Last Hebridean Post: the Shearing of Baghasdal, the Ram

Our time in the Outer Hebrides is at an end. However, we squeezed in a couple more important activities: watching a shearing and seeing a natural dyeing. In this way, we sampled croft work of both Jonathan and Denise.

First, the shearing. Jonathan had already sheared the hogget (yearling or so) rams. But the flock sire, Baghasdal (“Valley of the Bays”) remained.


He is a beautiful ram. Because it kept raining on us on and off, Jonathan decided to move the shearing to the stone building down by the shore. He uses the hand shears and did the front first, with his little helper watching what would be in store for him in the future!


He then lays him on one side, and then the other, getting the wool off. Baghasdal is being very cooperative. He also gets his hooves trimmed and is dosed for worms.


Rhubarb and Primrose decide to take a nap. This shearing stuff is exhausting!


Returned to the group, he is inspected to see just who this guy is!


We take the fleece with us back to the Big Garden as Jonathan and Denise want to get a closer look at it and Mary and I will be seeing how Denise does her natural dyeing. I am so surprised and pleased to find that I will be able to have this beautiful fleece shipped back to the U.S. after we scour it! What a generous gift!

We give it a skirting.


Then a scouring.


Meanwhile, Denise shows us the dyestuffs we will use today – stinging nettles and Sweet Cicely.



The end result of the afternoon – dyed wool (yarn), dyed fleece, and washed Baghasdal fleece. Fantastic!


It has been a phenomenal trip – a perfect place to stay, unbelievable weather, wonderful sheep, and fun and generous hosts. What more could you ask? A return trip! Boys, I will be back!




Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Trip to Tarbert

One of the things we planned to do was take a two-day trip to Tarbert which requires about an hour and a half drive north to Berneray (past the airport at Benbecula where we started), a one hour ferry ride to Leverburgh, and then another half hour or so drive to Tarbert.

After careful directions and map annotations from Jonathan, and only one stop to ask directions, we made it to the ferry with 15 minutes to spare. Here comes the ferry!


The captain has to negotiate a series of buoys to keep us safe crossing the Sound of Harris.



Debarking the ferry we started our drive up the western coast of Harris, the island north of the Uists where we were staying. Just beautiful.



We have seen Scottish Blackface and Hebridean Sheep but here is a Cheviot for you.


We apparently began our trip at rush hour.



Ah….now it’s thinning out.


And then there was the little one who needed his mid-morning snack…






I think we can begin moving again…


We stop at an art cafe – a number of these around the islands which have artwork for sale and also provide coffee and tea. This one had beautiful paintings, note cards and other works for local artists and very good scones!


One of the reasons to come to Tarbert was to visit an independent weaver (that is one not working directly for the mills but gets their work examined and approved as Harris Tweed thus able to use the orb stamp indicating a woven good produced in the Outer Hebrides from Scottish wool). I was able to connect with Joanne at Urgha Loom Shed before our trip and arrange a visit. We drove toward Scalpay and turned off toward Urgha and then down a very steep hill which ended at the water – and her beautiful little shed studio.


The central attraction inside is her beautiful Hattersley loom – the traditional loom for producing Harris Tweed. From my reading, the “Hattersley domestic semi-automatic treadle powered loom” was developed for WW I servicemen who had lost a hand and could use the looms to make a living. They caught on on Lewis and Harris because they can create intricate patterns and produce cloth quickly – up to four meters per hour.



The shuttles come in from the side.


And the power is provided by the weaver’s pedaling.


The weft in the bobbins is held on pirns for which  Joanne has a winder that was really fun to watch!



Joanne’s studio is a wonderful mix of the old and new, classic and modern. Her inspiration wall was impressive. Thanks so much, Joanne, for letting us visit! If you would like to see some of Joanne’s creations, she has an Etsy site. Check her out at UrghaLoomShed!


Returning to Tarbert we got in some shopping and a nice evening at our hotel. Saturday we headed to the Clo Mor (Big Cloth) exhibition . From “The three main tenets of Harris Tweed are that it is (a) made from pure virgin wool, (b) hand-woven at the home of the weaver, and (c) the process takes place entirely in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It is these elements, underpinned by a unique Act of Parliament, which gives Harris Tweed its unique, enduring qualities.” This exhibit is at Drinishader, heading down the east side of Harris (more about that in a minute!)


Inside, there are samples of Harris Tweed to handle and exhibits of Harris Tweed fashion.





This Harris Tweed footwear was created by Jaggy Nettle. I would wear these!


The beautiful Harris Tweed colors are created by blending the color into the wool before it is carded. This interesting slip of paper shows one example of how they are blended.


After leaving here, we make the decision to carry on down the east coast to a recommended art cafe. Fortified by cheese, tea and scones we continue on.



Now, comes the tricky part. This whole east coast has curvy, winding roads with ups and downs and “drops” to the water or rocks below. I had to spend a lot of time leaning to the right (remember, we are driving on the “other” side of the road) to keep us on the road (just kidding but it sure felt like it!) and so when Mary would point out things I should photograph, I just held the camera to the left and clicked! In spite of that, I think the following photos give you an idea of the road!




Of course, the sheep are not bothered by this and take it all in stride.


And always get in those all-important naps and snuggles.


We survive the drive and arrive at our ferry terminal in plenty of time to meet the ferry. I think I may have discovered the secret to Mary’s productive knitting, I think she knits while driving (just kidding – but it does pass the time while waiting for ferries!)


Here comes the ferry – we are off “home” to Eriskay after a lovely trip to Tarbert area.


Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 7:58 pm  Comments (4)  

Lambs and Other Animals of the Croft and An Gàrradh Mòr (The Big Garden)

We focus a lot on the sheep while we are here – who wouldn’t?! But there are many other animals where we are staying and nearby at our hosts’ home.

But let’s begin with the sheep again, shall we? We were greeted our first day here by a visit from Rhubarb (whom you have met) and the other bottle baby this year, Primrose, whom I got to hold right away.


They both come over to the croft each day. Rhubarb is now spending his days with the other “boys” – yearling rams and the flock sire, but is still getting three bottle feedings a day. Primrose comes along as she adores Rhubarb. They get a chance to play and explore while Jonathan does chores.





When Rhubarb joins the boys, Primrose is not happy. Such is the life of the little tag-a-long.


The croft also has many beautiful chickens (from whose eggs come wonderful things such as lemon curd made by our hosts!) and geese, shown here with this year’s goslings.



When Primrose isn’t visiting the croft, she is back at The Big Garden. She is rather a persnickety bottle baby and definitely has her favorite feeder.

Is it Mary?


No….Is it Jacalyn?


No….Is it Jonathan?


Maybe….and getting warner. It’s Denise!


Primrose also gets some time with the goslings who currently live here (hatched from incubator eggs). They will also move over to the croft when they are more feathered out and ready.



Then there are the “staying” animals who only live at The Big Garden – cats Tabatha, Dusky, Molly (over 20 years old and not feeling like a picture that day!), Princess Pickle, and Thomas (sorry, Thomas, no picture!) and very special Tilly, the dog.





Whether at the croft or The Big Garden, there are plenty of very well cared-for animals for us to watch, interact with, and enjoy.


Published in: on May 23, 2016 at 7:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Arriving in the Hebrides….and Rhubarb

After an early morning flight from Edinburgh, we arrived in the Outer Hebrides at the Benbecula airport. This is the airport more in the middle of the Outer Hebrides, with the other two being Stornoway to the north and Barra to the south, both of which I used on my trip here last year. This location was better suited to renting a car for where we wanted to go.



We drove from Benbecula to Eriskay, the island on which we are staying – about an hour drive. This beach area on Eriskay is so beautiful and another visitor offered to get a shot of the two of us.



As you may know, one of my concerns was driving on the other side of the road here. Mary is doing most of the driving (and doing it very well!) but I am getting in a little. We really should warn the locals.


At the croft where we are staying are the beautiful Hebridean Sheep.


One of the special ones this year is bottle baby “Rhubarb” ( so named as Rhubarb was being picked when he arrived back at the house where he would get his start).

Here, he waits for that morning bottle Jonathan has brought.


OK, Rhubarb, you can have breakfast.


He obviously enjoyed it!


He then joins the flock to hang out with the “big boys” for the day, learning how to be a sheep.



Published in: on May 22, 2016 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  


We ended staying in Edinburgh as a way to get between the Faroes and the Outer Hebrides. You cannot fly directly from one to the other – no matter how hard you try. So a nice couple evenings and a day in Edinburgh were ahead of us. We stayed near where we could walk to things and saw some lovely vistas and architecture.






We had no trouble finding good things to eat (food in first shot a little nibbled because Mary could not wait for me to take photo!), both a snack at a coffee shop and, later, dinner at an Indian restaurant.




We decided before we got there that we would at least look up yarn shops in Edinburgh. As it turned out, with all the walking involved, that was all the shopping we did (with the exception of finding a phone store for me to switch out my Faroese sim card for my phone to a UK one).

Here is one photos of some of the yarn. As soon as I figure out what I want to use for what project, some of it is destined for a beautiful garter ridged shawl.


It looked like the weather might be changing so we headed back to the hotel and retired early to make a very early morning flight (actually two flights!) to the Outer Hebrides.



I wonder what we will find there?!


Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  


Our last stop in the Faroes was to the charming little village of Bøur. It is past the airport on the island of Vágar and down a steep little road from the main road (yay again to Mary’s driving skills!)

Our view when we arrived and parked.


A little closer and you can see the most spectacular of the sea stacks, Tindhólmur, named after the peak (tindur in Faroese) that rises to 262 meters). It was once inhabited but now is only for grazing sheep.


We came here on a recommendation from our new friend, Dorthea, who introduced us by email to a villager, Anne Sophie. She agreed to meet us shortly before our flight and, of course, invited us in for tea and cake!

She has been in the village all her life. Her family gathers sheep skins for processing into tanned hides, which is done in Poland. Here are a couple.



She also had a painting of Tindhólmur, showing it from a different angle than we could see.


The village really is beautiful with a church, dating from 1865, sheep (i think a requirement!), and a waterfall (maybe also a requirement…)




But, our time on the Faroes has ended. And we have to be on our way. See you in Edinburgh!


Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 8:07 pm  Leave a Comment  


The last few days in the Faroes went by in a blur. On Saturday we did some miscellaneous shopping in the capital, Torshavn. Just walking around, getting a light lunch and gathering information for the next day.

On Sundays pretty much everything is closed so we figured this would be a good day to do something that was on our agenda for this trip – a two hour boat cruise to the Vestmanna bird cliffs or Vestmannabjørgini in Faroese. According to the guidebook, these cliffs provide a safe place for “thousands upon thousands of seabirds, attracted by the vast shoals of fish that gather here in the plankton-rich waters of the North Atlantic.”

A short drive from our base in Torshavn and we reach Vestmanna on the northwest side of The island of Streymoy.


Of course we had to look for sheep….


…and get a bite to eat at the shop (this was a lovely apple pie) before boarding our boat (which, I must say, looked small to me for where we were headed!)



Well-narrated in English and Faroese, we had a trip that gave us fantastic views of the cliffs and grottoes.





This one is called “the elephant”. Can you see it?


If you look closely, you can see a group of guillemots nesting here.


The sheep here negotiate extremely steep cliffs to graze. These sheep are not wild but are accounted for as part of a particular flock and have a shepherd checking in on them. How the PEOPLE manage these cliffs is not clear to us!



In the next two pairs of photos I show a close up of the sheep but then pull back to try and give you an idea of their surroundings.





We leave this pretty little village and return home to organize our packing for our last day here and our departure – and fit in a little knitting!



Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Adventures in Driving

I want to start by saying that Mary is a VERY GOOD DRIVER but I think today tested both of us a little.

Getting gas before we started out seemed like a good idea. Not too hard. Note the price. Looks scary until you realize there are about 6.5 DKK (Danish kroner) to the dollar.



Our goal today is to find the Snaedan spinning mill in Strendur which is near the southern tip of the island of Eysturoy. We are based in Torshavn which is near the southern tip of the island of Streymoy. The islands only connect in one place, a bridge you may be able to see about midway up Eysturoy.


Of course, we got to see a lot of sheep along the way.




The mill is difficult to find. We overshot the tip of the island and were headed north up,the western side. Turned around and headed back. Finally found a small street that took us down near the harbour. We looked around but didn’t see anything. We asked a fisherman and he headed us in the right direction. At least we knew we were close. We parked to look around and spotted someone else pulling in and hoped they might know where the mill was. Even better luck – it was Maja, daughter-in-law of the mill owner and she worked there! And in we go!


The wool there is either all Faroese or all wool from the Falklands. It is scoured (washed) and dyed outside of the Faroes and then brought here. This wool goes through a picker



Then into a very long carder. I could not even get it all into one photo but here are a couple shots.



Maja shows us a handful of scraps of what it looks like coming out at the end.


Here are the spinners – 128 bobbins! And then ladies are getting it into skeins.




The sweaters you will see in a minute are knit here and then Maja shows us how they have to attach the sweater body to the sleeves using this machine.



We went into the shop to look at all the beautiful things Snaeldan makes.





We thanked Maja and were on our way, having decided to explore the northern tip of both Eysturoy and Streymoy. At the tip of Eysturoy on one side is Gjogv – beautiful scenery – and on the other is an area north of Eidi with an interesting story.


The scenery was breath-taking, almost literally on these narrow, winding roads.





When we reached the area north of Eidi, we were looking for two rocks we had heard about. Here is the story from the guidebook:

“According to legend, these are the remains of a giant and giantess who had come to the Faroes to tow them north to Iceland. However, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as they had hoped and when the female giant climbed up nearby Eidiskollur mountain to attach a rope, the mountain cracked (the crack is visible today), delaying matters, which finally came to an end when daylight turned the two giants into stone.”


It was a fantastic day – wool, sheep, and beautiful scenery. What could be better?!



Published in: on May 14, 2016 at 10:00 pm  Comments (5)  

A Diverse Day: Shopping to Sheep

We decided to explore some shopping opportunities in Torshavn (the capital) today. We are renting a flat fairly close to the city centre. Right next door is a house with a thatched roof which are very common here.


We are able to park just outside the house so that helps a lot. We started out to go to a shopping centre our knitting ladies had told us about. Besides giving us some good directions that have immensely speeded up our driving places, they filled us in on some signs (remember, very little in English) and some parking rules. It turns out each car has a “p-clock”. This is a dial with a clock face that you set for the current time when yiunpark. What you need to know is what is the parking time limit where you’ve parked and then get back before that time is up (pretty hefty fines for missing it). So, the parking enforcement people checking can see when you parked there. So far, so good. We have not exceeded our time!

It’s in the lower right corner of the passenger’s side of the windshield.



Besides getting a few groceries, we managed to find the Navia shop and maybe made some purchases!


A couple of other interesting things at the shopping centre. The area is also known for things made of glass, more like fused glass. We saw some here and hope to see more when we explore some more.



One last thing at the centre: I am trying to learn a little Faroese while here but it is slow going. I did learn the word for “thank you” – a useful addition to anyone’s vocabulary. It is “takk” and here it is on the trash receptacle near where we grabbed a quick lunch!


Now, on to the really important things – more sheep. Dorthea, who hosted us for the knitting group invited us to see her feed her sheep at evening. These are the ewe and lamb groups. The ewes receive supplemental feed before lambing and while they are nursing.

Their farm dates back to the 1400s. She said she was born a farmer and has known she would always do this. Her daughter is to be the next generation’s farmer in the family and they are now required to take classes and training for this. Their farm has 240 sheep and that number was set in the 1800s. How many sheep you are allowed is determined by what the land will support.

The sheep are in three groups. We got into the farm car to drive to each group. As soon as they see the car coming, they start showing up! You can see here where the feed is placed for easy eating.





I mentioned in the last post that about 20-30% of the ewes have horns. Here are a couple examples.



In the second group, some of the sheep had to run a bit to get fed. The steep hills you see is where the sheep will be headed soon and not come down until October.




In the third location, the ewes and lambs kept getting separated as the lambs kept trying to figure out fences!



I mentioned the color variety and here are some stunning examples.




Next trip: we head for the island of Eysturoy to the east. Looking for a wool mill and more adventures!


Published in: on May 13, 2016 at 11:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Finding Our Way Around Adventure Begins…

Not too jet-lagged, we check out of our hotel and visit a few spots before leaving the island of Varga. Mary really likes waterfalls and there are many of them here – some will stay as they come from the springs and others will stop after more of the water has left the ground.


I was really taken by the housing settlements clustered by the water.


Our next goal was to get off of Varga and onto the island of Streymoy where we are staying. Travel between the islands involves tunnels – some of them quite long. Mary is driving this part of the trip and is unflappable – a good thing as you will hear later.


We had an appointment in the afternoon with Jens at Bunadarstovan, the Agricultural Centre. He kindly gave us over two hours of his time to explain some aspects of agricultural in the Faroes.

Here are a few interesting facts (with the caveat that if there are errors, they are mine – not Jens!):

* there are about 70,000 ewes ( all Faroese Sheep) on the islands

* 20-30% of the ewes are horned, with about 30% white, 30% gray, 30% black and 10% moorit

* lambing rate is about 70-80% (although more twins this year due to very hard winter last year meaning that the ewes were in better shaped to produce twins than would usually be)

* ewes and lambs are rounded up from the “infield” (land closer to villages) in May and sent up the mountains to the “outfileds” to graze, until brought down again in October, thus giving those lower pasture areas time to recover.

* each group going up has their local shepherd who checks on them from time to time.

* there are no natural predators for these sheep

We had a tour after that of some of the facility, seeing some of the sheep that are part of the Centre’s flock




One who Mary says is having a particularly bad hair day!


After leaving Jens (who with what we are finding is the typical Faroese hospitality, provided us with coffee and pastries!), we began the 25 minute drive to our hospital in the capital, Torshavn. 2 1/2 hours later, we arrived! And it only took us stopping a very nice lady who drove out of her way to lead us partway there ( only to have us fail due to out lack of Faroese language skills, both verbal and reading of street signs), and stops at 2 convenience stores and a gas station, the last of whom provided us with a different map than we had.

That evening, we tried our navigation skills again when we went back up to the same area as the Ag Centre as we had been invited to a knitting group at the home of the Dorthea, organizer of last year’s North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Conference held on the Faroes. We had a wonderful time, fantastic food and met some very nice and helpful people who gave us more ideas of what to do during the rest of our stay.

Mary and I got back to our house with only a few wrong turns this time. Yay!

Tomorrow’s trip: back to Dorthea’s for a lot more of these!




Published in: on May 12, 2016 at 11:26 pm  Comments (3)  

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