I am in South Africa for two weeks teaching, and I took advantage of my free weekend to travel out to a game reserve. Yes, that is me knitting while standing next to an elephant. I am standing in front of the restaurant at the game reserve, which is located next to a large watering hole where the elephants come to drink every day. Thank you to Roy, the lovely man who took the photo; when I told him and his wife that I wanted a photo of me knitting with the elephants for my blog, they said “What a lovely idea!” instead of “Sorry, lady, but you are crazy! You need help!”
Above is a photo taken the day before where I am sitting on the back porch of my room while an elephant wanders in the bush just below me. This was a very cool and surreal experience.
I went on a game drive one evening. It was great fun. Here is a list of the animals which we saw while on the drive: vervet monkeys, hippos, red hartebeest, wildebeest, warthogs, zebras, white rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, impala, blestbok, kudu, jackals, waterbok, springbok, nyala, and eland. I didn’t take many photos, and am also having some difficulties with bandwidth here, so I will only show you a few. I am not sure, but I think the beautiful animal below is an impala.
We came across a family of giraffes, including a three week old baby:
We were in an all-terrain open vehicle, and driving through the bush – really off-road. This last week there has been torrential rain here, so there was mud everywhere. At one point, our vehicle got stuck in the mud, and we had to all get out and stand in the bush, while trying to get the vehicle loose from the mud. We gathered tree branches and vegetable matter to stick under the wheels, but it took a good 20 minutes to get it loose, and in the meantime we were all sure that we would get eaten by hippos! We drove through the game reserve for three hours and came so close to the animals it was astonishing (and a bit scary). The rhinos were the hit – at one point we were about 8 feet away (too close in my opinion). Here is a photo of me in the vehicle with rhinos just beyond me. (Thank you, Ian, for taking the photo!)
Here is a not very good photo of zebras, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of countryside we were driving through. It is pretty astonishing to be driving along and come across a herd of zebras. There were about twenty or so zebras in this group, including quite a few young ones.
The amazing thing is that we were still quite close to Johannesburg; this was an 80 minute drive from my hotel in Jo’burg, but really felt far removed. It is a whole different world from the city. I am told that it doesn’t come close to the kind of experience you would have in the Kruger, but for a weekend break, it was pretty cool! On the Saturday, I sat down in the restaurant for lunch, and looked up to see an elephant outside the window. Here is the photo I took from my seat while eating lunch:
People here are very friendly. My driver, Sipho, is a great companion on the road and we shared many stories. He brought his wife along on the return trip, and we all got to enjoy the elephants and good conversation. I was traveling by myself, but found people to sit with, and chat with, and eat with. I shared a lovely dinner with two Australians, one from Brisbane and one from Sydney, who were here attending a conference. (Thanks, Ian and Lisa. And thanks also for the wine!) Today, I sat in the sun for a while sharing drinks and chatting with two lovely South African families, Nicol and her husband and young son, and Roy with his wife, who prove that 74 is the new 50! I was knitting all morning while sitting and chatting with them, so perhaps they weren’t put off by my request for photos of me knitting with elephants. And, of course, I felt compelled to knit while leaning against the sign saying “Danger Elephants” in front of said elephants!
I have just returned from Cape Town, South Africa! I spent two amazing weeks there, during which very little knitting-related activity took place. The Executive MBA programme at the Henley Buiness School has a required module on Reputation and Responsibility, for which the entire class travels to Cape Town to work with NGOs and Social Enterprises. My team was assigned to work with Shonaquip, a company which designs and manufactures wheelchairs and seating support solutions for disabled people, and which also provides assessments, fittings, follow-ups, maintenance and training.
We were blown away by Shonaquip, and the other NGOs involved in this project. It was an extremely emotional week for all involved, as we came to grips with the enormity of the problems facing South Africa, and the determination and talent and heart of its people. We were humbled by the dedication and boundless energy of people and organizations determined to provide dignity and solutions in the face of overwhelming poverty and the legacy of apartheid.
I saw very little of Cape Town, I’m afraid. Tourists to Cape Town usually go to the top of Table Mountain for fabulous views, and to Robbin Island, where Mandela was imprisoned. I didn’t manage either of these, nor did I get much of a chance to experience Capetown’s nightlife or great food. For the first 8 days that we were in South Africa, I spent virtually all my time either working with my team in the hotel or at Shonaquip or its clinics in hospitals and townships. I did manage some early morning walks with Doug along the sea wall and two lovely seafood meals with classmates. The rest of the time was late nights working and room service. I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.
After the presentations and the closing party with our NGO sponsors, Doug and I took off with four friends for 5 days exploring the Western Cape. This was amazing – the scenery is breathtaking! The rest of this post will be rather photo-heavy. We first went to Cork Bay (Kalkbaai), where we stayed in a fabulous B&B with a view to False Bay. We explored from there, first visiting a wild penguin colony along the coast:
We almost missed this little guy who was tucked away just inches from the foot trail:
The coast is beautiful and rugged, and around every corner is another breathtaking view. We drove through the National Park to the Cape of Good Hope. Yes, I went to the Cape of Good Hope!!!!! It’s an incredible experience as you stand on a spit of rocky promontory with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.
The photo above looks down on a gorgeous beach along the Atlantic side of the Cape; if you follow your gaze out seaward from there, you can see a long line of white breakers where the two oceans meet:
We were there on a gorgeous day, very warm and sunny, but the wind and surf were quite rough. You can readily imagine why so many ships wrecked along this point. For those of us who grew up reading books about the early ocean explorers, this is a very romantic and powerful place to be.
The views across False Bay towards the Indian Ocean side were softer, and almost mystical:
Some of you may know that I am afraid of heights. I balked at walking out to the end of the Point. Doug said “No way are you going to come all of the way to the Cape of Good Hope and not walk out to the end of the trail!” He was right; I only had a few bad moments and the experience was totally worth it.
I asked our friend Kevin to take a photo of Doug and me at the bottom of the trail. He took about 20 and they all looked like this:
Once he stopped laughing, Kevin showed me the photos, I had a little scream, and then I asked Doug to hold my hair down for a photo. That didn’t work out too well either:
And this is what happened when he let go:
Oh well! I stood on the Cape of Good Hope, and I have the wind-swept hair to prove it!
We spent the next morning shopping in the very funky little shops in Cork Bay (it is a very bohemian town and the shops are much better and cooler than you will find in the bigger towns). We then drove along the coast to Hermanus, with a brief stop at Pringle Beach, a very beautiful spot with interesting rock formations:
Hermanus is widely-acknowledged as the best land-based whale-watching spot in the world. You don’t need to hop on a boat to see the whales here; you sit on the rocks and the whales play in the bay, sometimes just metres away. Southern right whales spend part of the year here – calving takes place in August and September and the males arrive for mating in October, when the season peaks. We were there past the peak season so we missed the sight of dozens of whales; nevertheless we sat on the rocks the first day and watched three whales, including a mother and her calf, play in the water just fifty metres or so from us.
I can tell you that it is very difficult to get photos of whales actually breaching the water. It takes great patience; kudos to Doug. He snapped this photo the next morning of a whale a little further out from us. This whale was slapping his tail in and out of the water and taking jumps for quite a long while. It was a joy to watch.
Sunsets in Hermanus are especially lovely. As the sun sinks, the rocks on the other side of the bay are bathed in beautiful shades of pink:
We left Hermanus in the morning and drove up north, through gorgeous scenery, to the lovely town of Tulbagh. There we stayed at the Rijk’s Wine Farm, which comes as close to perfect as any place I have ever stayed.
Tulbagh is in a wide valley, perfect for growing grapes, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Rijk’s is an award-winning winery that arguably makes the world’s best Pinotage. The hotel is beautiful, the wine is wonderful, the scenery is lovely – it was so peaceful and gorgeous, I didn’t want to ever leave.
What should one do while sitting in the shade of grape arbors, drinking in the frgrance of 1300 white rose bushes, and looking at the mountains, while your husband pours you a glass of fantastic wine? Why, knit of course!
Kevin, Carola, Chris and Mike – thanks for the company! I never thought that I would see Africa. Now that I have, I know I will return.
My daughter Leah is a history fanatic. There are many periods and places that she studies but she is especially enamored of the Medieval Period. Since reading Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy she has devoured everything she can read about 13th century Wales. The trilogy covers the saga of the medieval princes of Gwynedd (North Wales), in particular Llewelyn Fawr and his grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, through a turbulent 100 year period, marked by war, betrayal, royal machinations, and upheaval. Wales had rather progressive (for the time) rights for women and there were a number of very strong female characters who are portrayed in the book including King John’s (illegitimate) daughter Joanna, and Simon de Montfort’s daughter Ellen (who was cousin to King Edward). Leah wanted to visit Wales and tour the locations from the books while she was home this summer, but we have had difficulties finding time. This post is the story of 48 hours in Wales in search of history. (A note to my regular readers: Despite this being a knitting blog, there is no knitting content whatsoever in this post, except for the occasional photo of my Killybegs sweater!)
We drove to Wales on a Thursday afternoon, arriving late. Friday dawned with rain and clouds and gloom, which continued throughout the day. Leah had plotted out an itinerary of sites from the book, but we had trouble from the beginning. Some sites were impossible to find (the Pass of the Two Stones) others disappointing (it was too wet and late in the day to hike up to Aber Falls). By four in the afternoon, we were totally dispirited. As Leah said “All we’ve had today is the castle we couldn’t find, the Pass we couldn’t find, the church that wasn’t the church, the church that was the church but was closed, the sea view with no view and the hill that might have been the site of a castle.” We decided to try one last site before heading back to the hotel – Dolbadarn Castle.
Here we hit the jackpot. This beautiful castle is perched on the top of a hill, looking over gorgeous countryside. You have to hike up to it through a lovely forest tract:
In the rain and the gloom, it is magnificently atmospheric. Best of all, there is no ticket office, no gift shop selling souvenirs, no ropes barricading it off; it just sits in the gloom, as it has sat for over 800 years, majestic, solid, indifferent to the ravages of weather and the passage of time.From the tower, you can see the remains of the walls of the castle and the beautiful views across the valley:
Owain ap Gruffydd was imprisoned in this very tower for 22 years by his brother Llewelyn. Here is Leah, sitting in the stone spiral staircase leading to the top of the tower, reading from the book the scenes that took place there.
Our experience in Dolbadarn made up for the rest of the day, and driving back to the hotel through the stunning Llanberis Pass was just icing on the cake.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. We had stayed in the town of Dolwyddelan because much of the trilogy takes place at Dolwyddelan Castle. We hiked up there just after breakfast.
There’s nothing quite like walking up the steps to a 13th century castle:
Or walking all the way up to the top, through narrow stone staircases, and looking out over the ramparts:
I really love this photo of Leah, sitting in the window seat of the Great Room at Dolwyddelen; she is reading a scene which takes place in this very room:
We had the castle all to ourselves for over an hour. It was incredibly peaceful. The countryside is still so unspoiled, it is easy to imagine yourselves hundreds of years back in time. Eventually, however, the peace was shattered by the arrival of about 40 teenagers, clearly on a tour of some sort. This led to the following conversation:
Leah: Well, its too bad that we now have a crowd here, but at least they are speaking Welsh. It adds to the atmosphere.
Me: How do you know they are speaking Welsh?
Leah: Can’t you hear? The language has voiceless lateral fricatives. There are not too many languages with voiceless lateral fricatives, Mom. I mean, Navajo is one I suppose but it’s highly unlikely a busload of Navajo speaking teenagers is touring around Welsh castles today.
This is music to the ears of any linguist parent: a child who says the words “voiceless lateral fricatives” in ordinary conversation, much less recognizes them when she hears them. Oh, the simple joys of parenthood!
I can’t resist, since this is indeed a knitting blog, the following photo which shows off my Killybegs sweater. When you are hiking through this kind of weather, with sun and wind and mist and rain, you realize that there truly is nothing that works as well as wool. (I am convinced that all of the sheep in Wales agree with me.) I am also sitting in a 13th century window here, which is pretty amazing.
The last stop of the day was totally magical. This was the church at Llanrhychwyn. Parts of the church date to the 11th century- it is, in fact, the oldest church in Wales. Llewelyn Fawr and his wife, Joanna, worshipped here. Part of the magic was in finding it at all. It is up in the hills, and not signposted; it was true serendipity in the guise of two hikers who appeared at just the right moment and directed us through unmarked fields to this amazing treasure.
The church sits at the top of a hill with views stretching out over a valley. There is barely any indication of modern life. It is easy to feel transported back through time.
The inside is so spare, so simple. I find it astonishingly beautiful. If you have no feel for history whatsoever, you would still feel the magic of this spot. If you are a fan of the books, however, it is very moving.
One of the books, Here be Dragons, ends with Joanna worshipping alone in this very church. Leah was able to sit here and read that scene. Lovely, don’t you think?
We have just returned from a short break to Watergate Bay in Cornwall. Most people seem to prefer the beach in summer, but give me a cold and windswept beach any day:
Not only is a cold and windy November beach bracing and exhilerating and restorative, but it is also a great place for knits in action.
The soft focus in the photo above is because we took this in a soft and steady drizzle. Frequent readers of this blog will notice that, under the down vest, I am wearing my Killybegs cardigan, designed by Carol Feller and knit in Donegal Aran Tweed from Studio Donegal. Here is another shot, with our hotel in the background.
The rain began when we were a good thirty minutes walk down the beach, and came down steadily. I am here to tell you that wool is truly a miracle fabric: not a single drop of water penetrated this beautiful Irish wool. I remained warm and dry and cozy. It wouldn’t withstand a downpour, but was considerably more wind and water-proof (and attractive) than a fleece. (Now that I have put in my plug for wool, note that on the next day, I wore a fleece sweatshirt, proving that nobody’s perfect.)
On the second day, we went for a long walk along part of the Coastal Path, which winds along the cliffs above the beach. It is beautiful in any time of year, but on a windy autumn day it has a special appeal:
Observant readers will notice two handknits in these shots. I am wearing my Wintergreen cowl, knit in seed stitch with a double strand of Malabrigo worsted, and I am also wearing the wonderful Peerie Flooers hat designed by Kate Davies. This hat was one of the first projects I documented on this blog. It is very appealing to wear these knits in action, and I get quite a bit of satisfaction out of wearing handknits.
You can see in the above photo that the cold and wind do not discourage the surfers. They are a die-hard lot; we stood be-hatted and bundled and watched the wet-suit wearing surf fanatics play in the waves. This is the same beach where Doug and I flew kites on our August trip to Cornwall. We refrained this time, due to back problems, but the kite flying crowd is also undeterred by the cold:
Doug was in charge of the camera on this holiday, but I made a point of taking a few photos of him so that we could prove he was there. They all turned out uniformly awful, except for this one:
This beach is also the site of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, Fifteen, where we had a very nice dinner. I was impressed because they made up a special 5-course taster menu for me that was not only gluten-free but also without meat. Since we were staying at the hotel and didn’t need to drive, we had the 5-course taster menu with 5 wines, including a nice talk with the young sommelier-in-training about each wine. It was fun. Note to self: someone who gets drunk on her second glass of wine should not order 5 of them.
(Perhaps 5 glasses were also more than enough for the photographer?)
We booked this holiday to celebrate our 22nd anniversary (a little late, since the anniversary was in September). It was a lovely break from routine with great food, beautiful beaches, long walks, and plenty of time to sit by the fire and knit.
In my last post, I shared the first day or two of a surprise holiday to Cornwall and Devon. We were, quite unexpectedly, given the use of an apartment in Plymouth for a week (Thank you, Raj!). Our second day in Plymouth fell on the Bank Holiday Monday, the last official day of summer holiday. It was also, by lovely coincidence, Doug’s birthday. We spent the morning lazing around the Hoe, a beautiful public park right on the waterfront in Plymouth (and a 5 minute walk from our apartment).
Plymouth has coffee shops spread along the waterfront and is prime people watching territory. We grabbed a table, I took out my knitting (but of course) and happily spent the morning watching the boats and the people sail by. (Doug alternated his people and boat watching with reading a mathematics journal – there is no accounting for taste.) The girls often lamented the fact that there is a dearth of outdoor pools in England, so I include here a photo of Plymouth’s newly restored Lido. Not too shabby, huh?
In the afternoon, we hopped in the car and drove out to Salcombe, along the Devon coast just east of Plymouth. We picked it for the same reason we picked Rame the day before – we were hoping to avoid the traffic by staying close to town, and the guide books said it was pretty. They did not lie.
Question: Can one find a nice spot to sit and knit in Salcombe?
Answer: Most definitely!
We didn’t have any plans for Doug’s birthday dinner, but while walking through Salcombe, I found a restaurant, called dickandwills, that looked really promising. First, the sign said that it had “possibly the best view in Salcombe”. I love that! “Best view in Salcombe” would not have turned my head, but that “possibly” really grabbed me. (By the way, the view is amazing; click on the link and check out their photos.) And the menu was mouth-watering. The restaurant was closed for that break between lunch and dinner so there was no way to determine if they had a table free. I wandered into the Salcombe Deli across the way, and while purchasing some gluten-free treats, I casually asked the owner if he could hazard a guess as to availabilty at the restaurant that evening. He picked up his phone, called the restaurant’s owner at home, and booked us a table! Our whole trip followed this pattern; I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. If you are ever on the South Devon coast, go and eat at dickandwills. The food was fabulous, the service was great, the views impressive, and the price reasonable. It was a perfect birthday dinner.
On the Tuesday, we drove to Watergate Bay, just above Newquay on the Cornish coast. Our mission was twofold: I wanted to show Doug the amazing beach at Watergate Bay:
and the lovely Watergate Bay Hotel, which you can see nestled into the cliffs on the photo above. I once spent 4 lovely days here for a knitting retreat! Since then, they have added a spa to the hotel, and its former glory is now surpassed.
The hotel runs a surfing school, and the beach is filled with wetsuit-wearing water sports enthusiasts all year round. (My knitting retreat was in January – there was ice on the beach, and there were surfers even then.) Jamie Oliver’s flagship restaurant, Fifteen, is also there right on the beach. (We tried to get in, without a reservation – they said “We have a free table 5 weeks from now if you want it.”) This is a very windy beach (note that I am wearing my Neon cardigan while standing on the beach in August). This brings us to my second reason for bringing Doug here – it is the best kite flying beach around!
The big kite in the foreground is ours, and that is me flying it! These kites are so big, and the wind so strong, that you have to fight to keep your feet on the ground. They are a blast to fly, and also hard work. Can you tell that I am having fun?
I am not as good with a camera as Doug is; I tried to get a good photo of him flying the kite. He is also better at flying a kite. He does these figure 8 moves where the kite comes crashing down to earth, only to swing around at the last moment and zoom back up to the sky. I managed to get one photo just as he is stopping the mad descent; it takes a lot of strength – you can see his foot leaving the ground. A second later, his whole body was pulled skyward.
On the Wedensday, our destination was St. Ives. This is a town on the Cornish coast famous for being an artist’s hub. There are over a hundred art studios in St. Ives; some are rather touristy, but many are very good. St. Ives also has beautiful beaches, twisted cobblestoned streets, tons of restaurants, coffee shops and bars, and wonderful people watching.
I was unfamiliar with the British beach scene, and so got a kick out of the colourful windscreens surrounding every towel! I also enjoyed some of the configurations of people on the beach – like the giant circle below. All they need is some fabric squares and they could form a quilting bee!
While Doug was busy with the camera, I was chatting with people and – you guessed it – knitting away.
Here I am working on the endless (but lovely) Viajante shawl. I fear I shall never finish this baby! (I include these knitting photos because, after all, this is a knitting blog; I don’t want my dear readers to abandon me for my lack of knitterly content!)
In addition to the fabulous scenery, Doug had an ulterior motive for bringing me to St. Ives. The absolutely top thing to do in Cornwall and Devon, is to have a cream tea. A traditonal cream tea consists of two lovely homemade scones, strawberry jam, to-die-for clotted cream, and a pot of tea. This is a treat I always pass by because I have coeliac’s disease and thus can’t eat gluten. Doug had spent time carefully searching the internet for the best gluten-free tea in Cornwall, and had found it here:
This is the tea room, which is right on the waterfront in St. Ives. We started with lunch, and I had a crab sandwich, which was served on gluten-free bread. It had nothing but crab – lots and lots of crab – no filler, no celery, just crab, on homemade GF bread, with homemade citrus mayonnaise served on the side. And cole slaw made with real clotted cream. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And that was before the cream tea was served:
These scones were simply perfect. If you are ever in St. Ives, gluten-free or not, you should have a cream tea here. I must also point out that we shared the best pot of tea I have had in ages. Yum! (Totally worth the 2 -hour drive from Plymouth and the hassle with parking.)
Replete from a fabulous lunch, we returned to the car and drove westward along the coast from St. Ives. This is the most beautiful drive. The scenery in this part of the world is truly breath-taking. We stopped in the very cute town of Zennor, which has a lovely church set against the backdrop of rolling hills.
The Coastal Path, which runs for hundreds of miles along the Coast, has a very beautiful stretch between Zennor and St. Ives, which is about 7 miles long. I would love to have hiked it, but at this point in the trip I had developed achilles tendonitis and wasn’t up for it. The path looks like this as you lead out from Zennor:
and has views like this:
That stretch of path is definitely on my to-do list.
The next day, we drove home, but we took a slight detour to drive through the Dartmoor. The Moor is wonderful. Realy, truly wonderful. If you ever get a chance to go there, take it up.
The moor is famous for the wild ponies which roam freely, and in abundance:
And, scattered throughout the moor, are a few very tiny, very picturesque villages.
Driving through the moor takes forever, because every hundred feet or so, you feel obliged to stop the car and stand in awe drinking in the view. If you are Doug, then you must also grab the camera. At one point, he pulled over, took the camera, and walked off; he was gone for 30 minutes. Does this bother me? Not at all:
One of the secrets to a good marriage is to have complimentary hobbies!
For only a five day holiday, we squeezed a lot in! Now that Cornwall and Devon are on our radar, we will definitely return. And I will return to this space soon with real knitting content. Promise!
Last week, a colleague unexpectedly offered us the use of an apartment in Plymouth for a week. Plymouth is on the Southwestern coast of England, from which one can explore southern Devon and Cornwall and the moors. We have never been to that part of the country. How fast do you think I said “Yes”? We rearranged our calendar, hopped in the car, and took off.
This is the last Bank Holiday weekend of the summer, which means traffic. Lots of traffic. The highways were packed driving down here, so we got off the main drags and toodled along little country roads, making a 3.5 hour drive into 7, and enjoying every turn of the road. Since we are staying here for a week, we decided to stay close to Plymouth for the first few days until the holiday crowds diminish.
Yesterday, we drove onto the Torpoint car ferry and explored the little villages on the Rame peninsula and Whitsand Bay, just west of Plymouth. The guidebook said that GPS devices were unreliable out here. This is certainly true. Here is the road the GPS told us to take:
We stopped in the charming little town of Cawsand:
Cawsand has an interesting pirate vibe happening; apparently it has a history as a smuggling port. (Dig the parrot!):
We chatted with some locals about the best place for a walk and they pointed out a stretch of the costal path which leads from the tiny beach at Cawsund, up through a lovely wooded path filled with ferns and glimpses of sea, and lined with flowers:
The trail led to the top of the rise and beautiful views:
We found a little folly and spent some time watching the sea and the boats.
Since this is a knitting blog, it is my duty to tell you that knitting may have occured at this point:
What a spot to knit! Here is a better parspective:
We were on a promintory. So, although it looks like I am sitting with my back to the view, I am actually gazing out at a glorious expanse of blue water. Now, here is the funny part. I am afraid of heights. I clambered onto this piece of rock, took out my knitting and sat there happily knitting away; Doug took some photos; I enjoyed the view. Then, I looked down, and realized that I was sitting at the very edge of a 30-foot drop and I hadn’t even noticed! (Emma and Leah, are you reading this? Are you thinking “Who are you and what have you done with my mom?”) This is where I sat and knit:
Egads! I was totally oblivious, blown away by the views, and now it gives me goose bumps to even think about it.
After our walk, we drove farther west along the beach, checking out many of the towns. We stopped at the town of Polperro, which was overrun with tourists, and looked as if a mad PR guy had designed the place for maximum tourist expenditure. I found it kind of creepy, but id did have some great views at the bottom of the tourist crawl:
Today is Doug’s birthday, so I am off now for a quiet day by the seaside with my guy.