were a couple when we hadn’t;t particularly set our to find them. Typical!

Not long before we left, couple of canoes went by. – what a perfect day to be on the water.

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Baby Beanie

Some friends of ours have a new baby boy so I knitted this hat from my handspun alpaca. The pattern is the Maine Baby Hat – available free on Ravelry. I’ve made it before, but not this version, which has a central knotted pigtail

After the decreases, when there are just a few stitches left, these are knitted into an i-cord. It’s the first time I’ve used this technique and it’s quite easy to do. The i-cord is cast off when it reaches 4 inches long, then you tie a knot in it.

The alpaca yarn makes it lovely and soft and warm.

Do you have a go to pattern that you knit when there’s a new baby among family or friends?

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Signs of Spring: Awakening Frogs

As the weather has turned milder over the last few days, the first of the frogs has appeared in the garden pond. I could hear this one croaking away in the sunshine. It is always one of the first signs of Spring here when they reappear, having spent the winter hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond.

Before long this one will be joined by many more as the males jostle arround the females, clinging on to fertilise her eggs as she lays them. Any day now we’ll be seeing clusters of jelly-like frog spawn floating in the pond. With luck there won’t be any hard frosts to damage it.

I rather like having frogs in the garden (though I got quite a fright when one managed to get in the house and jumped into the kitchen – I wasn’t expecting that). In hot weather they hide away in damp places or return to the pond. When it rains after a dry spell they all come out and the lawn is alive with jumping frogs!

Lets hope more arrive soon and we get lots of spawn and a successful year for our resident frogs!

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Wildflower of the Week: Snowdrop

It’s time for the first Wildflower of the Week post of 2021. I may not post one of these every week, especially early in the year when flowers are scarce, butI will post as many as I can.

Here in Northumberland the snowdrops are in full bloom. They are a common wildflower here in the woods and verges, though not a native of Britain. Though previously believed to have been brought here by the Romans, it is now thought that they were introduced here in the 16th Century, The Common Snowdrop (Galantthus invalid) is indigenous across Southern and Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

The plants grow from bulbs, which soon multiply to form large clumps, making them a popular plant for gardens or to be naturalised in parkland. They are one of the first flowers of the year to appear, flowering mostly from January to April, though occasionally as early as November.

The flowers are preceded by strap-like leaves and the flowers hang bell-like, singly or in pairs at the ends of the stalk – the plant grows 7-15 cm high.

The flowers have six white petal-like structures known as tepals. The three inner ones are notched and marked with green, surrounding yellow stamens. The three pure white outer tepals are longer.

The plant is not edible – the bulb is toxic. Extracts of the plant have been used in medicine and one chemical component, galanthamine is being used to help in the treatment of Alzheimers Disease.

The plant symbolises hope (for milder weather to come) and purity and is associated with Candlemas, the religious feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Wildflower of the weekThis gives rise to the alternative name, Candlemas Bells. In Victorian times a superstition grew up that it was unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house – earlier accounts said this would cause milk to sour and eggs to turn bad, or even cause death – such unpleasant connotations for such a pretty flower!

It’s always reassuring to see the drifts of nodding white bells at this time of year, both in our garden and growing wild. Spring is on its way.

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Knit and Natter 19th Feb

The group met again on Friday . Here are a couple of screenshots of group members’ recent projects.

The beautiful lacy baby blanket is now finished, Last week we were talking about how the maker was going to do the edge and she’s chosen this pretty scalloped crochet design. It works beautifully.

She’s also about to start a knitting challenge to raise funds for the Versus Arthritis charity – this will involve knitting as many socks as possible within a set time period – she’s planning on using a silk yarn, so they are going to be very luxurious socks. She’s got her teeshirt to wear during the challenge!

With her pink cardigan almost done except for the sewing up, this member has returned to the sparkly ombre scarf – up to the pale stripe now.

I’ve been working on a project in handspun undyed alpaca. Can you guess what it is?

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Lacy Ladders

I met my friend Vera when she joined our ukelele group, but before long I realised that she’s a serious knitter. She gave me a copy of a sweater pattern after I admired what she was wearing and the margins were full of her very detailed notes: that gave it away! Over a year ago (because it’s that long since the group played together at one of our regular weekly sessions in person) Vera gave me a shawl pattern that she thought I might find interesting to knit and I’ve just completed it.

The pattern (Clapo–Ktus) is available to download free from Ravelry here

It’s a triangular shawl that’s perfect for using up an odd skein – you weigh the yarn, start knitting from one end, increasing every other row and when half the weight is used up you have reached the central point of the shawl – time to start the decreases down to the other end. I had some dark blue lace weight yarn left over from another project which was perfect for it.

Simple to knit in basically a 3/1 rib, the quirky part of the pattern starts when you begin the second (decrease) half of the shawl. At every decrease you drop a stitch and let it run right down to the edge. this gives it a lovely lacy ladder design.

When it came to blocking it out, I tried something different as I can never find a suitable space for blocking a large item like a shawl. I have a homemade skirting table frame that K made for me to prepare raw fleece. I dampened the shawl and blocked it out on this, attaching it to the mesh with clothes pegs – I had to fold it in half, but it worked reasonably well and dried quite quickly – the air could circulate more easily than if it had been pinned to a solid surface.

I think I’ll wear this a lot, either as a shawl of looped round as a scarf – it’s quite versatile

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Picture Perfect Pup!

A while ago Daughter came up with the idea of getting a portrait of Buddy the Labrador done. She asked a very talented friend of ours who does beautiful drawings of dogs and horses. Fortunately she was able to work from a photograph, because there’s no way Buddy would sit still, especially over the last couple of weeks. He gets so excited when there is snow on the ground.

Getting a decent photograph of a black dog is not easy! It usually ends up with no detail at all; just the silhouette, but daughter managed to take this one on a sunny day.

We did wonder about making sure his “good side” was pictured. Buddy is a friendly soul, but doesn’t always get it hat other dogs aren’t the same. We adopted him at 11 months old and he hadn’t really been socialised with other dogs up to then. A few years ago he got too close to a very nervous dog that bit off the end of one of his ears. This image includes his torn ear – it’s part of who he is.

And now the picture is complete – we absolutely love it! The artist has captured Buddy perfectly and I can’t stop looking at it. Those eyes just totally draw you in.

Thank you so much Emer Edwards! You have an amazing talent.

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Knit and Natter Round Up

Our online Knit and Natter Group continue to meet every Friday lunchtime. The Social Prescribing Team who run the group have been busy working on COVID vaccination sessions in the area so we’ve arranged for group members to host the meetings if they can’t make it. We were thinking of them on Friday when it was bitterly cold outside – if anyone was in the car park directing patients where to go it can’t have been a pleasant job!

The last time I posted we’d been asked to made some Twiddle Muffs for dementia patients. You can see the post about the ones I knitted here. Here are some of the muffs the group members have been making. As always I can’t include them all – sometimes the screenshots are too blurred to use.

They all look great, with such a variety of colours, textures and embellishment and either knitted or crocheted. Those of us able to get to the Alnwick GP surgery on a day when Jane was working there had been asked to drop off our finished items. We arranged to phone her and meet outside at a safe distance. It was pouring with rain so I hardly recognised Jane – she was all wrapped up with her hood pulled up and we were both wearing masks. Then I remembered that this was the first time we’d actually met face-to-face. Normally I see her in our Zoom meetings like this!

Lots of other knitting and crochet has been going on too. One of our members gets a monthly subscription box of knitting and other treats. She’s made some lovely stuff. including this colourful top…

…and this blanket – it’s a real heirloom piece that would make a beautiful Christening shawl.

Her new knitting box had arrived and she showed us what was in it.

Since then she has made good progress with this – a jumper for her grandson

The rest of the group have been working away on an assortment of projects. I think this is going to be a jacket

This is a waterfall front cardigan that is nearing completion


One of the things I miss about the group meeting face-to-face is being able to feel the texture of the yarn and projects that the group are working with. This scarf is growing rapidly -the yarn looks so soft and luxurious – shades of turquoise with a hint of sparkle

.There were hearts for Valentines weekend too!

This crochet blanket is growing . A young relative of this group member had asked for it in black and grey, but she’s added a touch of pink, which works really well.

Everyone has been keeping very busy!

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More Than a Scone of the Week

Today is my Mum’s Birthday. We used to have a weekly trip out to local cafe or tea shop for a scone and a drink. I always wrote a “Scone of the Week” blog post in which we’d rate the quality of the scone baking wherever we went, but that’s not possible at the moment. We are locked down and and our favourite places are closed. We had to come up with something safe, and fun to celebrate so instead of going out, afternoon tea was delivered to her!

K and I made some dainty little sandwiches this morning: smoked salmon and cream cheese; ham and mustard; cheese and chutney; egg mayonnaise.

I baked my favourite cheese scones and some fruit ones too, which were served with jam and whipped cream.

There were cakes too: my lemon drizzle cake and daughter’s chocolate brownies…….

…..but the star bake was this magnificent celebration cake that Daughter made yesterday. It looked stunning and tasted great too – a deliciously light moist Victoria sponge. She makes the most amazing cakes.

There was a small glass of fizz too…..well it was a celebration!

Of course Mum couldn’t manage to eat the whole feast by herself. I brought some home for the rest of us.She thoroughly enjoyed her surprise. It was lovely to do something special.