Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 12 Harris

Saturday, 2 May. From Tarbert we drove over the bridge to the island of Scalpay to visit Sheila Roderick and John Finlay Feguson at croft #37. Scalpay island has 40 crofts in all. Sheila and John have been farming here for 30 years. The farm goes back in their family to the 1890’s when John Finlay’s grandparents left St. Kilda and came to Scalpay. To make a living, this industrious couple have Hebredian black sheep, a flock of ducks, guineas, chickens and 100 lobster creels. Lobster season is July -December. The size lobsters you can catch is strictly enforced. The sheep are kept at the croft during the winter, but in May are taken to the 400 acres of fenced moorland for common grazing over the summer. Bramble, John and Sheila’s Lewis Border Collie, is 6 years old. Sheila worked with a dog trainer in Stornaway for 12 weeks to train the dog to drive and herd.

The couple still harvest their own peat and grow potatoes in lazy beds. On their Hattersly loom, they weave linen cloth and linsey-woolsey. Currently on the loom is 100 yards of 8/1 Irish linen that will be used by a wedding dressmaker in Stornoway. Some of their fabric ends up in costumes for movies and the theater in London and NY. Both John and Sheila were trained as tweed weavers and work in their weaving shed when they are not doing other work on the croft. Success does not come without long hours and hard work but you can hear the love of this rural life in Sheila’s voice.

We all enjoyed sitting around refurbished sewing machine tables to eat lunch at First Fruits Tea Room in Tarbert. Most of us sampled their home baked desserts and Sandy assured us the ice cream sundae was delicious!
Tel: 01859 502 439

Just down the road in Tarbert we visited Terry Bloomfield, a current Harris Tweed weaver. Today, weavers have to complete a weaving course to prove their skill and competancy before going to work for the industry. There are 120 weavers on the island that supply the industry weaving on Bonas Griffeth double wide looms that are driven with a pedals like a bicycle. The mills in Shawbost and Carloway have reopened and are giving the tweed weavers some work. 1 beam of warp for four, 75 meter tweeds is delivered to his weaving studio. Normally, it would take 2 weeks to weave off the beam, but currently there is only enough work for the weavers to get one beam per month. The fabric is taken back to the mill for finishing and marketing. Much of the tweed currently is sold in Germany. This was the one place the men on the tour stayed longer than the women eyeing this incredible weaving machine! Read more about the history of the industry at

Winding our way back to Leverburgh via the Golden Road, I assured the our river the narrow road to Katie Campbell's studio and shop in Plochropol, Harris Tweed and Knitwear was navigable for the coach! Katie and her daughter Catherine weave on wooden looms, the predecessor to the Hattersly loom. Catherine is a fourth generation weaver. Katie has been weaving tweed for over 40 years. She and her sister grew up at the foot of their father who was also a tweed weaver.

"Grannie had 11 girls who all spun. My mom died young. There were 4 of us girls and Dad bought a Hattersly Loom. We went to sleep to the click clack of the loom. It was lovely. It was safe." Katie and her daughter keep two Hattersly looms humming along turning out colorful contemporary and traditionl tweed cloth. Besides yardage for sale, they have their fabric sewn into caps, handbags, jackets, teddy bears, seals, etc. They also have tweed shop in Tarbert.

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 of the island. Each of the 8 panels are 5 fett by 2 1/2 feet. Until the project, called the Harris Tapestry, finds a permanent home, you can get your gas, buy your groceries, have breakfast, and learn of the rich history of the people and the island all in one stop.

We managed to drive by the beaches at Luskentyre between rain showers. The white sand sets off the incredible blue colors of the water making it seem like a movie setting for paradise lost.

St. Clements Church is a wonderful structure, built in the mid 1500’s and restored in 1773. There are 3 crypts in the sanctuary. One can climb up the stairs and 2 ladders to top of the steeple. Margaret Curtis happened to be at the church at the same time as we were and pointed out these interesting carvings on the outside of the steeple.

We capped off our 2 days on the islands with a meal at Rodel Hotel. Donnie and Dena MacDonald have converted a former school into a hotel and restaurant where fresh and simply prepared local fare is served. The scallops are hand dived, coming from just down the road.

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