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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a peaceful 2015. 
I've been enjoying time off work to mess about with some lino printing. As one of my Christmas presents, I've been booked on to a day's course in Sheffield to find out more about this technique which I love but have yet to really get the hang of. I am very excited for February when I'll be taking part.
I love the break between Christmas and New Year when there is usually time to do some painting and drawing. I've been reading some of my inspirational art books too. I love these two.

Generally, things have been quite low key around here, as my father in law is very ill. But we've seen family and friends and that has been lovely.

This chair is a recent acquisition which I'm planning to re-cover in the New Year. I loved the carved back, and it is also very comfortable.

More of my scribbles. 

See you in 2015 when I hope to be back here on a more regular basis.

Friday, 5 December 2014

A trip to Burwash Manor

I quite often hear people talking about why they don't like - or use - social media. But I must say, I am a devotee because of the networks it creates. I've found out about some fantastic places via Twitter, blogs or Facebook, and last weekend, I visited one of them. Burwash Manor, near Cambridge, is about 40 miles away, and I spotted it popping up on my Twitter account about six months ago. Last Sunday, my friend Jo and I decided to go and explore. Burwash Manor is an organic farm, which has about ten independent shops based in the barns. It's so charming.

No big crowds, easy parking and a tea shop on site too. Couldn't really ask for more. We were lucky it was a sunny, crisp day. We loved a shop called Providence which sells made to measure furniture, but also utilitarian household items, such as lavender beeswax polish, big wooden chopping boards, all sorts of brushes, reconditioned lighting and plenty of vintage items. Another favourite was Homestuff with History, where my first photo at the top of the page was taken. 

 I thought the shop was so beautifully styled. I bought some of the black and white letters...

There are Christmas trees and decorations, a food hall, deli and butchers, and a few clothes shops too. 

If you like to avoid the high street at this time of year, and prefer to choose some really individual gifts, I'd recommend a visit. 

A day rounded off with a pot of tea and a slice of coffee and walnut cake in the popular tea room. And all thanks to Twitter!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Here, there and everywhere

It feels as if November has been a very busy month. I've travelled to Brighton, Dorset, Cambridge and the Cotswolds for a combination of work and family commitments. I like nothing better than being on the move and seeing different places. It's been great. Last weekend was really delightful, we drove to Burford, on the edge of the Cotswolds, for my cousin's wedding. We arrived on Saturday lunchtime, checked into a motel and changed into our wedding clothes ready for the 3 o'clock ceremony. The venue was a very old and beautiful pub just off the historic high street. The whole town is so picturesque, it's almost unreal. It was looking especially pretty as the light faded and shop fronts were illuminated.

A real mix of shops: always good to see an independent bookshop thriving.

The sweetest cottages, and enormous price tags on all the houses in town! This is, after all, David Cameron country....

I'd love to come back with  more time to explore. 

Me and the boy in our wedding clothes. I can't say he was wildly enthusiastic about wearing a suit, but once he'd gone off and chosen one himself, and realised that it made him look older than his 16 years, he came round to the idea. 

Twinkly wedding breakfast. It was a lovely occasion, and so nice to catch up with the wider family.

The following morning was rainy and grey, so I didn't take as many photos as I wanted to, but it is somewhere to return to. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights from my other travels:

Broadwindsor, Dorset. A really flying visit but a spectacular day which started with this sunrise....(below)

Cambridge is close to where I live, but I always love visiting and I never tire of even the most touristy sights. I've been going there since I was a young girl and have always found it an intriguing place. Everyone around town always looks as if they are leading incredibly interesting and cerebral lives!

I went to this beautiful shop, Catesbys, for their Christmas preview. There is a small cafe inside, selling the world's best tasting cheese on toast.

I would like pretty much everything in this shop. 

I bought a few of these bowls as Christmas presents, but now I need to persuade myself to part with them...

Also loving that blue and white plate, although I didn't buy it.

So there we have it, a few snapshots from my travels around the English countryside. Thanks for sticking with me if you're still reading. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A painting

I had the urge to do some painting last night. I'd had a busy day writing, and then I popped out to see my friend who is not well, and I just felt like coming home and chilling out with my watercolours. I'd loved the Emma Bridgewater Christmas catalogue which dropped onto the mat the other week, and was really inspired by her photo of a seasonal dresser. I decided to merge her dresser image with bits of my own dresser, and this is what I came up with. Usually, I paint a watercolour and then go over the top of it with pen and ink, but I wanted to try and just use paint this time as the other method looks very flat sometimes. I think this is more three dimensional. 
I did this while the rest of the household watched a football match. I get my head phones, plug my iPod in and off I go, painting to music!

Friday, 31 October 2014

If you go down to the woods today....

Yesterday afternoon I was en route between two destinations, and the sun was shining through the car windows. I had 20 minutes to spare, so I took a detour along a tiny country road and stepped into the woods. I often go to these woods, but for some reason, I've never noticed this particular footpath, running through some silver birch trees. It was late afternoon, about 3.30, and the light was incredible. There was no wind, either, it was pretty magical.

I did not have my big camera with me, so phone had to do. 

I recently spent time with a friend who is very poorly. It sounds like a cliche, but it does make you think, and appreciate. 

So that is why I turned off the main road and took 20 minutes out to watch the sun go down.

Monday, 27 October 2014

An autumn celebration

It was my mum's birthday yesterday, and as eldest son is home from uni for a few days, I thought it would be nice to have a family gathering. I had a leisurely day to cook. The main course was rib of beef with all the trimmings, and I also made a chocolate fudge cake with frozen berries and a plum and apple crumble with amaretti topping.

The chocolate cake is a family favourite but only makes an appearance on very special occasions. The crumble is a delicious new discovery, made with apples from our tree.

It was good to get everyone together. 

The chimney has been swept and we're all ready to light the fire, but it's been so warm! We'll wait for colder weather....

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A taste of autumn

Last week I had to drive to Norfolk to do an interview. This wasn't the pretty Norfolk by the coast, but deep into the Fens. The landscape is completely flat but it's not featureless. Once you start to appreciate the big skies and the sweep of the flat fields, it is very atmospheric. Lining the route are various farm shops, small holdings, and fruit and veg for sale by the side of the road. This is prime agricultural land. The road followed the old River Nene.  

Long ago, before the Fens were drained, Fen folk got around in punts. You can imagine the network of waterways if you stand and look across to the horizon.

Once I'd finished my interview, I drove home, stopping off occasionally to have a look more closely at the landscape.
I found a fantastic farm shop, The Orchard Tea Room at Wisbech.

I bought some Comice pears which are the best I've tasted. They are from an orchard nearby, and came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, no supermarket uniformity here. I made them into a salad with blue cheese and walnuts and they were just the best.

Then I tried painting them as they're so pretty (didn't really do them justice but sketches don't always work, just have to keep experimenting). I'm still trying to keep a journal, although it's hard now I haven't got a deadline. But it does happen from time to time. A bit like my blog! I don't want to stop writing the blog, and I will aim to be back here more regularly. Thank you if you still stop by sometimes. 
You are much appreciated.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Apple pressing

I've been away from my blog much longer than intended. I've been busy writing my journal and that is finished now, so hopefully, I can be back here on a more regular basis. One thing we did recently which I wanted to write about was this apple pressing day at The Kings Arms, Polebrook, a local pub. We had so many eating apples from our tree, and they taste amazing but they don't keep. We really didn't want to waste them this year as it just seems so wrong. So, we took them along to this community apple pressing day. It was one of the last really warm days.

Lots of people arrived with apples. We pooled them and set to the task of juicing them. First, they had to be washed. 

Then the apples need to be roughly chopped and put into a 'mincer' to break them down before they're pressed. They come out broken down and mushed up.

You have to chop fast to keep up!

Into the mushing machine. Husband enjoyed this part!

These two were operating the apple press. It's an old one, but it did the job perfectly. The juice trickles out in a steady stream.

Ready to be decanted into the bottles we'd brought with us. It's not an appetising colour, but the taste is simply amazing. Sharp and tangy. We had about 10 litres to bring back. We drank some, gave some away, and popped a couple of bottles in the freezer to be mulled in the winter. Some people were planning to make cider with theirs. 

After all that hard work, we settled down to some butchers sausages, chips and apple sauerkraut  at the pub. Just rewards...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

An autumn day out

Yesterday felt like a good day for a trip. We were heading for Saffron Walden in Essex. It's only about an hour's journey from where we live, and there is an art gallery here which I've wanted to visit for a few years now. Once again, it's thanks to Twitter and the fact that I follow various artists and galleries, that I was galvanised into action as I read that it closes in October (until April). No time to lose. So off we went.

I had no idea that Saffron Walden would be so old - or so pretty. But it's both. There was a small market in the old market square, very busy, and with some beautiful flowers, fish, fruit and vegetables.

We bought takeaway coffees and had a good mooch around. I found a small bouquet of home grown dahlias from the community garden stall and Perry bought a sea bream to cook later. There was even an outside space to sit down and have some oysters and wine! But the art gallery was calling me. Here it is: The Fry Gallery.

The small gallery was built in 1856 by Francis Gibson, a Quaker banker and amateur artist to hold his personal art collection. It was then inherited by his daughter Elizabeth Fry. Since the 1980s, it has housed a collection of the works of the Great Bardfield group of artists which includes Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree and John Aldridge, whose work I really love. Their pictures evoke England in the 1930s. They work in print and paint. I am particularly keen on Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden and there are many examples of their work here. You can even see Edward Bawden's beautiful sketch books.

Wow, wouldn't mind having a few sketches like that in my book!
We spent a long time looking at the pictures and then browsing in the little shop which has a brilliant selection of books and cards. 

Next, we popped in on a small contemporary gallery in Church Street, where print maker Celia Hart has an exhibition. I had seen Celia's work in Country Living, and again, I follow her on Twitter. Some gorgeous prints here, and I am now saving up for one....(although actually her prices were very reasonable but I'd already spend my funds at the museum shop :) )

After a ploughman's lunch in the pub, we explored a bit more. Plenty of antiques shops and antiquarian books too, all in these gorgeous pale old buildings with timbers and decorative plasterwork.

Some lovely stuff in this one. 

I've never seen houses with this kind of embossed decoration before. 

It's the kind of town where I thought 'I could live here.'

Will definitely return. Hope you enjoyed this short tour. 
The Fry Gallery is at Castle Street, Saffron Walden. Open April - October.