Friday, 22 September 2017

A Hebridean Holiday Day One: A Walk Along the North-western Coast of Lewis. . .

Just when I thought there couldn't be a more magical place than Shetland, I was lucky enough to travel to the Outer Hebrides on a walking holiday. Whew - another absolutely gorgeous place, bigger, higher, rockier and more dramatic in terms of its landscape than Shetland, but just as fascinating a place to explore for its history, culture, archaeology, textiles and of course walking.

We met our guide in Inverness and drove to Ullapool to catch the ferry to Stornoway, seeing dolphins along the way which was quite exciting.  We arrived mid-evening and our lodgings were still a 45 minute drive away so I didn't see anything of Stornoway apart from the ferry terminal.  Our first walk was on the north-west coastline of Lewis, just south of Gallan Head. It was rainy and misty when we first set off, so although the area was bordered by mountains, I couldn't see much more than this (still colourful and dramatic in its own way)


As we made our way towards the coast, our guide pointed out the beach on this bay called Camas Uig. You can see it as a thin line of white sand in the center of this photo.  In the dunes behind this beach, the famous Lewis chessmen were found.


The coastline is beautiful - rocky, stormy, full of cliffs and interesting rock striations. The waves and foam are relentless and the water is inky blue and deep teal.


We were lucky that the weather started to clear up after lunch, although, as I was to learn early on, you can easily get three or four seasons in one day up in the Hebrides.  I wore my over trousers and windproof coat every day and never regretted it or got too hot.  Walking in the wet is just fine as long as you are prepared for it.


This landscape reminds me a lot of the east coast of Canada.


Hard to see in this photo, but in this little inlet, we stumbled among a group of curious seals bobbing up and down in the water - you can just see three tiny heads still there.


Of course I never get tired of sheep-spotting either.


Or getting inspired by all the natural colours. Rocks are never boring in north-west Scotland.



By the end of the walk, the mountains were now distinct.

And there was the first of many rainbows that we saw on this trip.


Before heading back for dinner, our guide asked us if we'd like to visit a beautiful beach.  Umm, yes please!


The water was freezing.  My toes were getting numb at this point.


But it was not a problem for my fearless friend Sal who plunged right in and had a swim. I think the temperature was a balmy 13 degrees.


It was a great start to the vacation, but oh my. . . there is so much more amazing scenery to come. . . .

Thursday, 14 September 2017

In Which Crochet Saves the Day (Yet Again). . .

Though I am primarily a knitter, I will always be grateful to my friend Sue for showing me how to crochet. I'm still a beginner and I don't do it often enough to find it intuitive so I'm quite slow and always counting stitches, but I always get great satisfaction out of it and it has so many uses, beyond just the granny square.

A case in point:  A few months ago, I popped a set of curtains into the wash and they shrunk.  About two inches.  I was really disappointed as I love the fabric but they no longer looked good in the room.

But then I found a skein of Rowan Creative Linen in a very similar shade of yellow to those pops in the pattern. I threaded a needle and did a row of blanket stitch, then picked up a crochet hook and worked a couple of rows in simple motifs, ending with a little picot edging.


And here is the final result (minus the ironing I need to clearly do).  I think they look very sweet now. Very chuffed.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

When the Wind Stops Blowing: A Walk Up to High Cup Nick. . .

One of the iconic walks in England that everyone says you need to do at least once is High Cup Nick. It is part of the Pennine Way and starts from the little village of Dufton, in the Eden Valley, just north and east of the Lake District. Ideally, a sunny summer's day is the best time to tackle this walk, but some days you just can't choose the weather.  It looked a bit iffy when we started, but we had done the drive, and so on we went.


This is quite a popular walk so the path is well marked and wide.  This is on the way up, looking back towards Dufton and Dufton Pike.


Unfortunately, the mists and low cloud really started to roll in as we got to the big view, with only the briefest of breaks.  Visibility looked grim, so reluctantly we decided to cut the walk short and return the way we had come.


We stopped about fifteen minutes on the way back to eat lunch. The wind had dropped and lo and behold, the skies started to clear.  That's Merton Pike across the valley which was completely hidden when we started to eat.


So we decided to go on as intended.


And got the full view this time!




We then continued our walk along the other side of the valley.


I love all the colours in the moorland at this time of year.


We walked a mile or two over the moors towards Merton Pike.


Here it is in front of us, just begging to be climbed.



So we did, and here is the view from the top - looking towards Dufton Pike, near to where we started our walk.


We descended into the village of Merton and then it was a four mile walk back through fields to Dufton.  Here is another view of Merton Pike from the other side.


In total it was about a twelve mile circular walk and we were very lucky that the scheduled rain didn't start coming down until we were back in the car and headed home.  It's a lovely walk, even under grey skies, and great to cross this one finally off our list.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Shetland Part 3: Knitting Now. . .

In my last post, I focused on the historical knitting to be found in Shetland's many museums, but of course there is a thriving current knitwear industry as well, and we got to tour a few of the places where Shetland wool and talent is being put to good use.

Our first visit was to the Laurence Odie Knitwear factory in Hoswick which makes jumpers that are sent around the world.


This is a display of just some of the labels they have produced garments for.  I was intrigued to see Simons - one of my favourite clothes retailers in Montreal.  I have bought a number of their wool sweaters over the years - I wonder now if any of them originated here.


The knitting machines are all programmed by computers and here you can see part of a sweater coming out.


One of their staff demonstrated how this sweater was blocked after being washed and shrunk in the industrial machines.

This is a sweater bound for Japan - the customers there actually like this fluffy, felted texture.


It's made even fluffier by going through a machine with teazels attached to agitate the fibres even more.



You can see the difference - the cuff that I have turned up, is actually the inside of the sweater!


We also went to the Jamieson and Smith warehouse in Lerwick and heard the legendary Oliver Henry talk about how the wool is graded and sorted.




Before having a good browse in the shop.


I bought a cone of black J & S jumper weight for a yoked sweater that I'm knitting at the moment. And also got these mitten blockers.


Lerwick is also home to the shop of Jamieson's of Shetland with their famous wall of wool!


They also have a factory in Sandness which we toured.  This may have been the highlight of the trip for me.  We got to see every bit of the process from raw fleece to finished ball of wool,  to machine knitted garment.

Here are the fleeces that have been dyed.  Ooooh, love that fuchsia against the brown.


The wool is getting scoured and cleaned.


And washed again.


After dyeing it is carded.  I could have watched those long strands of fibre twisting and turning all day.


The wool is spun onto cones and then turned into skeins.




And then there's a room full of knitting machines, programmed for fair isle patterns.


There was a huge box full of various bits with flaws. They were selling these by the kilo.  If I'd found two sleeves that matched, I'd have pounced.  These remnants would be great for a fair isle quilt. 


Having seen the raw dyed fleece for the colourway Paprika, I couldn't resist buying a ball of the finished product. It's so clever how very primary colours blend to form this rich, rusty, orange.


The factory in Sandness comes with its own wall of wool, dramatically revealed behind curtains.



I had sworn that I wasn't going to buy a machine knitted sweater but after seeing all the steps in the factory, I then fell in love with the colours of this cardigan.  It is so warm and cozy and was very reasonably priced.  I love it!


There are so many creative people living in Shetland and incorporating knitting into various other art forms. We were lucky enough to stop by Anne Eunson's famous knitted fence, created with big needles and fishing net rope.  She came out for a chat and was just lovely.



I know Shetland will influence my own knitting for many years to come. I'm already planning to knit the sweater on the front of this book.


And I am happy to report that I DID complete my Next Year in Lerwick sweater in time (just) and wore it proudly. When I was wearing it while hiking in the moor land, I could really see the colours in my sweater all around me in the landscape. The brown was the exact colour of the peat; the greens and purples were in the heather and grasses; and the sea and skies were every shade of blue and turquoise. This sweater is so cozy and it really cut out the wind; it's definitely the most challenging but most rewarding piece I have ever knit.


The heather was starting to bloom around the islands and I really wanted to capture the colours in some wool.   Not easy when you see all the purples that are available in Jamieson's but I narrowed the choice down to these - I think I'm going to try and knit a scarf incorporating both fair isle and Shetland lace patterns.


It was truly a wonderful ten days.  I thoroughly recommend visiting Shetland; it's a knitter's paradise and the landscape is truly stunning. Everyone we met was so friendly and kind and relaxed. I loved our tour guide, Andy Ross, who runs textile tours as part of his Global Yell charity - he is embedded in the artistic community and cares deeply about it.  You can find more information about the tours and his weaving studio here.