Saturday, April 14, 2007

Day 2 New Lanark

Day 2, Wed April 11
Another overcast sky, but no rain for the 2nd day. Feels just like being in the Pacific NW. We are traveling in a small 16 passenger coach. Richard, our driver and guide, enlightens us with Scottish history as we journey. So far we have learned of the struggle for Scottish independence from William Wallace to Robert the Bruce, up through the Jacobite wars until Scotland and England were united in 1707. While we are being enlighted about this bloody history, his good humor still manages to make us laugh.

We headed south to New Lanark World Heritage Site. New Lanark is the site of a former mill where cotton was spun. Today, in one of the restored mill buildings, there is a small production of wool yarn being spun on a large spinning mule for the sake of education and for profit.
The community was built below three falls on the River Clyde in the late 1700’s by a Mr Dale. The mill ran on power generated by the falls. Today New Lanark still produces hydropower that runs the community, with enough left over to sell back to the power grid. .
The mill was purchased and run by Robert Owen from 1800-1825. He was a social reformer and forward thinker far ahead of his time. He ideas were not popular with other mill owners. But his efforts gave him the title Father of trade unionist movement in Scotland. He banned children from under age 10 from working in the mill. He started the first nursery school in the UK. Children from ages 2-9 went to school while their parents and siblings worked in the mill. Once children reached age 10, they worked in the mill and then attended classes at night. Mr Owen treated his own 7 children no differently than he treated the children of the mill workers. The school was built by money generated from the company store which was run as a cooperative. New Lanark was the first cooperative that lead to the foundation of The Co-op, a grocery store still thriving around the country today. In school not only were reading, writing, and arithmetic taught, but the children studied dancing, music, and nature studies.

The workers lived in buildings just across from the mill. A family of 10 may share one room, but they were warm, well fed, and had healthcare provided by the mill doctor. The work day started at 6 a.m with a breakfast break at 9 a.m. and lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. The work day ended at 7pm. The mill ran 6 days a week and was closed on Sunday. The mill operated until the middle of the 20th century until it could not operate profitably. The mill buildings sat empty and fell into disrepair from the elements and vandalism. A foundation saw the value in restoring the site and started the vast restoration of the mill in the 1970’s. The restoration still continues today. The site is a glorious example of public and private cooperation to preserve an important part of Scottish history and to educate generations to come. Today 150 people live on the site. Many visitors may only take the Millenium Ride. But I encourage you to view the movie, The Annie McLeod Story, in the school building, visit Robert Owen’s house, spend time looking through the exhibits in Mill buildings 1&2 and the housing block and take a hike up to the top falls. I was very struck by this place on my first visit 10 years ago and today deepened that impression. . I think it is the most tasteful and educational tourist site in Scotland.

When we arrived back in Glasgow, travelers were free to explore either the newly renovated Kelvingrove Museum or the Huntarian Gallery & MacKintosh House at the University. Kelvingrove is experiencing record high visitation numbers since reopening. But you’ll have to ask my travelers about it as I didn’t go. Ruth and I visited the MacKinstosh house. Here again, it had been 10 years since I visited this site and I was more impressed than before. When Charles and his wife Margaret MacDonald left Glasgow in 1914, one of his patrons bought the house. When the owner died, the family left the contents to the University of Glasgow. The actual house, located just a few blocks from the Univeristy, was torn down in the 1960’s. But in the early 1980’s, the museum built this addition to the gallery which replicates the rooms of the MacKintosh house. Each room is decorated with the furniture, light fixtures, artwork, textiles, and colors true to the original house. The sense of light and unity in the house gives a sense of sacred space. The popularity of MacKintosh and his designs today is amazing considering he died in London, almost entirely forgotten and poor.

On Wednesday nights Scottish musics rings out at a session at the Ben Nevis pub. Here I mostly listened as the tunes were played blazing fast on fiddles, guitar, flutes, the box, small pipes, and banjo. The smoking ban of 2005 certainly hasn’t hurt the popularity of pubs. The pub was literally overflowing with merry makers.

I'm posting this from a most unusual site...standing in a hotel kitchen on the cook's laptop while a Scottish country western band plays in the room next door!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Day One Paisley Area

Finally online here in Edinburgh to fill you in on a wonderful first day of our trip. By the way, the kind B&B owners who are letting me on the computer late at night is Priestville Guest House on the the road of the same name here in Edinburgh. They also bake wonderful cheese scones and banana bread!

Day One was full. We started at the Paisley City Museum. This is a free museum that houses one of the best collections of Paisley shawls in the world. The collection Curator, Valerie Reilly gave us a detailed talk and slide presentation of the history of the Paisley shawl from the design origins they think in the Middle East, how it spread to the Kashmir region of India, and then finally to Europe. The town of Paisley in the height of popularity of the Paisley shawls had hundreds of weavers making these wonderful cloths, first on a draw loom, and then on the Jacquard. I took detailed notes from her talk and hope to write a more compete article I can post in the future.

From there we visited Sma Shot Studios just down the road. The name Sma Shot comes from the binding weft hread that was thrown every 7th pick to hold the rest of weft threads in place in the paisley fabric. A society has resurected and preserved one of the weavers cottages from the era when linen was woven Paisley, (1700's) and then another other rooms depicting life in later years.

The Thread Mill museum tells the story of the huge thread industry in Paisley that shut the last door in 1992. The Coats and Clark company which was a combination of the Anchor Thread Mill and the Ferguslie thread mill at one time produced 90% of all the thread made in the world. Most of the volunteers who run this museum worked in one of the mills.

The day finished at Kilbarchan Weavers Cottage, a National trust site. Christina McLeod is the weaver and guide to the fascinating history of this town not far from Paisley who had a thriving cottage weaving industry. Christina weaves tartans on a huge old wooden loom. She showed us her skillful weaving technique, carrying on an eloquent history and description talking to us while working the flying shuttle at top speed with her hands.

Although jet lagged and having tired brains from all the fascintating information of the day, I convinced 2 of my group, Carol and Martha to join me at the Arlington Pub. Each Tuesday night a group of Glaswegians who play Irish tunes gather for a session. I met these fine folks last year and they welcomed me and my fiddle back to join their merry band. We even managed to get Carol step dancing to a tune and I found out Martha is a Guiness fan! If you come to Glasgow, no doubt you will find Paul, Steven, Malcom, Eileen and others there most Tuesday nights from 10 pm to midnight. Arlington Bar, 130 Woodlands Road, Glasgow.

More updates from days 2 and 3 to follow soon along with some photos. I must go to bed to be ready for our trip south to The Borders tomm.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Monday April 9 Day 0

Posted by singingweaver at 03:51 am on April 9th, 2007.
Glasgow airport makes it so easy, clear, and inexpensive to get from the airport to one of the downtown bus or train stations. I wish all city public transit authorities had this figured out for airport travelers. Just walk outside the small terminal building and signs direct you for the city bus stop. For just 3.50 pounds, your single ticket gets you to the heart of the city where you can take a train, bus, taxi or walk to your lodging location.

Tonight I'll meet my 15 travelers in Glasgow for trip orientation. Folks asked how the group came together. Listing the trip on my web site was the best advertisement. Word of mouth, and handing out trip brochures when I gave presentations at weaving guilds were my other effective methods. Although I did advertise in the weaving magazines, I can't say if this was effective. Today with websites and blogs, direct communcation gets easier every day.

Why am I leading this tour? I first visited Scotland in 1997 and concieved this idea. I kept meeting such interesting fiber artists and musicians and thought it would be great fun to share this wonderful country and my special interests of fiber and music with others who want to visit. Coming back 3 times to teach weaving in recent years added further contacts. So now, 10 years after the birth of the idea, Threads, Ruins, And Tunes is about to commence. It should be slightly less complicated than leading backpackers through the wilderness as was my guide job in a previous life. But my hiking books are still on my feet, preparing me for the rugged urban terrain of Glasgow!

Day 0 Monday April 9 addendum: The 15 travellers gathered in Glasgow from California, Washington and New Hampshire. Glynn Donnelly and her mother Nancy treated us to song and dessert at our trip kick-off meeting. That is Glynn in the photograph. I met these women the first time I came to Scotland 10 years ago. Kind and generous people like them are a big reason I keep coming back. We learned that the Clootie in Clootie Dumpling, simply means “cloth”. The dumping is cooked for a long time wrapped inside a cloth. Served warm with thick cream you’ve got a comforting treat.
Scottish shortbread and Nancy’s heavenly Apple Tart also graced our palettes.

Travel with me in Scotland

Starting April 10th follow along as 15 travellers and myself tour the cities and backroads of Scotland. We'll start in Glasgow and visit the fibre venues of Paisley. Every few days I'll update you with pictures and anecdotes and trip adventures. Throughout the 14 day tour we will visit weavers, knitters, felters while exploring the ruins of Scotland's rich history and, of course, a tour with the singing weaver would not be complete without Celtic music.