Monday 30 July 2018

On the sunny side of the street

I promised you a break in the holiday posts, telling you about our flea market adventures instead. So, true to my word, here's a little update of what we've been up to.

In addition, I also wanted to show you some of the outfits I've been wearing since coming back from holiday.

Ever since our return, the thermometer has gradually been climbing  towards the high twenties, occasionally flirting with the 30°C mark, until last week we reached quite unbearable temperatures, into the mid thirties and more!

But let's not talk about that, and the resulting head-scratching moments in front of my wardrobe, yet!

Before it got really hot, I was able to give Gisela's frock an airing.

She'd sent it to me back in March, and I immediately envisaged wearing it on a day exactly like this one: a warm and sunny Summer's day, which unfortunately I had to spend at the office!

For one, it's a cool and comfortable cotton! Additionally, I love its fresh green stripes, its asymmetrical closing with the prettiest diamond shaped mother-of-pearl buttons and - last but not least!- its pockets! It is a tiny bit roomy on top, but that's actually a bonus in this weather. I cinched it in at the waist with a bright blue belt and chose accessories in green and the same shade of blue as the belt, adding a sailing boat brooch for good measure. My footwear are the green jellies I picked up in Chester!

Then, two weeks ago on Sunday, there was our neighbourhood's annual flea market. It was the second year we were participating, taking a pitch just outside our front door, rather than just browsing.

I'd been making use of every spare moment since returning from holiday, checking boxes and bags full of redundant clothing and ironing the most crumpled items, as well as looking through my wardrobe for any additional things I was ready to part with.

Doesn't that rack full of colourful frocks, skirts and blouses look enticing? They're just the tip of the iceberg and all I had space for, unfortunately.

I also put together a display (actually a pasta drying rack!) of necklaces and a box full of bracelets and rings.

On Saturday, I weeded out my vintage Barbie stuff, deciding to put most of my vinyl cases up for sale, and making neat packages of outfit doubles. I also included three vintage dolls. Apart from the boxed doll, a Fashion Queen dating from 1963-65, which I happened to have double, the two others were flawed rejects from my collection, which were eventually replaced.

Lastly, we dived into the basement (a mercifully cool place!) to look among the stuff we no longer use or display, for viable candidates to sell.

The day started early: we got up at 5.30 and less than an hour later, we were setting up our stall.

I made quite a substantial sale very early on, when someone picked up my most expensive doll, the  Fashion Queen, who came complete with her original outfit and three wigs on a stand.The same person also bought the two vinyl cases I'd put out on our table. I was being nice and threw in two outfits for free.

In quick succession, we sold our small wall hanging coffee grinder, a child's embroidery set in a cute vinyl case, and some other, smaller stuff, but apart from two blouses my rack of vintage clothes only seemed to be drawing the flea market equivalent of window shoppers.

My friend Ingrid and her husband paid us a visit, at which point I hauled out a behind-the-scenes box full of blouses for her to rummage through, which afterwards I left open at the back of our stall.

After a quick circuit of the market, things seemed to get going at last, with several ladies not only looking through my rack of clothes, but buying as well, often making multiple purchases. When people started taking an interest in the box full of blouses, I had the brainwave of putting all my remaining stock, consisting of several bags and boxes, outside for people to rummage through. Best decision ever!

Leaving Jos to hold the fort, I made two more forays myself, but it was really too hot to browse.

Nevertheless, I still found a couple of things!

This cat tin, a bit worse for wear but delightful none the less, was bought from a lady I used to commute with, who had a stall further along in our street.

I also picked up several necklaces, while the two brooches below were a gift from one of our neighbours, as a thank you for Jos fetching her her daily newspaper. He's got quite a fan base among the village's ladies of a certain age!

Finally, this deadstock pair of leather Salamander shoes found its way into my collection. I think they were well worth the € 10 price tag!

Back at our pitch, a young Dutch girl, who was visiting with her parents, was in seventh heaven after spying my clothes and, encouraged by her Mum, left with a huge bag full of stuff.

Meanwhile, it had become very hot at our little pitch and the garden parasol we'd lent from a friend was no longer adequate to protect us from the sun.

This antique parasol, which we brought back from a charity shop in Wells, Somerset, back in the early noughties, and which has been living in our hallway ever since, brought some solace.

Jos's daughter came along on her e-bike, and was kind enough to assist me when things became a bit mad.

Apart from my vintage clothes, which sold like hot cakes, I couldn't keep up with the vinyl Barbie cases, which almost sold faster than I could put them out.

Near the end, I hopped over to the stall across the road, where a nice lady was presiding over quite a large pitch all on her own. She'd bought a vintage bathing suit from me (this one here), and this is what I bought from her.

This vintage Avon scent is prettily packed in a bottle shaped like a hand-held mirror, with an actual mirror at the back.

I was unable to find an exact date but my guess is that it is late 1960s, early 1970s. The bottle is still almost full: I couldn't resist having a little sniff, and it smelled quite nice in my opinion. Not that I will be using it, mind you. I'll keep it purely for display.

In spite of the hot weather, the flea market was a success, so we will probably do it again next year.

I was tired (and sweaty!) at the end of the day, though! But, before hopping into the shower, I wanted to give you a proper look at the maxi dress I was wearing, picked up at one of the newly popped up vintage-per-kilo shops in Antwerp.

As it's buttoned all the way on the back, you either need help or be a contortionist to put it on!

I'd taken photographs of some of my favourite stuff so, the next day, while I was folding it all away, I made note of what was left.

I was surprised that these didn't sell:

Bright floral maxi skirt, floral St. Michael's frock and summery sailing boat skirt

On the other hand, it didn't take long for these three to go:

Before I leave you, I'll show you what I was wearing later that week.

This lightweight, lined frock, with its primary coloured abundance of flowers, was a gift from Vix. With so many colours to choose from, I decided to use as many of them as possible for my accessories.

Apart from the yellow belt, blue plastic ring and blue-strapped watch, all items are either vintage or new-to-me, from various charity shops and flea markets: blue plastic beads, yellow wooden bangle, orange carved plastic bangle, blue faceted plastic bracelet and blue and pink flower brooch.

Surprisingly, I didn't pick anything green ...

Oh, and what does one do when not out vintage shopping? Well, read about all its do's and don'ts in this fantastic book, a most wonderful gift from Lynn!

Taking my flea market frock to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Additionally, I am taking my blue and green outfit to the Modish Matrons linkup, joining Beate, Natalia and Tina for the first time!

Thursday 26 July 2018

A town full of surprises

Near the end of our first holiday week, the weather was on its best behaviour, so on Friday, we were ready for a visit to Shrewsbury, the only town of any significance in this most rural of counties.

Shrewsbury is Shropshire's county town and it was founded by the Saxons and extensively developed by Tudors. It really has it all: a river, a castle, spires, an abbey and lots of half-timbered medieval houses. In fact it boasts over 600 listed buildings! What's more, it quite magically lies within a giant loop of the river Severn.

Among the many leaflets and brochures in our cottage, there was one advertising the town's Park & Ride service, so that was our parking problem sorted.
The nearest of Shrewsbury's Park & Ride locations was a drive of just over half an hour on quiet country lanes, including a long, single track one aptly named Long Lane! After reaching the main road and negotiating an awkward roundabout, we finally made it to the car park, where the bus was just leaving, so that unfortunately we had a twenty-minute wait.

The leaflet mentioned that it was £ 1,60 per person, but the driver declared that we were a small group, and only had to pay £ 2,50 for the both of us!

The bus crossed the English Bridge, one of the town's main bridges, expertly negotiated the town's narrow streets and dropped us off at the Square, from which we made our way to the tourist information centre to pick up some more leaflets, including a town trail.

Standing tall in the Square is a statue of Robert Clive, also known as Clive of India, who later became MP for Shrewsbury and then Mayor in 1762.

Our next quest was getting two leftover £ 10 notes exchanged, which had become obsolete since our last visit, so we hopped into the nearest bank. Unwilling to help us since we didn't have an account with them, they directed us to the post office.

Following directions and trying to get our bearings at the same time, we eventually reached the post office, which was situated in the basement of a well known bookshop. But the journey had been a futile one, as here too they refused to exchange the notes. Giving it one more attempt, we went into the bank immediately opposite, where a kind lady took pity on our plight and gave us two shiny new £ 10 notes. Result!

As we were now at the other end of Shrewsbury, near the castle, we decided to investigate and, following an uphill path and some steps, we emerged onto a cobbled area, a romantic little tower, built from the same red sandstone as the castle itself, in its right hand corner.

The tower was built by Thomas Telford in around 1790 on the castle motte for Laura, the daughter of Sir William Pulteney as a summer house, and rather unimaginatively named Laura's Tower.

Across the road is Shrewbury's library, formerly Shrewsbury School, where Charles Darwin, the town's most famous son, was a pupil between 1818 and 1825. Darwin's statue has been standing in front of the library since 1894.

The castle itself houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum, but as this isn't our cup of tea, we retraced our steps and followed our noses through the steep narrow streets and alleyways of this utterly captivating town, abandoning any itinerary we had in mind.

"It takes a little exploration on foot to reveal the delights of this medieval town" ~John Betjeman

Well, we were in good company then!

Then there are Shrewsbury's Shuts and Passages: a unique maze of narrow alleys which criss-cross the town centre and are part of the town's medieval street plan.

The spire of St Mary's is one of the tallest in England. It dates from Saxon times, with additions from the 12th Century onward. Inside, the atmosphere is peaceful,  with soaring stone arches and glorious stained glass, including the famous 14th Century Jesse window.
Lifting one's eyes upwards, the wonderful 15th Century carved oak ceiling of the nave, with a profusion of animals, birds and angels, can be admired.

After a restorative cup of coffee, we walked into the direction of The Quarry, once a  stone quarry, but now a 29-acre parkland lying between the town centre and the river. Claremont Hill, with its steep incline, should have brought us to the park's main entrance.

On our left, and facing The Quarry, St. Chad's Church's, with its distinctive round shape and tower, appeared, and we entered its leafy churchyard.

The church dates from 1792, and was designed by George Stuart, who also designed nearby Attingham Park, which we would be visiting later. Charles Darwin was christened here in 1809. In the church yard lies a mysterious gravestone, bearing the name Ebenezer Scrooge - this is a prop left over from the filming of  "A Christmas Carol" in 1983.

It was late afternoon by then, and our feet were starting to kill us. As it was clear that we hadn't even scratched the surface of all that Shrewsbury had to offer, we decided to return the next week. The Quarry and the river would have to wait!

And so it was that on Tuesday of our second week, we made a return visit.

The temperature had climbed to the high twenties by then, and a boat trip seemed to be an excellent idea.

Named after the water nymph who supposedly guards the River Severn, the riverboat Sabrina travels along the river loop, from the Welsh Bridge to the English Bridge and back again.

Looking at Shrewbury's town map, it is almost an island caught within the loop, which inspired the poet E.H. Housman to write in "A Shropshire Lad":

"High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam, Islanded in Severn Stream"!

I've had a treasured copy of "A Shropshire Lad", a cycle of sixty-three poems first published in 1896, for years, and find it utterly moving.

The Sabrina is cruising the loop six times a day, on the hour, so we decided to have an early lunch, and try and catch the one o'clock sailing.

There was a Wetherspoon's nearby (in fact, there were two, but we opted for the Shrewsbury Hotel over the modern Montgomery Tower branch), so that there was no competition, really.

After lunch, we sauntered towards the landing stage, and almost saw our plans thwarted as there was a huge queue. Apparently, they were a group who'd booked in advance but, as long as we didn't mind sitting in the back of the boat, we were welcome to come on board.

We cruised at a leisurely pace towards the English Bridge, at the other side of the loop, where we turned around.

On the way back to the Welsh Bridge, we were regaled with historic details and anecdotes by the Sabrina's skipper, whom I suspect is dabbling in amateur dramatics, as well as being a budding comedy genius.

One of the intriguing facts we learned was the origin of the name Shrewsbury and, by extension, Shropshire. Shrewsbury began life as Scrobbesbyrig and Scrobbesburh in Old English, which has several meanings including "fort in the scrub-land region". This then mutated into Sloppesberie, which became Salop or Salopia (an alternative name for both town and county), and into Schrosberie, which eventually became the town's name, Shrewsbury.

Although Shropshire residents are still referred to as "Salopians", Salop however is also used as an alternative name for Shrewsbury, with which it also shares its motto of Floreat Salopia.

And even though Salop immediately put us in mind of the pejorative French word salope, we weren't about to point this out to any Salopians!

Back at the Welsh Bridge, we followed the tree-lined towpath following the river as it winds its way along The Quarry, passing the ironwork Porthill Foot Bridge. This connects the town centre and The Quarry with Porthill, providing easy access to the Boathouse pub on the other side of the river. The bridge vibrates significantly, even even when only a few people are crossing it, and I felt a quite dizzy just standing on it for a minute or so.

Soon we made our way across The Quarry towards The Dingle, which lies at its heart. This is an enchanting sunken garden landscaped with alpine borders, bedding plants, shrubbery and water features, designed by the legendary Percy Thrower, who must have been the UK's first gardening celebrity.

I left Jos sitting on a bench in the shade and went exploring, but the place, delightful as it was, was a heat trap and baking hot so, after doing a short circuit, we returned to the river's towpath.

Shortly afterwards we turned left towards the town centre, meaning to explore the Town Walls Tower and Shrewsbury Cathedral, but by this time it was quite sweltering in the town's sun drenched streets, so any further sightseeing was cut short.

Instead, we dived into a café for cakes and Cappuccino, before returning to the Park & Ride bus stop.

To be continued, but in my next post I'm interrupting my travelogue for flea market adventures!

Sunday 22 July 2018

Where fragrance, peace and beauty reign

On the Thursday of our first holiday week, we were delighted to wake up to blue skies and sunshine, and what's more, the weather forecast for the next week or so was looking particularly splendid: it seemed we were in for some gloriously sunny days.  Knowing the fickleness of the weather, we hoped they were right for a change!

This meant that I could finally wave goodbye to my floral trousers, lovely though they are, and start wearing my frocks.

Admittedly, it was still a bit chilly in our valley, so I needed to add a cardigan and my jeans jacket for now, but here's how happy I felt to be wearing one of my beloved frocks again!

This one, a dusky pink Crimplene number, printed with a yellow, orange and green flower print, is making its debut on the blog, as it was a fairly recent find from Think Twice.

We were off to Wales again, to visit a National Trust property near Wrexham, called Erddig. And no, the double "d" isn't a typing error: it's a Welsh name, and it's pronounced "Erthig"!

This property had been on our list of places to visit ever since Jos read about it in this wonderful book published by the National Trust, which goes behind the scenes of some of their properties, offering an in-depth look at the domestic arrangements in large country houses.

As we were only about an hour and a quarter or so away (we'd passed signs to it when we we driving up to Chester), this was our chance to put it on our itinerary.

Widely acclaimed as one of Britain's finest historic houses, Erddig is a fascinating yet unpretentious early 18th-century country house reflecting the upstairs-downstairs life of a gentry family over 250 years.

The atmospheric house features an impressive range of outbuildings, including stables, a smithy, a joiner's shop and a sawmill.

As the house itself only opened at 12.30, we had a look around these first.

After lunch, we walked to the front of the house to admire its long, creeper-clad façade. The wings at each end of the central block were added by John Meller, a rich London lawyer, who bought the property in 1714.

Since that point, nearly all of Meller's original interiors have been left intact.

On his death in 1733, unmarried and childless, the property went to his nephew, Simon Yorke, and the house was subsequently passed down through generations of the Yorke family.

The house is entered via the servants’ entrance, a nod to the unusual nature of the relationship between upstairs and downstairs at Erddig.

Servants' bells (top left and bottom right), a glimpse into the Butler's Pantry 
(top right) and a very early pedal powered vacuum cleaner (bottom left)

The Yorke family seems to have regarded their servants with real affection and recognized them as individuals to be celebrated and recorded for posterity. As a result, there's an astonishing number of servants' portraits at Erddig.

Early 20th century ice box with instructions to use

Through a unique collection of paintings, printed documents and even poems, the Yorke family created an unmatched record of domestic life in a stately home, detailing who their servants were and how they lived.

The oversized bug you can see among the freshly ironed linen on the bottom right (below) is a moth, and is part of the Erddig Bug Bonanza. Ten of these huge creepy crawlies were lurking in the house for visitors to spot, each one drawing attention to the damage they can cause.

The Yorke family were hoarders and hardly ever threw anything away, and each of their 30,000 plus objects, handed down over the generations, has a story to tell.

In the early seventies, Erddig was on the brink of ruin. The last Squire and only remaining heir, Philip Yorke III, had inherited the crumbling Welsh stately home.

As the Bersham colliery runs underneath the house, erosion had caused it to subside 5 feet (1,5 m), to the extent that, without underpinning, it would have become a ruin. The huge responsibility weighed heavily on Philip’s shoulders (he was, after all, the last curator of his family’s home with its unique collections) and eventually, in 1973, he handed the house and its contents to the National Trust, who faced their biggest conservation challenge at that time.

The contraption top right is a 19th century free standing shower
which worked with a hand pump

Erddig Hall is set within a 1200-acre country park.

The gardens and parkland were largely the work of landscape designer William Emes, who worked at Erddig from 1768-1780.

Emes created gravelled walks, planted many trees which are still thriving today, and manipulated the flow of water across the park through a series of cascades and weirs.

Emes also designed the unusual "Cup and Saucer" water feature, the "cup" being a hole in the middle of a large disc (the "saucer") into which a flowing brook disappears creating an internal cylindrical waterfall. This system quickly lowers the brook, preventing erosion.

Nearby, an Hydraulic Ram pumped water up to the house to storage cisterns in the roof of the house. The distinctive thud of the mechanism became known as the "heart of Erddig". The water is still used today to power the fountains in the garden.

Emes also incorporated into his designs some of the early earthwork features at Erddig, for example the remains of the 11th Century Motte and Bailey castle, now only witnessed by raised earthen mounds covered by trees.

Several walks around the estate are laid out, all starting from the dovecote, which you can see in the centre of the above collage.

We chose the 1-mile orange one through Big Wood to the remains of the Motte and Bailey.

Following the orange markers seemed very straightforward, until we came to one which at first had us stumped, as it was pointing in two directions. Then we clocked that we'd arrived at the motte and bailey and that we were supposed to walk around it, which we promptly did ... in the wrong direction!

Back at the house, we finished our day with a cup of coffee in the tea garden, planning to return in a year's time for a longer walk in this quiet oasis.

* The title of this post is a quote from Philip Yorke II, who inherited Erddig in 1894.

I'm taking my pink dress to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!