Back to Scotland – and on to the Isle of Skye

Leaving a nice visit to Wales, I head back to Glasgow for one night and then on to the Isle of Skye.

So, why Skye and how do I get there? The “why” I hope you see as the journey progresses. The “how” was a bit tricky as I checked into this months ago. Short of driving (too far with an unfamiliar car on the “other” side of the road), a train looked to be my best choice. So, I got a ticket from Glasgow to Mallaig. Why Mallaig? From there you can take a fairly short ferry ride to Armadale on Skye.

This train leaves from Glasgow Queen Street Station. A very nice and efficient station. You watch the boards as your destination gets closer and closer to the top of the list and thereby gets assigned a platform number. As soon as you see it, you rush through the gates to the platform with your luggage and, after checking a hundred times that you are getting on the right train and in the right coach – you depart!

The scenery goes from city to the wilds of Scotland’s highlands pretty quickly. Varied and beautiful.

It is a 5+ hour train ride so I found time to wind some yarn purchased at Wonderwool. It turns out your tray table makes an excellent skein holder!

The journey continued ( with a few snacks from the tea cart) until we reached the important stop at Crianlarich. I say important because it is at this stop that the train separates itself in two, with the forward cars going to Oban and the rear cars going to Mallaig. After 50 more checks that I was in the right car (conductor re-checking tickets and announcements being made to encourage people to change cars if necessary), the train splits itself in two and we continue our journey.

You’ll notice I did find a few sheep along the way. And, got to go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the one featured in the Harry Potter films as they head to Hogwarts.

As we approach Mallaig, I bother the conductor once again to ask if the ferry knows to wait for us. The answer, not necessarily. So, I pack up my knitting, gather my luggage and prepare to dash off to find the ferry terminal. After a false start going the wrong way, I find a sign pointing in the general direction of the ferry but still need to question someone along the way. Too many buildings and I am in a rush! I find the building, buy my ticket, and gather with some other people who look like they are going by ferry ( after almost by accident getting in the group of people who I now think were boarding a tour bus at the same spot! The clue was they didn’t have luggage….)

The ride was short (about 35 minutes) and only a little bumpy….

Safe arrival after a long journey. Met by Mickey to take me to my rental (hire) car, an hour away. And then another 20 minute drive with me driving now and following Mickey in his car to my destination, the magical Island at the Edge. The story will continue when I get a little better weather for some photos! But I think you can guess why I am here!

Published in: on May 5, 2018 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Wye Valley Tour – A Few Highlights

When planning this trip, I found out I could not fly back to Glasgow from Cardiff on a Tuesday (it can be harder to get around the UK without driving than you might think. Do-able but you need to add extra time). So I looked into what I could do with my one day. I stumbled across this tour company, WhereWhenWales. With a name like that I just had to try it! They offer four tours on a rotating basis, one each day. Tuesday was the Wye Valley which seemed perfect.

We set out at a decent time in the morning with a very knowledgeable driver/tour guide and , also, along the way met someone else from the company for more detailed tours.

Starting out from Cardiff (at lower left corner of map), we stopped in Caerleon a former Roman garrison during about the first 400 years A.D. On that site we saw a re-creation of that settlement, from around 80A.D. which included the Roman baths.

A couple other interesting facts, this shows a relief from the period with the colors red and gold, important in the dyeing of garments as they indicated prestige. I found out they did use madder root for the red.

Below is a reproduction of their footwear. Our guide explained that when it was cold, they stuffed sheep’s wool inside them and it felted as they walked.

Lastly at this stop we visited their amphitheater where they held their “games”. Since everything was held outdoors, even in rainy weather, they had to find a way to keep dry. They spun flax to make linen for clothing and then coated it with lanolin, extracted from sheep wool (using urine). They probably didn’t smell the best but they didn’t get as wet in the rain!




On our way to our next stop, our guide pointed out a sign for Raglan, named for Lord Raglan who served in many campaigns. He was wounded at Waterloo and lost his right arm. He asked that his sleeve for that side be designed so he could still use his sword. The birth of the raglan sleeve!

You may have noticed by now that all signs are in English and in Welsh. The language was disappearing in use especially by the young. In 1997 the Language Act was passed which mandates the teaching of the Welsh language to all children until age 12.

Also along the way, fields and fields of grazing sheep and blooming canola.

Next stop – Monmouth. It is the birthplace of Henry V and Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce. It is also the site of a medieval gated bridge on the border with England.

Next stop was, I think, the highpoint of the tour for me – Tintern Abbey. Founded in 1131, it is Wales’s best-preserved Abbey. The weather and light cooperated to give me some memorable photos. In the last photo, you can see three very small windows which have the last remaining pieces of the medieval white glass in them. Many parts of the Abbey – glass from windows and lead from roof, included, were removed during the reign of Henry VIII.

And some beautiful bluebells on the way out.

Final stop – Chepstow. Wales has more castles than any other country in the world. 600 at one time and over 100 are still standing. For me, the importance of this one was that it was the site of some of the filming for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who!

Next adventure on the horizon – the Isle of Skye. Only a plane, train, ferry and rental car away!

Published in: on May 2, 2018 at 4:34 pm  Comments (4)  

Builth Wells

When I decided to attend Wonderwool Wales I knew I had to find a place to stay in the area of mid Wales. Since I wasn’t driving, it had to be nearby. I was lucky to find the B&B Brunwye, built in 1899 originally as a merchant’s house. Sondra and Tony run a very nice establishment. Nice rooms, wonderful breakfasts and they are extremely helpful with local information.

It is a very beautiful setting.

It faces the Wye River which has a walk along it of 136 miles. Here is the river at afternoon and evening.

And to follow up on the poppy theme from the conference, here is a very well attended war memorial near Bronwye.

And, no sheep, but did find this bull!

Next – off the Cardiff!

Published in: on April 30, 2018 at 8:06 pm  Comments (3)  

San Francisco to Frankfurt to Glasgow ….to Builth Wells Wales

It took awhile to get here (blame that 7 hour flight delay in Glasgow ) but I am enjoying my first full day here. And why am I here? I discovered there was a wool festival in the middle of Wales happening before a planned trip to Scotland so decided to see if I could get there. A little harder than I thought but I made it!

It is called Wonderwool Wales and even in town there a sign to help you find it. It is held at the Royal Showground.

This festival is very well attended and some sights were familiar ones.

There were some interesting – and fun – signs and, of course, food.

Not a lot of sheep inside – a Longwool, Shetland and Ryeland – and a small and noisy flock outside.

A fun part of the festival is their “Sheep Walk” (think cat walk) where volunteers model fashion pieces made by the vendors, a twist on what some of us are familiar with in U.S. wool festivals. The mc was hilarious as she tried to recruit volunteers as models and then gave the running commentary. She even got some men involved!

The beautiful backdrop you see there is the Curtain of Poppies project to commemorate the centenary of the end of WWI. From the program notes: “We hoped that this project would bring communities together in the same way that people on the Home Front during WWI were united as they created numerous textile items for the troops serving abroad. The response to our appeal for poppies has been overwhelming and at times very humbling, as parcels of poppies arrived with notes, cards, photographs and information about contributors’ family connections to WWI and their reasons for getting involved.”

All in all, a very nice festival!

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 1:10 pm  Comments (6)  

A Wonderful Wool – and a couple other things

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Wrapping up my stay here and hoping to be home soon, I want to share a few last things about these sheep and their wool.

But first, a couple maps to help you see where I am. In the second you can see the placement of the Isle of Man between Ireland and England. In the first, I can point out where I am staying – in Douglas on the east coast. We drove up to Laxey, which I will describe below, and then went around to Peel which has the castle and was the capital of IOM and the Viking seat of power.

There is a lot of history here and I barely scratched the surface of it. Like many other areas, it was settled by Vikings. They have a wonderful museum here, where our conference was held. I spent a few minutes going through it but not nearly enough to do it justice.

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But back to wool. We spent an afternoon in Laxey. It is the site of Laxey Woolen Mills and we heard a great talk about its history by the current owner, John Wood. The only commercial mill left on the island it was founded in 1881 and has had a very interesting history. Here they weave Pure Manx Loaghtan and blends into travel rugs, scarves, tweeds and for bags – all weaving done on the two pedal looms here.

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The upper level has a wonderful exhibition space which houses a variety of exhibits. The one there currently was scheduled to coincide with our conference.

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Here are some of the creations of local artists, celebrating this magnificent sheep breed and the versatility of its wool.

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Here is one of the looms – with mill dog “Rick”.

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All in all, a very good conference with a lot of interesting talks and field trips. What a privilege to meet such an interesting breed and the people who care so passionately about its survival.

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[thanks again to Nathalie Ketterle for another really good ram photo!]

Published in: on October 15, 2017 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Manx Loaghtan Sheep

These are the featured sheep of the conference, even though we also learn about other breeds in the group. Here is some information about them from a product tag from something made from their wool.

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We visited two different farms to see these sheep. Together they have about 1800 of this breed on the island. Another breeder has about 2000 and then there are some smaller flocks. Very beautiful sheep.

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Jenny Shepherd at Ballacosnahan Farm runs a program to encourage local small farmers to not use the same rams over and over again. She rents them rams from her group for 15 pounds ( about $20) per month. She keeps a wether in with them and says it seems to keep them all calmer!

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I have really enjoyed meeting and learning about these sheep whose name I couldn’t even pronounce before I came here! (Thanks to Nathalie Ketterle from Kollektion der Vielfalt for the last photo of rams).

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Published in: on October 14, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Comments (1)  

And I Am on the Isle of Man…..

Where? I had asked myself this question in the spring when planning this trip. For those of you not more informed than I was, it is an island in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England. It is a “crown dependency” of England, with it’s own government, currency and laws.

Four plane rides later, I am there.

A few local sights:

Horse drawn trams along the promenade by the sea.

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My hotel. The cream one in the middle. Very nice.

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An almost 100-year old oak that Queen Victoria planted.

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And they have their own mail trucks! More colorful than ours, I think.

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So, why am I here?

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This is the 7th year of the conference and I have never been before. It moves around to different countries who have short-tail sheep and share some history and heritage.

The Isle of Man has their own sheep – the Manx Loaghtan. Gorgeous. Two and four horned. Beautiful mouse brown (the meaning of “loaghtan”) fleece. “The sheep the Vikings left behind.”

More later!

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Published in: on October 13, 2017 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Little Things

Back from my spring wanderings and, as often after a trip where everything is different and new, I find I tend to focus on the little things at home on the farm.

We had been having some problems before I left with the chicken waterers. Really hard to get the covers off once that vacuum was created. Also hard to clean. I just didn’t have time to do anything about it before I left. But after seeing the waterers my friends had on the croft I decided to look into it upon my return. Voila! New waterers. Easy to open and easy to keep clean.

Something else I have been meaning to deal with is the drying of my fleeces. After carefully sorting and washing them, I tended to lose a little to the wind when drying them outdoors. My friend Colleen had shown me this idea awhile back but had not implemented it yet. By placing tulle (netting) on a drying rack and then the fleece on top, you can cover the drying fleece with more tulle which keeps it from blowing away and also keeps it from falling through the spaces on these racks, while giving the air room to move around the fleece, thereby drying it pretty quickly (especially when the temperatures are well over 100 which they are this week!)

 

Finally, not a problem I anticipated. I was looking for the sheep and could only find the camelids out. Where were they?

Nellie, “This was not my fault!”

They had managed to shut themselves in the barn! I managed to get them all back out, except Lessie, who was happy to help me in the hay room.

I may need to find a way to  keep this gate open after I open up in the morning. Perhaps an eyebolt in the wall and a chain and clip.

And now, something not related to this blog topic in particular but very much related to living on this farm. My husband grew up on a farm and even had sheep at one time. Over the years of living here when we would go back home to visit his family, I would have conversations with his Dad about farming practices in the past. When he saw we were serious about having sheep, he even gave me a couple of his sheep books and another book that is a compilation of old Farm Journals. These are so fascinating to look at.

But even more fascinating were my conversations with my father-in-law, glimpses into how things used to be. I had always thought of him as a man of few words but it did not take much to get him talking about farming. I think he knew every piece of equipment ever made and a lot about various sheep breeds, as well as cattle, chickens and pigs.

This past week my father-in-law was laid to rest. We will all miss him a lot. Thanks, Dad, for the books but most of all for all the good talks.

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Published in: on June 16, 2017 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Really is About the Sheep….

But I do want to start this last blog of the trip with an acknowledgment and huge thanks to those who made this trip possible and those who made it work along the way. Even though many of them will never see this blog , it needs saying nonetheless.

First, to my husband who helped keep things running smoothly at home, keeping materials organized to feed the flock and in general staying alert for problems (none of which seemed to have happened this time!) and is my biggest supporter in all things sheep. And thanks to Marni and Teddi who watched over and fed the flock.

Over here, our hosts Billy and Jenny at our flat in Lerwick (Shetland) who collected us from the airport and helped us with advice – even medical – and were a friendly couple to interact with. Big thanks to Steph’s mother, Kathy, who found us other things to do when weather cancelled some plans. Thanks to the tea shop ladies who were fun to talk with and to the tour guide who helped me find all those ponies and sheep even though he didn’t understand at first why I would want to look for sheep!

In the Outer Hebrides, Duncan, our bus driver, and all the pensioners on the bus that got us from Benbecula to Eriskay slipway. They were chatty and hilarious and made the trip much shorter. Chrissie, my host at the B&B for the last three days, thanks for her endless offers of strupak (tea and biscuits) and even a homemade meal my last evening, and her joking and lively converation. A special thanks to Jonathan and Denise for taking me to places I never would have found, all the descriptions of places and people, all the meals (and strupaks – my new favorite word!), and the packaging help, their explanations of how a croft works, and most of all for their friendship. And finally, to the man on the ferry who helped me feel confident about getting to the airport from the Barra ferry. If the bus left without us, he spoke with a crew member who offered to let us use his van to get to the airport. This is known as having a Plan B!

But now, on to the reason for these trips. Why I travel so far from home, leaving my flock and work so that I can explore other breeds of sheep and learn from the people who work with them and their fiber. Bringing these ideas and stories home can then inform the work I do with our flock and their fiber. One never knows what form that may take but it is an inspiration for sure.

So here are some final photos from South Uist.

This map shows the area I moved to for staying in the. B&B – An Leth Meadhanach and Baghasdal. Some of the photos are from that area or nearby areas in South Uist. Being advised to get off the main roads, I can see why that matters. You get closer to the sheep and it is easier to pull over to get those shots!

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Sheep here are used to rock climbing.

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These look like they were enjoying some sun that we did get.

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I decided it was also important to try and capture where these sheep live – which is everywhere. It became less important to try and get the perfectly composed photo (although I did try for a few of those as well!) but rather to show their everyday environment, even if it wasn’t pretty because this is their real life.

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Sheep are often crossing the road. This group would see me coming in the village and then would cross in front of the car, going back into their pasture through a hole in the fence. I think it was a regular routine. The second one seems to be saying, please don’t rush me!

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And even though I am not sure the Scottish Blackface wool or the cross (perhaps with Cheviot) wool is very valued here, I can’t help appreciating how the fleeces look on these animals. I would be happy to work with it!

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Of course, it is hard to beat the lambs with their cuteness factor added, whether they are nursing, playing or resting.

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Visiting during the spring has the added bonus of getting to see all the lambs and their proud mothers.

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It has been, as always, a pleasure to get to see these sheep in their natural environment and to appreciate the diversity here. Looking forward to more trips and more sheep!

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Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

The East Side of South Uist

My friends took me for a drive to see an area I had not yet seen – the east side of South Uist. How very different!

It was a very sunny day – even around 5 PM – and we caught the best light on the waters.

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The tide was coming in so it was like driving over a river in spots, where the sea ends in a loch.

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We saw Ormacleit Castle and the mountain Beinn Mhor, although I couldn’t capture the light and color here as I saw it.

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A very fun surprise – two buddies: a Shetland Pony and a Clydesdale. This place is full of surprises!

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Here you can see the dark area showing where the peats have been cut and a charming little footpath marked.

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And, of course, no trip out for me would be complete without a sheep spotting. Here is what may be one of my favorites of the Scottish Blackface. But then, I have a few more to share!

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Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment