Last Day on Eriskay

I thought a walk on my last day on Eriskay was a good idea. I had not yet spent much time at the shop – the island’s grocery store and post office.
Looks like I am headed in the right direction.

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This shop supplies all the local necessities and was fun to wander around in. Also took a moment outside to relax and chat with locals and visitors.

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Back to the local pub for a last coffee and scone…

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…and then a look at the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed so many year ago.

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There are a lot of shells on this beach.

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On the walk back to my cottage I saw interesting birds…

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…the famous Eriskay ponies, who in the past had helped to haul peat (cut from the ground for fuel)…

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…local sheep…

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…and then a gift from “my” sheep who chose that moment to come and pose for me. (You will see something from these photos in my later felting project). Aren’t they magnificent?!

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So, with my wash on the line…

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…and an almost-final visit with Bill and Ben, who wondered why I was sitting down in the pasture with no bottles (!)…

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…I prepared to leave the next day for the next stage of the journey. I will very much miss the people and animals of Eriskay. Thank you, Denise and Jonathan, for an experience I will never forget!

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Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 7:53 am  Comments (2)  

The Hebridean Woolshed

Actually, Denise’s shop and business is the way I found the croft and their self-catering cottage on Eriskay. I was looking to see what Hebridean Sheep there might be to visit in the Outer Hebrides and their website popped up. What good fortune!

Let me share with you what is written in a local travel magazine about the Woolshed as that will give you a good idea of what happens here.

With the author, Jonathan’s, permission:

“Sheltered within the walls of An Gàrradh Mòr – the historic high-walled kitchen garden at Kilbride – stands a little blue building, the modesty of which belies the treasure trove of craftsmanship and creativity within.

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“Denise and Jonathan Bridge came here in December 2002 to live a life of self-sufficiency, hard work, enterprise and neighborliness. Out in the garden they grow a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and soft fruit – primarily for their own needs, but during the summer there’s often surpluses for sale. Jams and chutneys – mostly made with garden produce – are available year-round as are free-range eggs from their croft. The eggs are the key ingredient in Denise’s famed fresh-made lemon curd.

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“In the Hebridean Woolshed – just inside the main south gate – the emphasis is on their indoor labours, made mostly during the wild and dark winter months. Hand-spun wools in the natural black of their Hebridean Sheep; others hand-dyed with native plants. There’s hand-woven scarves, beautiful knitwear, and colour themes with names such as Machair and Atlantic.

“There’s much more besides, everything being hand-made, unique – and rich in the substance and qualities of this place. Quantities are of course limited, but Denise’s work has gone to places as far flung as New Zealand, Canada, Norway, and South Africa. ‘It’s surprising how often I get orders for replacements – for much-loved hats left on a city bus, or snatched away by the winds on Mingulay, or orders for skeins to complete a knitting project’, says Denise. Before coming to Uist, the couple had moved many times living throughout the UK and abroad. But after more than 12 years, are they here to stay? Jonathan: ‘We’ve faced challenges here like nothing we’ve known before. We’ve grown – and nothing grows without roots. Who we are, everything we do? They grow right here.'”

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And now, from me, a little more about Denise’s yarn and dyeing. Here is the inside of that little blue shed where the magic happens.

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Denise pre-mordants (a mordant is the substance you soak or cook the fiber in so that the dye will attach) those fibers that need a mordant and stores them so that they are ready when she has the dyes ready.

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She uses a variety of natural dyes, some locally harvested and some she buys.

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With the help of “Princess Pickle” I can show you two beautiful skeins of Cheviot, dyed first with logwood and then indigo (the blue skein) and goldenrod and then indigo (the green skein).

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Denise’s Aga is helpful for drying yarn in the winter months…

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…and I know that Tilly carefully supervises Denise’s spinning, as well as greeting guests.

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It was a pleasure to visit this beautiful place and to truly get to observe first hand “the treasure trove of craftsmanship and creativity within.”

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Published in: on May 23, 2015 at 7:24 am  Comments (1)  

The Croft

It has turned out to be a very special adventure actually staying on a croft in the Outer Hebrides. I decided I needed a whole blog post to explore this with a fair warning – if you aren’t all that interested in sheep you may want to skim this one! I will explain what I have seen and learned – Jonathan, please chime in with comments to correct me as needed!

According to the Scottish Crofting Federation, a croft is “a small rented farm, especially one in Scotland, comprising a plot of arable land attached to a house and with a right of pasturage held in common with other such farms.”

That is a bare-bones description which I will give life to through my photos of this particular croft on the island of Eriskay. A little history, prior to 1886 crofters did not have many rights. In the Crofter Holding Act of 1886 Parliament granted the security of tenure to crofters, meaning they could not be arbitrarily removed from the property. It also assured them fair rents and the right to pass on their tenancy to their heirs.

Before anyone thinks this would be a lovely retirement or change of place, crofts are very hard to get. You have to show that you are a good fit for the local crofting community and, of course, one has to be available.

Most crofters have other occupations as well as maintaining their croft and, even today, it can be a challenging life. There is a beautiful little sign across from the cottage on this croft, explaining what Jonathan and Denise do.

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The original house is still on this croft, built in 1868, the first or one of the first on the island.

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Historical AND it makes a suitable backdrop for these special sheep.

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I was lucky enough to be here while there were still little lambs – following their moms around…

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…catching a snack…

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…or just hanging out.

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Besides sheep, there are chickens and geese here. I really like seeing inside the chicken house – and may take back some ideas for home! The roosts are elevated…

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…as are the nesting boxes. With about 100 chickens between here and their other location by where Denise and Jonathan live, there is never a shortage of eggs. I have had some and they are very good!

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The house into the coop operates on a light sensor, and sometimes a timer, so that the chickens can be shut in safely at night and be let out the next morning.

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Jonathan mixes his own feed for the sheep and poultry.

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And even during feeding time (the chickens are fed separately in their coop but manage to get some here, too) they all mostly get along.

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The geese get a little treat.

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And, of course, the bottle babies, Bill and Ben, need to be fed. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it! (The red on their horns is a marker paint so they can be easily identified in the flock, although from what I saw of their behavior, they found us quickly enough at feeding time!)

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Jonathan and Denise work very hard to make this a beautiful and productive croft. I was very lucky to experience a little bit of it. Next blog- more of Denise’s work!

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Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Uist Wool Mill

My host, Denise, kindly offered to arrange a visit to Uist Wool Mill in Grimsay, North Uist, about 1 1/2 hours from here.

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From their brochure, here is a brief description of their goals:

“The Uist Wool Mill will spin local and other fleece into desirable, unusual yarns to supply weavers, craftspeople, and visitors alike. It will help,to revitalize this traditional island industry through creating employment, training, and workspace using a local asset – wool. Uist Wool will also become a Centre where skills, ideas, design and inspiration are shared by young and old, novices and experts, islanders and visitors alike, through training programmes, workshops and education.”

We were greeted by Dana, the project manager, who took time to show us through all the processing areas, even though the mill is not scheduled to be fully operational until 2016.

We began in an area currently being used for preparing the wool for washing and as a storage area for wool received for processing. Here, a “fearnaught” (I may have got the spelling wrong) – a picker – from the 1920s is being worked on. They have found that opening up the wool staples by running through a picker prior to washing gives them a better, cleaner wash.

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Here is wool being stored prior to picking/washing and the tagging system., with any special instructions (“random feed yarn” means that the wool will be carded varying the colors so,as to achieve a variegated yarn).

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The picked raw wool gets washed in one of two washers from the Belfast Mini-mill systems which can handle 6 or 9 kilos (approx. 13 or 20 pounds) dry weight of fleece per load.

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Washing is, of course, followed by drying with passive heating. I like the drying racks above my head!

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That was done in this building.

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Now the clean, dry wool is picked again in the building where the carding and spinning will happen.

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Next, comes the process of carding the wool. Uist Mill is doing a woolen spun wool, that is, in the carding preparation for spinning, the fibers are going in different directions with air spaces between the individual fibers. The wool goes through the first carder and then enters the second carder crosswise.

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It emerges as a very fine “web” which is then cut into very fine strips and rolled onto a large spool.

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Here is a small piece of this stage that I brought back with me.

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Next, these spools are loaded onto the spinner where the twist will be put into 9 strands at a time (in the first photo four strands going to the front and five to the back of the spinner) from each spool going on to individual bobbins. From there on any plying and additional finishing will happen.

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Here is some finished yarn drying after being washed and some items made from Uist Wool.

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A very interesting look at a mill project in development.

Denise and I got a little lunch (crab and salmon cakes!), a quick stop at the local (South Uist) craft shop…

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And home to check on sheep. It looks like the moms are keeping an eye on their babies playing on the wall, doesn’t it?!

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The time is flying too quickly at this stop on my trip!

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Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 8:12 am  Comments (2)  

A Few Animals and a Little About Eriskay

You saw “my” house on Eriskay at the end of the last post: “The Blue House” – Carrick in the village of Bun a Mhulin. The reason I chose this self-catering cottage (with some selection help from Denise – she and her husband Jonathan run it) is I found out it came with a flock of Hebridean Sheep! I fell in love with these sheep in 2011 at a rare breed sheep show in Melton Mowbray (England) and again, in 2013, on the Scottish island on Colonsay, in the inner Hebrides, where a got to visit a flock several times. This time, they are just outside my cottage!

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Hebridean Sheep are a primitive breed from Scotland similar in many ways to others in the Northern European short-tail sheep group. They are able to cope with cold and wet conditions – a big plus I would say from my recent experiences here! They may have one or two pairs of horns and are a smaller sheep with ewes running around 88 pounds and rams around 120 pounds, according to the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s fact sheet.

Since it is May there are a bunch of lambs for me to enjoy watching as well.

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The lambs include two bottle babies whom I have the privilege of helping Jonathan feed most mornings and evenings.

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Besides sheep, this croft (I think a whole post in a day or two on “crofts”) has geese and chickens so they managed to get into some of my photos as well!

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This day, the one after I arrived, was a good day to take it a little slower and recover from all those tight connections the previous day! So, I decided to walk to the local pub, also with the motivation that they might be offering lunch! Along the way, I took in some more beautiful views.

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Yes, I must be headed in the right direction!

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Ok, now a brief bit of Eriskay history before we get to the pub. Besides being famous for where Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) landed on Scottish soil in 1745 and 1746, at first wanting to organize to take back the throne of Great Britain and then escaping back to Scotland after his defeat), Eriskay is famous as the site of the shipwreck of the SS Politician. This was an 8000-ton cargo ship, which left Liverpool for Jamaica and New Orleans in 1941 with, among other cargo, 264,000 bottles of malt whisky and much of this cargo was salvaged by the island’s inhabitants!

So, the pub I am headed for is named The Politician, after the ship. It is in a beautiful spot (well, what isn’t beautiful on this island?!) A 25-30 minute walk (into a head wind!) brings me here.

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Luckliy, they were open and I had a lovely lunch – including Yorkshire pudding!

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But then I head back to The Blue House for a little reading, knitting, and a nap! And, of course, more sheep watching!

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Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Tarbert to Leverburgh to Berneray to Eriskay

As you might guess from the title of this post, it was a long day yesterday!

A lot of worrying my last night in Tarbert as it was very windy, which can stop ferries, and I awoke to sleet, hail, more rain. These squalls would blow through and then we’d have brilliant sunshine. Here is the last view from my room – I was hoping the rainbow was a good sign as I said good-bye to my host as he dropped me in the village to continue my journey.

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I stopped for a coffee and scone at the Hotel Hebrides.

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I then went to the tourist information shop where she assured me that the ferry would be running today so I went to the ferry office to purchase my ticket. Transportation here has turned out to be very inexpensive, I think. The buses have been 5-6 pounds ($8-9) for fairly long distances and the ferry about the same (I was, of course, on foot, not sure what they charge for cars).

I decided there was time for a bit of lunch before my first bus left so worked in lunch back at the Hotel Hebrides. Food was going to be in short supply for the next day and a half or so as the shop at my destination would not be open by the time I got there nor the next day. I picked up a couple things from the shop at this end but lunch sounded like a good idea. It was a lovely fish and chips (with peas of course, which I swear were fresh!)

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The bus (a large van this time) left for our about 45 minute trip to Leverburgh to catch the ferry. According to the schedule, I would have about 15 minutes from bus arrival to ferry departure. These times always seem too short for me but keep working out! The next photos are through the van windows but I think pretty stunning anyway.

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The road was very winding and, although there were some guardrails, I would have liked more! The road was pretty much one lane most of the times. They have pullover very frequently so whoever is closest to a pullover on their side moves into it to let the oncoming car pass. I also learned from my third bus driver of the day that you do NOT indicate (signal) when you move into these pullovers as that tells the person behind you it is safe to pass you (unless it is safe!) I am storing up all this information in case I return here and want to try driving!

The bus system here is very interesting. There are some formal, scheduled stops along the route but the bus will pick up anyone who waves them down and will drop people off anywhere they ask. We had one group who was looking for their rental cottage and so showed the driver a photo of it on their tablet so they’d know when to stop and another gentleman that asked to just be let off “at the land rover”!

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We got to the ferry at Leverburgh and a nice crewman carried all my bags on for me. I am traveling light but any help is appreciated.

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The views from the ferry were great, although with the rain and strong winds, I took them from inside.

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Here is the very interesting part of this ferry crossing. We are crossing the Sound of Harris. The waters here can be very shallow so the sailings are dependent on the tide schedule. The trips have to be timed for when the tide is in, creating more water for the ferry to be in. I had looked up this crossing back when planning the trip only to find out by accident that the time had changed. Luckily, I found out in time, although it was delayed for two hours so at least I wouldn’t have missed it.

Here is the route the ferry takes through the Sound. If you follow the red line you will see how carefully the captain has to steer to make it safely through. Those green patches are what is under the water – but not very deep! This map was very interesting as it shows all the depths. So, follow the red line top to bottom (north to south) and you will see our journey.

So, how does the captain do it? Navigation buoys. A gentleman standing next to me on the ferry was happy to explain it to me in great detail. Here is the short version: the captain steers to keep the red buoys on his right and the green ones on his left. It was really a slolum course through the Sound. I would think there was no way he could make it between the buoys and then, of course, he did – over and over. Once, when I saw we were going to have a red buoy on our LEFT, I went looking for that gentleman who explained to me that we were now halfway or so across so the buoys are reversed. All I can say is it takes very skillful people to navigate this Sound and I have a new respect for captains! Here’a a shot of the green and red buoys.

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And a close up of a red one. These are anchored, of course, but periodically pulled up and checked.

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We approached land at Berneray so I hurried to go below and find my luggage so as to get off the ferry quickly as the schedule said there was only a 5 minute gap between ferry arrival and bus departure (last bus of day). I was told that the bus waits for the ferry but I wasn’t sure whether to count on that or not (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to worry a lot!)

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Turns out, yes, they do wait and I couldn’t have had two nicer drivers on my last two buses of the day. Knowledgable about the area and willing to answer my questions. The second one even has sheep so we had a good chat on the two hours or so ride.

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Did find a few more trees, not many, and, of course, beautiful views of stones, water and sheep!

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As we approach our destination of Eriskay, there is another causeway to go over – the most recently built one in the islands, linking South Uist to Eriskay. You can see the stones of the causeway in the upper left of this photo.

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As we turn and head across the causeway, my driver points out the cottage where I will be staying.

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A short walk and a helpful lift from a neighbor, and I arrive at Carrick – “The Blue House”.

Tomorrow, the animals of Carrick!

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Published in: on May 17, 2015 at 10:53 am  Comments (8)  

Tarbert

To answer a couple questions from Chris about yesterday’s post (thanks, Chris!), the sheep I was photographing is a Scottish Blackface, pretty common here. Chris also asked about the lack of trees. I had to go to my host’s library for that one. In “The Outer Hebrides: A Landscape Fashioned by Geology”, I found out that much of the Outer Hebrides was once covered by forests but that was about 8000 years ago. Then, the actions of Mesolithic Man (I take that to be cutting down the trees), changing climate to cooler and wetter, and the increase of peat resulted in few trees by about 3000 years ago. At some point I will tell you more about peat but don’t want to get too wordy here. This was an interesting little book!

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Here are a few trees I found but they are few and far between!

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So, remember those gorgeous blue skies yesterday? Here is the view from my window this morning. I heard the winds come up last night and then the rains began. Yes, those are actually small whitecaps on the loch!

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My host kindly dropped me off in the village this morning (after a wonderful breakfast which included homemade yogurt and the best porridge I have ever had!) as I had a few things to accomplish before taking time for some shopping. A stop at the tourist agency got me the information that the ferry I am taking tomorrow had actually been changed to a different time due to changing tides. Who knew you had to take tides into account!? Having re-worked tomorrow’s schedule, i stopped at a tea room/coffee shop for a brief snack.

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Then, a stop at a little market to get a few supplies. I am getting to my next destination even later than expected tomorrow AND the island’s shop will not be open on Sunday so am taking a few things with me (I will be at a self-catering cottage). I have been told there may be some fresh eggs there for me, though! I will need my strength as I will be helping to take care of some Hebridean Sheep bottle babies!

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Now, off to a big reason for my visit – the Harris Tweed shops.

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This shop has the bolts – and bolts – and bolts (and some pre-cut yardage) of Harris Tweed – all woven in the Outer Hebrides (more on that in a minute).

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Some of this is being shipped home to me. I can’t show you it as the shop is shipping it for me. However, one piece I bought was to try and match some yarn I got in Stornoway at that yarn shop. They showed me you can buy bobbin ends – what is left over when they are weaving the Harris Tweeds. These are singles which people then can ply as they want and then knit with. This looks like a LOT of leftover to me but they can’t re-use as the colors will be different. The colors are a lot better in person but they are green and a multi color with green accents.

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The other shop has merchandise made from the tweed material.

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Here is a brief explanation of Harris Tweed. The industry has had a long history of ups and downs, almost disappearing not that long ago. But recently it has become very popular internationally and production is up. The rules are that all of the wool used must come from Scotland and ALL of the weaving must occur in home on the Outer Hebrides. Wow.

The wool is scoured (washed) at the island mills and then dyed and blended BEFORE being carded and spun. The yarn is then wound onto large beams for the warp which goes to the weavers, along with the yarn for weft and pattern instruction cards. There are also a few independent weavers on the islands who use their own patterns. The raw (unwashed) bolts of woven fabric are returned to the mill for processing and inspection. If all is well, the wool receives the authentication stamp and the customer (me today!) gets woven labels with the famous orb on them.

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After getting back to Coel na Mara, i wanted to get a few more sheep photos. This window was not going to work for this.

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And this one doesn’t work as I can’t tell if the white blobs are sheep or rocks!

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So there was nothing for it but to head out into the strongly blowing rain (I should get extra credit for this!) to look for sheep. I found a ewe and was ready to get a nice rainy photo when I startled her and she moved quickly away – which made her lambs, previously not in sight – run to mom for a quick snack…

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…and then head off with mom.

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Of course, if I had waited a few hours, here is the view from my window. The rain has stopped but the winds are still gusting. Let’s hope they die down for the ferry crossing tomorrow!

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Published in: on May 15, 2015 at 7:27 pm  Comments (7)  

From Stornoway to Tarbert

Before leaving Stornoway this afternoon, I looked around the town some more. I am always fascinated by unusual (to me) street signs – helpful ones:
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And those showing you are in a really different place! Many signs here are in Gaelic as well as English.

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In a little park are two things made of stone that symbolize part of the history here. I think the house is a “black house”. The only way to heat the homes was to burn peat. The replica standing stones are a miniature of what you can see other places around here, dating from ancient times,

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The birds here seem to appreciate the chimney pots for their roosting.
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Soon it was time to board a bus for the one hour trip to Tarbert, saying “good-bye” to my first night’s hotel along the way.
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The scenery on the drive was very nice, although a little desolate looking (not counting the sheep!) it is very rocky with some beautiful water views although most of them seemed to be on the other side of the bus! We were on a very winding road – no highways like I am used to!

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My host for the next couple days picked me up at the pier where the bus drops you off and brought me to Ceol na Mara (“Song of the Sea”).

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Here is the view from my room…

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…which you know made me want to get closer! My host said I could explore, but shut the gate so the sheep don’t get into the yard!

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I realized at about 10 feet from her that she doesn’t know me AND she has four very solid looking horns!

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She was very calm – probably used to people – but I thought I’d move on and get some other shots. The ground is very boggy here…

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…but worth walking on for these views!

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Look at these interesting shells along the road – I am guessing maybe the birds drop them?

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Tomorrow I will be spending most of the day in the village of Tarbert. There is a 100% chance of rain so it will be very different from the last couple days’ weather, which has been exceptional!

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Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (9)  

The Beginning of the Outer Hebrides

Welcome to a chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Scottish mainland! Ian Lawson, in his incredible book “From the Land Comes the Cloth”, which I was lucky enough to pick up today, says “The perpetual rhythm of the North Atlantic has shaped some of the oldest rocks in the world into fifty or so islands, around fifteen of them inhabited. Together, they make up the most extraordinary archiplelago, home to close-knit communities, rare wildlife habitats and teeming seabird colonies. A photographer’s paradise.” My photographs are much less spectacular but it will be an interesting journey.

Not much to report yet – it has been a long day (I guess two days) with three flights and a very long layover in Glasgow, which was good since I had to go into the Glasgow City Centre to get a phone that works locally!

The last flight on a quite small plane – about 36 seats – got me to Stornoway, the capital of the Outer Hebrides. Here is the view from my hotel on the main street – Cromwell – and, yes, that is a castle in the distance, Lews Castle, but not all that old. Still, we don’t have many castles back home so it was worth taking a picture of it!

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Here is a taste of the local architecture:

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If I had come by ferry – rather than plane – this is where I would have landed.

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From the looks of these shops and signs, I will be doing a little shopping before getting on the bus for Tarbert – my next stop. No sheep photos yet – I saw some very large fluffy ones on the way here from the airport but the taxi driver was going too fast for me to get a good shot! I hope to remedy that on the way to Tarbert tomorrow!

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Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 7:38 pm  Comments (8)  

“Newest” Flock Members

I was going to title this post “I Guess They Are Staying” but it has now been about 3 1/2 months since alpacas Evangeline and Asta joined the flock so it is a done deal! The day they arrived, the flock knew right away that something was up. the gathering

Paridot,

Paridot, “Hey – wait for me!”

The new flock members get unloaded. unloading Paridot carefully checks them out and the flock watches them explore their new home. pari checks them out flock watches them explore Evangeline and Asta love Paridot a little more than he loves them… face off

Paridot,

Paridot, “Argggghhhh!!!”

…especially when they steal his favorite dirt bath spot!

Paridot,

Paridot, “You’re in my spot!”

But, they have now adjusted to the farm’s routine – exploring the front pasture (when it was still green!)… exploring front …getting sheared

Evangeline,

Evangeline, “I hate this part of getting the dirt blown out!”

Evangeline,

Evangeline, “I like this part!” [thanks helpers Amy and Mary]

Evangeline,

Evangeline, “I hate this part, too!”

Asta,

Asta, “It helps if you let them cover your eyes.” [Thanks to Dona for all the great shearing photos]

“You’re next, buddy!”

…enduring their first vet check here

Evangeline,

Evangeline, “Yup, you guessed it – I don’t like this much either – although the vet was nice!”

But, overall, they have adjusted well and enjoy hanging out with Paridot… hanging out with pari

by tree …and sometimes even with me. I have gone from saying maybe they’re staying to I can’t imagine the flock without them. Thanks, Pat and Jon for this fun addition to our flock. It keeps things interesting! eating from me

Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 10:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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