Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Tuesday 30 September 2014

If I Have Seen Further it is by Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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!

Near the beginning of the walk, we encountered some of the hill’s inhabitants, who eyed us warily.

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.

This is what the path was like for the most part: broken stones and heather.  It certainly made for a challenging ascent (and descent for that matter!)

Can you see the view getting better and better?

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.

I love this rugged landscape.  Each time I visit, I forget how wonderful it is.  I will make sure that I visit as often as I can.

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.

I think this is a fox moth caterpillar.  There were lots of them and they seemed to really like the heather.

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

Hexham Abbey

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.

The sun was just catching the stained glass windows and illuminating the Abbey wonderfully.

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.

It was nice to have a moment of calm reflection in the day, particularly after the stress of the last few weeks.

There is such beauty in symmetry, don’t you think?

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.

Saturday 27 September 2014

In the Kitchen and On the Needles

I have been really verry busy and stressed recently, as we are in that sort of eye of the storm, where it seems deceptively quiet, just before the upheaval of the proper work starts on the house.  Quotes have been received, builders have been found, jobs have been lined up, but nothing has actually started just yet.  Just as I think I have all of my plates spinning nicely, I find out that something called ‘building control’ has to be applied for and my (renovation) world is thrown into a complete tailspin, complete with panicked phonecalls to the building control officer and a desperate need for structural calculations so I can fill in the form.  Argh!

In-between all of this mayhem, I have been able to do some cooking and baking.  Mr VP’s office took part in the Macmillan coffee morning and I baked one of my much-beloved chocolate cakes to help raise some money (sadly no pictures as I was icing the thing quite late on).  I made a delicious veg-box soup for dinner, with everything in the veg box that we hadn’t eaten and it was extremely delicious.  For dessert one evening, I poached some pears in apple juice and rosé wine, with a bit of ginger wine thrown in for spice.  It was so good that we didn’t have it with anything; just ate it slightly warm.  Delicious.  Speaking of delicious, I love caramelised onions and to use some of the onion-glut up, I made a caramelised onion and courgette quiche – a savoury revellation!

On the needles is a cap-sleeved infinity jumper (Stylecraft 9017) knitted in Stylecraft Alpaca Tweed, which is surprisingly soft and nice to knit with.  I am also preparing for a more complex jumper to keep me occupied over the winter months, once the house has (with any luck) been finished.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sunset on the Eve of the Autumn Equinox

I am so glad that we went out yesterday evening for a walk and chose Northumberlandia.  We didn’t go for a long walk, as it was already quite late by the time we got there, but we did stay for most of the sunset and it was magnificent.  It was definitely a change on the cold, grey skies of today!

Welcome autumn!

Sunday 21 September 2014

Blue Skies and Happy Walks

Yesterday afternoon, after a predictably grey and drizzly morning, the sun erupted forth from its blanket of cloud for the first time in over a week. That is, dear readers, far, far too long to be without even the merest hint of the sun.

As soon as the rays burst forth, I practically jumped up and pulled Mr VP out of the door and for a brisk walk through the park. The pines that I love so much were weighted down with cones and still softly drizzle-coated from the morning’s rain.  Thankfully, Mr VP brought his camera along for the walk, as I was too impatient to get outside that I left mine behind.

My heart that had been sort of heavy all week, with the stresses of house renovations and unexpected hiccoughs, suddenly lifted and I felt that I could breathe a little steadier for the first time all week.

The berries were out in force: hawthorns, elderberries, rose hips and the fruit of the whitebeam (I think).  It was such a pleasure to stroll past the hedgerows and feel the sun on my face.

It is most definitely beginning to feel autumnal, don’t you think?  I know that the temperature has been a little on the warm side, but seeing all those berries and fallen leaves definitely made me think how quickly the year is marching on.  Suddenly, I got the urge to listen to Sufjan Stevens (this, this, this and this) and snuggle under a duvet with a mulled cider and the smell of wood smoke on the air.  Yep, definitely autumn.

Friday 19 September 2014

(Antidote to a) Grey Week

I am having a bit of writer’s block at the moment and blogging seems to have gone out of the window.  I don’t just think it’s blogging, either, as I haven’t picked my camera up in a week.  This week has been a difficult one generally as it has been dully, grey and mizzly and I haven’t felt 100%.  But as the week is coming to an end (though the grey skies are as grey as they have been all week), I find my energy levels picking up a bit and a desire to at least look at some of the photos on the camera, if not take many photos.

I had been meaning to do a weekly post about what is in the veg box each week and what I plan to do with some of the lovely veg, however that has gone a bit out of the window.  I don’t think I’d anticipated just how tiring and stressful the whole renovation would be!  I will make sure that I post more about what we get because it has been an exciting challenge to work out what to do with what and to plan our meals accordingly.  The potatoes have been used to make delicious salmon fishcakes (that I didn’t photograph – sorry!); the sweetcorn was boiled and eaten alongside some sausages and vegetables; those apples and plums?  Eaten in all of their glorious dribbly-juiciness, pretty soon after getting them!  The flowers were part of some of the flowers that Mr VP picked up at the end of August to celebrate our 11th year together (time is flying!).  I must post more, so I will endeavour to do so.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Icecream at Sunset by the Sea

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