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!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The End of a Very Knitty Week! Knit, Crochet, and Eat Cake!

As related in the previous post, while I was being passed around in front of the Scottish Parliament, Cathy was finding out about more knitters, spinners, and crocheters in Edinburgh. Frieda told her about a spinning group at the Gorgie Farm and Joan said that she definitely should not miss the knitting and crochet group that meets on Saturdays at the Akva café.

So, on Friday, we attended the Gorgie Farm Spinning Group. This is a demonstration and working farm right in the middle of the city and there are lots of animals and great gardens here. The spinners use one of the community buildings to share their skills.

Check this out! The women used their own handspun for the rows they added to me—oh too very special!
(1) Handspun camel and silk; (2)Moorit handspun by Joan; (3) Gotland handspun from the fleece; (4) Handspun black Shetland from Smaise the sheep who lives on the Gorgie Farm.
And they were FAST knitters. In that one session I grew by five inches! Isn’t that luscious? I am so lucky! 
The Gorgie Handspinners: Kim, Frida, Joan, and Denise 
The next day Cathy braved the cold, windy, rainy streets to make our way to the Akva Swedish café to meet up with the lively Knit, Crochet, and Eat Cake! group that meets there on Saturday mornings. What a GREAT name for a fiber group, don’t you think?

Sarah and Steph used some of their own yarns. Sarah’s was called “Head-over-heels-variegated” and Steph added some burnt-orange acrylic. 

She had been using that chunky yarn to turn out these cute fox wrist warmers. 

While Sarah’s needles whistled along, Lucy crocheted a “front post treble” stitch on the other end. Whoo—hoo!

The ladies sent us off with a hearty goodbye and Cathy stepped out into the pouring rain. Nice that she packed me up all snuggly and warm in her pack. 

After drying off and warming up in her hostel room that evening, she encountered a roommate from Brazil, Jurema, who loves to crochet, so she added some more crochet stitches as well. She wrote in my journal: “Thank you for the opportunity to restart crochet after so long a time.”

There just seems to be no end to the fiber people in this country—both locals and visitors! 

On Sunday, March 11, the next day, we boarded a train to the small town of Berwick-on-Tweed in the far northeast of England—right across the border. Cathy just had to get out of the city—she really does not like cities much. We would end up staying in Berwick for a full TWO weeks!

The very next day, upon visiting a yarn store in Berwick, Cathy learned of a weekly knitting group that meets in the local library every Monday afternoon. Of course we went! It was a lively group of knitters who laugh as much as they knit and crochet. Anne added some “pink sparkles” to dress me up a bit, and Maureen contrasted that with a lovely gold. Oooh-la-la! 

Anne adds some rows to me while the other ladies laugh and knit. 

Later that week, Cathy met Fiona, another traveler at the Berwick Hostel who knew how to knit. She added some rows of garter stitch using some of the Aran yarn Cathy had purchased in Ireland.

It is almost time to return to Edinburgh for the YARN FESTIVAL…I am so excited!

Contributors so far in Scotland: 

And we need to catch up on the crocheters! So that we don’t have to change the set-up between knitters and crocheters, we ask crocheters to add stitches to the beginning end. We have quite a variety of wide and narrow stripes, resulting in some gathers here:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Scotland: Old Friends and New…and Many More Knitters and Spinners!

You may recall that last July 4, Cathy and I met and spent time with the fiber magicians of the Haddington (Scotland) Spinners and Weavers at the Poldrate Mill Arts and Crafts Center. (You can read about that visit here.)

Debbie adds a few rows to me while
Marie works at her loom in the back
Well…we returned to Haddington in early March! On Tuesday, the 6th we spent the day in their studio, and a few people, including Debbie Zawinski, author of In the Footsteps of Sheep, added to me. Master weaver Marie Lindqvist was teaching a weaving class in the afternoon and we got a chance to see the looms in action!

Debbie had a friend take a photo of me being held up by these incredible women! So much fun to be with them again! 

Left to Right: Catherine, Debbie, Marie, and Cathy

The next day, back in Edinburgh, we visited the Ginger Twist Studio yarn shop and Jess, the shop owner who was so busy getting ready for exhibiting at next week’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival, was able to break away for a minute to knit a few rows for me! Thanks Jess! Cannot wait to see you at the Festival! 

Cathy has been suffering from some kind of malady that comes on when she has not had some ridiculously complex lace project on her needles. She has been on the lookout for a special yarn to knit a pattern called the Scottish Thistle Shawl, which I guess is pretty appropriate, since we are here.  She spied the perfect almost-cobweb-weight yarn in Jesss shop and refused to leave without it. It was organically grown in the Falkland Islands, spun in Yorkshire, and dyed by Jess. Special, indeed! We barely made it back to the hostel before Cathy had one hank balled up and cast on!

And then, a very special event… One of the reasons we returned to the Edinburgh area at this time was that the Haddington group was going to be demonstrating their crafts on March 8. So, I was taken to the International Women’s Day Weave, Knit, and Spin-in in front of the Scottish Parliament! While Cathy visited with knitters, several sat down to contribute—I am growing so FAST here in Scotland!!!

A large contingent of University professors and employees were protesting changes in pension rules that day, and the group kind of swallowed us up. But the Haddington group supported the strike/protest and stayed put—glad to be a part of it. As a result, we had lots of people interested in the fiber artists and several Traveling Scarf contributors. Among them were Jess who did some yellow and white stranded colorwork, Joan who added a fisherman’s knit diamond design, Joe, a professor and avid knitter who created some garter-stitch rows, and Frieda who used some of her Massum handspun. Massum sheep are a cross between longwool and mountain breeds. They are bred for meat and a tendency for multiple births. A bi-product is a soft, multi-colored fiber with barely any lanolin.

Left to Right, Frieda, Joe, and Jess

Marie brought along a small backstrap loom, attached one end to the building’s post, and stood weaving the entire time. 

We had great weather for the event. Only a week before, almost the entire UK had been ground to a standstill by a brutal winter storm. But we were still a bit cold by end of the day, so afterwards, we went across the street to the Holyrood Palace Café to warm up. Holyrood is the place where the Queen stays when she comes to Scotland!

While visiting with fiber folks in front of Parliament, Cathy learned from Frieda that the Gorgie Farm Spinning Group meets on Fridays. And Joan told her that she absolutely could not miss the knitting and crochet group that meets at Edinburgh’s Akva Swedish café on Saturdays. 

This was to be a very “knitty” week, indeed!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Back to Scotland: Quiet Sojourn in Oban

We flew from Dublin on February 21, and after a one-night stay in Glasgow, we made a bee-line to Oban. It is a beautiful train journey along the West Highland Way to the west coast. It turned out to be a good choice, as you will see. 

Cathy settled us in the Oban Youth Hostel, one of the best we have stayed in during our 9-month sojourn. We had a beautiful bay-window view in our room overlooking the harbor and we watched the Cal-Mac ferries come and go to many of the western islands, including the Outer Hebrides. 

Yarn bombing seems to be a lively pastime in Oban. Even though we encountered few knitters and could not find a knitting group in town, the knitters are here and apparently knitting in secret guerilla yarn-bombing clans. Many poles throughout the town are covered with colorful and whimsical jumpers. Perhaps to keep them warm? 

Val, who shared a dorm room with us, was a knitter and she was able to add to my length. She was so sweet to write in my journal: “Every now and then I come across someone who reminds me why I travel—you are that person!!

Cathy got in one nice hike in the nearby mountains. You can read about that special day here on her travel blog.
(She did not take me with her, however.) 
Cathy encountered a lot of sheep on her walk...ahhhhh source material!

On March 6, a huge snowstorm smothered almost the entire United Kingdom with snow and wind. Most of the country came to a standstill—no trains or buses; businesses and schools closed; and many rural folks were stranded behind snowdrifts the rest of the week.

BUT…not in Oban. The western coast of Scotland had barely a few flakes of snow and very little wind. It did get very cold—down to below freezing, but there just was not any precipitation! So, Cathy and I missed what came to be called the “Beast from the East” (so-called because the storm originated in Siberia). Of course, we could not leave Oban, but that was no problem—it is a very special town to spend extra time in. 

The sunsets from our window were phenomenal!

In the cozy hostel, Cathy was able to finish her bookmark commission. You can access the free downloadable pattern for her Celtic Knot Bookmark here on Ravelry. She is hoping to have more of the patterns for these quick-to-make items published soon. 

I will keep you posted as she uploads more  of the patterns.

One benefit of the snowstorm: When we finally boarded a train to cross the Highlands in route to Edinburgh, the snowy views from the train were stunning.

At our next stop, spinners, knitters, and weavers were waiting for us to visit. Wait’ll you see what happened next!