Friday, August 18, 2017

The Art of Quitting: Finding Gratitude in Disappointment

Sometimes (well, many times) when you are traveling, things don’t turn out the way you envisioned them. I had such great plans to visit some parts of Scotland and for the past year I had even visualized myself there: The Isle of Skye,  West Highland Way, Eilean Donan castle, the Jacobite Steam Train (This was the train used in the Harry Potter movies). 

Well, the day before I left Hawaii, I sprained my ankle—BADLY. The first thing I thought as the initial pain subsided and I tried to get off the ground: “My HIKE!?!” I had trained all winter for it—I was up to carrying 20 pounds for almost 10 miles, for gosh sakes. I deserved that hike!


So, I changed my itinerary so that the hike was at the end of my stay in Scotland—just to give my ankle plenty of time to heal. It worked! By late July, ankle was strong…I was ready.

THEN…it was the rainiest July in many years in the UK. Rain and wind everywhere. AND…I had forgotten to consider that July/August is holiday time in Europe and the UK. It was about impossible to find any kind of affordable accommodation on Skye. Also, I learned that the West Highland way is a veritable highway in the summer. So, I turned inward—or  inland, actually. I looked at the heart of the Scottish Highlands where there might be less rain and fewer people, and found the lovely village of Pitlochry which is at the end of the Rob Roy long-distance trail. I did a test day hike up to Loch a’Choire and was rewarded with such a lovely day and flowering-heathered hills that I scattered some of Rachel’s ashes at the wee loch where I had lunch.



It was still rainy, but I looked at the forecast and chose a few days to tackle part of the Rob Roy Way and set off.

In two days I was drenched and dried off six times. There were no great Highland vistas—just clouds, mist, fog, and the slosh of my wet shoes. 

Too many shades of gray


Near the end of the second day, I reached into my pack and found that the pants I had planned to wear to sleep in were DAMP! It would be a cold night. I happened to be at a crossroads and there was a bus stop and a bus was coming in 40 minutes. I thought, “I’m not doing this to prove that I can…I am doing it to SEE the Highlands.” I bailed on the hike and tried not to cry.   

Of course, about that time, the sun came out to tease me into continuing on. Sure enough, though, when the bus arrived, it began raining again—I had made the right decision.
 



The next day, I made plans to move on to England after six weeks in Scotland. I felt let down. I wrote in my journal:
I did not see:
    The Isle of Skye
    Castle Eilean Donan
    The Knockando Woolen Mill
    Knitters on North Ronaldsay
But I should make a list of things I have done and seen that have been special:

     1.    Collecting hintelagets and spinning them on Bressay Island
     2.   Knitting with the women in Haddington
     3.    Whiskey-tasting with Elspeth Berry
     ....
     6.  Visiting New Lanark 
     7.  Camping alone by the Falls of Leny
             8.  Lots of kinds of ferries 
             9.  Managing at midnight in Kirkwall without a room
        10.  Cream Tea at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Room in Unst
         .....
        13.  Walking on the beach at Scapa
        14.  Walking on the beach at North Ronaldsay—seals!              



        15.  Taking a ride in a tiny plane
         .....
        18.  Eating Cullen Skink
        19.  Meeting Antje at the Yarn Cake
        20.  Meeting Catherine Henry and her husband, the wool broker for Jamieson and Smith
        21.  Riding REAL trains
       22.  Making a cool hat out of Icelandic Lopi yarn that I bought in Reykjavik
       23.  Photographing puffins
 24.  Sleeping near the Arctic Circle at the summer solstice and listening to birds singing all “night”

Okay, I was discouraged about not doing four things, but I listed 24 AMAZING things that I did experience.

Expecting the Unexpected, indeed.
On to England!



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Quest for Fiber: Chapter 10: A New Tradition in Herding Sheep

 I guess this falls into the "Quest for Fiber" category...
I was certainly following behind a bunch of 
fiber on the hoof today!


Since I arrived in the English Yorkshires two days ago, I have been hoping to see some sheep dogs working on a real farm. I have seen them at sheep dog trials, but never in real life herding a large flock. I got my chance today. I was taking a walk through Wensleydale on a little lane between fences and stone walls. Ahead a lane came in from the right, and racing around the corner was what looked like a reasonable-size flock of sheep.



Fortunately they turned up the road away from me. I watched as more and more poured after them.



I could hear a tractor in the distance approaching behind them. I was kind of disappointed…no sheep dogs. I waited so I would not interfere with the herding and was rewarded with a dog following behind the tractor. I decided, that since the farmer now had a tractor, the dog must be retired. So sad for him with nothing meaningful to do. Every once in a while, the farmer would yell for the dog to catch up.



But then, the sheep came to a wide place in the road and as they spread out, the dog went to work. It would have been easy for the sheep to linger and then slip behind the tractor. The dog’s job was to prevent that and he knew exactly what to do. The farmer only occasionally had to give him direction; the dog zig-zagged behind the tractor making sure there were no slackers.




Most of the sheep seemed to know when to turn into the new pasture, but some continued on past the gate. The farmer stopped his tractor and sent the dog up around the sheep and soon, they ran back down and into the right gate.

The farmer signaled the dog and he jumped up on the back off the tractor. His job was done—he got a ride home!


Here he is in action!



In case the video does not work for you here, 
you can try this link:


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Quest for Fiber Chapter 9: The New Lanark Cotton Mill

I am backing up a bit to write about some of the
spectacular places I have visited up until now.

In late June, I was in Glasgow and the first “go-to” place in my plans was the WorldHeritage Site of New Lanark. From Glasgow, it was only about a 45 minute train ride to the village of Lanark and then a mile walk down to New Lanark on the Clyde River.

I had read about this mill town before I arrived, but I was not prepared to come around a corner and see how big it was.

Established in the late 18th Century, it was taken over by a partnership that included Robert Owen in 1800. Owen was a social reformer who lived at the convergence of the Enlightenment of the 17th  and 18th Centuries, the Industrial Revolution, and the time of the Highland Clearances when crofters (tenant farmers) were being forced from their farms in Scotland and moving to cities seeking work.  

The education and welfare of the mill workers and their families was a high priority to Owen. He established New Lanark as a “model community” which included free medical care, enforced community sanitation to ensure good health conditions, the first “Infant School” so that mothers could return to work, school for all children, adult classes, lectures, concerts and dancing in the evenings, and garden landscapes in the town. No child under the age of 10 was allowed to work in the mill and they were encouraged to remain in school longer.

At a time when factory workers could work up to 19 hours a day, six days a week; Owen reduced this schedule to 10½ hours in his mill and withstood quite a bit of criticism from other factory owners for the decision. Indeed, he coined the expression, "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest."

Owen’s work helped inspire the beginnings of the Cooperative Movement and trade unionism. Even in its time, New Lanark was recognized in Europe as a model working community and Owen was able to show that it was not necessary to treat workers poorly in order to conduct a profitable business.

This is the same Robert Owen who established the New Harmony experimental community in 1825 in Indiana in the US.

I spent the entire day walking through the exhibits showing the living quarters, spinning machinery, children’s living conditions, the non-profit company store, and today’s working spinning mill making the New Lanark Wool Yarn. The relatively modest (for a factory owner) Owen home is located within the company town, which was another thing that was unusual at the time. Inside, a fascinating documentary, Quest for Universal Harmony, about Owen’s work and philosophy was being shown. I had come to New Lanark expecting to learn about a 19th Century cotton mill, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn so much about this reformer and the movement he was a part of.

Today, the New Lanark Trust takes care of the town and it is not only a restored historical museum and education center, but it includes a hotel, a hostel, a café, and a nice restaurant, as well as low-income housing, a woolen mill, and much more.


When the exhibits closed, because the sun sets late in Scotland at this time of year,  I had time to spend a couple hours walking up the nearby Clyde Valley Woodlands trail to the Falls of Clyde. There are many falls all the way up the trail and I thought I had seen them all. 


As I approached the top of the trail, I had intended to turn around before the bridge at the top. Fortunately, a couple people were coming down and they told me that I must cross the bridge and hike just a bit down on the other side—that the sight was amazing. So I did and was very glad I had encountered them.


If you are having problems viewing this video, try opening it
in YouTube: 







Friday, July 14, 2017

Quest for Fiber Chapter 8: Picky about my Hentilagets on Bressay

I had a day on Tuesday so overwhelmingly wonderful, that I had to take time to get a blog post out finally! I have actually had several of these kinds of days since I left home, but just have not gotten around to sharing about them. This one was really special because it combined my thrill of actually being in the Shetland Islands, my love of fiber and creating things from it, and hiking in beautiful locations.


I have been on the “Mainland” of Shetland for almost a week now. I think they will have to eventually kick me off. The beauty of this kind of “slow” travel is that you can change plans on the fly—leaving someplace you don’t care for sooner than planned, or remaining in place as you catch up and REALLY meet mingle with the locals and bask in the culture. The latter can be emotionally overwhelming at times and I sometimes get a sense of disbelief in the life I am living.

So on with the “Hentilagets” story…


I am a follower of an inspiring woman named Debbie Zawinski, who wrote the visually captivating In theFootsteps of Sheep. She is a Welsh woman who lives in Scotland.  She sometimes walks through the countryside, gathering the tufts of fleece that come off the animals in the field. They are so prevalent that there is a local name for them: “Hentilagets.”  Debbie is known for spinning these as she walks using drop spindles she creates from sticks. She sometimes even dyes the yarn in a billycan with moss and lichens in her camp in the long summer evening daylight.

 Since I first read about this Feral Spinner, as Debbie calls herself, I longed to walk in her “footsteps.” I am not near as tough (I am not camping out—yet!) , but yesterday, I got a taste of collecting and spinning wool in the wild.
A very short ferry ride from Lerwick, Shetland is the Isle of Bressay, where I ventured to take a walk to the top of the Ward of Bressay and then down to the lighthouse at Kirkabister Ness. On the way up, I started my collection of wool bits.

At first, you might be forgiven if you think these are hentilagets. They are wild sedges or bog cotton which grow in abundance on these acidic peat soils. Up close, they look like a fiber, but it seems fruitless to try spinning them! They have been used historically for candle-wicks, pillows, and wound dressings.


THESE are hentilagets. You find them where sheep have rubbed up against walls or fences, but the best pieces for spinning are on the ground. I found that most hentilagets are rubbish. They have been weathered too much and are slightly felted, or they have a lot of kemp (short brittle pieces of fibers that reduce the quality of the yarn.)



I kept thinking I would surely
reach the “end of up” soon!
I made a collection in my front pocket as I walked. Part of the way up was pretty steep, but well worth the effort when you get to the top.






The wind here can be biting—even now in July, but I found a cozy place sheltered from the wind to eat a snack and examine my “loot.” First, pull out all the foreign matter. Then, lining up the locks parallel to one another, pinch/scrape off the bottoms and tops to get an easy-to-spin-from-the-tips fiber.



Before long, I had almost 10 yards of single-ply Shetland yarn. It will go into the Traveling Scarf!


Walking down toward the lighthouse was a bit more involved than climbing up. There is no trail…just make your way down the tussocky peat bogs. Luckily there had been little rain lately, so it was dry; but it felt like I was walking on pillows!


There were a couple fences to cross and gates to go through (always leaving gates as they were—very important since the farmers allow you to walk across their land!). I made it to the bottom and the lighthouse—but it took a while. 

After a well-deserved lunch break, I headed back by an easy road.



The three-mile walk back to the ferry dock was fairly uneventful, except the wind was getting stronger and cooler. I was glad it did not rain and that I had several layers to don, including this cute Fair Isle hat that was given to me by a new Shetland friend—too keep my ears warm, she said!

And here is a short little video of the trip. (Apologies for the low quality!) 

video