Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 11 Ullapool, Lewis, Harris

The ferry took us to the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis & Harris today. But before leaving Ullapool, some of the group checked out Strandlines and The Unlimitied Colour Company, two shops that carry handknits, and other textiles from the UK and around the world.

We journey the 2:45 minutes by ferry because this is the land of Harris tweed. Some of the group productively knit away with yarn they purchased on the trip. Others used the time and comfortable reclining ferry chairs to catch up on sleep!

The definition of Harris tweed: 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.

This is the loom you see Donald Macarthur, weaver at Gearranen Blackhouse Village weaving on as we stepped into the past to All the handweavers in our group marveled at the wonderful hands free, shuttle mechanism sends up to 6 different shuttles flying across the warp. The warp Donald was working on was 33" wide set 18 EPI with 18 PPI. In one and a half days, 100 yards could be woven on a Hattersly loom.

Most of the 9 houses at Gearannen 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.”

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.

The sky clouded over by the time we reached the Callenish Standing Stones, but I think that light makes them all the more impressive. A small visitors center tells the history of the area and surmises about the why and how of the circle. 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. The islands are actually connected by the road, but as you reach Harris, the hills rise up and the landscape becomes much more rocky. Harris also has brilliant sandy beaches. We stayed in the vicinity of Leverburgh tonight and the next to get a better feeling for this island where farm animals far outnumber the people

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