Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 4 Edinburgh

Friday 29 April, 2011. Being in Edinburgh on the day of the Royal Wedding was auspicious. Because of the wedding, it was a national holiday. Although many Scottish citizens were caught up in the celebration, just as many were not interested in the spectacle.

I must admit, I ended up watching the ceremony on BBC tv at first just to see the wedding dress. Then I stayed tuned and was thrilled to have choral music so prominently featured in the ceremony. I’m a St. Olaf Choir alumni so am steeped in the choral tradition. Here is a link to the sublime “Ubi Caritas Et Amor” by Welsh composer, Paul Mealor who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland.

I was delighted when the Bishop of London started the homily with a quote of Catherine of Siena, whose feast day was also today. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

For the travelers it was their only free day of the tour. We started with a 1 hour bus tour of the old and new city for orientation and then turned them free on the Royal Mile. I truly don’t know what they did, but here is my photo montage as I walked around taking care of some business.

Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the monarchy when they are in Scotland. It is at the bottom end of the Royal Mile. At the top end is Edinburgh Castle. It is built upon the plug of a long extinct volcano and blends right into the rocky parapet.

The Royal Mile is the length of a Scots Mile. A Scots Mile is 320 falls or 8 Scots Furlongs. That is, 1936.5 yards (about 1.1 miles) The Scots Mile was replaced by the Imperial Mile by the end of the 1800’s.

You see just about every kind of person walking down the Royal mile, including this chap who was perhaps practicing to be the “green man” at a Beltane celebration on May 1?

Blossoms everywhere in the city. Although, finally on Day 4 of the tour, we had our first overcast day with only a hint of sun in the early afternoon and an hour of drizzle by tea time. With day after day of sun, my travelers were wondering why I emphasized excellent raingear and layers of clothing in my trip planning letters and forgot to include sunscreen in the packing list. The answer is, April 2011 is the warmest and driest on record in Scotland.

Our lodgings lie close to the foot of Arthur’s Seat, a popular park on the edge of the Firth of Forth. This is the view from up top.

The “new town” starts at Princess Street. It was built between 1765-1850. Here stands the Victorian Gothic Scott Monument. It was finished in 1844, just twelve years after author Sir Walter Scott’s death. Scott was a born in Edinburgh and his classic books are still widely read today.

After a day of tramping about, we ended the day at the Partick Folk Club.

Folk clubs are prevalent around Scotland. Many have a regular concert schedule. The Partick Club meets the last Friday of each month. It is known for the homemade soup served at the interval (intermission). The featured group of the night was “Lurach”. These 3 young Scottish women met at a music camp in the Outer Hebrides. They combine singing in Gaelic and Scots, and instrumentals on penny whistle, flute, banjo, fiddle and bouzouki. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a good shot of the group. But you can listen here.

Local musicians filled the “floor” spots at the start of each set. We were delighted that the club host asked our own Jenell Pierson to sing in one of these spots. Jenell is studying at the New Brunswick College of Art and Design. And she just released her first recording this year. She not only sings, but plays guitar and piano and wrote all the songs on her album “Home” Here is Jenell, right, and her mom at Verdant Works the next day.

I met my Glaswegian friend Glynn at a folk club on my first trip to Scotland. As Glynn recalls “I met you one night, the next night you and your big backpack were camped out at my flat, and the next weekend we were off to the Killin Folk Festival.” Because of Glynn and her mom and dad, I became hooked on Scottish music and musicians. They were our guests at the concert.

Monday, May 9, 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. This loo stop, just along the River Tweed, is especially picturesque.

It was such a bonnie day that for fun I asked some of the travelers ham it up for the camera. "Hey Nancy M., you can't fall asleep yet, there are still 8 more days and dozens of venues left to visit on the tour!"

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 W. and Jenell P. 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 inspired on the roof garden to capture the travelers who were in the vicinity. a) Karin and Maria walking the labarynth b) Karin S. c) Linda & Jim's dancing rabbit imitation d) Linda Ru. and Jim D. e) Maria L.

We had our lunch break at the Mill Pantry. Gerri and Dan are enjoying a very large waffle dessert. 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!

The travelers on Coach B could not stop smiling with Ally continuously cracking jokes inbetween the historical and informative commentary the Rabbie's drivers provide as they drive.

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. 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 delicious 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.