Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).
Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeople, avian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.
Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.
For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.
Deep in the depths of Winter it seems interminable: the grey skies that Edinburgh is so fond of aren’t going anywhere soon. There is a dampness in the air that seeps into every bone of your body. I’m fairly certain the sun hasn’t risen in about a month, and I’m not sure it will for another month yet. Late last summer we took a trip to Provence – a holiday I’d dreamed of for years – and not only saw some sun, but felt the warmth on our faces and toes. It was glorious. In these cold, dark days of January it’s a soothing thought to think back to the holiday.
We visited villages full of beautiful craftsmanship, both old and contemporary. Markets in abundance with local produce, fruit, veg, cheese, charcuterie, all from within a stones throw of our accommodation. Thank you forever to the man who gave us a melon for nothing and the person who helped us translate what ‘spicy’ was to old stallholder and the man who gave us the most expensive cheese I’d ever bought but also the absolute best. At every turn there were glorious colours in the landscapes, from the lushest verdant greens to deepest red ochres.
Despite the guidebooks saying how popular the region is for British and continental visitors, we hardly herd another non-French voice. Locals assumed we too were local (surely a great compliment?), though it quickly came apparent that wasn’t the case as my rusty Higher French was all we had to see us through.
I spent so long in anticipation of this holiday that I was worried I’d made a bed for myself. How highly can you hype a holiday before you get sick of it yourself? But there was nothing to worry about. I’m off to look at my photos again and remember what it feels like to be warm in the sun.
It’s cold outside and in. My evenings are more free than they have been for a while. I have no great urge to be outside in the dark nights. This can only mean one thing: knitting.
When I’m busy working daytime and evening it’s hard to switch off for what little free time there is. In an effort to make the most of the restless energy I have at those times, I like to knit. It’s a productive act, but also one which takes me away from the computer screen. The same could be said of washing the dishes, but that’s much less fun. Here’s some things I’ve been working on for the past while.
Up-top is the pattern Grizzly by the Brown Stitch. My mum gave me some balls of lopi wool a while back (thanks, mum!) and I’ve had them waiting for a pattern to find them. And there it is! I love it already and am really enjoying knitting it. I’ve been pleased with the last few things I’ve finished, though haven’t loved the process so I’m extra-enjoying this one.
Hermaness Worsted by Gudrun Johnston. This I knitted with New Lanark aran yarn, leftovers which I’ve had in my stash for years. A nice pattern, though I felted it every-so-slightly as I blocked it, so it’s not shown off to its best.
Take Heart by Fiona Alice. This pattern was the only thing I bought at Edinburgh Yarn Festival, after seeing a lovely version of it at the designers’ stall. It’s probably my most favourite hat I’ve ever knitted. The cables represent a major knitting achievement for me – I neither enjoy knitting cables nor am I very good at them – so those with the pompom = joy. The first attempt at a pompom for this – my first pompom since I was wee – resulted in one virtually the size of my noggin so it’s hanging up on the wall instead. The one pictured is slightly more manageable.
After in excess of a year knitting it, I finally finished this hap. The pattern is A Hap for Harriet by Kate Davies. I really, really love the finished result of this, though I found the knitting a slog. I bought the yarn in Harris on a family holiday a few years ago. It’s lovely.
All projects ravelled here.
Visiting Skye, taking the opportunity to see places from land we’ve only seen by boat before. Neist Point is dramatic and impressive. We took advantage of some puffin-spotting (some, not many), seeing guillemots nesting, fulmars calling around us and the occasional gannet diving into the sea.
The wind hardly blew a breath. As we hung over the edge of the cliffs to see the birds, the waves crashed in the caves beneath us. A glorious sound.
An attempt to join in with the 30 days wild challenge set by the Wildlife Trusts. I try and observe what is going on around me as it is but I felt it couldn’t hurt being a bit more active in engaging with nature. My daily commute on Uist saw short-eared owls most days, almost certainly various birds of prey and often many types of ducks and waders, just from the car window. Once even a snowy owl. Being out for even a short walk it was impossible not to notice the abundance of flora and fungi all around. Living in the city you have to look harder for the wildness around you. Edinburgh, as far as cities are concerned, it still at the mercy of the weather and nature, but it doesn’t compare to leaving the office for a lunchtime walk on the machair. Still, you have to take what you’ve got and this seemed like a fitting opportunity to engage with the summer as it emerges. You can follow some of my tweets from earlier in the month, though I stopped over the last week or so. It’s easy to get derailed, but I’ve still been trying me best to look out around me.
Photos all taken on my phone, so excuse the differing quality.
South Uist is a really magical island. It’s famous for the almost-continuous machair and sand on the west coast, but it’s the east coast that I find really enticing. With the exception of a few clusters and occasional lone houses, few people now live in this area. Infrastructure and expansion around the 1960s meant that those households still living on the coast* were faced with the reality that the services and facilities being afforded to communities in the west would not be extended to those in the east.
There is an abundance of excellent walks to be had in South Uist. When you start exploring a bit you begin to understand the difficulties in supplying services to this area. Walking overland is arduous, long and pretty impractical. On paper it seems to make much more sense to travel by sea, though what the waters around the east coast are like I don’t know. Perhaps going by horse, as many likely would have, is easier than just on foot. These photos are from a walk around the headland at the end of the Loch Aineort road last month. We followed a route – roughly- recommended in the Cicerone guide to walks in Uist. It’s excellent and much recommended.
*population movement anywhere is a complicated business – there are many and varied additional reasons why people had been moving away from this area.
A rare chance to fly up over the Western Isles from Uist – Lewis. The weather wasn’t the best, and nor are my photos, but seeing the islands from the air emphasises just how watery and knobbly they are.
A few snaps from Summer so far.
A number of years ago I worked in a well-known Edinburgh bookshop. I worked a few evenings a week, alongside studying full-time. I really loved the job – being surrounded by books, getting a hefty discount on books, speaking excitedly about books with colleagues and customers. It was, on the whole, pretty good. I made a lot of friends when I was there, but one friendship in particular grew through a shared love of cold places, knitting, youtube videos of animals doing stupid things and, of course, books.
Rebecca and I remain close friends today, despite now living on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Last year Rebecca touted the idea of doing a project between the two of us, and I, being a fan of everything Rebeccca does, of course said yes. The result is Looking East, Looking West – a weekly diptych of photos from the two of us. It’s nice to be able to share photos in this kind of context, and it’s good to have a project to focus on week-to-week. It’s not easy remembering to take photos, and particularly ones good enough to put up (did I mention Rebecca is really, really good?) but it’s good fun. So the photos I put up here might well be leftovers from those I send to Rebecca, but hopefully over the course of the year they’ll improve and develop (excuse the pun).
Thank you, Rebecca, for encouraging me to do something different, something that feels quite bold.