Friday, 20 October 2017

Happy Hebridean Wool. . .

Unlike my Shetland trip where I knew I'd have many opportunities to squish and purchase wool, my Hebridean holiday was planned guided walking within a group environment.  We were staying in some isolated B & Bs and we were going to be out walking all day i.e. during business hours, so  I thought the chances of coming across any wool would be fairly minimal and I was completely okay with that.  However, wool just seems to find me!

If you are ever in Ullapool on a Saturday, there is a small but delightful outdoor market set up in the parking lot across from the Ullapool Bookstore (also worth popping in).  And in this market are two wonderfully enthusiastic women originally from Harris, who take the Harris wool (that gets woven into the tweed) and ply three different colours together to create 100g balls of gorgeous marled yarn that knits up as an aran weight.  We arrived in Ullapool just half an hour before the market closed and since we had a couple of hours before the ferry to Lewis, I was just able to purchase some.

Doesn't this yarn look perfectly at home  in the Harris landscape?  I haven't decided yet whether to knit or weave with it.

Our second accommodation was a lovely hotel in the town of Tarbert on Harris.  And just five minutes away was the Harris Tweed shop.  It was closed when we arrived but again, as luck would have it, our ferry the next day wasn't until 11am.  So our guide arranged for a weaving demonstration.

This is Sean, the youngest in several generations of weavers in his family.  He's been winding bobbins since he was a small child at his grandmother's feet and he loves tinkering with these old weaving machines which are not only very fast with lots of complex components, but are quite noisy too. Here, he is weaving in a demonstration room but most weavers have these in their homes. He also told us that the cloth he weaves here actually can't have the Harris Tweed label attached to it; only tweed woven in the homes of Harris weavers can get that special designation.  Amazingly, there are only 192 weavers on Harris who supply all of that lovely fabric that is then sent around the world.  Sean donates his demonstration tweed to the local primary school in the hope that he'll inspire a future generation of weavers, but also some designers too.

I knew we were pressed for time and what you can't see in the photo above are the many shelves filled with huge bolts of the most gorgeous Harris tweed.  I was quietly miming to his assistant to cut me various lengths so I could quickly pay for it before we had to dash.  There was a huge cardboard box with some skeins of wool in it too.  How could I resist?

Here is my little haul.  It's fully my intention to improve on my sewing skills over the next couple of months. I certainly won't be cutting into this precious stuff for a while yet, but very much hope that the brown/burgundy/blue tweed will some day become a handmade skirt. Maybe with mustard or teal lined pockets.

Across from the weaving building was the Harris Tweed store where they sell clothing, bags, scarves, and all manner of items made out of tweed.  I unexpectedly found the coat of my dreams. It was a bit of a naughty purchase but I knew I would have regretted it, had it not come home with me. It will last me for years. so I see it as a great investment piece.

One of the places I had secretly hoped we would get to on this trip was Uist Wool. They had a lovely booth at last year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I just love everything about their backstory - the passion to re-invigorate the wool industry on Uist and pay the crofters a decent price for their wool, and their creative aesthetic and experimentation when it comes to their yarns, all of which are undyed, but offer an incredible choice in terms of colours, textures and blendings.  Their business flyer has a photo of Eavel on the back and I wore my Nuuk sweater, knit out of their Reothart wool, when I climbed it the day before.

Uist Wool was located fairly near to our last hotel. The night before our last day, I asked our guide if it was possible to visit but he said the planned walk was a long one and we wouldn't get back in time.  The next day however, the weather was too windy and he changed our itinerary to drive to Eriskay instead. So at breakfast he told me we could stop by on the way.  Only we were leaving at 9am and it didn't open until 10am.  Drats.  Of course I told him to skip it as the walking was more important.  At the end of the walk there had been plans for a pint at the famous Politician Pub, but when we got there, it was closed for the season!  Which then freed up about an hour, which then allowed us to get to Uist Wool just before closing!  Hooray!  And it was such a lovely store.

Four of us in the group were knitters and all of us had been so struck by the beauty of the Hebrides that falling for souvenir yarn wasn't hard (we all bought lots of yarn).  I went for all the dark Hebridean colours.

And so a trip that was primarily about walking, also turned into a celebration of wool too. It was made all the more special by having seen the sheep, and walked many miles of the landscape that had not only inspired the colours but contributed to the smells and textures too.  You can't get better souvenirs than that.  Now I just have to wait for colder weather to wear my new coat!

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Hebridean Holiday Day 5: A Walk on Eriskay. . .

On our last walking day on the Outer Hebrides, it was really windy so our leader cancelled our intended walk up another high mountain and instead, we drove to the tiny island of Eriskay and did a lovely coastal walk.

The water was such a stunning shade of turquoise. That little green covered island you can see below is apparently where the SS Politician of Whisky Galore fame ran aground.

On the eastern side of the island is a lovely coastline full of rocky and mossy inlets.

And of course the water is all around you.

With great views over to Skye.

The largest hill is only about 186 m, but we climbed it for the view.

From the top you can see the causeway that connects Eriskay to South Uist.

And in the other direction you are looking towards Barra.

This is the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie first came ashore to try and regain the British crown.

I thought it was the perfect place to sit and knit for fifteen minutes.

This beach also has excellent shells - I love the textured pattern on this one.

We then walked back around the western coast, where again the water was full of a multitude of colours and the beaches were full of interesting treasures.

And back near the van was this lovely field of montbretia.

Every part of the Hebrides is different and has its own unique beauty.  It was a stunning place for a walking holiday and these five days were more than enough for me to fall totally in love with the landscape; it's a place I definitely want to return to and there is so much more to explore.  The Outer Hebrides also has its own unique wool and textile history (it is the home of Harris Tweed of course) and though I never expected with this group holiday to get any shopping in at all, fate often has a way of putting wool in front of me, so I definitely did not go home empty-handed.  More on that in my next post.

Monday, 9 October 2017

A Hebridean Holiday Day 4: In Which Eavel Goes Straight Into My Top Ten Walks of All Time. . .

On our fourth day, we headed to North Uist, first taking the ferry to Berneray (which is connected to Uist by a causeway).  The water was like glass.

We could see our afternoon walk in the distance - Eavel, the highest hill on Uist. It's the triangular one almost dead center in the photo below.

Here's a close-up from the start of the walk.  I call it a walk, but it was more like a march as we were pressed for time, having only about four hours to complete it.

The first obstacle was getting across the stepping stones. Our guide tested it out first and thankfully held my hand at several slippery moments.

At one point I thought I'd confused mountains because I couldn't see how we'd get to the bottom slopes with so much water surrounding it.  But no - that is Eavel and the only way to climb it, is to go around the edges of this lake.  At a march.

Getting closer. . .

And now we're on the climb proper, looking back at the edges of the water we needed to travel around.

It was clear early on, that this was going to be a spectacular climb.  Every moment I stopped to catch my breath and looked around me, I gasped at the beauty.  This is looking east towards the Minch.

And here are the magnificent views from the top. I can't capture it in the photos (and the wind was blowing something fierce at the top - I could barely hold my phone steady) but towards the west we could clearly see the outline of St Kilda and we had great views of Skye to the east. Plus the incredible watery landscape just below us.  It was incredible - I've never seen anything like it.

But all too soon, we needed to head back.

And one last look back as we neared the end at about 5pm.  Despite the speed we had to hike, I absolutely loved this walk. Eavel is definitely not the most challenging of hills (it's only 347m) but I have never seen a 360 degree view like it. This was without a doubt my favourite walk of the holiday. Everyone else picked the heights of Clisham, but for me the views are everything.  I only wish we could have stayed at the top longer.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A Hebridean Holiday Day 3: In Which We Climb the Highest Mountain on Harris. . .

I've been bed-ridden with that change-of-season virus that seems to hit every autumn so it's taken me a little while to get these posts up, but now that I'm on the mend, it's really good to look back and to remember feeling healthy and alive out in the fresh air and hills of the Hebrides.  Our third day started out promising and we headed for Clisham - the highest mountain on Harris. It's a fairly steady plod up, again over boggy and muddy ground, but because it's a popular walk, there actually was a path to follow.

From the top we were just able to get views looking east, including our previous day's walk up Toddun (that bump just to the right of center), before the clouds rolled in.

This is the top of Clisham where there wasn't much visibility and it was windy, but at least we could see where we were placing our feet.

It then cleared up slightly for lunch - this is the view looking south-east.

And the view of where we are headed - a horseshoe ridge veering off to the right. We needed to climb down and then up again first though.

Not much to see here.

It cleared up a little after we came down and we could look back and see where we'd walked.

Then a long walk back over bog - as colourful as it is, it's still very hard on the legs.

And the final view before heading back to the van.  This was a tiring walk for me - we were out for about seven hours because it's such slow going through the bog. 

While it had been quite drizzly on and off throughout the day, about five minutes before we reached the end,  it started to pour. So no beach today, but I was quite happy to get back to the hotel and a nice hot shower.   For the next post - my favourite walk of the trip.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Hebridean Holiday Day Two: In Which We Climb Toddun and Visit Yet Another Gorgeous Beach. . .

Our second day of walking started with a quick visit to the Callanish Stones which are older than Stonehenge.  Some archaeologists believe that the setting of these is organised around the lunar, not solar cycle, and that some of the stones are placed to line up with the trajectory of the moon;   a "re-gleaming" can take place at certain times of the year as the moon rises, goes behind a mountain and reappears in a gap on the horizon.

The stones are beautifully weathered and very impressive within the surrounding landscape.

We then drove further south to Harris where we parked and then started to climb Toddun. It seemed a rather plain, boring hill from the road.

But when we got to the top it we all gasped!  The views were just incredible. Over to the left, you can just see the hazy outlines of the Shiant Isles (the islands that Adam Nicholson talks about in his book The Sea Room), and if it were a bit clearer, you could also see Skye.

Sea, sky, incredible clouds and magical light were fast becoming the themes of our Hebridean walks.

And the view behinds us towards the mountains wasn't too bad either.

We came down off Toddun and climbed two neighbouring hills.

I just love this grellow landscape.

Here we are on the third hill, looking back at Toddun in the cloud.  We also saw a stag and several deer in the distance but I was too far to get a decent photo.

Again, after the walk, we ended up at another stunning beach.  This is Luskentyre Beach and it goes on for miles. Lots of white sand and deep teal water with  mountains in the background.  It was extremely windy though and the sand was getting in our eyes.  No wading today, but completely awed by the wild beauty.