Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Rayrigg Hall

This is a wagon wheel of Niddy-Noddies, on sale at PYF

Rachael Matthews of Prick Your Finger fame had, earlier this year, shown me a niddy-noddy and how to use it. Little did she know at the time what my relationship with a niddy-noddy was going to blossom into.

Since January I have become the fastest niddy-noddier around. I also have phenomenal niddy-noddy stamina. It may not look hard, and it's not!, but it can be stressful on the back, leg and arm muscles. Once you've niddy-noddied for 12 hours straight (as I did earlier this year) you'll know exactly which muscles I mean! Especially if you have a bad back in the first place.

Jan 2012

As my skill with the niddy-noddy progressed and as my hunger for things to niddy-noddy grew, I queried where the large factory skeins of wool I had been processing came from and when more would be coming. The answer was "Rayrigg Hall".

Rayrigg Hall is a Grade II listed house on the shores of Windermere. It was the home of abolitionist William Wilberforce while he scripted the wrongs of slavery and is now the home of the Matthews family. Across from the main house lie a series of barns, stables and office spaces. In one of the old stable blocks there is a treasure trove of yarn waiting to be niddy-noddied.

And so a plan hatched. I asked Rachael if I could be locked in the barn and left to niddy-noddy the whole lot. The answer?


I was invited to spend a long Easter Weekend with Rachael and her family.

I packed my globetrotter, met Rachael and her brother Monty at Euston Station and embarked on what turned out to be not an entirely niddy-noddying adventure...

At Oxenholme we were duly met by the debonair Mr. Matthews (creator and designer of the Made by Dad range at PYF, and upon arriving at Rayrigg itself we were congratulated by the truly inspirational figure that is Mrs. Matthews. After a cup of tea and a chat around the medieval fireplace in the old part of the Hall, Monty and I slipped into our bathing suits and went off for a dip in a fairly cold Windermere before supper was served.

The menu: imagined and brought to fruition by Mrs. Matthews was outstanding at every level. Each meal was fresh, ingenious, nutritious and delicious. Her meals are an attack - in the MOST pleasant meaning of the word - on all the necessary senses involved in eating food; tantalising smells wafted out of the expansive kitchen and paraded through the corridors, visual treats of multi-coloured vegetables heightened the appetite and increased the expected pleasure of tucking in, and, finally, the flavoursome blends and unusual concoctions served to keep ones stomach on its toes and eager for more at every meal time.

On the first morning of our Easter Weekend I was the first one up, shortly after 8 in the morning I slipped down from my medieval attic bedroom, along the hallway into the newer part of the building, descended the main stairs lined with genuine halberds, out of the garden door and onto the frosty lawn to get a swim in before breakfast. I had decided to go without shoes and simply run across the lawn to the cove in bare toes. A frost had fallen in the night and the ground was icy cold. Jumping into a chilly Windermere upon reaching the other side of the lawn was in fact a welcome relief in comparison to the coldness of the grass!

After breakfast Mrs. Matthews packed a lunch (along with some of her spectacular home-made elderflower cordial) and off we went in Bubble (Mr. Matthews' car) to take a wander up Conniston Old Man. Our troop was made up of Rachael, Monty and myself. As we ascended Conniston, Rachael spotted a goats skull which I retrieved for her and is now in her shop in London. I took a quick turn inside the mines and brought out a handful of icicles to put down our backs and cool our foreheads. Just under the Old Man's brow is a tarn. Here, Monty and I plunged in and had a swim before tucking into cupfuls of Mrs. Matthews Scotch Bonnet Soup. Looking up at the trail to the peak of our mountain we saw to our dismay that it resembled Dante's Inferno and as such we wended a path off the beaten track and went straight to the ridge between Conniston and Wetherlam, from here we commanded a view of Morecambe Bay, the Isle of Man and the coast of Scotland near Dumfries. On Wetherlam's peak we stopped for more hot elderflower and gobbled up the two slices of cake that had been designated to each of us, and at her base Monty and I swam in the reservoir before we all headed back to Bubble and from there headed home to Rayrigg.

The days adventures were slightly marred that evening by both Rachael and I coming down with what we later decided was mild heat exhaustion. Rachael was hit harder than I was and sensibly went off to bed to relax and rehydrate. I stayed up and was absolutely thrashed at chess by Monty.

Friday and Saturday are now a blur of swimming in the lake, splitting and moving logs, painting estate signs and, most importantly, playing epic amounts of scrabble with Monty Matthews. Monty is a scrabbleing god, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for markedly improving my game. So much so that when I played a game recently I was so far ahead of the other three players that despite being stuck with the "Q" and the "J" by their devious tactics to prevent me from winning and as such having 18 points knocked off my score, I still won!!!!

On Sunday I was finally shown the long awaited, and dreamed of, barn of yarn. A happy handful of hours were spent merrily niddy-noddying away till a call from Monty asking if I wanted to go for a swim and play some scrabble came and, as it was close to dinner anyway, was joyfully accepted.

On Monday morning Monty left us to return to the Scottish highlands and I ensconced myself in the barn. I came out for lunch, went straight back to the niddy-noddy, came out for a swim before dinner and dinner itself, then went back to the niddy-noddy; finishing only when I was called in for bed around 9pm.

Tuesday morning gave just enough time to get in one last swim, thereby fulfilling my wish to have swum every day that I was at Rayrigg, before packing and stuffing yarn into a 72 litre rucksack became the order of the day. Once the bags were packed and we had stuffed three un-niddy-noddied skeins into the rucksack along with the 80 odd skeins I had niddy-noddied we jumped into Mrs. Matthews estate car and were whisked off to Oxenholme.

Reaching London, Euston I insisted on walking back to PYF with the rucksack of yarn. 

Thus ended my Rayrigg sojourn.

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