The sheep are doing great despite the hot weather. We've a couple of batches due to go off to pastures new (new owners setting up their own flocks) as we need to downsize a bit. We tried to have a couple of picnics at the field while we were spending days there working, but they didn't always work out as planned as the sheep tried to mob us for our sandwiches. Prime offender was Tille (left). She's fearless.
The sheep are not yet sheared; we were tempted to start a couple but - despite recent good weather - the rise just isn't there in the fleece yet. The rise is a natural thinning of the fleece and when we handshear, we aim to cut along the rise and above any new growth. This makes the fleece much easier to process. Machine shearing tends to run along the skin of the sheep, removing both the older fleece and any post-rise growth, leaving a fleece with a weakness in the staple. As we have not lambed this year, our rise might be later - the ewes just haven't had the same demands on them physically as they would if supporting/feeding lambs.
We cannot treat the sheep with any anti-fly treatments until after shearing, so we have to be alert for flies laying their eggs in the rise of the fleece (a nice moist warm place for them to choose) and the risk of flystrike.
Regular checking is essential and it is always a relief to get the sheep sheared and treated.
We'll have fleeces - straight from the sheep - available for sale soon. Contact me if you are interested.
As far as wool dyeing goes, I've made a start on dyeing some of the new DK yarns we've had in. After trials, it's only really the Haar DK which is light enough to take a dye and I've managed to produce these stunning shades. I absolutely love them and need to dye some more for myself to knit with!
In terms of the yarn which is away at the dyers, progress has obviously been halted due to lockdown, but hoping to have some back ready for Woolfest in June. Really looking forward to it!
I'm not about to launch into lots of lockdown musings: there've been times when I've really struggled with the lack of freedom to be 'out' and seeing friends although the first few weeks were fairly calm and positive. What I had thought was a lockdown 'fuzzy head with tiredness', or perhaps the return of depression turned out to be the most common 'very common' side effect of some new tablets I'd been prescribed *face palm*. Like lots of others, I've been trying to rediscover pleasure in small things and stay connected. Stay well, all of you
This weekend we would have been at the first of our weekend wool festivals this year - and our first trip to WonderWool Wales in Builth Wells. But these times are unusual (or the unusual has become the new usual) and so we are at home, limited to sending out online orders. Big thanks to all those of you who are ordering yarn as it's been a real life-saver for us. We've changed the way we prepare and pack our parcels and info about this can be found here.
In readiness for WonderWool Wales, we have three new yarns in our shop - fresh from the 2019 wool clip - all washed and skeined and ready to go - which are natural undyed DK weight yarns. All are worsted spun rather than our previous wool spun yarns.
REE: is a dark grey DK/worsted at 200m per 100g (10 WPI) and is a combination of black and grey fleeces. It's a lovely ark stormy grey which willl look fantastic next to all of our hand-dyed peerie-skeins.
HAAR: is close to the Haar shade we used to sell but is a slighter lighter weight, coming in at 260m per 100g and 12 WPI. It's a flecky pale grey made from the grey and katmoget fleeces we have, with some white to lighten the shade a little.
MOORIT: is a warm brown DK/worsted weight, similar to the REE, at 200m per 100g and 10 WPI.
All three shades can be seen next to each other below.
Getting the fleeces worsted spun has been a new departure for us. We hope you like the wool, and please tell us what you think! Happy knitting.
In addition, WonderWool Wales asked us to prepare three short video clips and so - despite having no experience at all at it - we threw ourselves into pulling together film clips, photos and music to create three short pieces. They're a bit rustic, but we've put the first of them onto our website home page and we hope you enjoy it!
While I enjoy hand-dyeing our Shetland wool, I can't keep up with demand, even though I've doubled my production from one saucepan at a time to two. I made the decision (after a lot of thought) to seek to get some of last year's yarn commercially dyed in the colours which are most popular.
Things I wanted to think about were:
- getting the yarn dyed as locally as possible
- working with a team who would understand the ethos of what I am trying to do
- working with a company which had a sound environmental policy and record
- working with a team who could work with small quantities (in order to maximise the range of shades I could sell at any time)
- working with a team who would look at the colours I currently provide and seek to recreate them on both grey (DK and 4 ply) and white (laceweight) yarns
After a bit of trial and error, I think I've found such a company and - on top of that - the team is friendly, collaborative and didn't laugh me out of the building when I explained what I wanted.
The photos above show the Hillfoots Blend 4 ply (inner four samples) and new (as yet not on sale) Haar DK dyed in four shades which some of you will recognise as new interpretations of (from left): Cranachan; Lammerloch; Aikeyside (it's lighter and brighter than it looks here), and Bracken. I'm so happy with these and have given the go ahead for larger quantities of these shades. These look amazing next to their parent un-dyed shades. They just sing!
These will - like all my yarns - be limited edition - for this last clip. I can't ever tell how next year's clip will turn out! Once they are back from the dyer, I will list these - and the undyed 'parent yarn' on the website.
One of the benefits of getting these commercially dyed is that it will give me more time to hand-dye the tonals, and the complementary shades to these.
I was hoping to get these yarns ready to launch at Wonderwool Wales at the end of April, but - as you will know - most yarn festivals have been cancelled in 2020 in the interests of public safety.
In the meantime, we have a discount available on all the yarns currently in our online store until further notice. Use the code SPRING20 at checkout for 10% off the cost of your yarn.
After a mild winter so far, with only brief spells of snow, snow and ice has arrived on the tails of Storm Chiara last weekend.
Shetland sheep are a hardy primitive breed but that doesn't mean that they can be completely left to fend for themselves all winter.
We are down to about 8 tups now, as the field will shortly be sold off, with the current plan to get the boys slaughtered for meat once the grass starts growing again. In the meantime, they are overwintered in a sheltered field with a permanent supply of hay and some mineral buckets. They all received a pre-winter vitamin drench which helps them get the most out of any fodder over the winter. The tups we loaned out across the country are all safely home looking none the worse for some solid 'work' to service other people's flocks.
The ewes are a few miles away from the tups. Their fields are more exposed to the prevailing weather, but they have plenty of shelter, ad-lib hay, mineral buckets and helpings of hard feed if they need it. We have been working our way through the flock, checking teeth, body condition and feet, and find it easier to group the sheep by colour for these tasks so we can keep track of who has been 'done'.
The flock had a good annual health check from the vet prior to the winter, and preparation for the visit prompted us to revisit the Flock Health Plan given that we have gained one field but are about to lose another.
Prolonged harsh weather can show as a weak area in the fleeces of the sheep, but good spells of cold weather are also good for keeping down pests in the fields and the garden.
Beal to Holy Island
Earworm of the Day: Ordinary People by Bugzy Malone ft JP Cooper
Slept great! Woke v early and divided up my stuff into things I needed for today, and everything else. Not much I needed today. Had a quick breakfast and was ready for my friend RE arriving at 7.15. Wore The Cowl that I had spent so long knitting.
I was feeling nervous about the walk across the sands - and left to my own devices I might have taken the road causeway across, or even stayed at the B&B til P came to pop us across in the car. BUT RE was here and was adamant that we would walk across the sands to Holy Island. 'This is it. The big finish. You can do this'.
In terms of tide timings, we had worked out the mid-point of the safe road-crossing time 9.45 or thereabouts and the guidebook advised us to be across by then. This meant setting off at 7.30 latest.
The carpark that I remembered down by the causeway has been closed off in recent months - someone mentioned in the bar that the landowner is in dispute with Natural England (or whoever) about unpaid grants. Who knows. Anyway, we had received permission to park in the Bothy Car Park while we walked across, Ken and the couple had evidently set off earlier. No tents evident behind the hedge and it looked as if we were last. No worries, right?
We headed down the footpath to the start of the causeway, then once we were over the South Low (river) we slid a bit inelegantly down off the road and walked across to join the line of 123 marker poles which stretch straight across the sands to Holy Island.
There has been a pole-marked crossing across the sands since earliest times but these were installed in the 1970s I think. I suppose the monks would have come back and forth this way, and on their last journey fleeing Lindisfarne with its relics and with the coffin containing the body of St Cuthbert, on their way to St Cuthbert's Cave that I had passed yesterday.
The ground underfoot was a strange mixture of sand and mud - but fairly firm - and we had elected to keep our boots on for now. We could see footprints in the sand and decided that these were the couple and then Ken slightly separate. It was overcast but fairly light and we couldn't see another soul in front of us or on the road.
I've visited Holy Island many times since moving to Scotland in 1990. For several years it seemed to be the place we went for a birthday day out and we spent a good few dreich February days trying to find something decent to eat and taking the long circular path around the island.
Things have certainly changed in recent years and the island seems a much more inviting place to visit these days. P and I visited in just over a month later and the island was buzzing with life and people. We spent some time in the Gertrude Jekyll's garden:
We wandered the island and then found a grassy spot on the heugh where we lay in the breeze and listened to the sound of the seals singing out on their sandbar in the approaching tide. It's a sound I had only heard once before, on a magical evening at the Brough of Birsay....
and before we left we managed to visit St Mary's Church, with its statue of St Aidan outside and the stunning wooden sculpture by Fenwick Lawson inside. The bronze version stands outside Durham Cathedral where St Cuthbert's body was laid to rest.
RE and I chatted about a range of things as we crossed. We're members of the same crafters group and RE is a talented and creative printer who seems to travel far and wide attending classes and workshops. We had been on a few walks together now and I felt comfortable being with her. I wanted to talk about my experiences of the Way but felt muddled and as if I hadn't made sense of it all in my head yet, other than the sore feet.
Occasionally we'd stop, be still and just listen. Other than the distant calling of waders, the only thing we could hear was the wind.
It grew even lighter and cars started to head across the causeway across to our left ; visitors, locals, delivery drivers. We could see a large group nearing the end of the road and a couple heading towards us coming from the island.
Then we reached a barrier. A long stretch of water and deep bog with no way across. We followed Ken's footprints along the side of the water, then back again, went further across to the right. No way across. RE pointed to a solitary wellington boot nearly submerged in the mud. Really?
We took off our boots and socks without falling over and steeped into icy cold water and then almost lifelike , caressing, grabbing soft mud. People pay good money for mud. But we were across what we hoped was the worst bit only to find sharp shell fragments underfoot making me hop and squeal and move as quickly and lightly as I could. Good grief this was horrid - and yet? At least my feet weren't hurting as much. We met the approaching couple. Tough to get across that bit. Ha ha we checked it out yesterday smug giggles. RE muttered and we looked back to see them pacing up and down the edge of the swampy bit. Then they were across.
We walked on for 10 minutes and I realised RE was still muttering to herself about the couple's smugness. I'm supposed to be the angsty one.
We were closer to the road now and I was hoping P would arrive in his car, visible and waiting at the end of this mammoth walk to welcome us onto dry land. There's a bench at the far end - RE has great eyesight. All that time sailing maybe.
And like that we were across. Time for a vaguely celebratory photo-stop. There was a couple sat on the bench. Not yesterday's couple but a French couple and her feet were wrecked. I felt a small glow of comradeship and relief . We chatted about the walk. 'Ah yes! You are the lady with the dog'. RE told them about the Pilgrims Cafe on the Island and you have to hand it to her: she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of emerging and hipster coffee and cake stops.
As we walked into the village, I realised that was it. The Way was over. I didn't feel loud or celebratory but a little bit sad. I'd spent months planning and getting fit, then mapping the route, booking accommodation and then doing the walk itself. The Way.
Hobbled into the cafe and there they were; the Glasgow ladies, kit, poles and wiry bodies and an air of joy. 'Oh hi - yes the lady with the dog - we saw you yesterday' and RE and I headed upstairs clutching cake and coffee. The French couple was there too. I'd seen Ken loping his long stride back across the causeway as I sat on the bench drying my feet. The pilgrims had converged and were now separating again, like bits of shell on an outgoing tide.
P arrived in the car and the three of us sped back across a causeway that would never seem quite the same again. Back to the world. The tide was coming in fast and already our footprints would be gone.
Had I proved to myself that I could do it? Yes. Had I managed alone? Yes - on the few bits where I was. Had I got lost? Only once outside Wooler and that was a relatively minor mistake caused by lack of attention. Had it been the unalloyed uplifting experience i had occasionally hoped for? Sometimes yes. Often not. Had I thought Great Thoughts? No. No magical cure for lack of capacity on the brain front. But I had reflected, considered, wondered, sung to myself, sung to Hamish, absorbed, listened, wondered, chatted to people I met, and Managed. My earworm - which had bugged me since waking - seemed apt. My subconscious had chosen it. Perhaps we're all far from ordinary people.
And I could definitely do it again.