Glynllifon Estate; a hidden gem in North Wales.

On one of our visits to Wales, we stayed near Caernarvon, and having a bit of time to spare, we decided we would visit Glynllifon.

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Glynllifon is an old estate that once belonged to Lord Newborough and can be found near the village of Llandwrog. As you drive from Caernarvon to Pwhelli on the A499, it lies on your left; you can’t miss the gateway….
The original Regency style mansion is now privately owned and run as a Country House Hotel and wedding venue. According to legend there have been settlements here for over 1000 years.

There are walks through the gardens, and there are wonderful buildings, ponds and even Redwood and Giant Red Cedar trees. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Every twist and turn in the path throws something new at you, it’s no wonder we took so long to get around it.

The first thing we came across was a lovely little waterfall and iron bridge.

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Just beyond it was an old boathouse and pond. It was so quiet and peaceful there.

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The water had wonderful reflections of the trees, bushes and buildings……..

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Thee pathway led through the woods and as we turned the corner we spotted the mansion itself, and the series of bridges in the lawns in front of it.

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Then it was back to the woodland walk; there are loads of interconnected pathways that weave their way through the woodlands. There are derelict buildings, covered in moss, and surrounded by ferns. I love the way the sunlight filtered through the overhead canopy…..

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The paths twist and turn; there are hidden caves and wonderful little streams that you cross back and forth over.

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Towards the end of the path is an amphitheater set into the hillside. I wonder what was staged there and who sat in the stone seats clapping?

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So we turned and headed back and passed this beautiful fountain; hard to spot where the water ended and the lawns began.

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And then we found the best wood carvings; it was a mother otter and her cub carved from a fallen tree. It was simply beautiful work!

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On the way out we stopped at the craft shop for a quick cuppa and a browse around; there’s lot’s of pieces made by local craft workers.

Another great place to visit.

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Steam Back in Time……. Llangollen Railway.

Even in the 21st century, the modern day viking has to travel. That means an overnight (or two!) stop in some friendly and comfortable Bed & Breakfast we’ve booked into. When we’ve been out of Ireland, we regularly stop off in Llangollen in Wales. It makes an ideal break in the journey that lets us get a decent nights sleep and a ferry the following afternoon. We usually stop at ‘Squirrels’  run by Peter and Lillian. I cannot recommend this wonderful guest house highly enough; there is always the warmest welcome when you arrive, the rooms are beautifully presented and kept and there is probably the best guest house breakfast I’ve ever had!

Llangollen is a wonderful town with good restaurants and pubs to pass the time in; it also has a lot of places for people to visit. On one of our stopovers last year we decided to spend some time on the Llangollen Steam Railway – vikings on a train!!!
You pass the station on the short walk from ‘Squirrels’ to the town centre and we’d often said that we should try it out; so finally we did!

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This was one of the best ideas we’d ever had; the ticket covers you for a full day. A whole day on a train line that runs for just seven and a half miles – you have got to be kidding; but we bought the ticket…… and spent nearly the whole day there!

The railway runs steam, diesel and railway cars from the station in Llangollen to the end point in Carrog. You can check the timetable to see what train runs at what time. We wanted to do the steam train journey as we had been on them as a kids and hadn’t been on one in a while. We had a chance to wander round the station for a bit before the train left. It’s like stepping back in time with the train blowing steam, the old trolleys and gas lamps.

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You can get up close and personal with these trains, and the drivers are very informative about them; what they are, where they came from and what they do! You’d almost want to get into the cab and drive it off………..

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The carriages are just as I remember the old steam trains to be!!

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There are several stops along the way where you can disembark and take a walk and then catch the next train that passes. The views along the way are spectacular; it really was a great way to just unwind, relax and be. The Dee Valley is a beautiful place……….

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You even get to go through a tunnel; I think I said to Bob that there was a one coming up and we should shut the windows; he seemed to not notice my comment, and all of a sudden there was black smoke from the engine blowing in through the open window!! He moved pretty quickly to get it shut! Look closely and you can see him. Trust me, there was a lot of smoke..

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At Carrog, there is a wonderful pub that serves food called the The Grouse’, where you can sit  and relax as you watch life in the Dee valley.

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The cattle were very entertaining; there was a family that had gone for a picnic in the cattle field. Being the inquisitive creatures they are, the cattle kept coming over to visit…… I think you can imagine the scene.; it was like watching them play tag!

And after that chill-out time, we headed back. The trains have to turn around to take us home; it’s quite a sight to see these old steam trains in all their glory in this beautiful place.

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Great way to spend a day,  and we finished it as any good viking would do in the pub; slainte!

Dooney Rock, Sligo – another hidden gem!

Another of the hidden gems I’ve found in Ireland is Dooney Rock, located on the R287 from Sligo to Dromahaire.
Dooney Rock was  made famous by W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’. In the poem Yeats tells the story of an Irish fiddler who expresses himself though his music. The townland of ‘Kilvarnet’ which is referred to in the poem is a small parish near Collooney.

When you find it, there is a car park with a picnic area, and leading from there is a nature trail that loops around this wooded wonderland. The path initially leads to the edge of Lough Gill, before heading towards the top of Dooney Rock.

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The trail leads through the woods and along the water edge; no matter which way you go there is always a beauty to be seen. As you walk along the shoreline there are views across Lough Gill. These photos were taken in February, and I love the starkness of the winter trees against the water and the distant mountains. It was also a wonderfully calm day, so the reflections in the water were great to capture.

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At regular intervals along the path, there benches that give the chance to sit and relax and there are also information posts giving details on the various trees and plants located in the area.

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The path actually follows a figure eight loop; I returned to the edge of Lough Gill by the path through the forest. There were loads of old tree  stumps which to me resembled strange creatures frozen in wood.

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There are little gems around each corner; I loved the little stream that trickles into the lough, and the moss covered boulders along the edge of Lough Gill.

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When you reach the top of Dooney Rock itself there are views of the two mountains which dominate the Sligo landscape;  Benbulben and Knocknarea.

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Benbulben is probably the mountain most associated with Sligo, and is part of the Dartry range of mountains.
The name is an Anglicization  of the Irish name “Binn Ghulbain”. “Binn” means peak or mountain, while “Ghulbain” refers to Conall Gulban, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Another translation is jaw-shaped peak.

Knocknarea is reputed to be the burial site of Queen Maeve of Connaught. You might just be able to make out the cairn on the top of the mountain.
The name is also anglicized from “Cnoc na Riabh” (meaning “hill of the stripes”). However, another interpretation is “Cnoc na Riaghadh” (“hill of the executions”).

This was another great chill out place to visit; it’s quite close to Sligo town, but to me it gives that feeling of quiet stillness. If you’re in the area have a look!

Information for Knocknarea and Benbulben  taken from Wikipedia.

Dublin Viking Festival 2010……… a trip back in time!

Did you know that Dublin city in Ireland was once a viking settlement?
The vikings named their settlement ‘Dyflinn’,  probably from the  Irish ‘Dubh Linn’ meaning  the black pool. The river basin provided an ideal shelter from the fierce storms they would have encountered as they crossed the Northern seas.
Ireland’s temperate climate and access to vast forests made it an ideal place to over winter, offering the vikings a place to repair and rebuild their longboats during the Viking off-season. But they didn’t just over-winter; they stayed. In fact the Norse ruled Dublin until 1014 when they were defeated by Brian Boru’s army at the Battle of Clontarf.

In 2010 we were privileged to attend a Dublin Viking Festival organised by Dublin City Council and Fingal Living History Society at Wood Quay. The location was the grounds of the Dublin Corporation offices, just beside Christ Church Cathedral. Between 1974 and 1981, the site was excavated extensively and revealed a complete viking settlement with over 200 houses. The finds from the excavations are on display at the National Museum of Ireland, and the remains of the old city walls are still visible on the Wood Quay site.

1-038I have to admit I was thrilled when we said we would go; we would get to do an event on an actual viking settlement site (albeit 1000 years after they were there!).

The show proved to be truely international, with Irish, English, Polish, German and Danish re-enactors taking part. The event followed the usual routine; a living history village showing the various crafts and skills that the vikings practiced and fight demonstrations. For more information on what Fingal provides as a living history display you can click here.

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The handcrafts included tablet weaving, nalbinding and woodcarving.

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There was also a kitchen display to show what the vikings would have eaten, and how they would have cooked.

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All the displays were interaction driven; as living history re-enactors we love people to ask questions so we can explain what we are doing.

The fight demonstrations were as spectacular as always; it was great that we had the international element to the displays, as it gave our Irish vikings a chance to pit their skills against these modern viking invaders.
The weapons used are metal but blunt edged, and are recreations of actual weapons that have been found during archaeological excavations.

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Most fighters seem to prefer using swords; to be honest, in viking times only the most wealthy warriors could have afforded to own a sword. Most would have used either an axe or a spear.

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To be allowed to combat on the re-enactment field, these fighters would have trained for months beforehand, and there is usually as assessment before they are allowed to participate. Modern day health and safety rules all events!!

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As you can imagine, there is a lot of  ‘acting’ on the battlefield when the time comes to die!

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It was a great event to attend.
And here’s a thought; in 1014 Brian Boru defeated the vikings at the Battle of Clontarf. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an event in 2014 to celebrate the 1000 years since the victory? There is one planned; hopefully that event will take place……… looking forward to it already!

Glencar Waterfall; to the waters and the wild….

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‘Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand‘.

W. B. Yeats (excerpt from ‘The Stolen Child’).

Sometimes when I feel the need to escape, I take a drive to the Glencar mentioned in W.B. Yeats poem. It’s just north of Sligo town on the way to Manorhamilton.

Yeats often used references to Irish myths and legends in his early poetry; The Stolen Child’ was written in 1886 and is one of Yeats’ early poems.
Personally, I have always loved the poem. The full version tells of a human child beguiled away by the fairies. There is a line in the poem that reads ‘to the waters and the wild’ which has always captivated me. To me it represents an escape from the maddening crowded world I sometimes find myself in. The real Glencar offers no less an escape.
The Waterboys included the poem in their recording ‘The Stolen Child’ on their album ‘Fishermans Blues’. The words of the poem are spoken in it and it never fails to move me.

When you get there, Glencar is a pleasant, peaceful place.
As you park in the nearby car park you can look out across Glencar Lake towards the beauty that is Ben Bulben, and hear the roar of the waterfall in the background.

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The path to the main waterfall crosses a little bridge, and there are a series of smaller waterfalls on the way the main one. The area is lightly wooded, but there are well maintained paths that you can follow.

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As you walk along the path, you pass an old style lamp post which always reminds of Narnia; I often wondered if the path to that magical land lay behind the waterfall and if Aslan will one day roar at me as I walk past (who needs a wardrobe?)!

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The ferns that drop their tears Over the young streams’ grow all around, especially at the main waterfall itself. They glisten gently from the spray of the waterfall.

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Glencar is beautiful all year round. These photos were taken in February after there had been quite a lot of rain and the waterfall is always more impressive after sustained rainfall.
It is a place well worth a visit anytime you happen to be in the Sligo/Leitrim area, and you feel the need to escape to the waters and the wild.

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Nalbinding; getting started with the Oslo stitch.

So you’ve decided to do some nalbinding. But where do you start?

Many of the videos that I have found are excellent for demonstrating the actual stitches, but they have complicated descriptions of ways of making the starting loops. I found these videos quite confusing when I was starting, so I tried to find other ways to make that first stitch. Through trial and error, I found a way that suited me.
This is what I do; I’m not saying that this is the only way, but it’s what I find easiest.

First you need to cut a piece of yarn approximately 1m long (about two arm-lengths). You can use longer, but for a beginner using longer lengths can make the nalbinding more awkward.
Thread the yarn through your needle, keeping the two ends at different length.

For description purposes, the working end is the end of the yarn that is attached to the needle, and the free end is the other.
Put the needle down for a moment.

Make a loose knot in the yarn, and place the knot loop on the pad of your thumb.

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Take the knotted yarn loosely between your thumb and index finger, so the working end runs between the left thumb and forefinger, and lies across the thumb. NB the working end must run between your thumb and forefinger! The loop sitting up behind your thumb is what is referred to as the halo stitch.

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Now using your needle, pass the needle through the halo loop from the back towards you. Then continue the needle under the working length of yarn lying between your thumb and index finger at the cross over point.
This will work best if you come from the side of the loop instead of the top of it.

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 The aim is to create another loop that runs across the front of your thumb. Pull the needle and yarn slowly through keeping a light hold on the stitches, until there is a loop around the front of your thumb. The loop around the front of your thumb is your working loop. You have now created a basic stitch to begin with.

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So far so good (I hope!).

Now for the first Oslo stitch. Pass the needle through the halo away from you.

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Do not push the needle the whole way through the halo, but twist the needle round so the point passes back down under the working loop and the long piece of yarn at the cross over point. The easiest way to do this is on the pad at the back of your thumb. You can move your index finger slightly back out of the way until you have the needle in place.

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Then lightly hold the cross over point between your index finger and thumb, and pull your needle and yarn through. You will now have two loops on your thumb, with the newest loop closer to your nail bed.

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Push the older loop off the end of your thumb to create your new halo loop, keeping the newer loop on your thumb to create your new working loop.

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You now have two loops at the back of your thumb. If you are unsure of which  is the halo and which is the working stitch, pull the working yarn and the working loop will tighten.

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Continue these steps in this section to create a chain, picking up each new halo away from you, and twisting the needle back down through the working loop and under the working end of the yarn.
The chain length will depend on what you want to make. In my example I have done 25 stitches, but for a bag you will probably need more. You can make the chain as long as you need for the opening of the bag or hat. The chain can look ‘messy’ as you create it. (To smooth it out, take both ends and pull gently and the stitches will even out.

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When you have the length of chain you need, you will have to join the ends in a circle. The chain should be straight and not twisted. Bring the free end of the chain round to meet the needle end. Pick the first stitch up by passing the needle away from you through it.Do not push the needle the whole way through. (This will be the connection stitch. As the connection stitch is picked up front-to-back the connection is termed F1).

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After you have picked up the connection stitch, make the Oslo stitch as described above; with the connection stitch on the needle, continue to pass the needle through the halo away from you, twist the needle back and down through the working stitch and the working end of the yarn as you did for the chain Oslo stitch.

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Continue by picking up the second stitch on the original chain and working a basic Oslo stitch.

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As you continue working, the nalbinded piece will work up into a tube. This is my basic method for starting hats,mittens and bags.

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So that’s my way of starting nalbinding with the Oslo stitch.

If I want to use a stitch that requires more than one halo loop, then I just pick up more as I go along; first two stitches for Mammen, three for Broden and so on. I find that this also gives a graduated start to the piece as opposed to a block end effect.

I use videos to help me learn the stitches. This link is to the best site I found for video instructions.

Happy nalbinding! And remember – practice and perseverance.

Nalbinding; a brief history

When I tell people that I nalbind, the most common response is ‘what?’. So I find I have to explain what is is, where it came from and even give a short demonstration of how it’s done.

Basically, during the Viking-age (793-1066 AD) knitting and crochet were unknown, so they had to use another very old and effective method for making warm socks, mittens and hats: nalbinding.

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Nalbinding (also spelled nålbinding, naalbinding, nalebinding) is a method of creating a stretchy textile using short lengths of yarn and a single-eyed bone or wooden needle. Fabric is formed by looping and knotting the yarn through previously created loops, gradually building up row upon row of loops. The gauge depends on the size of yarn and the looseness/tightness of the individual naalbinder. Depending on the stitch, the fabric will be soft, firm, stiff or stretchy.

Nalbinding predates both knitting and crochet by at least 2000 years. Fragments found in Israel date to 6500 B.C. The oldest find in northern Europe is dated at 4200 B.C, and comes from Denmark. Additional samples of toed anklet socks from fifth and sixth century Egypt are also examples of nalbinding, previously misidentified as knitting.

Nalbinding as a practical needle craft survived longest in Scandinavia before it was supplanted by easier to produce knitting. Nalbinding was regarded as a superior craft because it required more skill to produce and the fabric created was thicker and warmer. The name Nalbinding was introduced at the beginning of the 1970’s by Martha Broden and translates to mean ‘needle; to bind or sew’.

In knitting each loop is interlocked through the previous row and the previous stitch. In Nalbinding, each individual loop is knotted in itself, and is also interlocked. Each piece of yarn is pulled through completely and creates a knot. When you pull the end of a length of knitting, the piece can unravel completely; if you pull the end of a nalbinded piece, the yarn will knot! The nalbinded material will not ladder – socks develop less holes!!

There are two methods of Nalbinding;

1. The free hand method,

2. The thumb chain method.

I use the thumb chain method. This means that the working loops are fixed around your thumb, and working them will create a chain.

Each Nalbinding stitch has a notation or classification depending on how the yarn is looped and worked. For example, the Oslo stitch has the classification UO/UOO F1. U means under, O means over, / denotes the point where a crossing point is. If you look at the yarn as it creates the stitch you should be able to see this pattern. However I find the classifications confusing for beginners and tend to stick to the stitch names.

In Nalbinding, you work with lengths of yarn, and join them together as you proceed (unlike knitting or crochet where you work off the ball of wool). You also need to work with 100% wool so you can ‘felt’ the yarns together as needed. Ideally, beginners should use a thick unplied yarn as the worked stitch is easier to see. However, unless you spin your own yarn this can be difficult to find these days.

Most people that have knitted or crocheted will pick up nalbinding quite quickly – but you don’t need previous wool-craft experience. And as with all things new; perseverance and practice will get you there!