Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 14 To Stirling and Home

In Glencoe
On the last day of our tour Coach A traveled from Skye to Stirling through the stunning scenery of Glencoe glen. A number of movies, including the third Harry Potter, have used this area as a set. The tragic massacre of the MacDonalds of 1692 continues to give this area of natural beauty a tragic air. Much of the land in the glen is now owned and protected by the National Trust of Scotland.  The clouds parted briefly to see the top of Scotland’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, and we stopped at the Commando Memorial.

Our wee Rabbies mini-coach, second from the right, which can negotiate tiny 'B' roads and go places these other big beasts can not follow
 Coach B traveled south from Inverness and both groups met at Stirling Castle.
Stirling Castle is the site of many famous battles. It rises out of the lowlands as the entrance gate into the highlands. From the castle you gaze across fields where many battles have taken place in earlier history and look across to the Wallace monument.
Wallace Monument in the distance
 The Romans originally built the only road from south to north that ran right through this area where the Firth of Forth meets the River Clyde Basin. That is why it was a strategic site for holding or conquering the land. Many different buildings and fortifications have stood on this site since the 1200’s. The castle has been rebuilt at least eighteen times over the centuries. We had a very keen guide this year who pointed out many fascinating details about the buildings, statues and history.
 Historic Scotland's website will fill in the details of this historic place.
Statue of King James V dressed as a commoner at the corner of his palace. At one point, all the buildings at Stirling Castle were painted the golden color of the great hall, seen at left.
We have the current renovation of King James V palace to thank for the Unicorn tapestry project. Historic Scotland is working with the West Dean Tapestry studio to recreate the 7 tapestries in the “Hunt of the Unicorn” series. The originals with the blue background are in the Metropolitan's Cloisters Museum in New York City. The other series with the red background are the Cluny Museum in Paris. You may enjoy reading Tracy Chevalier’s excellent historical fiction book called “The Lady and the Unicorn” based loosely on the weaving of the original tapestries.
Louise Martin, head weaver at Stirling Castle
Since records show King James had over one hundred tapestries in his palace, very likely including a version of the Unicorn tapestries, the Hunt series was chosen to be made anew. Louise Martin, the head weaver of the project, gave us an in-depth look into the scope of this amazing project. We were extremely lucky to see the 4 tapestries already completed are hanging on display at the Chapel Royal. Right after our visit, workers erected scaffolding to remove the tapestries. Later this week the tapestries will be clean and then rehung in King James Palace which opens to the public in early June.
To render the full-scale design and cartoon, the head weavers go to New York to the Cloisters. They have access to within one millimeter of the original tapestries but cannot touch them. They figure out yarn colors and make a detailed plan for each figure and motif in each tapestry. Working from full size color copy, they make an acetate tracing of the tapestry. Then from this they make a paper cartoon.
#1 'The Start of the Hunt' woven with 100 colours of yarn and a 'thousand flowers' backbround at West Dean studio.
 Samples are woven to work out specific techniques to achieve desired effects. The wool yarn is all dyed at the West Dean studio. Instead of silk, pearl cotton is being used for the shiny parts as it has longer color fastness. Historic Scotland requires that the materials being used in the tapestry hold up for 250 years.

#2 'The Unicorn at the Fountain'
 Weaving the tapestries is not a matter of copying. First, the new tapestries are being woven 10% smaller than the originals to fit in the space in the palace. They are weaving with fewer EPI (ends per inch) in the warp because it would take too long and cost too much money to weave them at the original finer warp set. (A patron in her eighties is financing the project.) Also, the head weavers have to train the weavers who come in to weave each tapestry. Although all experienced tapestry weavers, they need to understand the specific techniques and develop nuances of skill.

The third tapestry in the series 'The Unicorn Leaps from the Stream' is currently being woven at West Dean Tapestry Studio. The fifth tapestry in the series will be woven last at the Stirling studio.
#6 'The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle'  There are seveneteen dogs, 108 colours, and two scenes depicted in this tapestry
About 25 weavers total will have worked on the series by the time it is completed (including Joan Baxter whom we visited previously.) Each weaver has to leave their own individuality and style behind and try to get into the mind of the original weavers as they work. Getting this inside look at the current project is really special. The scope, historical accurateness, detail, and dedication is amazing.
#7 'The Unicorn in Captivity'   Seven different colours of yarn are used in weaving the unicorn
A temporary studio was built on the north end of the castle for this project. Visitors to the castle can view the weaving but are not permitted to talk to the weavers or take pictures while they are at the loom. The weavers are currently working on fourth tapestry in the series, "The Unicorn at Bay” on which the weaving started February 6, 2008 and will be completed in summer 2011.

It is humbling to realize that it will take 3 highly skilled weavers working 7 days a week, 3 ½ years to complete this current tapestry. Another tapestry in the series is being woven at the West Dean Tapestry studio 500 miles away in England. The entire project will be completed in 2013 when the whole set of tapestries will hang in King James V Palace.
The resident blogger
Travel is a wonderful teacher. We leave our framework of our normal, everyday lives, and are thrust into a culture, which may not seem so different from our own. But as we talk, eat, ride on ferries, visit museums, breath in deeply, we learn in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, that every culture has unique things they offer to the world. Scotland has always offered her friendly people and welcoming nature to me and I believe my travelers felt this too. 
At Skaill Bay, Orkney
We fly back home and leap back into our lives, but we are not the same. Our being has been touched and changed. I always come home so thankful for the affordable food, fuel and energy we are privileged to have in North America. And I’m reminded to give back the hospitality to visitors in our communities and homes that we received in Scotland. If you’ve felt Scotland calling you, I welcome you to come with next year April 10-23, 2012. I’ll have the updated tour information available on my website sometime this June. Thank you for blogging along on the journey!

Day 13 Northeast Scotland

Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre lies just a few miles from Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.  This famous battle lasted just 45 minutes and was the end of the Jacobite uprising. The visitor center tells the story of the years of political events leading up to the battle from both the government and the Jacobite viewpoints. The centre overlooks a flat field where on April 16, 1746, the Duke of Cumberland sent Bonnie Prince Charlie fleeing.
The battle field is marked with red flags showing the position of the government forces and blue flags for the Jacobite army.
Not only were the Jacobite forces massacred that day, after the battle, Cumberland, know as "The Butcher" ordered all Jacobite supporters in the Highlands hunted down and slaughtered after the battle.

For a musical interpretation, listen to the McKassons "Culloden" on their recording "Tripping Maggie"

Just a few miles off the A9 along the River Brora sits the studio of Joan Baxter, tapestry artist. Joan learned to weave tapestries from Archie Brennan in Edinburgh. She has been weaving tapestry commissions for over 30 years. She wove at the West Dean Tapestry studio and at the Victorian Tapestry Studio in Australia before opening her own studio. Her work can be seen in major tapestry exhibitions around the world.
Joan Baxter, tapestry artist and teacher
 Joan is inspired by the land and landscape. She and her husband live on a seven-acre nature preserve passed down from her family.  One can see the influence of the land in her traditional and mixed technique tapestries. 

Joan loves mixing colors, "Why use one colour when two will do?" 

She often works from a concept and digital photo.  She makes loose sketches and often draws and paints on top of a printout of the photo. She prefers not to use a detailed cartoon, so the work can develop as she weaves. Joan also enjoys teaching tapestry students.
This tapestry recently returned from an international exhibition and just sold! The individual bands of weaving were inspired by the folds of a kilt.
Current work on Joan's loom inspired by the past two harsh Scotland winters

Joan's husband, Steven Clark, is a blade smith, musician, and gardener. He apprenticed with a knifemaker and picked up the skill quite quickly. He told us “I’ve always been interested in doing grubby things in sheds!” 
Steven Clark, bladesmith, gardener, musician
 He likes giving old steel new life as a knife and believes knives should be functional, not just decorative. He made his own forge and uses  variety of materials for the handles including antler. 

Steven only makes knives for commission.  Between caring for the land and creating things with their hands, there is rarely a wasted moment or a missed opportunity for beauty at Ford House. 


Day 12 West Mainland & Kirkwall, Orkney

Traditional Orkney Chair construction
You can't be in Orkney without spying old or new Orkney chairs. Locals made these chairs for hundreds of years with materials they had at hand and driftwood washed up onto the western shores of the islands. The chairs combine wood for the frame and  oat straw coiled and stitched with sisal for the chair backs. We saw the chairs being made first hand at Jackie and Marlene Miller’s workshop, Scapa Crafts in Kirkwall.
Jackie Miller, chair maker
 Jackie works with a joiner who makes the wooden part of the chair from driftwood, usually pine or beech, or oak or walnut. The oatstraw has to be cut with an old fashioned binder.
Tools of the trade
 It takes 4 sheaves for one chair back and more for a hooded chair like this. Each stalk in the sheaf is stripped by hand by Marlene.  Jackie carries on a tradition learned from his grandfather.
He has been making chairs for eighteen years full time and always has another order to fill. He is one of 3 professional chair makers on Orkney.
Robyn T. enjoying the comfort and warmth of an Orkney Chair
The big island, or as Orcadians call “mainland” is home to numerous stone circles and structures dating back as far as 5000 years. Nowadays, 17 of the 65 islands that are populated are home to 20,000 people, 100,000 beef cattle, 68,000 sheep and one fishing fleet, on Westray.
Standing Stones of Stenness
 We traveled west to the heart of Neolithic Orkney. Modern technology has shown that the stone monuments above ground are just the tip of the iceberg of all the ancient stone sites under the earth in this heart of the island. There is currently a dig exploring a site found in 2009 not far from the Standing Stones of Stenness.
Doreen M. and Judy L.
Stenness means “stone point” and indeed the tall stones still standing are pointed on top, but just 3100 years old. Also known as the Temple of Moon, couples came to perform a marriage ritual which would bind them together for one year and one day. After that period, they would have to come back to the stones to renew that ritual or to break the contract. Thus was their system of “marriage in installments.” On a clear day as both groups had, you can stand here and see the larger, Ring of Brodgar in the close
One section of the Ring of Brodgar
 The Ring of Brodgar once had 60 stones standing. Brodgar means “farm by the bridge.” A ditch, 11 feet deep and 33 feet wide encases the stone ring. One story goes that giants came to this ground to dance. Hands joined, they danced around and around, forming the ditch. They were having so much fun, they didn’t notice the sun rising. When the sun’s rays touched them, they turned to stone, thus forming the stones in the ring. Each Dec 31, they come alive, rise up out of the ground, walk down to the lake and have a drink. Then they go back to the ring and become solid stone for another year.
Textile enthusiasts as we are, notice the pattern, color, and texture of the lichen and rock surfaces
The 2500 year old ring is said to grant the gift of fertility to anyone who runs around it counter clockwise 3x without stopping. Considering the large circumference, this running ritual also meant you were in shape! As we walked the ring, some of us touching each stone, the wind blew us along, urging us to consider what ancient wisdom moved the people to build such impressive sites. What did they know, that we have long forgotten?

Ring of Brodgar looking back towards Stenness
Stromness is the 2nd largest town on mainland Orkney with a population of 2000+. The narrow main street holds a variety of shops and places to amuse the eye and entertain the mind. We especially like the bookstore,  Julia’s Bistro, the  museum, and the Pier Art center. Take a  walk through the street in pictures.

Northlight Tapestry Studio
Pier Art Center exhibits local art, currently showing the work of Jeremy Baster
and also international artists, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Pier
Pier Arts Centre is built right on the water front and a building design to bring the light and life of the town into the space

The local museum has a fine exhibit of Hudson Bay Company artifacts
I always looked forward to eating at Julia's
Skara Brae was uncovered when a storm hit William Watt’s farm in 1850 and eroded the beachfront. The settlement wasn’t excavated however to reveal what we see today until 1928-30.
Skara Brae
This stone-age community was quite advanced as they even had a sewage system and a stone trough area they filled with water and hot rocks to steam the sea life they ate. The laird’s home, Skaill House, is also open for viewing.
Skaill House
 An excellent background of the area is presented at : Today, an exciting archeological project is ongoing at the nearby Bay of Skaill where a Viking long house was discovered in 2010.
Judy, Linda L., Linda Ru., and Evelyn observing simmon making
 Corrigall Farm Museum in Harray preserves the history of agricultural life on the island. Implements, tools and household furnishings from the 18th-20th century fill the buildings. You’ll find  fascinating things like a simmon, rope that was made from twining grass, a spoon kaise, for holding cutlery, an ingenious mousetrap, an old Orkney chair, loom, and spinning tools. 

A tour of the Highland Park Distillery in Kirkwall takes you through  the entire process of distilling single malt whiskey from the malting of the barley to the where the magic happens in the aging process. Highland Park single malt has a peaty taste and it light amber in colour. The taste comes from the malting process of roasting the barley with peat.
 This is one of just five distilleries in Scotland that malts their own barley. The barley comes from mainland Scotland. The barley is soaked in water for two days, so it sprouts. Then it is spread out on a concrete floor for five days and turned to prevent it from sticking together.
 The kernels keep germinating on the malting floor. Then the green malt is placed on a mesh floor far above the fire kiln where it gets two firings of 18-20 hours each. The first four layers of peat are used in the first firing to give the barley a smokey flavor. Then it goes through a second firing fueled by coke, a form of coal. This second firing dries the malted barley.
 After malting the grain is turned into a mash. The mash goes through three soakings. The distilling of the sugars into alcohol is a two-step process done in huge copper cookers. They age the whisky a minimum of twelve years in both Spanish sherry barrels.
 Nothing like a dram of whisky to rejuvenate the weary travelers!
Jeanne, Geri, and Robyn, "tak a dram and we be cheery"
Hazel and Jennifer Wrigley have traveled the world performing traditional music since their teens. Now they focus their time in Kirkwall running the The Reel CafĂ©, Bar, and Music School.  The Reel has become the epicenter in Orkney for music lessons taught by the sisters and others, and for sessions in Kirkwall.
 I attended the Saturday night session, a long running tradition for over 20 years (not in the same pub).  Two guitarists, a banjo player, and mouth organ player, members of the local band “Hullion” were leading the session. The session was open to any others who wanted to join in.  I heard many a fine Orcadian tune. The Orcadians are prolific tune makers and especially love their polkas and slow airs. The songs in the Orcadian dialect are sad or funny, or sometimes both! 
 There are two music festivals coming up on Orkney feature local, Scottish, and international musicians alike.
The Orkney Folk Festival in May
The St Magnus Festival in June