Saturday, July 14, 2018

To the Edge of the Planet…The Outer Hebrides: Part 2, Eriskay and South Uist

On to South Uist by ferry...

All the Hebridean Islands are connected by ferries. Our lodgings were in old thatched buildings with 34-inch-thick walls. There are three of these hostels in the Outer Hebrides and they are run by the Gatliff Trust Foundation to provide shelter for travelers—especially walkers and bikers. We would stay there for 5 nights enjoying the peace and quiet. 

Tommy, the hostel warden’s husband told us that he could trace his ancestry on the Hebrides back to the 1300s, and that a great, great, great….aunt on his mother’s side was the Flor MacDonald who smuggled Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Isle of Skye dressed as her maid.

Cathy walked along the coast of the island of Eriskay from the ferry dock and decided to stop in at the American Politician Pub (named after the ship that ran aground here during World War II carrying a load of whiskey of which the villagers took full advantage!). It was early for lunch, so Anne, the nice server had some time to knit a few rows of garter stitch and talk about being raised on the Hebrides. 
A warning to heed on the causeway between Eriskay and South Uist.
We would meet this family of cyclists in the evening at Howmore Hostel. 
Cathy continued our walk north and across the causeway to South Uist until we reached the Hebridean Woolshed, a remarkable studio and shop run by Denise Bridge.

The shop sits right next to the highway in front of Denise’s home and is self-service: “Make your selection and bring your payment up to the house.” 

The shop is beautifully laid out and features a nice selection of Hebridean yarn
as well as hand-spun and hand-dyed yarn. 
Decisions, decisions. Cathy finally chose a couple skeins, both of which came from the croft that the Bridges work. The black is shearling (lamb) Hebridean wool and the gray is a mix of the Hebridean and Cheviot sheep that are raised on the croft.

When Cathy walked through the luscious walled garden (even in late winter!) to the house to pay, Denise welcomed us in to her studio and added some garter stitches using her own Beínn Sgíathan gray yarn. The name comes from the hill where the sheep graze.

Before we left, she took us to the side of the house where there were some new-born black Hebridean lambs. One was being sequestered in a trailer with its mother. Its twin had died and Denise brought them in from the paddock for a day or so to be sure they bonded well before returning them to pasture.

Cathy had us all ready to leave the next morning and then at the last minute, she decided that we should stay an extra three nights at Howmore. We were mostly here by ourselves and it was so very peaceful! She took a local bus to visit the local Kildonan Museum that several locals recommended. There were some nice exhibits about the Harris Tweed that the Hebrides are famous for. But the highlights for me were Carol and Angela, who worked in the museum’s craft shop. They were delighted to add some lace (Carol) and basketweave (Angela) to me.

Returning to our hostel on the bus, the driver took an unscheduled detour. Cathy was curious but did not say anything. Shortly, the driver pulled over and peered into the field. In a minute, he reached for his phone, still peering intently into the distance. “That ewe is lambing,” he said. Cathy could barely pick out the sheep, but the driver dialed a number, engaged in a short Gaelic conversation, hung up, and continued down the road. In a minute, we passed a house and the driver pointed to a woman who was jumping into her SUV, “That’s the farmer.” These people look out for each other and their animals, even when it means the bus deviates from route and schedule!

That evening, Betty, the warden for the Howmore Hostel visited with us and added a 3-stitch ribbing using some of the “postbox red” Iona yarn. Nice!

The next day, Cathy took a hike up the coast and around some nearby lochs. On the beach she found razor clam and urchin shells which she thought might inspire some future knitted colorwork: 

Here are a few more images that will help you understand why it took us so long to leave Howmore:

Next stop: North Uist and Berneray

To the Edge of the Planet…The Outer Hebrides, Part 1: Barra

I have a name!

I have now been officially christened! It took long enough, but I am sure Cathy was just waiting for the perfect name to come along. And it did…while she was hiking on the Island of Barra on the Outer Hebrides. She reports that it was on one of her most memorable hikes of the trip that inspiration struck…my name had to be a Scottish one. We had spent so much time in Scotland and so many people from so many backgrounds here had knitted on me:

  • Fiber artists in Haddington 
  • A whiskey aficionado and extreme long-distance runner in Glasgow 
  • In front of the Scottish Parliament 
  • At the Edinburgh Yarn Festival 
  • In the extreme north of Scotland on Unst in the Shetland Islands 
  • In hostels and pubs and trains and ferries 
  • Over coffee and tea and beer 
  • In lots of yarn stores 
  • With knitting and spinning groups 

And even more were to come before we would depart this friendly and welcoming country. So, Cathy decided that I had to have a very Scottish name: Hamish!

I love it…“Hamish”…it fits…thank you, Cathy! I love you!

(Okay, Cathy had to stop and cry now a little bit....)

(You can read about that stunning hike here.)

The first few days on the Outer Hebrides became very special for Cathy.  

On the ferry ride out to Castlebay on Barra Island, we met a remarkable group of people who where also on a knitting and spinning odyssey of their own: Norman Kennedy, Robin Baird, and Margaret Bennett. Norman and Margaret knitted away, adding to my length on that ferry ride. You can read more about their very special visit to the Hebrides and how Cathy got invited to help with a wool waulking here.


At the spinning workshop, Norman showed Cathy  a new carding technique that helps you create softer rolags that are easier to spinespecially if you want to draw out long drafts.

Jean Campbell added some
rows of red moss stitch
while visiting with Cathy
at the Spinning Workshop.
We stayed at the Dunard Hostel for four nights in Castlebay, where the ferry landed. 

Overnight on April 5, a furious storm broke with extremely high winds and rain. In the morning, everyone at the hostel hunkered down and hung out in front of the coal stove in the common room. A great time for knitting and writing for Cathy. About mid-morning, a stalwart family of five (Dad and four children) from England almost literally blew in the door. They were traveling by bus, train, and walking—no car. They were camping on the stormy beach and nearly got blown away. They had walked almost two miles to arrive at the hostel and were wet, hungry, and cold. The hosts helped them get comfortably warmed up and settled, and then we got to know them. The oldest daughter, thirteen--year-old Florence, said that she knew how to knit, so YAY! 

Cathy got this sweet photo of Florence while Beatrice, her  sister Beatrice, looked on. 

Later David, their dad, reported to Cathy that after we left, Florence went down to the local general store in Castelbay and bought some yarn and needles. On the ferry back to Oban, she taught Beatrice how to knit and David sent a photo of Beatrice’s first knitting pattern—a hat for her puppy! Welcome to the wonderful wide- and wild-world of knitting, Beatrice!  
Photo ©2018 by David Job
The torch is passed…

Monday, June 11, 2018

Iona, the Magical Isle

Oban makes a great base for exploring many western islands in Scotland. Remember this photo from back on March 22, taken from the window of Cathy’s hostel room in Oban? Well that is a CalMac ferry returning from some beautiful island. They come and go all day long from Oban’s harbor. 

Now we were finally going to board one to spend Easter weekend on the magical island of Iona. After a 50-minute ferry ride to Mull, we boarded a bus to take us to the southwest corner of Mull, where Cathy got off about two miles from the port town of Fionnphort. She wanted a chance to take a short hike on Mull to the tiny settlement at Camas Tuath. 

Returning to the highway, we walked the remaining two miles to Fionnphort where we boarded a tiny ferry for the 10-minute ride to Iona. On the way, we encountered some Scottish Highland cows in the middle of the road and they would not move, not even when a car came through. They just stared at us through all that hair. 

I especially liked this caution sign as you enter Fionnphort. 

It was a little over a mile to the hostel, so we stopped at the Iona Abbey along the way. The two receptionists there were very friendly and since Nellie could knit, she took the opportunity to add some rows to me. Both she and John, who is also in the photo, were really taken with me. John was disappointed that he did not know how to knit because he really wanted to add some rows as well. But Nellie, bless her heart, wrote in my journal: “I am honoured. This is the first time I’ve picked up knitting since being diagnosed with MS and I dare say I will pick it up again.”

The Abbey was intriguing. Founded in 563 by the monk Columba, it became the center of a very important monastic system in Britain. 

One thing that was very interesting to us was all the sculptures on the walls, graves, and crosses. If you look at them closely, you can see where the ideas for Aran style cables in knitting came from.

Cathy would like to come up with some patterns based on these sculptures.

One thing that impressed Cathy was the fact that Columba taught his monks to engage and work for the benefit of the wider community. In 1114, the site became a Benedictine Abbey, based on the “Rule of St. Benedict” of “pray and work.” Today it houses the Iona Community, a world-wide ecumenical community with a strong commitment to peace and justice issues. It has a very long history of supporting the world outside its walls. 

It is also believed that the Book of Kells (currently housed at Trinity University in Ireland) was produced here.

We walked on to the lovely small Iona Hostel. It is part of a small working farm and is situated between two knolls and cannot be seen until you are right upon it—very private and peaceful. 

We sat in the common room from which we could watch some incredible sunsets and the mostly-Hebridean sheep gather to be fed twice a day. 

The next morning, Cathy and I made a bee-line for Iona Craft Shop where we found knitters and yarn! Although most all sheep in the British Isles are now raised and bred for meat production, there are still groups of people who are working to preserve fiber animals and local wool and yarn production. Iona Craft organizes a cooperative, so the island farmers have a market for their annual shearings. The sheep here are mostly Hebridean, Zwartbles, Texel, and Blue-faced Leicester, along with some crosses. Coop workers choose and combine the best fleeces to go to a mill in Derbyshire, England to be custom spun and dyed. This means that the yarn can vary from year to year and it is a mix of wool from different breeds. But it is ALL labeled “Single Origin” meaning that no wool was added that was not raised on Iona. The only way to purchase their yarn is in the shop on Iona or through their on-line store

Becca, a shop employee added some of their natural grey yarn.

A bit later, Noor stopped in and propped herself on a stool to knit on me as well! She used some of the Rosedean Ryland grey wool.

 While Cathy waited, she chatted away and took some lovely photos of the store and their yarn. And then, in walked John, from the Iona Abbey! He lives on Mull and it was his day off, but he loves Iona so much that he often comes over to visit even when he does not have to. Iona Craft is one of his favorite haunts.

Cathy purchased a hank of Aran weight yarn in a gorgeous “Post Box Red” color. Later, she even allocated some of it to the stash that my contributors can choose from.

Leaving the Iona Craft Shop, Cathy decided it was time for a hike. We were full into lambing season in Scotland and everywhere you walk in the country you are delighted with these oh-so-darling hopping and nursing sweethearts.

We crossed a very old golf course and Cathy interrupted a lone golfer to ask him about it. She got a fascinating history which she shared on this Facebook post. (You don’t have to use Facebook in order to see the post.)

It had been a windy and cold, but clear, day. Cathy was very tired when she returned to the hostel.

Laura, another guest was a knitter, so she added a nice bobble stitch to me using some of the Aran yarn Cathy had purchased in Galway a while back. They talked for about two hours and Laura invited us to visit if we ended up in Berlin. 

We had to leave early the next day (Easter Sunday) to be able to take the only bus from Fionnphort to the ferry terminal on Mull. But it was another beautiful clear day.

Upon arriving at Fionnphort, who did we bump into talking to the bus driver? John! From the Iona Abby! These kinds of things keep happening to Cathy on her travels! 

Leaving the bus at the Craignure ferry terminal, Cathy crossed the road to wait in the visitor center for the ferry. As she walked out to get on the ferry a brisk wind came up. When she reached for her Aran hat, she discovered that she had left it on the bus!! She had knitted that hat on Inis Mor last winter and it was very special. Skeptically, she asked a bus employee at the bus stand if there was any way she could retrieve the hat. Good thing that she did…he pointed down and across the road to the bus garage and parking area. “It’s just over there.” He said she had plenty of time to run and retrieve it before the ferry left, so she dropped her pack (and me!) and raced over. Her bus driver saw her approach, and with the usual Scottish smile and helpful attitude, pointed toward the bus saying that he had found it and left it on the driver’s seat! Was she relieved! Not only was it a very special hat, but she need THAT HAT…she had some cold, windy days coming up in the Outer Hebrides. 

On the trip back to Oban, Cathy reflected that it had been a very magical weekend. There was not any one thing that she could remember that made so, but there was just a feeling about the place that moved her.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Recording Stash and a Return to Oban

After the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Cathy remained in Berwick for another week. She got some hiking in along the northeast coast of England and celebrated her 64th birthday. Unexpectedly, some other guests at the hostel surprised her with a little birthday cake in the evening. She was delighted, to say the least. 

She also spent some time organizing and categorizing all the yarn and other fiber she had accumulated so far on the journey. I think that was a good idea. She decided to ship most of it home to be held safe by her friend Emily on Vashon Island. It was taking a lot of room in her bag and she needed that room for me, because I had grown so much! Also, there was a chance she would forget what she got and where it was from by the time we get back to the States—which may be in another year or more! I swear, she just doesn’t know when to quit all this roaming around! But I’m not complaining—I am meeting lots of great knitters and spinners! 

She did a pretty good job of making up sample cards for each purchase and taping them in her journal—I thought that was an excellent idea! 

She also photographed some hats she had made while traveling. These would go back to Ireland to await our return there. They had been made from wool she bought in Ireland. 

On March 24, we returned to Oban. We would use that as a base for traveling to the Isle of Iona and the Outer Hebrides. Cathy snagged a train ticket to take us all the way across Scotland. When she first started our reservation, it looked like the ticket was going to cost over £40, but Cathy has learned that sometimes if you buy each segment of the journey separately, you get a better fare. She got our ticket down to £13! Nice job!

We settled into our same room in the Oban Youth Hostel as usual…with the bay window overlooking the comings and goings of the ferries. And a couple days later, a funny thing happened…

The room we were in was designated a women’s dorm and it had six beds. We never know when another traveler will show up. Cathy was working at the little table by the window when she noticed from the window a big bus disgorging young people. This would probably mean we would be getting new roommates tonight. Since she just had on her tights and a sweater, she decided it might be nice if she greeted any new arrivals more properly dressed, so she put on a skirt. Imagine her surprise when seven (count ‘em SEVEN) cute young college men walked into the room. Imagine THEIR surprise. She laughed and quipped, “I think reception made a mistake, this is a female dorm. Besides, there are only six beds, so unless one of you is sleeping with me…” They laughed nervously, some blushing, and the last one in the door took the opportunity to leave by saying he would go down and “check on it.” Cathy told them she was sure they would be moving to another room and then began to chat with the remaining six. She managed to get in her regular spiel about how she was looking for knitters. “Do any of you knit?” she asked. Five of them immediately turned to one and pointed, “Michael does—he’s always knitting; he has his knitting with him!” Sure enough, a grinning Michael pulled out a big ball of red yarn and knitting needles.
So, Cathy pulled me out! All their eyes about bugged out of their heads. Cathy told him that he just HAD to add some rows and Michael readily agreed to meet her down in the living room later. About that time, Ross, the receptionist from downstairs, came in and was wondering what Cathy was doing in room 104??? So, Cathy was actually the odd one out—she was the one who had to move. Never mind, she had found a knitter…Michael and Cathy ended up knitting together and talking for a couple hours that evening. Just think…they would have never met if seven male students had not “mistakenly” wandered into Cathy’s female dorm room.

Next stop: The Isle of Iona for Easter Weekend

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It’s the Edinburgh Yarn Festival!

Yes, that is snow in the photo!
Serendipitously, Cathy learned that the world-famous Edinburgh Yarn Festival happened to be taking place the following weekend, March 16-18. She regularly “googles” for knitting groups for me wherever we are traveling and this time the Yarn Festival popped up on the screen. Oh WOW! Oh WOW!

Berwick was only a 40-minute train ride from Edinburgh, so we kept our room in the very special youth hostel there and “commuted” by train both days that we attended the festival. Cathy loves trains and will choose a train over a bus almost any chance she gets. Maybe one reason is because it is easier to knit 
on a train—you don’t have all that wobbling around.

On Saturday, we got to the Festival site about a half hour early joined the throng waiting in the snow. Yes, snow! The organizers took pity on us and opened the doors 10 minutes early. Inside, it was not long before we were warm—the sheer volume of people kept it warm.

There were stalls upon stalls of yarn merchants and in two other large rooms were tables upon tables of knitters and crocheters.

Cathy spent a couple hours visiting vendors and deciding what to buy and then sat down to meet knitters and hand me around. Boy was I a hit!! I grew 8 inches during those two days.

On Sunday of the Festival, there was a special event: Meet the Shepherd/Shepherdess. There were only about ten hand-picked farmers exhibiting their own lines of yarn. It was a less-crowded affair and gave folks a chance to meet these dedicated and hard-working people.

Cathy spent some time with Dan and Rosemary Champion of Rosedean Ryelands located near Dundee, Scotland. They have recently begun to market custom-milled yarn from their Ryeland sheep and it is truly beautiful. Dan was the knitter and Rosemary, the farmer. Dan had just recently learned to knit and was already turning out socks! Cathy was amazed…his stitches were so even—not at all like a beginner’s. (I think he may have been pulling her leg!)

He was particularly taken with me and enjoyed knitting some rows using some of their luscious yarn.

Dan gave Cathy a couple skeins of their 4-ply Ryeland wool which they designed as sock yarn. Cathy promised to make a pair of socks with it and test it for durability. Before we left, Dan invited us to come visit their farm. Unfortunately, we never made it there—yet another reason to return to Scotland!

Cathy barely got back to the hostel before she began working on those socks!

Cathy also visited with Suzie of Lammermuir Wool. She creates a limited edition of Shetland wool yarn from her farm east of Edinburgh. She showed Cathy some samples of the one-ply laceweight yarn knitted up. There is quite a bit of lanolin left in the yarn, making it feel a little stiff in the skein. But, one of the samples had been washed, resulting in a soft, comfortable fabric. Cathy purchased a skein to try. Suzie was very busy with visitors at her stall, but she was able to knit a few rows for me.

For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed in the huge marqee (tent) and Cathy passed me around to more knitters. Yay!

Here is Cathy’s “loot” from the festival. I think she made some great choices, even while sticking with her plan. She even came in under budget at £86! 

That unspun fiber is a blend of Bluefaced Leicester wool and silk. Cathy reports that is spins up on her Turkish spindle like a dream.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Maybe if I am good, Cathy will bring me back next year!