Saturday was sunny and glorious, so we found ourselves off for our weekend potter around Hexham once more. Instead of our usual trip to a café for coffee, we decided to get ours ‘to go’ and headed off to the park for a stroll and a chance (at long last!) to get the camera out. I have struggled to do anything creative, which I blame on the stress of the house renovation, but I know that in a couple of months it’ll all be over and all will be settled down once more. It was nice to sit and chat on the cold park bench, whilst the dew dripped off the beech tree above us. Coos of pigeons and darting blackbirds filled the park and the quarters were marked by the bell of Hexham Abbey, as they have for many, many years. Best of all, I finally found autumn colours shining through in the bright red of the ivy and the yellows and browns of the sessile oaks.
Monday 13 October 2014
Saturday 11 October 2014
It seems that as September has faded into memory, mistral winds have blown a cooler, wetter October into being. Suddenly, trees that were green up until a few days ago have suddenly lost their vitality and are a blaze of gold and red; each leaving a trail of fallen, crunchy leaves in its stead. Knowing that the weather is prone to be quite changeable, I have to make the most of the good weather as and when it appears (in-between overseeing builders, quotes and planning visits). One afternoon, I was feeling the weight of the renovation and so I went for a solitary ramble around the woods. This seemed like the salve I needed to be able to get myself over some of the hurdles that cropped up last week. While I did some ruminating on the walk, I got time to photograph some reflections of the literal variety, too.
The sun was shining at such a level as to be quite difficult to walk in, not that I can complain about the sun. Any days of sun we get from here on in are precious interludes, breaking up the grey, wet and cold days to come. But the sun’s low slant on the horizon was setting the plants on the woodland floor alight. Bracken with its fronds of pea-green satin were illuminated by these glorious rays. So too were the cobwebs and lower branches. I caught the rainbow shimmering through the radial spokes of the cobweb – can you see? Mushrooms were beginning to pop up on old tree ends; but they aren’t the hairy curtain crust funguses of Lincolnshire, they’re something else similar yet different. I have seen an abundance of antler fungus growing on fallen trees nearby, something that I didn’t ever see down south, as well as a glorious orange-red beefsteak fungus growing on an oak tree. Just as the sights and scents of the woods changed as I walked further, I was aware of the constant back-chatter of birds. Coal tits, robins, jackdaws and crows, as well as blackbirds and the high, happy call of the buzzards swooping overhead. It was such a lovely afternoon of giddyness and distraction: just what I needed.
Tuesday 7 October 2014
This isn’t so much a playlist as just a group of songs that have found their way onto my iPod over the last few weeks and songs which I have fallen in love with.
- Paul Hillier, The King’s Noyse, David Douglass & Theatre of Voices – In Jejunio et Fletu (I couldn’t find the exact same performance, but this is very good too)
- Moto Boy – Black Lillies
- Staphan O’Bell – Five Years Went Fast
- Firewoodisland – Simon
- Sibelius – Finlandia Op.26
- Paul Hillier, The King’s Noyse, David Douglass & Theatre of Voices – Third Tune for Acrchbishop Parker’s Psalter (“Why fum’th in sight”)
- Hugo Alfvén – Symphony No. 4 C-Minor, Op. 39
As you can see, it is a bit of a mixed bag! I have been listening to a lot of classical music recently, as I find it helps me to unwind and allows me to think (classical/ instrumental music was all I could listen to whilst doing essays at uni). Out of interest, I have been looking into the life of one of our most important early composers, Thomas Tallis, whose ‘Why fum’th in sight’ melody was taken by Ralph Vaughan Williams and became the cornerstone of his Fantasia On a Theme by Thomas Tallis (one of my absolute favourite pieces – I found listening to the ‘original’ quite enchanting). Tallis wrote a lot of choral pieces which are new to me, but which I find very beautiful indeed. Similarly I seem to be re-discovering pieces that I was vaguely aware of, like Sibelius’ Finlandia and finding that I really, really like them now.
There is, as always, a lot of good indie music coming out of Sweden at the moment, and two of my favourite Swedish artists, Moto Boy and Staphan O’Bell, have both recently released really great singles/EPs recently. Black Lillies is a dark song full of melancholy, yet I find it beautiful and deeply affecting, particularly with the accompanying video, which Moto Boy himself said “document[s] the melancholy that only platforms, trains and people’s empty gaze can elicit” As for Staphan O’Bell, it’s just lovely, lovely stuff from a lovely guy (too many lovelies? Nah!). Though the lyrics are quite melancholy, the melody is anything but – and whenever I listen to it, I can’t help but crack a smile. It seems unreal that it has been over four years since I discovered his music and began humming Fashion Street and From My Rooftop, but it somehow has. I think that maybe his new LP Mirror House will be his major breakthrough into the UK (I did predict Wooden Arms‘ success and they’re all over 6Music now!).
Sunday 5 October 2014
I’m sure you know by now that I tend to avoid cosmetics that have preservatives, artificial fragrances and harsh, petroleum-derived chemicals in them. I have found alternatives for almost everything, from handwash to dishwasher soap, from washing powder to toothpaste. On the whole, we haven’t had to make any concessions on quality of the products we use (if anything, the products are often better) but I always keep my eyes open for new and interesting cosmetics or household cleaners for a little change.
When in Hexham last Saturday, I stopped at the stall of Durham-based TOC Aromatherapy. While their website isn’t great at giving information on their eco-credentials, the man at their stall was only too happy to stop and discuss what’s in the products. Having tried their soaps, I can tell you that they are lovely. They only use organic essential oils and natural ingredients, as well as being local (always a bonus). Sometimes natural soaps can be a bit lacklustre and lacking in smell, but not so with these – they leave your hands (or whatever else you’ve washed with them) smelling amazing for hours afterwards. I bought four different varieties: Bed of Roses (a sweet but not sickly rose scent); Swinging 60s (patchouli and sandalwood amongst others – delightful); Carnation (one of my favourite smells) and English Garden (full of scents like lavender, rose, jasmine). I have a feeling that these and other delights from their range will be making their way into Christmas stockings and gift parcels this year :)
Saturday 4 October 2014
Renovating a house is a test of all sorts of things, but mostly the three Ps. Persistence and/ or perseverance (because without it, there won’t be a house to move into), patience (with builders who don’t turn up when they say they will – it’s like herding cats!), panic (lest you end up with a migraine from the stress – like I did the other day), a sunny disposition (to deal with it all) and most of all, your wits (to avoid being conned into something ridiculously expensive/unnecessary etc). September was a whirlwind of quotes, phonecalls, panic, stress and plaster dust and it looks like October will only be dustier and more expensive than September.
Whilst I have got a lot sorted on paper, with appointments from tradesmen looming, as yet only the roof tiles and flashing has been completed. This is good as we got it done in time for the rains that pelted the house last night. However, this reminds me that there is still a lot to do and time is marching on. The stress has been quite a problem for me, as there was much more to do with the kitchen than we had anticipated, which meant that the budget is being squeezed from every corner. The kitchen as it exists currently is not functional as a kitchen, so we can’t move in until it has been sorted out – particularly as it is an epic job, which involves removing ceilings and (load-bearing) walls.
Today started off well: Mr VP and I donned our ugliest clothing and decided that we would try to save ourselves some money by doing all of our decorating. This is a HUGE job, simply because every single bit of the house needs doing, and some walls need levelling and ideally skimming, which one decorator quoted so much money for, that I thought he was skimming the walls in 24 karat gold. Unfortunately, whilst trying to take some control of the walls upstairs (filling, priming and painting), I had nothing short of a complete panic attack when I found what could be a problem that will possibly require expensive remedial works. I cried, because it has all become a bit much and I am feeling a wee bit fragile at the best of times recently, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.
At the end of the day, I know it’s only a house and such, and at this point we’re not even going for a Country Living Magazine-cover kind of finish, we just want it done well, so that we can move back in and begin enjoying the house again. Right now, I can’t see the wood for the trees or the light at the end of the tunnel, but I know it will come. Heaven knows it will take a heck of a lot of patience, perseverence and a hefty dose of (unintentional) panic too.
Tuesday 30 September 2014
One of the things on this year’s to-do list was walk the rang of hills known as Simonside. We last did this in July 2009, when the wind and rain was pelting us from all directions and we managed just over a quarter of the distance. On Sunday, the wind was calmer, the weather bright but slightly overcast and the temperature a blissful 17ºC, so I deemed it to be The Day that we would climb (some of) Simonside’s peaks.
This is a demanding walk and it isn’t even technically that steep as hills go (certainly not a patch on the Cheviots or the other hills and mountains that the British Isles has to offer), but the views from the top make the aching limbs and pounding heart worth it, because when you reach the first peak, then the second, nothing could be greater in the world.
Simonside is a ridge of hills, and there are different ways to approach the peaks. We set off up the steep and fairly rocky side, which is the way we know best; from there, we ascend until we reach a peak and then descend a little, before ascending a peak double the height again. This continues
until you’re absolutely knackered until you’ve reached the top. We didn’t make it all the way to the top, not because of the height, but because of the distance (it’s a long walk as well as a steep one), and knowing that our knees would have to make it down again – over very rocky and unstable terrain. Hill-sheep we are not! This is a fairly low part of the path, which starts out stepped and then deteriorates the further up you go.
This is the view from not-very-far up the hill and it is already stunning. Those hills you can see in the distance are the Cheviots; Northumberland’s version of mountains, though they escape that formal moniker by a small way. To me, they’re mountains and they’re beautiful. I hope to one day climb each summit. Simonside is a good place to start, I think!
Most of the heather had gone over due to the exceptionally warm and dry weather we have been having. But here and there amongst the browning flowers, there would be bright splashes of pink and fuschia.
The last time we visited, I took my exceptionally-heavy and very temperamental 35mm film camera out with me. I took almost all of the photos on film, taking a photo almost identical to this. It became one of my favourite photos ever.
Simonside is supposed to derive its name from the Norse and Teutonic sagas, from Sigemund of Beowulf fame, which is perhaps why I like it so much. I spent a good deal of time studying Early and Middle English literature and these early tales held me captivated. The whole area around Simonside is ancient, as ancient as it gets, with markings made by pre-historic peoples, some of the earliest in fact. I think of their huts, the indentations from which can still be seen in the hills, and I wonder how bleak it must have been with no light and little warmth.
We reached the top of the first ridge and felt elated. This was as far as we got last time, and we did it much faster this time. Last time, we perched on these very rocks and ate a picnic in the windiest conditions; almost losing our coffee and sandwiches as we did so. This time it wasn’t quite as windy, but it still blew the cobwebs away.
The hills are full of wildlife, too. On our walk we saw many, many red grouse (click the link and listen to the sound they make – it made us laugh every time!), butterflies, fox moth caterpillars and lots of very fit sheep! Isn’t he a handsome (if highly comical) fellow?
We finally reached the summit of the middle peak at around lunchtime and decided that we would have a rest, soak in the view and then turn back. What a view, eh? The whole of Northumberland was laid out for us, in the distance to one side the coast; in the other, the Cheviots and Scotland.
At the second peak, there are four pine trees. They aren’t very old or tall, but they are there and because there aren’t any other trees, they stand out like ghostly evergreen sentinels, watching over everything.
This is one of the rocks at the second summit. The rocks here are ancient – some of the oldest in the UK – and are full of life. At the main summit there are also caves and I spent some of the walk wondering what the landscape must have looked like then, when those caves were used, and who used them.
The last photo I took, almost back at the car park. Joyous that I had managed the walk and relieved that I was back at the car and could sit down, as the descent turned my legs to jelly! What a day.
*The title is a much-beloved quote from Isaac Newton.
Sunday 28 September 2014
I somehow can’t believe that it has been over 4 years since I last made a pilgrimage to Hexham Abbey, but indeed it has been that long. Or at least, we have been back to Hexham with the intention of visiting the Abbey, but each time we visited it was closed for one function or another. I don’t think I realised how much I had missed it until I was in there, breathing that old, old air once more.
When living in Cambridgeshire, our ‘local’ cathedral was Peterborough and I suppose I got used to the epic proportions, enormous aisles and vertiginous painted ceilings. Whilst Hexham Abbey is considerably smaller, it is no less warm, inviting or interesting than its larger counterparts. In fact, it has a very homely feeling about it.
This window in particular stood out to both myself and Mr VP. I don’t remember seeing it before, but I suppose I must’ve overlooked it. Perhaps I hadn’t ever visited when the sun was shining just-so, setting off a trail of bright blue illuminations along the stone walls.
The Abbey itself dates back to the 7th-Century, but these arches, and most of the other architecture of the church, are Early English, hence the carving and shape of the arches. The crypt below the church, which I have been into previously and which is warm and peaceful, was made by Roman soldiers, according to carvings left down there. It features a small shrine of similar layout to a proper church, complete with ante-chambers and barrel-vaulted roof.
Whenever I see painted wooden panels, I think of the glorious Seglora Kyrka in Stockholm, whose interior is painted with biblical scenes.
The visit to Hexham Abbey felt like a big spiritual hug, a welcoming back of sorts. The awe that the Abbey inspires is no less than anywhere else and its familiarity made it all the more welcoming. Thank you Hexham Abbey.