Sunday, 7 August 2016


Since building the wall at the side of the house the old gate has been barely fit for purpose. As it happens we were wandering around around Snowshill Manor and Gardens a few months ago and spotted this:

Joe was inspired. It was also a good excuse for a trip to our local timbre merchants which is always a dangerous move. They have several rooms full of hardwood planks, oddments and off cuts - unique pieces that are perfect for bespoke woodwork; we always seem to come away with more than we went for.

On this occasion we found some sweet chestnut that is going to look great as a gate, particularly when it weathers in and goes all silvery in colour. We've come up with a design heavily modelled on our National Trust inspiration, though for a single gate rather than a pair: two solid uprights, with three horizontals, and 5 sets of batons filling in the gaps.

Joe's been slowly chiselling away ever since - in odd 5 minutes here and there - though that's not to say that a few power-tools haven't been put to good use where it makes sense. He's now most of the way through the mortise and tenon joints that will hold the main structure together and relishing the challenge of a some proper woodwork to keep him busy.

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Sunday, 31 July 2016


I'm fast becoming convinced that my favourite part of our garden is the fruit. I love reaching that time of the year when you get a complete glut of one thing or another. The effort required to sustain them - pruning the trees, or tying up bushes, is minimal compared to the potential rewards.

At the moment this joy is coming from the raspberry canes as we go out every few days and collect another tub-full. Mostly we're just eating them, often with ice-cream. So good. There really is very little to beat soft fruit fresh from outside.

The hens, of course, would heartily agree. They are complete gluttons over all things fruity and always hang around while we're picking in case any manky bits get thrown their direction for them to fight over.

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Mechanical Doorbell, Part 2: Bash

One of our very first posts on The Urban Cottage was talking about our slightly fantastical doorbell, created from bits and pieces found around the house (follow the link for a reminder). This has been quite a talking point and provides us with much amusement when we open the door to a new visitor to be greeted with "is that your doorbell?! Please can I see it?".

The intention was always to expand this beyond it's initial "ding" to also include a "dong" but a couple of years later we ended up skipping that plan (for now) and instead went straight for "bash".

A very tired cymbal, looking for a new home, has been lined up next to the guitar. A short section of pipe left over from the bathroom is then carefully positioned to catch the marble as it speeds off the end of the original shute and directs it into the cymbal. 9 times out of 10 this then bounces and is caught in an old weaving shuttle.

All in all an excellent addition - not least because the previous incarnation was only just loud enough. If you were in a far corner of the house you were more likely to pick up the sound of a marble hitting the floor than you were the guitar. The cymbal certainly solves that problem!

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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Scarf or Shawl?

My Regina Marie shawl is now completed. I'm really happy with this one; it's come out pretty much as I hoped for, the yarn has been great to work with and is still beautifully soft.

I made a couple of tweaks to the pattern as I wanted something that was more scarf than shawl; long and thin. Firstly I went for 32 repeats of the main pattern block, rather than 26. I wish I'd been braver and gone even further with that as I still had yarn left at the end, though I'm not sure an extra couple would have made much difference.

Then during the short rows section I knit four stitches beyond the gap on each pass so that I consumed the stitches more quickly to create a thinner crescent.

I don't know what the technical definition of a scarf vs a shawl is - but whatever it is I've made I love it.

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Sunday, 3 July 2016

Squawks from the Chicken Coop

This is Lemon and Pepper checking in with the Blog. Things are much the same as ever in the Garden.

There is grass to be scratched, dirt to be rolled in and sparrows to chase.

There are sudden sounds that are a bit scary and we have to make lots of noise about. That's especially important early in the morning when no-one is around in case they don't notice the scary things.

There are eggs to be laid. Not as many as we used to have to do - getting old has it's advantages. The downside is that getting the shells right seems to be a bit tricky at the moment, sometimes they're a bit thin and then we accidentally stand on them so they break. That's not so good.

And of course the best bit is still when people come out of the door with something tasty for us to eat. Corn is our favourite, but stale bread or apple cores are pretty good too.

Cluck Cluck.
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Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Week on the Water

Last week we swapped our urban cottage for a few days in a narrowboat on the Llangollen Canal. A little chill out time was just what we needed and the pace of life as we pottered along at 3 miles an hour got right to the heart of that.

The Llangollen was a lovely canal to spend our time on. Travelling almost exclusively through countryside rather than towns and cities, the highlight of the journey for us was the day we spent reaching the source of the canal. As the Vale of Llangollen started to open up around us, we passed over the longest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain - the Pontcysyllte. Not for the faint hearted as there is a shear drop from the edge of the boat. Definitely stayed seated during that one.

From there the canal got narrower and narrower, winding it's way along the valley edge towards the town of Llangollen and a final unnavigable section where we had to switch to foot. Finally we reached the horseshoe falls; a perfect semi-circle of waterfall that separates the water for the canal from the river Dee.

We were with my brother, parents, and my parents 18 month old labrador - Monty. It was great to spend some time with family, both working our way through the series of locks and swing bridges, and settling down at the end of the day to a glass of wine and a game of cards. Monty also seemed to enjoy his week, providing us with much amusement as he checked up on everything that was happening, hared up and down the towpath and did laps of each lock - though also providing us with a few heart-stopping moments as he ran over the lock gates or leapt from the boat in pursuit of someone who'd dared to get off the boat without him.

A really good week.

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Oiling the Floor

One of the biggest projects we undertook while we were "off-air", was a transformation of our living room. I might have mentioned before that when we moved in we painted almost every wall in the place - but did little else, and now we're slowly working our way back through each room giving it a little more time, care and attention.

The living room for us is a place we spend much of our free time. It's somewhere for sitting with a laptop and planning our latest project, making music, doing crafty things and whipping up a blog post, and when all that's done it's also the place to relax and pop on the TV. The design of the house also means that this is the main thoroughfare - the only way of getting from the front door to the kitchen, conservatory and upstairs.

And it was a struggle. The furniture we'd brought with us from our previous house just didn't fit. Well, it fitted physically - but that was about it. The room isn't tiny (though by no means large), yet it felt cramped, crowded and messy. You had to zigzag your way around it all to get through the room, and more than a couple of extra people was a squish. After much debate we decided to go all out in getting this room sorted and that meant a couple of new bits of furniture.

(As we weren't thinking of blogging this we failed to take any "before" shots and as it turns out we've taken hardly any photos in this room over the years. To give you a small idea of what it was like here's the best of the bunch; a christmas photo of our decorated tree sitting in front of the piano, and a shot of us playing a card game on the floor with all the furniture pushed to the edges. Sorry if that's not much help!)

Changing our large three seater for a corner sofa, along with passing on our acoustic piano for a much more compact digital version allowed us to rethink how the room works with startling results. There's now a clear path from one side of the room to the other, space to pack in a few extra friends, and even some clear floor space for laying out that tangle of yarn that needs unpicking. The new piano is a marked improvement on the old one, inspiring much more regular playing even if we do still both have a definite fondness for the mechanics of a traditional instrument. More than anything, the room feels like it has doubled in size despite having almost as much stuff in it and that's all down to the change in layout.

Much much smaller piano, plus a clear path from the front door on the right to the kitchen on the left.
The understairs cupboard is more accessable and a new chair that can be both tucked
into a corner and pulled out into the main seating space.

But all of the above is a complete tangent - I was going to tell you about the floor!

There was one major flaw with the living room when we moved in (in our opinion anyway), and that was the cream carpet. I'm not adverse to using pale coloured carpets in the right place - but the highest traffic room of the house is definitely not that place. It constantly needed hoovering, and even then was never quite clean.  We were also starting to have problems with the chipboard underfloor having rather a lot of bounce to it. It either needed replacing or reinforcing before we found ourselves with a hole in the floor.

Our solution was to install an engineered oak floor, something solid that would wear well over many years as well as taking the pressure off the ageing chipboard. However, as we were fitting the planks into place we noticed that the finish on them was very uneven. There had been foam strips between the planks to stop them being damaged in transit and where the foam had been was much paler than the edges of the planks. After a few months of back and forward with the flooring company they agreed to send us enough of the hard wax oil they had used so that we could refinish the floor.

Uneven colouration can be seen around the edges of the central plank.

And so we found ourselves, just a short while after finishing the decoration of the room, emptying all of the furniture out again so that we could put a fresh layer of oil down. Fortunately, it has been completely worth the effort. The finish is much more even and the wood has a much warmer feel to it.

Transformation complete.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Regina Marie

A little over a year ago now I received a gift of what has to be the softest skein of yarn I've ever had the delight to knit with; Manos del Uruguay Lace. 70% alpaca, 25% silk, 5% cashmere. Beautiful.

I've been looking forward to working with this yarn ever since; giving it a quick squeeze every time I've had an excuse to go into that box. I wanted to make something that would be worn against the skin and have debated many scarf and shawl patterns, but it was only when I saw Araignee's Regina Marie project taking shape that I thought I might be onto a winner.

It had to be a "one skein" project - because that's what I had. I also wanted something that was generally long and thin in shape so that it could be worn more as a scarf than as a wrap, and Regina Marie met both of those criteria. I also liked the way the lace work weaved in and out of itself along the edge. Araignee's assurance that this was a lovely pattern to knit sealed the deal.

And she was right. It's coming together really nicely. I have a little more yarn than the pattern calls for so I'm thinking about following the instructions to make it longer - but I'll see how if feels once I've done the required number of repeats... but now I need to go and knit just a little more!

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Sunday, 5 June 2016

Veggies, or a lack of...

Do you know what the most successful thing to come out of our veg plot was last year? Raspberries... yes, not even a vegetable! We had courgette plants eaten by slugs, sweetcorn that got to about half height then turned black, and leeks that looked more like spring onions. We also had a very poor germination rate for peas and beans both attempting to start them inside and then planted straight out. Generally not our finest year.

All of that caused us to take a step back and think about what we're working with. When we converted this area of the garden the soil was in a very poor state. We dug in a lot of compost initially and have done so a little more each year, but the reality is that the ground is probably in need of some T.L.C. 

So this year we're planting no vegetables at all. We're leaving the area fallow, though instead of leaving a nice empty space to fill with weeds we've planted green manure. A couple of cycles of that followed by a healthy dose of compost or manure and fingers crossed we'll have a better success rate with whatever we decide to grow next.

While that ticks over we'll be enjoying a regular box of fresh, seasonal vegetables from a local farmer instead, and looking forward to a good harvest of fruit from our various trees. 
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Sunday, 29 May 2016

Hidcote Manor Gardens

A couple of weekends ago we took the opportunity of a sunny Saturday to take a trip to Hidcote. Just over an hours drive away, and conveniently National Trust where we have membership, we set out hoping to find ourselves some inspiration for our own garden, along with a good spot for a picnic!

Hidcote was the private garden of Lawrence Johnston who divided the whole area up into a series of rooms, each with it's own identity and character. While the arts and crafts styling wasn't what we wanted to achieve ourselves, we eventually stopped worrying about that and set to looking at how he had attained that unique feel to each space and found that a limited plant range, colour palate and textures seemed to be at least part of the key. On top of that there were a few themes that carried throughout the garden to give it a sense of unity. Brilliant planning on the part of Mr. Johnston.

Careful thought had also been given to the line of sight as you moved through the garden. High hedges and walls obscured your view in most directions, so when you did get a glimpse through you could be sure it was deliberate - a tantalising peek at what was to come next.

It's certainly given us some food for thought as we're in a definite planning stage with our own space. We often think about our garden as distinct areas, each with a different purpose - the veg patch, the chickens run, the pond, the patio, the lawn. The patio is next up for a change, but our trip to Hidcote has also inspired a look at our garden as a whole - thinking about the differences of these areas while considering themes we want to carry through each. Debating how each section works with it's neighbours and maybe planning a few tantalising sight lines of our own...

It proved to be a lovely day out, sunshine, plants and good food. Perfect.

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Is it socks again?

I often take my knitting out and about with me, in the car, to friends houses, on holidays and day trips. When people spot me quietly adding a few stitches to my work in progress this naturally this sparks the question "what are you making?". Nothing unusual there. Of late though I've noticed that this is sometimes followed with the second question "is it socks again?!".

Why yes, yes it is. Socks, socks and more socks. They're certainly not the only thing I knit but it seems every time I finish another project and I hit that lull where I'm just not sure what to make next socks are always the answer. Small, useful, portable projects with endless possibilities to be tried. I think the real trick though is that they take a relatively standard weight and thickness of yarn so I never have to worry about getting the right pattern/yarn combination, I can just grab a ball from my box, find a pattern that tickles my fancy and away they go. 

Where they're all going though I'm not sure as I still only have one pair of hand knitted socks to call my own, so my latest pair - these ones are for me.

Pattern: It's Tea Time from Around the World in Knitted Socks by Stephanie Van Der Linden
Yarn: West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply in Nutmeg.
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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Wall Building

Where best to start blogging again than a project that's been going for almost as long as The Urban Cottage, and was finished just last week. We have a lot of projects around here that are half finished. Some tucked neatly away in a corner waiting for the right moment while some are deliberately left where we can't ignore them until they've been there long enough that that's exactly what we do. Some take forever in the planning stage, and some linger endlessly in the finishing stages.

This particular project has been all of those and more! Three years ago we were offered a large quantity of stone that we decided was just the thing for replacing a hedge we weren't particularly fond of. We sat it in an unused corner of the drive "temporarily". It's also been three years since we bought a set of lavender plugs to go in a new flower bed we would build with the stone and gave them a temporary home.

Skip on a bit to last summer when we moved all the stone onto our patio, sorted by size and shape. It took over the area somewhat! Then the old hedge came out thanks to brute force on Joe's part, and it was time to start being constructive. By the end of the summer we'd successfully put in the two smaller walls that now form flower beds alongside the drive, and had made a start on the main wall that will divide the front garden from the back. Progress at last.

Once more the project lay dormant, this time for a just a few months. Wind, rain and generally winter got in the way.

And then it was spring again. Looking at what to do next we decided it was more important to get the plants in place and finish the construction around them, than leave them in their rather overgrown temporary home any longer. The beds got a good filling of muck and grit and the lavender finally got space to breath. We also popped in quite a few allium bulbs that had been in the conservatory all winter and were starting to sprout. Both are showing excellent signs of new growth already which is very pleasing.

The last few weekends have been just right for a final push. Joe's steamed ahead and I think we can now say that is is done. All in all this has definitely been a successful transformation.

There's so much more to do in this area of the garden and we're both really excited by the blank canvas that this wall has given us. The phrase "courtyard garden" has been bandied about, sometimes accompanied by "Mediterranean"; we'll have to see where our ideas take us with this one.



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