Party in the UK, eh?

I just got back from the biggest trip of my life. Almost a month in the UK and Ireland, coinciding with a big milestone birthday.

It was a teaching trip, which meant a lot of pre-planning and arranging, and it also meant that I got to meet more knitters from places I hadn’t been to before. This trip, I went to Wales, Scotland, Ireland and ended up in London. A really nice itinerary.

Let’s start with Wales. Wales [specifically West Wales] is the home of my friend Brenda and her partner, Tonia. Hub and I got to know them on the Sea Socks cruise in 2008, and we’ve been close friends ever since. We’d even travel with them — and that says a lot.

Brenda learns to use Instagram while waiting for tea to brew

I arrived in Wales the day after my 21st anniversary with the hub, and with a bunged-up knee that [frustratingly] plagued me the rest of the trip and is still not right (a little acupuncture a few days ago is helping, though).

I spent the run-up to P3 on Brenda’s couch, knitting and watching Downton Abbey right from episode 1. I fell in love with their cat, Jasper, who is now my cat, or at least Brenda allows me to believe this, which is a kindness.

Jasper, my cat who lives in Wales.

We took day trips to nearby towns where the streets are paved with cobbles and everyone is nice to you, whether they’ve met you before or not.

Smack dab in the middle of town, history. I love the UK.

It’s true. Everyone is nice in Wales. Hub and I want to live there.

Brenda took me to Cardigan, where the opportunity for puns was rampant, but the cardigans were scarce. She took me to visit the most beautiful Castle gardens; even at the end of its season, it was exquisite:

Huge plants, with Brenda there to show they're taller than peoples!
faery ring?
I have a thing for water lilies. Water lilies in a Welsh castle pond? Swoon.
Me, being a tiny elf. (I'm not fooling anyone, am I?)
Take that, Downton!

Brenda and I had decided that, instead of me teaching a simple afternoon class in Wales, she and I should plan a lace-knitting retreat where we could both teach. So we did. We called it Plug+Play in Pembrokeshire, or P3 for short. As the week went on and the retreat was fast approaching, we had a few little loose ends to tie up. This one was the most fun: packing the goodie bags!

Brenda sorts the yarn, provided by AlishaGoesAround, Anzula and Indigodragonfly, destined for the P3 goodie bags...a delightfully challenging job!
Boxes and boxes of well-stuffed goodie bags

And then it was time to drive to Beggars Reach, home of the P3 retreat.

The view from our classroom. Not too shabby.

14 knitters joined us from the US and all over the UK in a beautiful Welsh country setting, and we had an unqualified blast.

We talked about my Plug+Play lace principle and applied it to shawl design. We brainstormed over graph paper [they call it squared over there], stitch pattern books, and lots and lots of tea.

Lian, Karen, Laurie and Kathleen, making lace magic happen at P3 (look at the backdrop for our learning environment)
Vandy sits back and examines her work in progress

We learned how to put lace into a sweater pattern without tearing your hair out. We exchanged US/UK comparisons on expressions, holidays, customs, traditions. We bonded over Downton Abbey and Doctor Who. We ate yummy foods, including a traditional Sunday dinner (at the traditional lunchtime).

Roast beef with potatoes and Yorkshire Pudding (the veg came soon after, in heaping bowls)
Pavlova for dessert. I knew I should have ordered it.

We knit a lot. We laughed even more. We had the most wonderful time.

the knitters of P3

A few accounts of what it was like from the participants’ perspectives can be found at the pages of Catherine and Kathleen, and the video that Laurie took.

Leaving was hard. We were super-tired, but the good kind of tired that happens after something important goes well and you did your best. Brenda and I talked about next year the whole way back, and Tonia put up with us. She’s good like that. We talked about the people and how much we’d miss them. It was a pretty fabulous first retreat.

So yeah, next year, in some form. I promise details when they are available.

After that, there was little time left in Wales for me, which started to elicit physical responses. I was already homesick for it and hadn’t even left yet. So Brenda popped me back into the car and off we went to Hay-on-Wye, in search of this place. I was so surprised to have missed it last year when we were there, and was determined not to let it happen again.

I also had a short booky wishlist: I wanted an Arnold Bennett Penguin paperback and maybe something sailing-y for the hub. Both of those were easily achieved in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, a place I wanted to move in to and never leave:

This is a BOOKSHOP, people. Can you stand it?

But no one had heard of Merchant & Mills. No one. Until one sweet shopkeeper offered to use her phone (our mobiles were useless in town for some reason) and call them. Turns out, they’re not in Hay-on-Wye. They’re 20 miles down the road. Cough, cough. Unimpressed with this marketing tactic (labelling your shop as coming from somewhere posh when it actually isn’t), we headed to the home of solace, Shepherd’s. Where we had what may go down in my lifetime as one of the best lunches ever. It looked like this:

Ginger ice cream with lemon polenta cake at Shepherd's.

Brenda and I are still talking about this. Yes, ice cream, cake and coffee for lunch. What of it? (Did I mention that the ice cream was made from sheep’s milk? Because it was.)

The last day in Wales was meant to be me and Brenda and Tonia booting about Cardiff, seeing Doctor Who sights. But with my knee as it was, we chose another day of relaxing on the couch, with much icing of knee, knitting and lots of Jasper love.

This was my view all afternoon. You tell me YOU could resist this cat? It's impossible.

And then off I went to the Cardiff airport, where I met my new best friend: Bulmer’s Pear cider. I would spend quite a few happy evenings with a glass of this stuff as the trip went on. (I’m not much of a drinker, but I do like cider.)

Yummy. I don't usually get on planes a bit tipsy, but this time....

 And we’ll leave the trip here. See you next Thursday for installment 2, which will include my next stop Scotland, and Ireland, which followed soon after!

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22 thoughts on “Party in the UK, eh?

  1. colleen

    thank you for the great pictures. what a wonderful trip. has made my grey boston morning much brighter.

  2. Bekah

    Know what’s really cruel? You remind me about Merchant Mills just weeks after I get back from London – where I had tea upstairs from one of their stockists (and actually *looked in the window* of said stockist!) – and NOW I wish I’d made time to go in… Oh well, guess I’ll have to go back. Good thing hubby enjoyed the trip. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  3. Joy

    How fantastic! I’ve only been to Wales once (also my first time to the seaside), but it seems so nice. I’d love to spend some more time there. The bilingual signs everywhere are also so cool.

  4. Fiona Ballard

    How utterly delightful, with the exception of the dodgy knee, of course! I used to live in Shropshire, then went to university in Aberystwyth, but now live on Vancouver Island. Your post and photos were a lovely reminder of the good things we left behind.

  5. Kristi ~ Artsea

    I love it all!!! Thank you for sharing!!! I was wondering how the workshop turned out! Glad it was a success. I wanted to go soooo bad, but this was not my year. I know this is a tough question but…Can I ask how much one should estimate/plan on financially? Flights from the us included? I’d really like to start planning now for next year. I’d love to hear from you: naturally.artsea@gmail (dot) com

  6. Whitney

    I went to Wales 12 years ago, before I was a serious knitter, and have been longing to go back ever since. Now I REALLY want to go back.

  7. Kate

    Thank you so much for sharing! The pictures were great! I would love to go on a similar trip but it just isn’t in my cards. I really appreciate your sharing this with all of us.

    Can’t wait for next week!

  8. Cheryl

    What a wonderful trip. I think I’ll add Wales to my trip for Spring/Summer. I can’t wait for the next installment. We are going to Scotland, Ireland and London (again) and I want to see where I should go now that I’m a knitter.

  9. HelenK

    What a great trip! and thanks for posting so much detail. It will help me as I plan to visit Ireland next year.

  10. Meg

    I’d like to submit my resume for personal valet/ travelling yarn schlepper and meal taster, (you know, just in case).

  11. Leigh

    THANK YOU for the lovely pics and trip recap. I live in Oregon, but wanted SOOOO much to go to the P3. Maybe I’ll figure out how to rationalize the trip next year. Your Elf Self and Senor Jasper are both adorable. 🙂

  12. Lael

    I am so jealous! I have never been to Wales – but love the rest of the UK – and then you go and mention Doctor Who on top of all the knitting and food and quaint bookstores!

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