Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 9 Scalpay & Lewis

From Tarbert we drove over the bridge to the island of Scalpay to visit Sheila Roderick and John Finlay Ferguson at croft #37. Scalpay island has 40 crofts in all and only 3 are being farmed today.  Sheila and John have been farming here for 32 years.
John Finlay and Sheila Roderick, Croft 37
The croft goes back in their family to the 1890’s when John Finlay’s grandparents left the island of St. Kilda and came to Scalpay. To make a living, this industrious couple raise Hebridean black sheep, a flock of ducks, guineas, chickens, turkeys and have 100 lobster creels.
When not working with the croft and animals, John is also a firefighter
4 horned Hebridean ram

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. Coach A’s visit was on this special day. All the  sheep owners on the island and their sheep dogs start in the community of Scalpay and herd the 6000 sheep of the island to summer pasture.The gate to which is just before John and Sheila's croft.
The crofters start the sheep drive in the community of Scalpay

The gate to the common grazing pasture
 Bramble, John and Sheila’s Lewis Border Collie, is 8 years old. Sheila worked with a dog trainer in Stornaway for 12 weeks to train the dog to drive and herd.
 Beth F. and Bramble after a morning's work
 The couple still harvest their own peats and grow potatoes in lazy beds. Lazy beds are mounds of dirt with rocky ditches between them, rather like raised bed gardening without the wood frame. Because the ground is so rocky, all growing of crops, from turnips to grain, was done in lazy beds.
On their Hattersly loom, they weave linen cloth and linsey-woolsey. Currently on the loom is linen that will be used for a new version of “The Hobbit” being filmed in New Zealand. Their fabric also ends up costumes for theater in London and NY and in wedding dresses.  Sheila winds up to 100 yards of warp on this reel to dress the loom.
Warp wound on a horizontal warping reel
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. Sheila also spins for a hand knitter on Skye.
Hebridean fleece
Flat folds of linen cloth woven by Sheila
She will be teaching 6 new students how to weave with  Hattersly looms this fall. There are currently 20 weavers on the island weaving for on the single width looms. 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 journey to the Outer Hebrides because this is the land of Harris Tweed. 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 twenty times 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.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Isle of Lewis
In 1926, the Hattersley Loom greatly  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 Roddy, weaver at Gearranen Blackhouse Village, weaving on as we stepped into the past.
Roddy has been a weaver for 50 years
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 is 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. 
Peat fire
 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 rural population on the island still lived in blackhouses up to 1939.
Isabel, our guide at the village

Isabel, our guide, grew up in Carloway and loves the island. She just graduated from university on the mainland and knows she will most like need to return to the mainland to find work, but hopes she can move back home to live in the future. She is a Gaelic speaker and treated us to a song passed down through her family. 
Peat covers the island but requires backbreaking labor to benefit from the glowing warmth it produces when burned
The dvd that plays in the second blackhouse down the lane is worth watching.  It shows all the steps involved in harvesting the peats. The curator of the village, Mary, offers  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.”
All the buildings in the village have thatched roofs
Evelyn S., Jere L., Judy L, and Elaine P.
Dun Carloway Broch rises up on hill in the midst of current 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.
Dun Carloway Broch
On the way to Callenish Standing Stones, we picked up local archeologist, Margaret Curtis. She guided us around the stone formation, telling us what archeologists have discovered about the formation over the past 200 years. She has lived in the area and worked on Callenish and the other stone circles and formations on the island for over 30 years.
Margaret Curtis, local archeologist
The cross formation of stones intersecting this circle sets it apart from stone circles we saw on Orkney. Callenish is the second largest stone circle in Britain, after Stonehenge.
Callenish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis
 Margaret used illustration boards that showed us drawings of the formation before excavation removed several meters of peat. In the1800’s the peat was cut away from the stones revealing more of what the builders of these circles would have seen
 Much of her research has involved the location of the moon on it’s yearly path and how the moon aligns with certain stones. The sun alignment also enters into the story of the stones on summer solstice and vernal equinox.  However, Margaret doesn’t think the sun alignment was as important at this formation as the moon
A window created by the positioning of these two stones.
We followed Margaret dutifully around the formation as she engaged and enlightened us with her enthusiastic and informative insight into the mysteries of the stones. I visited the stone several times before finding Margaret and having my eyes opened to the genius and mystery of these stones. 
Gerry K. and Tammy P. captivated by Margaret's insights
 Margaret and her late husband have published a number of books on the stone formations on the island that are available at the visitor center on site.

Patrice H. and Maria L. ponder this unusually shaped stone


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