A Lovely Drive

Our friends, Jonathan and Denise, took us for a very nice drive through South and North Uist. There is so much to see here but you have to know where to look. Hence, the valuable expertise of the locals!

We visited a local mill, Uist Mill, and looked at what they have been producing since Denise and I visited them a couple years ago when they were not fully up and running.

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Then we just explored! The landscape was beautiful, even in the rain.

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I love looking at all the old stone houses, some now not in use as homes but some may still be a part of the farm, in use for storage. Often built on rises.

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The big treat, however, and the purpose of all my trips, is to see the sheep. But, an added treat this time, red deer!

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Wait, what is THIS sheep doing here?! Did not expect to see a Herdwick!

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This area is just full of beautiful sheep! Here are some Cheviots and Scottish Blackface. Still looking for more. Yes, a very lovely drive!

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Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sheep of the Croft

The reason I first found this croft was back in 2015 when I was looking for a place to visit with Hebridean Sheep. I had seen them at a sheep show in Melton Mowbray in 2011 and really liked their looks and temperament. Doing an on-line search, I found the Hebridean Woolshed.Hebridean Woolshed. This sounded very promising. Turns out, it was! This is my third trip to stay at one of their self-catering cottages. The really important one – the one with the An Garradh Mor flock of registered pedigree Hebridean Sheep.

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The sheep are currently divided between three of the four fields. Here Jonathan and I discuss some of this at the roadside gate to field 2.

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Last year, Jonathan made a really nice hand drawn map of the croft which he posted in his blog, The Big Garden and Croft. He has kindly agreed to let me insert a copy here. This may help you follow my descriptions in the rest of this post.

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Starting at the north end and going south, we begin with number 1: Home Park. This is where the most of the rams and wethers live. They have access to a shelter to get out of the wind and rain but also have to put up with those pesky geese and chickens who try to “share” their treats. A trade off, to be sure. A later post will look at the shearing of some of them. There are six there all together. And, depending on the time of day – and their routine – we catch site of them from our self-catering cottage on the croft.

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Moving southward, across the street from Field 1 is Field 2: Near Park. Here lives the ram, Scott, who was the sire for this year’s lambs. He is joined there by Rhubarb (his fleece looking a little brown right now but will be black when sheared) one of last year’s bottle babies, and another little wether. They shelter nicely with the rocks. These sheep are extremely hardy and are meant for this rugged landscape. As much as I say I would love some in California, it just wouldn’t be right. They belong here.

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Field 3 is Bothy Field, so named because it contains a bothy. A bothy is a small hut or cottage and, according to Wikopedia, usually left unlocked for anyone to use. This one would have been in use a long time ago.

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Things are always in flux on a croft as they often are on a farm in the States. Right now the Bothy Field is housing the ewes and lambs. In the future Jonathan expects to be using it for the ewes after they come back from their time in the hills in fall and they will use it until it is grazed out.

Jonathan drove me part way up the old road this trip and then we hiked the rest of the way up to the Bothy Field. I had wanted to see the ewes and lambs close up. Fantastic! I hope from this you can get a feel for the ruggedness of the setting and how perfectly suited to it these sheep are.

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Finally, Field 4: High Field. This is not fully enclosed yet. Jonathan has been re-doing the fencing on these fields, dragging all the materials up these steep hills by hand, digging and drilling through rock to put up fences that will securely contain the sheep. Jonathan: “When High Field is fully complete, it will be used for late spring-early summer grazing – until we’re satisfied the lambs (and their mums and last year’s lambs) are okay (and sheared!) to go through the gate up on to the common grazing.”

And now, a few words about this year’s bottle baby, Windy. On our trip up that late afternoon, we brought Windy’s evening bottle. Jonathan’s philosophy about bottle babies is that it is important for them to associate their feeding with where they live – with the flock, not at the house. So, she gets her meals on the croft, especially as time goes on. I got to feed her again today, up here on the hill.

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Jonathan would be collecting her now to go back over to their house where she snuggles down in her straw in the trailer for the night. We walk along, talking, with Windy running alongside and exploring.

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Suddenly, Jonathan says, “Do you notice anything? How many are there of us?” And then I realize Windy is no longer with us. She has rejoined her flock. Where she belongs.

Another great visit with the An Garradh Mor flock. Hope to see them again.

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

The Non-Livestock Animals of the Big Garden

An important part of visiting the Big Garden here in South Uist is to check in with the non-livestock residents as well!

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Tilly the dog was happy to receive her new gift of a tug toy. She really likes it but only time will tell how long it will last!

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The cats received catnip cloth mice. The first reaction of Princess Pickle was tepid, at best.

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However, when presented with four mice, she warmed up a bit.

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And even manages to graciously share with one of her house mates (Tabitha?)

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Tilly is worn out from all the excitement of visitors.

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Thanks, Tilly, for sharing your family with us!

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Arrival in Outer Hebrides

A day for making our way by bus from Benbecula, where we flew to from our overnight in Stornoway, to the croft on Eriskay. Rainy and windy weather kept us from getting great photos from the bus but I got enough to remind me I was back.

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A brief stop at the shop on Eriskay gets us the essentials, especially my porridge for the next morning!

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And then a visit from a very special lamb, this year’s bottle baby, “Windy”. She follows Jonathan everywhere even, I think, helping with the never-ending chores on the croft. More on her later!

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Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Ponies, Sheep, and History

The last day on Shetland I managed to find a tour guide who would customize a half-day trip for me. He was really good – found me what I wanted and threw in a lot of Shetland history as well, which i really appreciated.

We headed west from Lerwick to the old capitol,of Scalloway where we found some Shetland ponies, one of the things on my list. This group was not really afraid of us but quickly moved off.

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So we headed south to find some we could get a closer look at. These fit! A bonus was they had young foals. And a real cute one who decided to take a roll on the grass as we watched!

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As we headed south, we came across…..not ponies……not sheep…..but seals, sunning themselves on a gorgeous beach! As my guide said, their idea of a day to sun bathe is definitely different than ours!

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Before a serious hunt for some Shetland Sheep, we stopped at the Crofthouse Museum. I am really interested in earlier life on the crofts and this museum was great. What a setting right by the North Sea.

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Inside, a peat fire burned. You may laugh, but on my fourth trip to Scotland I FINALLY get to see and smell a peat fire – and I loved it! Rather smoky but so interesting to someone who grew up with a wood fire being a regular part of our evenings.

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A Shetland lace shawl adorned the wall.

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The beds were box beds that could be closed to keep out the cold and the windows were small for the same reason.

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I think I could have stayed a bit longer to smell a little more of the peat smoke but we were on a mission to find some Shetland Sheep. You would think not that hard but my guide guessed a lot of them were up in the hills. Besides Shetland Sheep on the islands there are Cheviots and crosses and I am pretty sure I saw a few Suffolks.

We did find these, however, which are Shetland or perhaps crosses but really pretty colors. Enough to feel I had seen some of the animals I came here to see, even without that wind keeping me from Foula and Fair Isle. Another time!

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Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Winds Win

Our trip to Fair Isle was also cancelled by strong winds. We could have gotten there but probably not have gotten back in time to make our flight out of Shetland to continue our journey. We were, of course, disappointed. And i think i have come up with a strategy, from the advice of locals, to try again later. You just need to allow more time and be more open ended about your time there.

So, what to do? Well it always makes you feel better to have tea! Back to our favorite tea shop in Lerwick.

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A stroll around Commercial Street….

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Taking in the atmosphere…

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And, of course, shopping. How convenient that this yarn shop was right next door to our flat!

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And a nice dinner out at the restaurant at the Shetland Museum, after strolling around there for a repeat visit.

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We then made plans for the next day to take a class on knitting design using some new techniques a visiting artist from the Netherlands was teaching. Our friend’s mother scheduled it and met us to take us across to the neighboring island of Bressay by ferry. It was a wet and windy day. We drove to the lighthouse where the class was being held…

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…only to find that they had misprinted the class date and it wasn’t for three more days!

Okay, we can’t blame that one on the wind but, as Dona said, we are now three for three! Our friend’s mom took us to see their house they have bought on Bressay and are remodeling. Look what we found next to their house, on a wet and windy day it was still a beautiful sight!

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And to show you that some things can work out if you just keep trying, here is a preview of the next post!

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Published in: on May 15, 2017 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wool and Water

Our day began with a pre-arranged trip to Jamieson & Smith, a wool broker here in Lerwick.

A wool broker is someone who takes in the raw wool from the crofters (farmers), buys it from them, grades it and sends it off to get made into yarn. Sounds simple, right? Not really. We had a nice hour and a half tour by Jan who works there.

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Jamieson & Smith give the crofters the bags to put the fleeces in. Right now, there are lots of bags here as shearing mostly hasn’t begun. Fleeces will start arriving mid-June.

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When the fleeces are dropped off they go into the baler. Grading is happening while baling is occurring. Grading is where the fleece is evaluated as to what kind of yarn it can become and they are sorted from super fine to grades 1-4. Two people are grading while one is baling. Graders have 15 seconds per fleece to make their decision! This is the baler.

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And they look like this when finished. Weighing about 90 kilos (198 pounds), they are loaded by forklift onto trucks, ferried and trucked to a mill in Bradford, England where it is scoured (washed) and spun into various types of yarn. They process about 260 tons of raw wool each year, about 80% of the wool in Shetland.

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Here Jan shows me how she grades the wool. Look how fine this is!

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Jan also explained that the Shetland’s have a natural break in their fleece (they call it a rise) between shearings. After the fleece growth is past this rise, it is time to shear. This photo shows the fleece pulled apart at this natural break.

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Of course a place with all this wool coming in must sell some yarn! I limited myself to a couple lace scarf patterns and yarn to make them.

We left Jamieson & Smith in the company of the family of one of our Farm Club friends, Stephany. They had generously offered to take us a few places which was nice as we had decided not to try a car hire this time.

One fun place was Burra Bears. It’s founder, Wendy, makes bears out of recycled Fair Isle sweaters and other knitted and fulled materials. They really are adorable.

Our last stop was at St. Ninian’s Isle, a small island tied to the mainland by a tombolo – a gravel bank 500 meters long. It is visible during summer months and can be walked across. Then in the winter, the waves remove all the sand and the tombolo is under water. St. Ninian’s is uninhabited with the last resident leaving in 1796. Viking treasure of 8th century silver was found buried there in 1958.

The area was beautiful and we finally had a sunny day in which to enjoy it.

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Hopefully tomorrow we see some more of these!

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Published in: on May 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Foula -Not.

We began our day by walking to the Viking Bus Station to catch pre-arranged transport to Tingwall airport to catch our flight to Foula, an island to the west of Shetland that we had hoped to visit to see the Foula Sheep who live there, along with about 30 people.

However, the weather had other ideas. The pilot explained that, although he could get us there, the chance of a return trip to pick us up was iffy. Getting stranded on Foula is not a good option as there is no shop (grocery store) there and very few places to stay.

So, we got to experience what Shetlanders often do: they live, to some extent, governed by the weather. Luckily for us, another couple was also planning to go and so kindly offered to drive us back to Lerwick as they had their car with them. We had an alternate plan of visiting the Shetland Museum, as did they, so that’s where we ended up. Thank you, Katherine and Geoffrey, for baling us out!

You can see in this photo the weather that kept us from Foula.

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Fortunately, there are many alternatives for us here. The museum is situated on Hay’s Dock in Lerwick Harbor and has fantastic displays of Shetland history and culture. The Shetland Archives here have written records from the 15th to 21st century.

I was most interested in things related to textiles. A yarn winder, sample cards, and finished garments were just a few of the many things on display.

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Education went on even in the bathrooms as stalls contained poems of interest! (Tatties are potatoes).

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Outside of the Museum was a fascinating installation. At first I thought it was just a way to broadcast music. It is four speakers set up to broadcast account of historical and contemporary life on Scotland that were recorded in 2006 and sourced from the Archive. The fascinating thing is that wind speed and direction determine the intervals between the broadcasts. This is achieved by an anemometer (an instrument measuring wind speed) continuously feeding live readings to the speakers. So, if the wind is calm the spoken and music recording are long clips but these shorten as wind speeds increase. Gale forces produce short clips which all merge together. The speakers are made from local Shetland materials of serpentine, granite and shell.

No stops would be complete without sampling the local food. The scones were fantastic and the latte art much appreciated!

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Even the tables here were creative, each with an inset of interest.

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Fortified, we caught a taxi to the Textile Museum, housed in a remodeled fishing station, the Bod of Gramista. Interesting fact: Arthur Anderson, a ship owner and member of Parliament who was born there, became a champion of Shetland textiles and gave Queen Victoria stockings made of fine Shetland lace.

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There were some interesting displays inside and handmade things for sale from local makers. One room housed a very large loom and an example of Taatit rugs which are unique to,Shetland and come from Norse tradition. They were often made as wedding presents, with the families of the bride and groom each making half.

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Outside and across the street from the museum was a beautiful small flock of Shetland Sheep with their lambs. This was a bonus to the day since we did not make it to Foula (at least on this trip to Shetland!)

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A couple purchases from the museum found their way into my bag: a beautiful pair of fingerless mitts created by a local craftsperson and, because we could not get to Foula, a set of coasters made from Foula wool.

On to a full day of adventures tomorrow -some of which involve wool (that will be a surprise to none of you following this blog!)

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Published in: on May 10, 2017 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

One Train, Three planes and a Kind Host

This year’s adventure in Scotland has begun!

After taking BART train to the airport, a flight to Newark (where I met Dona, recovering from her trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Show), a flight to Glasgow, another flight to Shetland, and a car ride provided by our host at the flat we are letting in Lerwick, Shetland’s capitol, and we are here!

Here we are in Glasgow airport, awaiting our flight to Sumburgh airport at the southern tip of Shetland, while Dona sorts her 600+ photos from the sheep show!

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Flying from Glasgow to Sumburgh, our plane holds about 50-60 people. Hard to get good photos as I am near the wing but it is very pretty as we fly over mainland Scotland and then approach Shetland.

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Cold, overcast and a little rainy, we are welcomed by our landlord who has kindly offered to pick us up at the airport and drive us the approximately 45 minutes to our flat in the center of Lerwick. Along the way we saw many sheep and lambs – and a new born Shetland pony foal (!) but were not close enough to get any good photos. Interesting fact: on Shetland, you are never more than 3 miles from the sea – either the Atlantic or the North Sea.

We love our flat here and, after settling in a little we explore Commercial Street. For any fans of the BBC series “Shetland” – which Dona and I are – it was amazing to walk this little area which is the setting for many of the episodes. We saw shops we will explore later…..

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But this one demanded to be explored now – a short stop for tea and cakes!

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The day ended with probably the best fish, chips, and mushy peas i have ever had!

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Our flat here is perfect. Lots of light and everything we need to continue our exploration of these islands. Our hosts welcomed us and even set the table for our first tea here at the flat.

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On to our next adventure tomorrow, which, yes, involves another plane ride as we head out for a day on the tiny island of Foula!

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spring Shearing

It was that time again! The whole flock gets sheared in the spring and about half again in the fall, depending on how their wool grows. We lucked out with really nice weather and a good group of friends to help it all go very smoothly.

The flock was a little suspicious as to why I was not letting them out of the barn. Simple. I wanted help getting them into the shearing stall! With me in the lead and friends following flock it was quickly done with very little of the “rodeo” aspect to it.

They packed in well to the shearing stall. Last chance for awhile to see in full fleece.

Frieda “Can you guys move away a bit? I am feeling squished back here in the corner!”

Frieda, “Thanks. That’s a little better!”

The English Leicesters came to us last summer as yearlings and had been sheared in Michigan in April. We opted not to shear in the fall but now I think they will move into twice a year shearing group.

Lessie, “It will be nice to see again! Wonder what I’ve been missing?!”

Diamond, “I know I have a messy nose but look at my FLEECE. Pretty good for a 15 year old, right?!”

We decided to do the two camelids first. John, the shearer, ties up Paridot’s head to keep him still. Paridot is a good boy but you don’t need him moving around with electric blades nearby! Luckily, John is very athletic!

When we started on the sheep, Robin offered to feed them to John, speeding things up.

Carol and Mary get to work. Right now, I think Carol is admiring fleeces (!) but she helped in the bagging and weighing, along with Colleen. Mary was in charge of getting syringes filled as John also gave them their annual vaccination and wormed them.

The fleeces were, of course, beautiful. Part of that, thanks to Janis who carefully swept between each fleece and kept the area very neat.

The animals always look so very different after shearing.

Hazel, “Hey, I didn’t know I had that spot!”

Most of these great photos were taken by Dona but I had to get this shot – Evangeline just wants to know if she can borrow Dona’s camera, but Dona isn’t so sure about her intentions!

A beautiful day, thanks to good friends, a fantastic shearer, and some pretty cooperative animals!

Published in: on April 29, 2017 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment