Friday, May 4, 2007

Day 14, Tour Ends

Day 14 Monday April 23
The last day of our tour we headed south from Fort William through the stunning scenery of Glencoe glen. A number of movies, including the 3rd Harry Potter, have used this area as a set. The tragic massacre of the MacDonalds of 1692 continues to give this area of natural beauty a tragic air. Much of the land in the glen is now owned and protected by the National Trust of Scotland.

Our last bit of nature before heading back to Glasgow was a stop on the shores of Loch Lomand where we learned that the well known song “The Bonnie Banks o Loch Lomond” was penned by a prisoner of the Jacobite campaigns before he was executed. He believed that his spirit, upon execution, would travel back the spirit world via the “low road” to the place of his birth, Loch Lomond, while his prison mate, who was to be set free, would have to walk back home to Loch Lomond. So this gives new light to these words: “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye. But me and my true love will never meet again on the Bonny bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.”

In Glasgow we visited the Burrell Collection, housed in a museum in Pollok Park. Sir William Burrell amassed great wealth in the shipping business and spent his money on collecting artwork from all over the world. There are many tapestries in the collection. Here is what one of the travelers said about them. “They were magnificient. Our tour guide really got us looking at them and understanding them. We went to the embroidery collection and it was also just as wonderful.” Entry to the museum is free and if weather allows, walking around the park which has a large herd of Highland cattle, flowers, trees, is a green peaceful retreat in the middle of the city.

You may wonder how we learned all these wonderful facts. Our coach driver from Rabbies Trail Burners, Richard, is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on the history of Scotland. He drove us 1692 miles around the country and was still smiling at the end. You can see him pictured with "wee Carol" in the trip photos for the day.

The last stop of the trip was Glasgow School of Art. The last stop of the trip was Glasgow School of Art. A tour guide showed the wonderful architecture of Charlies Renne Mackintosh. His design won a competition to design the school. It was built in 1897 and finished in 1909. The library is particularly memorable with dark wood walls, floor and furniture, art nouveau light fixtures, book shelves and desks. Of the many Mackintosh buildings open to visitors today in Glasgow, the art school is a must see structure. Mackintosh was an artist’s artist. In his words:

“The artist may have a very rich psychic organization—an easy grasp and a clear eye for essentials - a great variety of aptitudes—but that which characterises him above all else—and determines his vocation—is the exceptional development of the imaginative faculties— especially the imagination that creates—not only the imagination that represents. The power which the artist possesses of representing objects to himself explains the hallucinating character of his work—the poetry which pervades them—and their tendency towards symbolism—but the creative imagination is far more important. The artist cannot attain to mastery in his art unless he is endowed in the highest degree with the faculty of invention." –C.R. Mackintosh

I played “ A Boy’s Lament for his Dragon” on fiddle for the group today as my farewell. This tune is sweet and sad at the same time, and that is how I feel about the end of the tour. How do I summarize 2 weeks on the road in search of threads, ruins, and tunes? We had no major illness, mishaps, no one left behind, and more sunshine that one could ever possibly hope for than springtime in Scotland. Richard, our coach driver and guide couldn't have been better. It was wonderful to share the best of the sites, places, and people I had met on 4 previous trips to Scotland with the 15 travelers on this tour. Some were seasoned travelers, having been to Scotland numerous times. For others this was their first venture out of the U.S.

Travel is a wonderful teacher. We leave our framework of our normal, everyday lives, and are thrust into a culture, which may not seem so different from our own. But as we talk, eat, ride on ferries, visit museums, breath in deeply, we learn in subtle and sometimes not so sublte ways, that every culture has unique things they offer to the world. Scotland has always offered her friendly people and welcoming nature to me and I believe my travelers felt this too.

We fly back home and leap back into our lives, but we are not the same. Our being has been touched and changed. I always come home so thankful for the affordable food, fuel and energy we are privileged to have in the states. And I’m reminded to give back the hospitality to visitors in our communities and homes that we received in Scotland. Thank you for blogging along on this journey. If your interest has been peaked, I invite you to come along next year.

Day 13

Day 13 Sunday April 22
The hub bub over Sunday ferries to and from the Outer Hebridean isles has dissipated now one year after this service started. And we were blessed with smooth water on our Sunday morning crossing from Lewis to North Uist to Skye. Skye welcomed us with typical style and rained but still the green rolling hills and lush vegetation greeted us this peaceful island. As we left the outer Hebridian’s behind, we enjoyed listening to a movement of Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides Overture”

Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie was our destination. The castle sits on a small little island, making a picturesque view from every angle. Castles have stood on this site for 800 years. The site was a monestary until the 8th century. Vikings ruled here for 450 years. Alexander the 3rd evicted the Vikings and the MacRaes owned this castle from the 1300’s until today. In 1719 the building was destroyed as the castle was a stronghold of support for the Jacobites. The castle stood in ruins for 200 years. In 1912 they started rebuilding the castle and completed the present building in 1932. The renovation was based on the 16th century version of the castle.

We drove down to Fort William to spend the night and enjoy our trip finale feast at the Lime Tree B&B and restaurant. I’m happy to say there we found Three Sisters ale for the 3 sisters on the tour, and a chocolate dessert rich enough to satisfy Evelyn, our chocolate connoisseur. This B&B has an unusal feature in that as a former church, one part has been converted to a private gallery space that has exhibitions of highland artists and also shows work from the National Art Collections.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Day 12

Day 12 Sat April 21
Dun Carloway Broch rises up on hill in the midst of current modern day farms. Perhaps ¼ of the original broch still stands. But the impressive stonework remaining gives a good idea of what life in this multi-storied landowner’s home from the Iron age was like.

Down the road is the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Donald Macarthur was weaving a tweed on a Hattersly loom at the village. All the handweavers in our group marveled at the wonderful hands free, shuttle mechanism sends up to 6 different shuttles flying across the warp.

Most of the 9 houses were built in the 1850’s. In 1989 a trust was formed to restore the houses and the village opened in 2000. When the blackhouses were built, they were long structures with an open plan. Animals lived and one end and people lived at the other. The roof was thatched. Blackhouses were very similar to the much earlier Viking long houses. Most had open fires in the middle of the living area. Medical officers required that dividing walls and windows be put into the houses by the turn of the century. Some also put in chimney’s. 50% of the rurual population on the island still lived in blackhouses up to 1939. Mary, our guide, taught us some Gaelic words and offered us these thoughts. “The people who lived in these houses were penniless. But they had a lot of thing we need here now…community spirit and tolerance. We are losing the richness of simplicity.”

More typical Scottish weather caught up with us today but the Callenish Standing Stones are impressive in sun or rain. The cross formation of stones intersecting this circle sets it apart from stone circles we saw on Orkney. Many other smaller standing stones line the west coast of Lewis.

Harris lies south of Lewis and is known for brilliant sandy beaches and even more rocky landscape than Lewis. From Harris we drove over the 10 year old bridge to the island of Scalpay to visit Sheila Roderick and John Feguson at croft #37. The island has 40 crofts in all. Sheila and John have been farming here for 30 years that. The farm goes back in their family to 1890. To make a living, the industrious couple have 100 lobster creels, 40 Hebridan black sheep, a flock of ducks, guineas, chickens and raise turkeys for the Christmas market. They still harvest their own peat and grow potatoes in lazy beds. Sheila handspins wool for a knitter on Skye. On their Hattersly loom, they weave linen cloth and linsey-woolsey. Some of their fabric ends up in costumes for movies and the theater in London and NY. Success does not come without long hours and hard work but you can hear the love of this rural life in Sheila’s voice.

At an unlikey gallery, the upstairs of the An Clachan grocery store in Leverburgh on the southern tip of Harris, is displayed a wonderful labour of love. Gillian Scott-Forrest instigated the Millenium Project. A series of hangings was designed, one for each part of the island. The tweed fabric and the wool yarn used for the pictorial embroidery was hand dyed using plant dyes. Of the 1600 people living on Harris, 90 were involved in the project. The images on each hanging depict both history and current events from each area. Until the project, called the Harris Tapestry, finds a permanent home, you can get your gas, buy your groceries, and learn of the rich history of the people and the island.

Day 11

Day 11 Fri April 20
The ferry took us to the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis today. At the Lewis Loom Centre in Stornaway, Ronald McKenzie gave us an overview of the tweed industry. Harris tweed is fabric made from the wool of Scottish sheep, spun in the Outer Hebrides, woven by hand, and finished in the Outer Hebrides. When the potato famine hit Scotland 1845-47, Lady Dunmore took the tweed the islanders were weaving, traveled the world, marked up the price 20x and came back and gave the weaver all the profit. Harris tweed became famous worldwide and the demand kept growing.

Originally the tweed was naturally dyed. Crotal, a lichen, gave light to dark rusty color. Spinning mills came in 1907 and all the yarn was then aniline dyed. In 1926, the Hattersley Loom greated increased the productivity of the weavers. The looms had hands free flying shuttle mechanisms and were powered by stepping alternately on two pedals. In the 1960’s

Today there are 150-200 weavers on the island that supply the industry weaving on Rapier looms that are driven with a pedals like a bicycle. The company that recently purchased the factory that spins & dyes the yarn, winds the warps, and finishes the cloth, is reportedly talking about reducing the number of tweed patterns produced to just five. www.harristweed.og

Day 10

Day 10 Thur April 19
Nature provided our venue of the day. We departed St. Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay Orkney on the 8:00 a.m. ferry and pulled into Ullapool at 6 pm. The 40 mph wind of the yesterday died down and the crossing once again was very moderate. However, this was no ordinary journey. The north and northwest coasts of Scotland are the least populated, most remote and rugged and least visited area on the mainland…my favorite landscape in all of Scotland.

Once past Thurso, it is mile after mile of rocks, beach, hills, water, heather, birds and grazing sheep. The road often goes to one track. At the NW corner of the country near Durness, the North Sea meets the Atlantic Sea. We were blessed with sunshine that added to the richness of the color of the sea and stone.
One thing you become expert on when leading 15 women around is bathroom availability. A word of warning, there is no toilet at the tourist information building in Durness!!! Just outside of Durness, we stopped at Balnakeil Craft Village. Once a military base, it was taken over by hippies when the military left and now is inhabited by small shops and craft studios. It was delightful to eat lunch at the newly renovated Loch Croispol Bookstore & restaurant. Cocoa Mountain, a new gourmet chocolcate shop specializing in truffles and hot chocolate, really captured the palette and pocketbooks of my travelers.

Once we thought the scenery could not improve, it did when we turned off onto the B869 road to Nedd, Drumbeg, Clahsnessie. This scenic “cart track” follows right along the coast. To the east a number of munroes rise up out of the Torridon wilderness area. No pictures can capture the overall grandeur of being in this landscape. I’m greatful that John Muir left Scotland to lead the wilderness conservation movement in the American west, but he certainly could have been satisfied in this corner of heaven.
We stopped at Highland Stoneware Pottery shop in Lochinever. The driveway and garden of the shop proved very entertaining with large stones, an automobile, a wall, and a gigantic concret sofa, all covered with broken pottery.

Just down the road from our B&B’s at Ullapool, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Harbor Lights restaurant. I’ve been trying to eat fish at every opportunity and the salmon here was delectible. Food has come a long way since my first trip to Scotland in 1997. Chefs strive to use Scottish grown and raised meat, fish, dairy, and vegetables. Eating fresh and green is the rule rather than exception these days. However, it seems that no matter what we order, plates of chips always show up on the table. We all agree that we don’t need to see another plate of chips for many a day!

Day 9

Day 9 Wed April 18
The big island, or as Orcadians call “mainland” is home to numerous stone circles and structures dating back as far as 5000 years. Maeshowe, a grass covered burial mound in the middle of a farmer’s field, is that old. You stoop low to walk through the 10 meter entrance tunnel before standing up inside a tall rounded chamber. As in all the sites, some of what the archeologists have found is known fact, other is speculation. Was it in fact a burial mound for the first peoples who build it, or a place of healing and rituals connected to the astrological cycle? In fact, each December the mound is equipped with 3 webcams where you can watch the light in the mound as winter solstice approaches. Vikings raided the mound in the 12th century and left many runic inscriptions. No great mysteries were revealed however once these inscriptions were translated as they say things such as “Ingibjorg is a beautiful woman.”

From Maeshowe you can look across a loch and see both the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar in the distance. Modern technology has shown that the stone monuments above ground are just the tip of the iceberg of all the ancient stone sites under the earth in this heart of the island. Michael, our local guide while Richard had a day off, told us tales and speculations about these sites. Stenness means “stone point” and indeed the tall stones still standing are pointed on top, but just 3100 years old. Also known as the Temple of Moon, couples came to perform a marriage ritual which would bind them together for one year and one day. After that period, they would have to come back to the stones to renew that ritual or to break the contract. Thus was their system of “marriage in installments.”

The Ring of Brodgar once had 60 stones standing. Brodgar means “farm by the bridge.” This 2500 year old ring is said to grant the gift of fertilitiy to anyone who runs around it counter clockwise 3x without stopping. Considering the large circumference, this running ritual also meant you were in shape! As we walked the ring, many of us touching each stone, to the wind added rain and for the rest of the day, we experienced more typical Scottish weather than the balm and sunshine of the past few days.

Stromness is the 2nd largest town on mainland Orkney with a population of 2000+. Tait and Style sits above the harbour. For 15 years Ingrid Tait has run this company that creates knitted and felted scarves, throws, pillows, and accessories for the high fashion market in London and New York. She discovered a needle punching machine in Yorkshire that was used to make industrial materials. Sensing it could be retooled to work with wool fabric, she acquired the machine and has been punching or felting her marks with fleece or yarn onto commercially woven wool. As the fashion industry constantly changes, Ingrid is flexible, open to taking commissions from both home furnishing and clothing fashion design houses to create new lines for each season. By next year Tait and Style will move to Kirkwall where Ingrid also runs the jewelry company founded by her mother, Ole Gorie.

Skara Brae was uncovered when a storm hit William Watt’s farm in 1850 and eroded the beach front. The settlement wasn’t excavated however until 1928. This fine example of a stone age community was quite advanced as they even had a sewage sytem and a stone trough area they filled with water and hot rocks to steam the sea life they ate. More information on this and all the stone sites we visited today is found at

Corrigall Farm Museum in Harray is a wonderful example of rural agricultural life on the island. Implements, tools and household furnishings from the 18th-20th century fill the buildings. The amazing thing is that there is no entrance fee to view this peice of Orkney heritage.

I must mention that Kirkwall has a fine library building, just 3 years old, with internet access for all. A plus to catching up on your email is seeing one of Leila’s Thompson’s tapestries hanging in the space.

The Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley are well known performers from Orkney. They opened The Reel Café three years ago. It serves as teaching studio and gathering place for musical sessions in addition to serving food and wonderful hot chocolate! I listened in on the Wednesday night teen session. The quality of musicianship is high. Jen Austin who works at the café and plays piano, fiddle and composes, told me that students start playing instruments in the public school system in Orkney at age 8. Folks like the Wrigley sisters nurture the musical talent of the island by also teaching privately. Over 100 folk bands are on the island. I took the musicians advice and walked out with cds of Saltfishforty, The Wrigley Sister’s latest “Skyran” and “The Orkney Sessions” recorded at The Reel. And I believe I found the tune of the whole trip that I must learn “Music for a Found Harmonium.” I didn’t have my tune sucker along. Contact me if you know where I can get a recording or find music for this key changing tune

Friday, April 20, 2007

Day 8

Day 8 Tue April 17
It’s easy to see why the blues in Leila Thomson’s tapestries are so stunning. Out the window of her Hoxa studio and gallery the water flashes a brilliant blue in this day of alternating sun and rain squalls. After graduating from art school in Edinburgh in 1980, Leila came back home and has been designing and weaving ever since. 11 years ago she opened her gallery and now visitors from around the world view her stunning work. Leila weaves private commissions, working from her own full size b&w drawings. She interprets and chooses all the colors as she weaves. This really gives the tapestries an energy and vitality often lacking in other pictorial textiles. Words and pile texture are also trademarks in her designs. As Leila readily admits “I work in a state of splendid isolation.” after the tourist season ends in September that is.

Orkney abounds in artists. An artist collective, The Workshop, in St Margaret’s Hope carries a variety of their work. Knitwear, prints, jewelry, weaving, painting, pottery. When I asked one of the Orcadian artists we visited today why the islands are such magnets for creativity, she suggested that it was the influx of artists who came up here from England that got the movement started in the 60’s.

Crossing over to Burray on one of the Churchill Barriers, we stopped at the Orkney Fossil and Vintage Centre.
In addition to the expected fossils and rocks, this small museum has excellent displays telling about the role and history of Orkney during WWII. The British fleet was stationed here and the barriers were build using labor of POWs to protect the fleet from the Germans U boats. Before the large concrete barriers, salvage ships were lined up end to end and sunk to create the barriers. One German U-boat managed to penetrate these original barriers and sunk a British ship with the cost of over 800 lives.

I love the display of rock found within Scotland: Corundum, piperock, brucite marble, basalt, serpentine, quartzite, porphyry, mica schist, barite with galena, andesitic lava, algal limestone, rugose coral, haemotite with geotite name a few.

The Italian Chapel stands on the Island of Lamb Holm just over the 4th barrier. Italian prisoners of war who built the barriers and worked in agriculture, were given a Nissen hut to turn into a chapel. Domenico Chichetti designed the chapel and the prisoners worked to decorate and furnish it over a period of 3 years with materials they could scrounge. When the prisoners were released at the end of the war, Chichetti stayed onto finish the work on the chapel. The detailed painting and metal work is a testament to what can be created from nearly nothing when you have dedication and vision.

Sheila Fleet of Sheila Fleet Jewelry, is the sister of Leila Thompson, the tapestry weaver we visited this morning. There is no shortage of artistic talent and vision in that family. In 14 years Sheila’s business has grown to 42 employees. Sheila is the chief designer, creating 3 new collections each year. She has done a total of 147 collections so far.

She took us on a tour of the workshop while explaining the lost wax method used to produce her jewelry. I found 2 of the steps extremely interesting. The skill of the master pattern maker who takes each design and hand cuts the metal master has to be exacting. The enamelists also have a painstakingly detailed job, applying the enamel mixture (ground up glass and distilled water) to the jewelry, then curing each piece, one at a time in a tiny kiln on their worktable.

Sheila enthusiasticly answered all our questions and shared her philosophy. “ A measure of success is how you feel about what you are doing. I’m still enjohing myself. You have to look at keeping the balance. Find something you really like doing and you’ll never work again.”

When we reached Kirkwall, the largest town in Orkney, we made one last stop at Orkney Hand-Crafted Furniture. Fraser Anderson is just 22 years old, but already a master at making Orkney chairs. The chairs combine wood (originally driftwood) for the frame and oat straw coiled and stitched with sisal for the chair backs. Locals made these chairs for hundreds of years with the materials they had at hand. It takes up to 3 weeks to complete each chair. Fraser is honoring the tradition while designing new shapes and styles of chairs, rockers and stools.

What do you get when you combine 15 accordians, 5 fiddles, a piano and a snare drum? The Orkney Fiddle and Accordian club. They were practicing at the Ayre Hotel. Although the average age of the members appeared to be 65 plus, there was no lack of enthusiasm in the playing of the tunes. I had neither fiddle in hand to play along or partner to dance with, so I reluctantly went back to the hotel to write this blog.

Day 7

Day 7 Mon April 16
Whiskey before breakfast? Not quite. But our day did start with a tour of the Benromach Distillery in Forres. This is the smallest distillery on the Malt Whiskey trail. Benromach produces single malt whiskeys. That means it is produced from a single grain, barley in the case of Benromach, and comes from one distillery. Blended whiskey is a blend of single malts from many different distilleries and a number of different grains.

The tour lead us through the entire process from the fermentation of the grain, to the storehouse where the magic happens in the aging process. Whiskey is stored in 3 different sizes of containers during the aging process, barrels, hogsheads and butts. They age the whisky in both American oak barrels that previously held bourbon and also in French sherry barrels. Benromach single malt has a very slight peaty taste and it quite light in colour. Nothing like a dram of whisky to clear the sinuses at 11 a.m. in the morning!

This was our longest travel day so far of the trip and the weather again cooperated giving us splendid views and the intermittent rain showers brought with them rainbow after rainbow. We started in Insch in the shadow of Bennachie, the tallest hill in Aberdeenshire, drove through the Speyside region to Inverness. From there the A9 winds north along the North Sea. Numerous oil rigs are visible off shore. A short stop at the Duke of Sutherland’s Dunrobin Castle allowed us to walk around the beautiful gardens that butt up to the sea. The early spring blooms gave evidence to a grand floral show once full summer hits.

Our final destination on the mainland was the Pentland Ferry at Gills Bay.
Just a short hop from John O Groats, this is the shortest ferry crossing to Orkney at this time of year. Prepared with motion sickness drugs, patches, shock watches, and pressure point bracelets, the travelers boarded the ferry for the 1 hour 15 minute crossing which proved not so rough. Half the group found the best way to sail to St. Margaret’s Hope is with the wind in your face on the open deck bundled in all the clothes I suggested they bring but to this day hadn’t needed!

St. Margaret’s Hope is on the island of South Ronaldsay. A quiet, sleepy little town, it is a great place to spend the first night on Orkney. Many visitors to Scotland don’t travel to Orkney, and even many mainlanders have never been here. I discovered the barren, enchanting pull of these islands on my first trip to Scotland. Orkney and the Shetland Islands lie between mainland Scotland and Norway. The islands once belonged to Denmark, and the Nordic influence in the place names (St. Ola, Stenness, Brodgar) is especially strong. Orcadians pride themselves in their heritage and not being mainlanders. Of 65 islands in Orkney, 17 are inhabited with a total of 20,000 residents. However, more and more folks are discovering this magical place. This summer 61 cruise ships will dock in Kirkwall. One more reason I like to to tour off-peak.

Day 6

Day 6 Sunday April 15
We traveled just 5 miles round trip today for a marathon of fun. The travelers took a workshop from Ewa Kuniczak “koo-knee-chuck”. Ewa has been felting for 30 years. She shared her innovations and her approach to nuno-felting in this one-day class on “Fine and Fancy Felting.” She started with a digital lecture on her inspirational sources and showed how she expresses herself through the felt medium. Almost anything can be an influence for Ewa. She has done a whole body of work based on 20th century ceramists, is inspired by stained glass, architecture and personal observations.

Some of the travelers had never felted before. Barb, a student with previous felting experience said “Ewa taught me how to better control my felting by giving me the realization that you can spread fibers web-thin. You can start the process, building up layers and using less water than I thought you needed. Ewa was a bundle of energy with creativity just exuding from her in her teaching and demonstrating.” Students made a several samples, the first a creative composition based on imagination. The 2nd sample started on the basis of structure, color, novelty materials. At the end of the day the students and Ewa appeared to have more energy than they started the day with. Perhaps some vitamin F should be part of everyone’s daily diet!

We had a great setting for the day with bright sunshine, record setting temps, and the rural setting of the studio at Touched By Scotland in Oyne. Not only does Robin Baird have studio space for classes, but a wonderful gallery full of metal, jewelry, paper, fiber, painting, glass, ceramics,wood, and straw artwork all made from UK artists.
Donald Trump isn’t the only American mover and shaker in Aberdeenshire these days.. Robin and her family moved to Scotland a decade ago. Her insight and business drive has helped the regional council see the untapped potential for more domestic and international tourism in this region of rolling farmland. This spring she is breaking ground for a bigger gallery space that will include a restaurant and community use building. You can see Robin serving us delicious Carrot Coriander soup for lunch in the picture above.

Sunday night G&T treated us to a house concert of folks songs of Scotland. Trish Norman and Gaye Anthony travel around the UK and Europe performing at festivals. Their voices blend in sweet harmonies while trading off the lead. Trish’s high, clear, lilting soprano is grounded by Gaye’s rich, round alto voice. They accompany themselves with guitar. They sing songs about the sea, fishing, and even taught us the chorus to their famous haggis song! Their stories and banter interspersed between songs kept us all smiling and laughing and singing along. They closed by having us all join hands and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Gaye and Trish have made 3 recordings. You can hear their joyous sounds at trish

A day creating and learning, summer weather in early spring, and music…what more could a person ask for on Sunday, April 15 spent in Oyne, Scotland? Okay, a massage and chocolates on your pillow would be one step up!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day 5

Sat April 14
Besides having the oldest university in Scotland, famous golf courses, and few relics of St. Andrew, the town named after Scotland’s patron saint is home to Di Gilpin Knitwear. Di presented a slide lecture for us of her journey as an artist knitter. She started knitting when she was 6. To make money while in university, she would knit things for people. After a stint as an English and history teacher, she moved to the Isle of Skye. For 5 years she knit, painted and took photographs, inspired by the beauty of the water and mountains out her window. She opened up Struan Knitwear and people started coming. Her goal has always been to get people to knit and over the last 25 years, she has been successful in bringing it back into vogue in Scotland.

Her early work focused on Fair Isle patterns and intarsia color work. Now in addition to those, she works with lace weaves, deconstruction and a technique she developed called “knit-weave.” Di designs for companies, writes books, travels for inspiration and travels to teach. In 2000 she moved her studio and shop to St. Andrews. A large knit club gathers there regularly. But what she still loves to do most is knit. She knits and designs as she goes, taking technical notes. “I let pattern come through me and develop. I never have a pre-conceived idea. “ Then once the piece is complete, she creates the pattern and the directions. “I think my work is innovative because I come at it from both the technical side and the creative side at the same time. Knitters like to think. I put knitters high on the intelligence stakes.”

North of St. Andrews lies Dundee. It was once known at “Jutopia” Over 50,000 workers worked in the jute mills. Verdant Works Jute Mill is now a museum depicting the days when jute was king in the city on the River Tay.

Jute fiber was brought by ship from India. Large bales were brought to the factories where it was processed, spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Boys only worked in the mills until they were 18, when they were made redundant. Women comprised the majority of the workers in the mills and had a lot of power.

Lilly Thompson, was a weaver who worked for 19 years at the J.F. Robertson mill, The Bower. She demonstrated for us how a number of the machines used in the production worked. When she found out I was a weaver, she offered up a sample of the jute cloth woven on the demo power loom at the museum. I was delighted as I’ve had a special interest in the weavers of this town having sung Sheena Wellington’s “The Weavers o Dundee” and Mary Brooksbank’s “The Jute Mill.” You can listen to this song at
and clicking on the revolving musical symbol on the home page. Now there are no jute mills left in Dundee. Some of them have been torn down, others turned into housing and others refitted for other industry. But no industry since has matched the success of the jute mills in the 19th and early 20th century.

Up to this point I haven’t written about food. But we are eating well every day. This night we enjoyed a special feast, “A Taste of Grampian” at the Barn and Bushel in Thainstone. They featured local foods such as angus beef, pheasant, lamb, fish, parsnips, potatoes and fudge. One of our trip members is doing whiskey research at each food venue. She appreciated the knowledgable scotch tutorial from our driver Richard as she conducted her experiments with several different brands this night!