Friday, July 17, 2009

Blue Skye

Thank you all for being so patient with my travellogue here; it's almost over, I promise. And I am trying very hard to keep at least some fiber in each post. You'll notice, though, that there just haven't been that many sheep pictures; I don't know why that is, as there were plenty of sheep. Maybe there are more on the girls' cameras? I'll have to check...

Meanwhile, I believe the next stage of our trip was the Isle of Skye. Rick and I had been there once before, right after we were married, and loved it. We camped there and stayed at a little B&B in Portree; the funny thing is how we each remembered different parts of the trip. I kept insisting that we'd visited Dunvegan Castle. Rick had no memory of it (until we went again, when he developed a vague remembrance). He, on the other hand, remembered at least two hikes that I couldn't recall to save my life. I wonder what this says about our different foci when travelling?

In any case, we arrived, at last, at the hotel that dad had found in Portree, and every one of us promptly declared it to be the absolutely best hotel ever. I want to go back and stay again. Now. The view from our window was so beautiful, I happily sat and knitted away that first evening, in the late light from the window.
Those are the Black Cullins in the far background there. They're covered in clouds, and that whole first day, we could watch rain coming from the mountains, over the water, and right to our front lawn, just in time to call the girls in from playing. The full moon that night was equally gorgeous.
We'd heard that it was going to rain the next day, but that the day after that there might be a chance of clearing, so we decided to hold off on a big hiking trip for a day in hopes of good weather, and headed off to Dunvegan Castle, one of the oldest still-inhabited castles in Scotland (the MacLeod of Clan MacLeod lives there with his family).
No pictures were allowed inside, but there's an amazing collection of artefacts throughout the castle, including the Fairy Flag, so old that its history is shrouded in mystery, and the drinking horn from which future chiefs of the clan, at their coming of age, must drink nearly (if I remember right) two litres of claret, without stopping or setting it down. You've got to love tradition.

The view from the gunyard.
That flat mesa (I know they're not called that in Britain, but come on) in the distance is called, appropriately enough, MacLeod's Table. Can you imagine having a family history in one place so deep in time that features of the landscape share your name? I can't. It must feel different, somehow, to walk through a space that has been touched by one's ancesters dating back 1,000 years and more. I know that many Native Californians that I've worked with over the years feel that way, and I catch glimpses of it on the edges sometimes, out of the corners of my eyes, as it were, but in a culture that for so long has embraced movement, the new and different, the next horizon, displacement from place seems to be part of the cultural zeitgeist. I know that when I've told people that I would have trouble leaving California, not because it's such a fabulous place culturally or politically or (heaven knows) financially, but because I know the shape of its hills, I know the brown they turn in the early summer, and the way that brown changes in its nature as the dry season continues. I know just what the first blush of green looks like, as new grasses emerge under the old. I know when the fog is going to come in, and how far, and what the thunderclouds look like to the east on days when I wake up feeling the damp in the air. And if I can know these things during one short lifetime, imagine if I had a thousand years of knowledge behind me, how hard it would be to leave, how long I would miss it.

Our indoor day also (thanks to the patience and encouragement of my family) included a fiber stop. In reading one of the latest issues of The Knitter (love that magazine, btw; more on that another time), I saw a small piece on a dyer and her business, called Shilasdair. When I saw that she dyed her yarn using plants from the area around her home in Skye, I knew we had to go. And go we did. It was a long drive, on tiny winding roads, but we got there, and were greeted warmly with an offer of a cup of tea of coffee. I forewent the beverages in favor of fondling yarn.
Lots and lots of yarn. Above the yarn was a list of the plants that were used to dye each color, and each yarn label contained that information for the particular color. We even got to go into the dye studio.
There was a display of the off-island dye agents used (cochineal, madder, indigo), and then there were the local plants hanging from the beams in the back.
The plants from Skye mostly give yellows and greens, so she overdyes to get the full range of colors, which were vibrant and absolutely gorgeous. I also saw this hanging on the wall:
I don't know if you can see that it says "Navajo Dye Chart" at the bottom; it looks almost exactly like the one I saw hanging at Tierra Wools in New Mexico. I love the fiber world. And, of course, I bought yarn; two sweaters' worth and a pattern. I'll show pictures of that soon.

The next day we took a ferry to Loch Coruisk, a loch in the Black Cullins that is only to be reached either via ferry, or by a long (if I remember correctly, 12 miles each way) hike. We chose the ferry. And we were so glad that we did, because not only did the lovely ferry operator give us a verbal tour of all of the islands we could see from the boat ("on that island, there are five people, no wait, four right now, one of them's off to college"), but, as we were tooling along to the loch, I saw dolphins playing, and we went back for a closer look. They came right to the boat and jumped and played and swam in the bow waves, and we were all delighted.
They're small dolphins, about four feet, and they were a treat to watch. We all felt like we'd started the day right, and it only got better. We also saw seal pups on the way in (the pictures just don't do them justice), just a week old and wobbly on their flippers, and when we got there, the sun came out and stayed out for good. The back of my neck got sunburned, even.

Our goal was to hike to the head of the loch, and hike we did.
It's a wild place, full of bogs and rocks and tussocks. Older Daughter managed to go knee-deep into a bog, but she recovered nicely and carried on, in spite of wet socks. We had a lunch break along the way, and lay on the sun-warmed gabbro of the Black Cullins out of the wind to eat our bread and cheese.
After some scrambling, we made it to the head of the loch, and looked onto the surrounding mountains.
The only person we saw during our whole hike was a single man, who was running, shirtless, around the loch. We all agreed he was insane.

When we got back to the ferry landing, we still had a little bit of time, so Rick and I left the girls with my parents, dabbling their feet in the water,
while we took the camera and made a run up the sides of one of the mountains for a picture of the loch as it poured into the North Atlantic.
And then we looked out onto the ocean.
Perfect. And after our drive home, and a dinner of the best fish pie I ever hope to have in all my life, the day ended as all perfect days should end.


Wanderingcatstudio said...

Yep.. I'm going to Scotland
I'm going to pitch a tent at the side of that loch and live there forever! Just gorgeous!

Miss 376 said...

We were on the mainland opposite there one day and watched the rain come in across the water. Unfortunately, we watched for too long and it caught us before we got back

Bea said...

Excellent. All these images are just gorgeous. I love the dye/yarn shop. So very cool.


Just lovely.

And, I think it means to belong somewhere when one notices and cares about brown hills or the sudden rainfall.

Willow said...

Sigh. I have just read the absolutely BEST advertisement in the whole world for visiting Scotland! Hiking trails, yarn shop, dolphins, beautiful ocean and loch views- what more could anyone hope for?

Helen said...

Oh I'm glad that all went so well. Lovely photographs, and I do like that one of your less-than-fascinated family in the dye studio. Can't wait to see what you bought.

Mary Lou said...

I am enjoying this armchair travelogue. I wonder how many frequent flyer miles I have...

Have you ever seen the movie The Edge of the World? Filmed in the Shetland Islands in the late 30's - it might be fun as a post trip movie. Sheep and the fastest knitting i've ever seen.

KnitNana said...

Aye. To Scotland away, right away!
(oh, well, okay, Sock Summit, first)
I LOVE the dye shop/yarn shop!!! What neat photos - and embiggening them helped with details so much.

You have the best vacays!

Gwen said...


Thank you for your travelogue.

An interesting exercise would be to do the same for our homes. We don't all go on fabulous hikes around stunning lochs every day, but we do live surrounded by beauty and curiousities.

I'm all of the third generation to live in the Bay Area! And my son is fourth! We're such newcomers. (There's a spot on I65 just south of Birmingham that has the feel of a spot on 101 just north of San Francisco, between the tunnel and that Sausalito exit at the top of the hill. Somehow, that has to do with belonging to a place.)

Gwen said...

(that would be Birmingham, Alabama. Not Birmingham, England)

AlisonH said...

I so want to go too. What a gorgeous trip you had!

And thank you for that description of place over time--much to think about there. Marvelously written.

Alwen said...

That was beautiful. I'm wearing out my superlatives, but wow. So beautiful, and yarn, too.

Rachel said...

Thank you for another marvelous trip and why tell me why do you think we suffer through them? I at least, LOVE THEM! so, please don't stop anytime soon.

And that yarn studio, WOW - if I were there I would have had a hard time not to ask for one skein of each color pretty please :)

Rachael said...

Simply marvelous!

M-H said...

Lovely photographs. But, more importantly, did you get the fish pie recipe?

Wool Enough said...

That dye studio looks fantastic. Wish I could reach through the screen and grab some of the yarn (tendering appropriate payment, of course). And rain in the summertime -- what a treat!

Carrie K said...

I read this hurriedly and didn't have time to post last Friday but your observation about the roots that one sinks in their surroundings and how differently it must feel when that time stretches back in your family from time immemorial reverbated in my head all weekend. What differences would our world have if our familiies only voluntarily left their homes? And how does the disruption of "home" change our world view?

And why does Scotland look like home to me?

Heather said...

Gorgeous pictures, and it looks like a wonderful trip.

EGunn said...

Beautiful! I've always wanted to visit Scotland. Now I want to visit right now. Lovely pictures, lovely place.

And that feeling of place? That's how you know when you are home. =)

twinsetellen said...

Such a lovely post. Like others, the piece that will linger long in my mind is your discussion of place. We are starting to discuss where to retire to (years from now), and each time I feel a pang of remorse or sadness that we actually view this as a decision. How did we come to be so temporary in our homes? Is there a way back to real connection in place? If I figure out the answer, I'll let you know.