Monday, April 30, 2018

It's May Eve: and The Old Road is revealed!

It is a long-held belief in Ireland that on May Eve the old roads make themselves visible, winding far away across the boglands, and that at midnight you may see the folk of ancient times travelling them as they did so many thousands of years ago.  Celtic Memory will certainly be out at the witching hour, to see who may pass by.

And what better time for Follow The Old Road to come out!  Yes, the new book is now in the shops and online, and it is my fervent hope that every single person who reads it will go out and explore these old roads too, rediscover how our ancestors travelled from earliest times up to the last century.

Several of you have asked how you can have your copy signed, and I have arranged this with O'Brien Press.  You do have to order from them rather than from Amazon, and make sure to put in the Comments box that you want a signed copy.  Then email me, so I can make sure your name is on there.  You'll find my contact address on the side of this page.

It was hard work researching this book but we did have such a wonderful time doing it, discovering such amazing things and such fascinating scraps of history.  I think one of my absolute favourite pictures perfectly captured by DH was that of the deep grooves cut into the stonework under an old canal bridge.  

Generations of horses pulling boats along the towpath did that.  It was an old man up in the Midlands who told us to go down the bank to the old bridge and we would see them.  I never cease to thank him.  Ever after, we always went in search of them.  And always found them.  Truly tracks of time.

Well, on May Eve, spring seems to be here at last, although it is still unseasonably cold at nights.  The flowers are cautiously emerging, the baby rabbits are playing in the fields, and even The Waif is getting frisky.  

You remember The Waif?  She came to us three-quarters starved and in a very bad way, a few months back.  She still wouldn't win any Beautiful Cat contests, but she is a happier little animal, no doubt about that.  One day we watched her creeping cautiously out into the rockery to enjoy the sun.  Having sniffed all around, she put out a tentative paw and patted a leaf.  DH grabbed the camera.  Next she positively smacked the leaf.  Then, in one glorious moment:

An explosion of happy exuberance!  A leap in the air to celebrate the joys of spring.  I had tears in my eyes.

A day or two later, we were surprised to see The Waif slipping through the hedge and making her way down the field behind the house.  Going back to her gipsy ways?  We hoped not.  Right down to the edge of the woods she toddled, to where dozens of rabbits were watching with suspicion.  She sat there for ages, just calmly observing them.  And then she pounced!

A very young baby rabbit. Far too new to the world to know what was going on.

Which actually wasn't much.  Relax, no baby rabbits were hurt in the taking of these pictures.  Remember The Waif's personal circumstances?  No teeth, apart from one lone canine sticking out at the corner of her mouth?  She held the baby in her mouth for a minute or two, considered her position, and dropped it, deciding to go for a stroll instead.

But the baby didn't want to lose sight of her!  'Are you my mummy?' it enquired plaintively, following her along the edge of the wood.  Obviously it had imprinted on her, albeit briefly, since its genuine mother now emerged furiously from concealment to rush it back into hiding.  And The Waif came peacefully home by the long route.  She had showed them that she was still there, that was the main thing.

New calves have arrived too.  Here Mum is attending to one of the twins while a jackdaw seizes the opportunity to get some nice soft hair from the other, to line his nest.

Every year we wait for this beautiful beech tree to come into leaf.  It was ahead of most of the pack this season, shaking a diaphanous see-through gown of green in the morning sun.

The dogs needed clipping, and that meant a bonus for the smaller birds who wouldn't dare to pluck from the back of even a very little calf.  

Others preferred the tried and tested nice green moss to line their nests.

The primroses are coming out in the orchard,

and Scheherazade is exploring new territory.

De time is wrong on dis sundial!

Yes, of course craftwork is continuing.  When does it not?  This is a shawl in progress called, appropriately enough, Secret Paths.

And here is the current sock in progress from Sock Madness.  Safe Harbor is its name, designed by the gifted Amy Rapp.  It has a most ingenous way of dropping rows of stitches and then gathering them up to make a bee or butterfly.  Lovely.  Out of the competition by this time (the Scandinavians, as usual, are showing Grand Prix speed) but enjoying knitting along nonetheless.

We have been down to Brow Head on the Crookhaven peninsula in West Cork.  They filmed some scenes for the newest Star Wars out on the end of Brow Head, and it was off limits for a while (with all the locals being sworn to secrecy) which was very annoying if it is one of your go-to places for serenity and recovery of resilience) but they are all gone now and it is back to its wild natural state.

The waves were crashing on the rocks at Galley Cove,

but the dogs had a wonderful time.

The state of the car afterwards was another matter.  'My cameras!' shrieked DH in despair.  I keep telling him to use a big rucksack to protect them from sand and seaweed but he likes to have them ready to hand to snatch up when a moment offers itself.

And so, it is May Eve.  Make sure you go outside tonight, even if not to the woods to gather great boughs of mayblossom as your ancestors did.  Look to the skies and the stars, and, if you are near open land, to the ground to see if the old roads are becoming slowly, glimmeringly, visible.  It's up to you if you follow them or not:  just be prepared to accept what happens.

And tomorrow is May Day!  Up on the Kerry border they will be bringing their farm animals to the ancient fort to drink at the well, as they have done for millennia.  Back at your own home, don't forget to wash your face in the dew, say good morning to the first bird you hear singing, and celebrate Beltane, the coming of summer.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

In Which The Spring Takes Its Time But Another Desperate Paw Reaches Out

It seems to have been grey and wet since November, and no end in sight.  Oh the daffodils are pushing up bravely all right, and some of them are even showing faint traces of yellow, but they would be better off staying below ground for a while yet.

Christmas was a frantic rush as usual, with gifts to be finished and posted off.  A very young gentleman was to receive a warm new jacket, with cosy pockets  -

but at the last moment it was felt that this wasn't much of a joy-giver to unwrap under the tree, so Barnabas the Bat was created and went off in the same package.

He was great fun to make from a clever design by Shauna Jared.  The construction of the wings was particularly nifty.  Thanks Shauna!  One gathers that Barnabas now sleeps with his young owner, along with an assortment of other animals.

Ah yes, animals.  You will recall that a beautiful little kitten came to stay recently, having been brought back from almost-dead by a cat-whisperer friend.  She is blooming and full of energy, causing mayhem everywhere.  The two old tom cats have virtually left home until she reaches the age of reason (whenever that may be) and the dogs avoid her as much as possible.  Only Marigold, being nearer in age, administers clouts to the furry head from time to time, 'to put manners on her' as she expresses it.

But, but, BUT:  there is no other explanation for it, there must be a ten foot sign outside our gate, visible only to the travelling feline.  I was called urgently down to the living room a couple of weeks ago where DH had just seen double.  Our black tom, Polliwog struck motionless on one side of the deck outside, and on the other, what looked like his doppelganger.  On closer scrutiny however, it became obvious that this was a female, and one moreover in very bad shape.

Door was opened.  Expected strange cat to flee, but it staggered to my feet and tried to rub its head against me.  Raised huge round eyes in a little round face and pleaded.  Food was supplied instantly, and bolted down.  Clean water was provided and drunk gratefully.

What next?  Let it sit there for a while.  Check it on security cameras every few minutes.  After a while it wandered off.  Oh well, another recipient for the Maeldun Bequest (you will have to check back a few years on the blog, but when a much-loved stray whom we christened Maeldun died, he left strict instructions that there must always be food and a warm blanket in the porch for any stray that might happen by.  An instruction we have followed faithfully.)

But of course I worried about that little female. She looked elderly.  What had happened to a once obviously loved cat?  Had her owner died, that she was now wandering and starving?  When she reappeared later that afternoon, I coaxed her into the little lean-to greenhouse at the back of the house, where she could at least be warm and dry.  Blankets, water, litter tray, food.  She ate ravenously again.  And I checked on her constantly.

But next morning it was obvious she couldn't hold the food down.  Her teeth were in a very bad shape too, as were her claws, torn and blunted from heaven knows what food-seeking stratagems.  Gave in, took her to the vet, had her put on a drip and given as much deworming and medication as her little body could take.

She was there a week.  We brought her home, and she is slowly, slowly, coming back to life. She is clean, infection-free, and her coat will recover in time.  She likes more than anything to sit on a lap for hours, and asks no more.

The Waif

Look, it's easy to fall madly in love with a cute kitten, isn't it?  But what chance does an elderly cat who has definitely seen better days have?  Every time I stroke her little head, try to coax a rusty purr, I think of how she must have been loved and cared for until something happened and she was thrown out into a harsh world to cope as best she could.  Poor little Waif.

Yes, OK, I know we have too many beasties as it is.  Far too many.  We do NOT need another cat.

But what can you do?  For heaven's sake, what would you do?

Now I mentioned that the weather has been gloomy and dark and wet, and although the days are getting gradually longer, you wouldn't know it with all the clouds massing above.  Over in Pyeongchang, they are having far worse conditions with sub-zero temperatures and rather more snow than was strictly required.  But what do you know, Ireland decided to get in on the act last week, and actually produced a light dusting of the white stuff itself!

The animals had mixed feelings about this new phenomenon.  It happens so rarely here in West Cork that they don't get much experience.

Marigold wondering why her paws are cold.

Polliwog boasting that he is a warrior, at home in any conditions.

Paudge Mogeely decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and curled up with the dogs to keep warm.  'Snow's all very well for them as likes it, but me I'm better in the snug so I am.'

And here, against a suitably wintry backdrop, is the start of my own Olympic bid, or to put it more accurately, my entry for this year's Ravellenics.  This, as you may know, is the event staged by the online knitting group Ravelry every time the Olympics take place.  You cast on during the opening ceremonies and then push yourself to the limit to get the project done by the closing ceremonies.  Going to take a bit of work, this one, and the hands are already aching.  It's the Chimney Fire jacket which has a complicated cabled border and acres of moss stitch.  Fortunately, the Continental or picking technique was adopted several years ago chez Celtic Memory in place of the old throwing or English style, and that has made moss stitch or any form of changing from knit to purl far quicker and easier.  Next Sun, Feb 25, it's the closing ceremonies.  Better get a move on.

We did get one semi-bright day and made immediate use of it.  As we drove past the Gearagh, a morning bar of mist was just rising, and we could see the old road, which was there before the valley was flooded, revealed as the waters were exceptionally low.

See the line running across the middle of the picture, just below the line of white mist?  That's the old road.

Oh gosh, can't believe that I forgot to tell you!  It will be out on April 16!  Follow The Old Road, I mean!  De Next Book!  There was a delay while they found a really good cartographer to create the dreamlike and imaginative map which was essential to give the book its final touch, but that's all now sorted, and it will be on the shelves mid-April!!!!!

So excited.  It seems to have taken us forever, what with travelling all over the country to discover the ancient tracks and the forgotten canals and the lost railways and the winding rivers and the invisible sea routes which connected one tiny fishing village with another and with the wider world.  Crumbling railway halts covered with ivy, tiny piers on river banks, ruined abbeys, mysterious lakes, stories of emigration, stories of trade, echoes, echoes, echoes of the past everywhere.  A major job, but what a world it opened up!

But back to the day out.  Took Petroushka down to Inchydoney strand where a couple of exercising horses made a beautiful picture at the edge of the waves.

Troushka absolutely adores a huge empty beach.  She yearns for it, dreams of it in her furry sleep, wails for it on those dark wet days when it really isn't a pleasant idea to go out.  So she was in her element, feeling all her dog days had come at once.

It is the good thing about West Cork on a chilly February day: apart from the occasional horse and rider, you have the place mostly to yourself.

Further west, near Clonakilty, we found that the Great Northern divers (known and loved as loons in the New World) were making the most of our gentler climate for the winter months.

They won't get their brighter breeding plumage until they head north in the spring and you will hear their eerily wonderful calls over the lakes of colder climates.

And here was a last bonus as the clouds gathered once more and the rain was threatening.

Just in front of this stand of trees, where the last rays of the sun were giving some warmth in a particularly sheltered spot, we spotted a tiny dot of russet.  You can hardly see it there in the centre of the picture, so here is a close up, courtesy of DH's magical long lens:

A fox enjoying a quiet snooze.  I like to think it was a female, getting some peace and quiet before the new litter arrives and robs her of such luxuries as me-time for the summer.  It was a gift to us on the way home, and perhaps a reminder that spring really is on the way.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Horrible hurricanes to rampant red deer, beautiful ballet to a Brand New Kitten. It's the Celtic New Year!

The first experience of a hurricane in Ireland in my lifetime, and Celtic Memory profoundly hopes it will be the last.  Folklore records The Night of the Big Wind (oiche na gaoithe mora) back in 1839, but that was more of a European windstorm, and since then the occasional gale is all we have had to worry about.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.  We had heard of the dreadful damage done further to the west, of course, and were concerned for friends up and down the Americas, but such things don't happen here.  When they told us that Ophelia was headed straight for Ireland, we couldn't quite believe it.  Surely it would swerve off and lose itself out at sea somewhere?  How could it aim directly at this tiny island on the western edge of Europe?  But it could, and it did.

Almost the worst bit was lying awake on the Sunday night, in absolutely still, muggy weather, knowing that this monster was tearing up across the ocean towards us, and would be here by morning. It reminded me of that terrifying Dore engraving of a plague advancing on England - do you know it?   Must go look it up.  Got up at one point and looked out the window.  Nothing moving.  Clouds lay quiet and dark across the sky.  The garden lay silent and calm.

It was, oddly enough, a kind of relief when the wind began to get up towards morning.  The actuality is always a bit better than the waiting.  At least you're in it, and getting on with it.

By 9am, things were getting a bit rough, but we still had power, light, wifi.  By 11, the sky was as dark as evening, and the cattle in the field below our home were bunching into a well sheltered corner (facing south west, in the direction of Ophelia, strangely enough, since normally they place their backs to the wind, but they did choose a strong corner with a bank and hedge in front of them as solid protection).  We know and love these cattle.  Eamonn is a big and gentle bull who looks after his cows and is even kind to the skittish young wans.   He knew what to do to protect his flock, and lay quietly down with them as the winds strengthened to a screaming roar.

(Needless to say, this picture was taken in quieter times.  During the storm you wouldn't dare to do anything like opening a window.)

First thing to go was the power, and with it of course the wifi.   Then, quite suddenly, no mobile phone connection.  Those masts must have been damaged too.  We sat and listened to the roaring winds, watched the trees bending in half, and shrank as we heard rattles and bangs from the roof overhead.

Dogs and cats crowded in together for comfort and company. If they kept their heads down, they reasoned, maybe it would all go away.

As eventually, thankfully, it did.  After a couple of hours, we looked at each other.  Was there the very slightest lessening in the sound of the wind?  Was there the teeniest hint of light in the sky?  Glanced out of the window, and there was Eamonn calmly and stolidly leading his harem back out into grazing territory.  Never mind that the rain was still slashing down, that the wind was still whipping the treetops.  His instinct (still there in animals, although we have lost most of it) told him that the worst was over.  Which it was.

Of course that was just Ophelia having passed on up the country to give others a taste of her temper.  The clearing up was to take a long long time.  Over a week in fact, before we had water, power, light, wifi, mobile phone service all up and running again.  The woodstove was kept busy, as was the camping gas equipment, buckets were constantly being refilled from the rainwater butts, and we became experts in creating meals that needed as little power as possible.  But it can be fun dining by candlelight, and you do appreciate the coming of daylight each morning so you can actually see to read or knit or do anything more complicated than going outside for another load of firewood.

One more thing about Ophelia.  That night, after the winds had died down, and all was calm, the sky was ablaze with stars, more than we had ever seen before.  Not only stars, but the delicate sickle of a new moon.  What a perfectly lovely sign to give reassurance.  It took me some time to realise that the reason we could see so many stars was because there was absolutely no lighting from anywhere at ground level.  We live in the countryside, but even so, the lights of Cork and Macroom some distance away are always visible as a glow.  For a brief while, we didn't have that, and were in as good a position as anyone up in the Arctic Circle hoping to see the Northern Lights.  Was happy enough with the new moon and the stars though.

It wasn't possible to knit on anything complicated by candlelight, as others have doubtless discovered before me, but the neglected bright yellow socks certainly came back into favour.

I've been working on these (or rather NOT working) for longer than I care to remember.  My own hand-dyed, a nice merino with a hint of sparkle, in a fairly easy mock-cable and lace pattern that I made up as I went along.  I was knitting these when I met up with my good friend Linda at Wonderwool Wales last April, it shames me to recall.  Really must get them done.

And the bright weather that followed the storm meant things could be washed and hung out in the welcome fresh air.  This is another long-term project which finally got finished, a Shaelyn shawl in hand-dyed mohair and mousse.  Beaded the edges to give the points more emphasis.

Even a couple of quilts got laundered (carefully) and hung out.

And now that there is light to be had at all hours (have you ever thought about how difficult it must have been to read, to study, back before we had electric light on tap, so to speak?  I can tell you it occurred to me more than once during the Emergency), I could at last get on with a second version of the Faro Sideways Pullover.

This time a stash dive revealed two good cones of a fine Scottish lambswool/cashmere blend in dark navy.  Wound 4 threads of that with a single thread of a rather glamorous and equally fine cashmere/sparkle cone, also in navy, which I had discovered at the back of a shelf in Fairfield Yarns outside Manchester a while ago.  You have to keep on the ball with five separate threads, no matter how carefully you try to twist them together, and every now and then there is a loop of one or another to be caught in with a crochet hook, but the overall effect is devastatingly gorgeous.  Another couple of weeks on that one.  It's at the second stage of having so many stitches on the needle that you despair of ever getting a row done. (One of these purgatories as you work the section between sleeve and centre front at each side.)  At this stage the longest possible cord and interchangeable tips are being used.

Some work had to continue while we were powerless, and you wouldn't believe the jigs and reels that were necessary to (a) get a weekly column typed up and (b) somehow transmit it to the relevant editor.  It involved driving many miles until we found a part of the city that had power, then discovering somewhere with a good mobile phone signal, and finally using the mobile phone (charged during the driving) as a hotspot to email the text.  My editor on De Nextest Book was trying to get through by email constantly, to demand amendments, adjustments, rewrites, but couldn't make contact.  She was in London, and apparently hadn't heard of Hurricane Ophelia.  Meant a lot of work when we got back to normal.  I swear I will never take modern conveniences for granted EVER again!

Some things wait for no man, however, and the other day we had to dash down to Killarney to catch the wild red deer at their vocal best, during the rutting season.

This fine stag was letting every eligible female within miles know that he was AVAILABLE and READY. Can you see that susceptible young doe looking up at him admiringly?

When a bulllish male like this decides to trot across the road in front of you while rounding up his willing women, you tend to stand back respectfully and let him pass!

And in complete contrast, had to attend a rehearsal for a new production of The Sleeping Beauty, coming up at Cork Opera House shortly.

These young dancers from all over the world had only just arrived in the city, but went straight into a very demanding assessment class and then on to the first rehearsal, with hardly a break for a coffee and a (small) biscuit.

Don't you just love this picture of a dancer taking a relaxed (!) break while texting her family to tell them she had arrived safely?

And so to the most important event of recent days.  The arrival of -

A New Kitten!!

This is Pawtucket Princess Pocahontas.  Or maybe Minoushka.  Or should we make that Termagant Toffee Apple?  Suggestions welcomed.

No, it wasn't intended.  Really it wasn't.  Three cats were quite enough.  But my friend Eileen, who manages the local veterinary clinic, had this pathetic little mite dropped on her doorstep.  Suffering from meningitis, only able to stagger in circles before falling over, she was in a dreadfully bad way.  The vet and Eileen between them pulled her round, but it was a near thing.  And once I had held that little paw and listened to that brave little resounding purr, I was done for.  DH rolled his eyes, but admitted that she was a lovely little creature.  And so she came to her forever home.

Of course ructions were expected.  Not from Tamzin:  she's a loving little dog and was clearly anxious from the first moment of introduction to make her feel at home.

Troushka is always inclined to be a little bully if she thinks she can get away with it, but even she was impressed by Minoushka's (Pawtucket's?) climbing skills.

I is Number One, I is!

Polliwog touched noses gently, and left for the evening.  Paudge Mogeely raised his beautiful green eyes to heaven and hastily departed to follow Polliwog.  And Marigold, hitherto the queen bee, baby spoiled brat, and Most Important Person, smacked Minou across the face and retired to the bedroom in a major fit of the sulks. So all proceeding as normal.

It's been quite a month.  With knobs on.  But now we are on the first day of the Celtic New Year.  Time to get all your bulbs and seeds planted in the soil, so that they can sleep and gain strength before uncoiling and starting to grow with the spring.  And there is a full moon tonight outside my study window as I write.  A Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Concerning Far Off French Forests, Traditional Farmhouses, and Fabulous Wine Festivals

We went wandering across France a couple of weeks back, eschewing the well-trodden routes and heading for the less known regions. Forests, woodlands, lots and lots of tall green trees were required. When De Next Book is finally on its way to the printers (hopefully not long now) Celtic Memory has it in mind to create one which explores the peace of mind and soothing of the soul to be discovered in the heart of great woods: places where ferns overhang little streams and little holes among the roots of trees might lead to elven dwellings; where hazel nuts and crab apples tempt you to fill baskets, and the silence wraps you in an awareness of another world.

The Ardennes are quite a way from the western ports of France:  it took the best part of two days to get there, but it was worth it to explore this region. Don't know if you're familiar with that area, but France sort of pushes up a little promontory into Belgium, with Luxembourg close by on the east.  I had certainly heard of the Battle of the Bulge but until we got here, I hadn't really realised how the geography dictated history.  The mountains rise high between France and Belgium, with this one narrow gap through which the Meuse flows, the railway line runs, and a narrow road twists along between the two.  And throughout history, if anybody felt like invading either north or south, this was the way they came.

History takes other forms, though, than war, thankfully, and the scenery up along the Meuse was pure delight.

Just look at this peaceful barge purring its way along with not a worry other than the next lock to be negotiated.  Quite a few sections of the river were canalised, where narrow stretches or shallow sections would have interfered with smooth travel.

This is Hierges, a tiny and perfectly preserved old-world village.  The square with its fountain is still cobblestoned, and high up there on the hill you see the ancient castle.  Back behind the original tower, later developments were built on, finishing with a rather elegant 18th century chateau, but all still within the original castle walls. Clearly the lord of the manor had no intention of leaving his domain or the village which lay under his sway.  It was evening when we tiptoed in to look at it, and silently peaceful, but one imagines it gets a fair few visitors by day.  It was easy to feel the atmosphere of past centuries though as the church bell chimed the evening hour softly and pigeons fluttered up from the fountain to a steep tiled roof.

This ancient abbey was breathtaking when it suddenly appeared amid the trees.  It's Hambye, and even its ruins are enormous.  It must have been a hive of industry in the Middle Ages, with chiming bells and singing monks and a busy settlement all around supplying the needs of the monastery.

Stopping at a bend in the steep mountain road, we looked over to the valley below and spied this incredible knot garden which belonged to a semi-ruined chateau.  Clearly somebody was taking very good care of the box hedges at least, whatever about the building.

 And eventually you slip into Belgium without really realising it, and discover the exquisite little town of Dinant which spreads out alongside the river.  Had coffee in a cheerful beer house here, and noticed that the atmosphere was already becoming more Austrian or German in style since we had come further east.

This is Le St Hubert hotel and restaurant in the village of Haybes, about halfway up the little French promontory (can't bear to call it The Bulge).  And if you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in the Ardennes, make sure you stay here, and only here.  Forget bigger towns, swankier inns:  this is the real thing, the France for which you search and so often don't find.  It's small, it's old fashioned, the staff are delightful, and the food is to dream about.  The hostelry has really been there since the 18th century, but unfortunately, due to its somewhat obvious location, has been rebuilt several times, the last around 1947.  War tends to do that, and everywhere we went, we heard or saw evidence of wholesale destruction and rebuilding.  It does bring home to you just what life must have been like for the locals.

But sitting in the cosy stube (well it was a stube by then rather than a French cafe, having a distinctly more German feel to it) drinking local beer and ordering the plat du jour, not bothering to ask what it was since it would undoubtedly be delicious, remains one of my happiest memories, to be taken out and fondled on cold winter nights back in Ireland.  One night the special dish was a simple omelette with girolles - those little yellow forest mushrooms which the chef's wife had picked in the woods only that afternoon.  Pure poetry!

As I said, everything gradually changed as we moved further east (because of course, having enjoyed the Ardennes so much, it seemed only sensible to move right over to the Vosges on the German border).  Houses were different:

Look at this old relic in a village through which we passed.  Original wattle and daub!  I wanted to buy it on the spot and look after it forever!

And this incredible old - what is it - barn, workspace, storage shed?  Did you ever see anything so huge built entirely in wood?  How it has survived one can only imagine.

 Isn't this cart wonderful?  Far more sophisticated than the leiter waggons of Transylvania (and the wheels certainly look as though they would give a more comfortable ride), but still a relic of older, simpler times.

This man had worked out his own way of bringing his goods to market, and wouldn't thank  you for offering him a large noisy lorry instead.  I remember meeting a stallholder at a French market years ago, when a national strike had immobilised lorries and trucks countrywide.  He had simply loaded all his freshly-picked produce on to a trailer like this and cycled it to the village.  'We had to do it during the war,' he said simply, 'and we have not lost the habit.'

DH was quick on the trigger to catch this picture of two small dogs enjoying their morning fresh air in a special little carriage towed by their loving owners.  It's a great idea if you possess a dog that is less nimble than it used to be, isn't it?

The Vosges were breathtaking, tier after tier of mountains rising to the horizon, all wrapped up in dark green furry blankets of trees.  And here life seems almost unchanging.

The very traditional farmhouse of Alsace/Lorraine keeps everything under one roof.  Very convenient in the winter months when the snow piles up all around.  No need to struggle through a farmyard:  just go through from the main living room into the warm snugness of the barn to do the milking and feed the sheep and poultry.  We saw ancient renderings of this type of building everywhere as well as very new ones, showing that the old ways are still considered the best.  Sometimes, when one sees over-grandiose mansions built in the countryside here, where cottages formerly stood, one wishes that we had the same belief in the good sense of older styles.  Yes, certainly indoor plumbing is a good idea, but pillars, flashy electric gates, seventeen bedrooms?  It always looks like a deliberate refusal to admit that our parents were content with simpler ways.

The farmhouse is uber-practical, but in some of the towns, it was like a big book of fairytales come to life.

Just look at this tiny triangular turquoise pet, built exactly to fit the point in a lane where the ways divided.  Isn't it just made for a hobbit?

And this old inn, apparently one of the oldest in the world, at Bergheim?  It's called Chez Norbert.  No, I didn't check if it had indoor plumbing or not.

DH was going mad with his camera, finding one image after another to capture.  See these tiny windows, high up on one of those old houses, each with its own heart-decorated shutter?

And these Pied Piper of Hamelin houses, leaning confidentially towards each other over narrow laneways?  I wanted every single one of them.

As the day was ending, we found the loveliest surprise of all.  A great celebration of the new wine in the village of St Hippolyte - a true fete du vin, where everybody for miles around had come to sit at long tables, sample the dangerously-easy-to-drink new vintage,consume sausages and sauerkraut/ choucroute, and generally have a good time.

  Best of all, there were traditional dancers!  Absolutely the one thing I would have chosen to make the day utterly perfect!

Celtic Memory has a weakness for folk dances.  Well does she remember trying to copy the local gypsies somewhere in Transylvania one hot summer night long long ago.  And, indeed, dancing the czardas in a production of Coppelia, complete with soft suede kneelength red boots.  After these dancers had finished circling and swinging and swaying to the very jolly music, they came down to mingle in the throng and take a rest.  I saw one lady who was beautifully dressed and begged her to let me take a closer look.  Which she most willingly did.

The big floppy velvet bow-hat had belonged to her grandmother, she told me, as had the laced top and the very detailed  embroidered velvet stomacher which went inside the lacing.  She was so proud of it.

She even showed me the correct pantalettes which went under the bright red skirt.  I was delighted!  Note to self:  make an Irish traditional long red skirt immediately, complete with petticoats, and wear on all possible occasions!

Having got as far as Alsace/Lorraine, it would have been disgraceful not to get a sight of the mighty Rhine, so onward we went, and crossed that great river next to a gigantic lock system which was feeding five huge barges through at a time.  This pic might give you some idea of the vastness of the lock:  those boats are but BIG!

A couple of the barges had little dogs on board:  the genuine little schipperke which has been the breed most associated with these canal boats since time immemorial.  It was nice to see the tradition being continued in today's vaster world.  Can you just see that little chap at the top of the ladder there? I was worried in case he fell in, but his impudent confidence showed that he was well used to a life on the water.  As, quite probably, his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather had been.

Of course we crossed the Rhine.  Who wouldn't?  And found a wonderful little riverside cafe where ripe chestnuts split their prickly skins and bounced down on to the table as we sat and enjoyed the view.

Germany spoken this side of the Rhine, French the other.  Great fun.

It was a wonderful trip.  Journeying back all the full width of France was a bit of an undertaking, but we got home safely.  And the memories will remain.  Oh gosh, will they remain!