Monday, April 27, 2009

2011 Day 3 New Lanark and Selkirk

Thurday 28 April. Each day of the tour, I share a poem that is relevant to the place or area we are traveling. As we went to the Borders today, we passed the home of the poet known as The Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg. His poem, "A Boy's Song" eloquently describes the rolling green hills of sheep and cattle pastures bisected by the rivers Tweed, Clyde and Yarrow. One stanza goes...."Where the mowers mow the cleanest, where the hay lies thick and greenest, there to track the homeward bee, that's the way for Billy and me..." This year due to the unusually high amount of sunshine and lack of rain in April, the growing season is 3 weeks ahead of normal. Daffodils are done blooming, the tulips are nearly done, and the flowering trees are starting to lose the blossoms. Scottish Blackface or Cheviot ewes, often with 2 lambs cover the pastures. These are cherry blossoms in front of the loo in the Scottish Borders town of Peebles.

New Lanark World Heritage Site 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 David 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 health care provided by the mill doctor. Here are John and Jenell listening with rapt attention to our guide. 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. They produced 50,000 miles of cotton per week. The mill operated until 1968 when 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 newest addition is a roof on top of one of the mill buildings.

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 Annie McLeod ride. But I encourage you visit 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 the hike to all 3 water falls. Above are Jere and Evelyn on the roof garden. Day 3 continued entirely sunny and warm, tropical Scotland so far.

I was very struck by this place on my first visit in 1997 and each visit deepens that impression. I think it is the most tasteful and educational tourist site in Scotland.

The first week of the tour we are traveling in tandem in two Rabbie's mini-coaches. Here is assistant leader Doreen and guide/driver Ally, who wore his kilt to impress us today!

Lochcarron of Scotland was the afternoon venue. One of the few weaving mills left in the Borders, this Selkirk-based company weaves tartans and fashion fabrics for designers and companies around the world. They are housed in a former mill building that was refurbished in Riverside industrial area and feature a huge showroom of their goods. The business is family owned with many of the workers long time employees. A guided tour starts with the dying process of the wool.

The process continues with cone winding, winding the warp and then tying onto the looms. If the current order has the same number of warps per inch as the previous job, a machine can tie on the entire warp in one hour. If an order has an unusual set, a worker has to hand thread the heddles, about an 8 hour job, just like us labor intensive hand loom weavers have to do in our studios.

The Swiss power looms the company used are 10 years old and cost 250,000 pounds each. But still much hands on work and checking is required to retain the high standard of quality the company demands of their cloth. The women in quality control handle and inspect every yard of fabric after it comes off the looms. If an error is found, they may have to hand needle in yarn to fix the problem for up to a 40-yard length. The finishing of the cloth is done in Galasheils. Locharron has their own in-house design team. The head designers spend half their time in New York and Japan. In addition to traditional and private tartan designs, the company weaves fabrics for fashion houses around the world. 4 different weights of tartan are woven by the company. Here Anne and Donna inspect a delicious drapey lightweight weave. When I asked the guide how Lochcarron has survived when most other mills have closed, he answered simply “quality. When companies buy from us, they know what they are getting.” Sadly these days, you can purchase cheap knock-offs of tartans made in India. Always look for the label “made in Scotland” to assure you are getting the authentic thing, made with quality and pride in Scotland.

For 2010 Paris Fashion Week, Lochcarron designers used plaid to create a display of tartan butterlies.

The night found us in Edinburgh scattered about the B&B's along Dalkeith Road. Maxx and Annette prepared at Hotel Ceilidh Donia served us a delicous meal of fresh and tasty Scottish food. Scotland excells in using as much produce, meat , and fish produced locally and around Scotland. Fuel is so dear, (current 1.50 pounds per liter for diesel) that eating local is not a fad but a necessity here. Extensive use of poly tunnels by farmers allows fruit and vegies early and late in the normal season.

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