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!

The Last Hurrah in Ireland: Glendalough, Killarney, and Ennis

From Belfast, we traveled directly to Glendalough in the Wicklow National Park via Dublin. 

One night at the Glendalough hostel, Sara from Solvenia said that she had not knitted in a long time, but would like to contribute to me. Sitting by the cozy fireplace, she enjoyed being reminded how much fun it is to knit. Later, she asked Cathy if she had any spare yarn for her to knit with for a bit. When she finished knitting for the night, she unraveled it all and returned the yarn to Cathy. For many knitters, it is not about the end product, it is about the knitting.

Process not product!
Moving on to the sweet town of Killarney on the edge of the Killarney National Park. We were guests at the Black Sheep Hostel—just blocks from the Killarney National Park. 

Cathy asked Blaine, the host at hostel, if he knew any knitters. “My mom is a knitter. I’ll phone her up!” And before you knew it, Cathy was invited to Phil’s house to meet her and some other Killarney knitters. True Irish hospitality!!

Blaine's mother, Phil provided some real
Irish hospitality--knitting and tea with
friends in her lovely home.
Phil, and her friends Margaret and Trinette knitted with Cathy for several hours! They drank lots of tea and ate Phil's delicious homemade scones. When Cathy left, Phil insisted that she take a bag of scones. How could Cathy refuse?

Then, one night at the hostel, Nádia who worked on the hostel staff, said that she liked to crochet. I was handed over for her to add some of Cathy’s blue handspun art yarn in a double crochet pattern.

The next day, Phil called again and invited Cathy to accompany her to the Kenmare Lace Center 
in Kenmare. Although the Center is closed in the winter, Phil had called and made a special appointment for a tour and demonstration at the center expecially for us! We felt so priviledged! 

We boarded the bus for the hour-long ride and Cathy and Phil chatted all the way there and back. I remained quietly in my bag. 

Nora Finnegan runs the Lace Center where she teaches and demonstrates traditional ways to make different types of lace: needlepoint, crochet, tatting, bobbin lace. The Carmelite nuns used to teach young women how the make lace so that they had a way to bring income to their households. Sometimes it was the case that a girl would never marry and she had a way to support herself. Some young women emigrated to the United States and the funds they earned, and the skills they had learned, helped them be more independent when they reached their new country. 

Of course, we had to have Nora add a few rows!

Nora with her projects demonstrating how needlepoint lace and bobbin lace are made.

Samples of Irish Lace at the Kenmare Lace Center.

 at Even though Cathy enjoys making knitted lace, there are obviously many, many other ways to make these “beautiful holes,” as she likes to call it.  
Thank you, Phil, for arranging this very special day for us! 

Back at the Black Sheep Hostel, Blaine, Phil’s son who introduced Cathy to his mom in the first place, recollected that he had knitted once as a kid and wanted give it a go. After a fabulous Irish Stew dinner he prepared on Sunday night, he got a little coaching from Cathy. Then he knitted two rows using some white Aran yarn that Phil had donated to my stash.

I have had so many people creating me that Cathy ran out of pages in the little journal that records all the contributors—one page per person. In Belfast, she had more pages and a new cover printed up to create a volume two journal, but the printer could not bind it. So, she was carrying around loose pages until she finally found a place in Killarney that could do the binding. 

She walked the two miles out to the industrial park on the edge of town and back in order to have a new small journal bound just for me.  
Thank you, Cathy.

Killarney was a wonderful venue for knitting and crocheting; Cathy got in some great walking in the Irish hills; and we truly enjoyed our stay at the Black Sheep Hostel.

The hills in the Killarney National Park provided some walking respite for Cathy.

After leaving Killarney, we went back to Ennis for a few days and Cathy spent much of that time on a knitting a bookmark commission of 36 lacey bookmarks. Here are a few of them:

They are all made from yarn that she collected during the trip and was a fun way for her to sample stitches with the different materials before committing to a larger project.

After two months in Ireland, we boarded a plane in Dublin…bound back to Scotland—land of knitting heaven!

The last Irish knitting contributors before we went to Scotland:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Every Library in Northern Ireland has a Knitting Group!

With a tear, we took one last look at the Roscommon Castle and boarded a train for Northern Ireland.

We had a bit of a shaky start in Belfast. As Cathy arrived at the train station, she learned that she did NOT have the AirBnB reservation she had counted on. It was 7:00 at night, but she steadfastly walked to the local hostel hoping there was a bed. Sure enough, the hospitable receptionist was soon leading us up the stairs to our room. We could only be there for one night because the hostel was booked up for the weekend. But Cathy located another AirBnB home for the following four nights and we were set. But first…

…she googled “knitting groups Belfast” and learned that ALL the libraries have weekly knit and crochet groups and she located TWO that meet on Friday—the next day! So, in the morning, we walked the couple miles (Well, Cathy did the walking.) to the Whiterock Library. As usual, we were welcomed by a fun group of women busily knitting, crocheting, and chatting. A cup of tea was offered and Cathy introduced me to the group. Everyone oooohed and ahhhed me and we were off!

 (L to R) Betty, Brenda, and Dolores happily added some rows.

When it was time to go, with help from the knitters, Cathy figured out the bus that would take us to the afternoon knitting group on the other side of Belfast’s city center at the Woodstock Library. Again, hearty welcomes, tea and cookies, and more knitters and crocheters! Now this is what I call being a “traveling scarf!” 

The Woodstock Library Knit and Natter Group

Gloria’s guide dog sat
patiently alongside us.
Joan (left above) knit some stockinette of her variegated blues and yellows while Gloria (right) crocheted a nice long piece of lacy triple crochet stitch on the other end. Margaret (not pictured) also added a lovely bit of Moss stitch in an ecru wool.

Because we had to move from the hostel to the AirBnb room, Cathy had to return to the hostel to pick up her bags that she had stored there for the day. But while re-arranging all her stuff (!) in the hostel’s lounge, another hostel guest told us that she crochets. And before you knew it, I got pulled out AGAIN and Vita added some stitches with some of Cathy’s orange handspun art yarn.  It was a busy day!

Our lodgings for the rest of the long weekend was at the sweet home of Anne Marie. She and her daughter have been welcoming visitors for over nine years. Each evening in the winter, there is a warm fire in the living room and welcoming conversation. Nella, another visitor from Finland, shared her wine with everyone while we relaxed and chatted near the coal fire. Not only did Anne Marie knit some garter-stitch rows with bright red yarn, but Nella found some lovely Finnish yarn in her stash, Novita 7 Veljestä Aurora, for her contribution. Margaret and her husband from Vancouver, B.C. were also staying with Anne Marie and she added some rows of garter stitch from her traveling stash. Unfortunately, Cathy did not have her camera that evening, but you can see their contributions here:

This includes some of the contributions from Roscommon knitters as well. 

All in all, although it was a short stay in Belfast, it was rich in knitting and crocheting companionship! So glad we went!
On a rainy day down by the Belfast docks, Cathy encountered this
sculpture honoring Irish shepherds and their sheep.