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 BrendaÂ 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.
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 nowÂ myÂ cat, or at least Brenda allows me to believe this, which is a kindness.
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.
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:
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. SoÂ we did. We called itÂ Plug+Play in Pembrokeshire, or P3 for short. As the week went on andÂ 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!
And then it was time to drive to Beggars Reach, home of the P3 retreat.
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 itÂ squaredÂ over there], stitch pattern books, and lots and lots of tea.
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 overÂ Downton AbbeyÂ andÂ Doctor Who. We ate yummy foods, including a traditional Sunday dinner (at the traditional lunchtime).
We knit a lot. We laughed even more. We had the most wonderful time.
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 yearÂ 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 thisÂ 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:
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:
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.
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.)
Â 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!