Friday, September 14, 2018

“The Isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs…”

If you like traveling and are looking for an interesting place to see this is a post for you.

Visiting the Isle of Skye last August was one of the most memorable experiences in my life.

It is in Scottish Highlands, up North, and if you like sun and high temperatures this is not a place for you. Even in August it was relatively cold for our bodies spoiled by Floridian weather. Yet, cold wasn’t a serious problem – I had my knits with me and finally (FINALLY) could wear them. It was also extremely windy and raining most of the time (bring everything waterproof that you own). We spent more than a week there and had only 2 sunny days.

And the roads… Oh, the island roads… For our American souls this was a real torture. Two way roads on Skye look like tiny one way lanes in the US. Driving there requires some special skills, first of which is patience. They have “passing places” where you stop your car and patiently wait for the upcoming cars to pass before going forward. And you know what? Lots of people came there in RVs. Imagine driving on these roads in an RV! I can’t!

Anyway, those are the problems you are going to encounter if one day you travel there (which you definitely should do). Nevertheless, tourists keep coming to the Isle of Skye in droves (or herds, since there are so many sheep there that “herd” looks like the best word to describe the tourist phenomenon). It is pretty hard to book a lodging there in summer time, even though B&Bs, hostels, hotels, camping and RV spaces, and all sorts of other housing accommodations are abundant.  Plan ahead.

Why this place is so popular?
It is a small island with population less than 10 thousand people, mostly rural, with glens and mountains, ocean, lochs, rivers, mountain streams, and waterfalls. The air there is so pure you want to drink it. Every time I was outside, I tried to breathe as much as possible of it in my lungs. If I could, I’d stored it away to uncork later, and breathe it again. The experience was truly unique – like getting washed up from inside. By the way, the water, regular top water there is also pure beyond believe and tastes delicious.

I think there are more sheep on the island than populations (tourists included).
Sheep are everywhere, even on the roads (yes, you’ve got to let them pass as well).
I’ve been a big fan of the movie Shaun the Sheep, yet I used to think it is just a clever animation. On Skye I discovered that it is actually a documentary. The house where we were staying was in a middle of sheep grassland. Blackfaced and blacklegged sheep were peeping in our windows every morning, looking curious and a bit scornful at the same time. After all it was their land. We were only visiting.

Once we were lucky to see how a farmer trained his sheep to get into a barn. An extremely smart and agile sheep dog was helping him. Baffled, we were glued to the windows. It was a lesson in mastery, artistry, and patience. Every participant knew what and why they were doing and it was just a delight to watch. I must admit that the “sheep ballet” captivated me probably more than anything else on the island.

Where are sheep, there must be yarn. Right? Especially since you can just pick up wool as you go on a road.

We visited TheSky Museum of the Island Life and saw a Weaver’s cottage with many wool working instruments, a loom, spinning wheels, handspun wool, dye-pots, and old dye-making recipes.

Yet, surprisingly enough, it took us a while to find a knitting shop on the island. The first one, that promised hand dyed wool, coffee and cakes, was mostly coffee and cakes. It was a small private house with one room downstairs transformed into a sort of café cum weaver’s studio. There were some cones of handspun yarn in bright and beautiful colors without any information on them about the yarn’s length, type, or price. And as soon as I entered the room, all people who were sitting there eating cakes and drinking coffee started looking at me. I felt being on display together with the yarn (my husband and daughter wisely decided to stay at the entrance). The whole experience was rather weird and not pleasant. So we promptly left.

Next day driving on a road we noticed a sign Island on theEdge, Designer knitwear and Skye yarns. My husband turned the car without even my telling him anything. It was a teeny-tiny shack surrounded by black sheep.
The entrance to the store.

There is a black sheep near a rock. It was a dark and windy morning.
This little coo is made from the black sheep wool.
Most sheep on the Island are white but, as I was told by one of the women in the shack, the original Skye sheep were black. And their yarn is from these original black sheep. I had to have it. Especially since it was handspun right there by the woman who sold it to me (I was too shy to ask her name which I deeply regret). Yes, I broke my promise to use only the yarn from my stash this year. My daughter picked the color. It is going to be a present for her.

Also, among other wonderful things in this shop, there was a magnificent handknit man’s gansey. I’ve never been a big fan of ganseys. To my eye they look practical but not particularly remarkable. Not this one! It was knit from fingering weight handspun wool in dark chocolaty hue and had a subtle and interesting pattern all over the garment (not only on the top part). The salesperson told me that it was made on 5 dpn, not on circular needles, in the round, and seamless.  Unfortunately, you have to believe my words because I wasn’t allowed to take its picture as well as a picture of a handmade fairisle hat (costing 95 pounds!). Copyright protection in action!
Anyway, now I really want… need to make a similar gansey and replicate that hat. It was adorable (not to mention 95 pounds)!
Next day we found another knitting shop on the Island. Again, by pure chance, just saw a sign while driving to a totally different destination. Again, it was a tiny place/shack next to a private house.

I bought there this beautiful yarn bowl. It is light, smooth, has little holes for yarn, and is made with a lot of love.
Yet, the most impression (and the biggest damage to our wallet) was made by the last knitting shop that I visited – The HandspinnerHaving Fun. This one was huge comparing to the previous shops, and the selection of yarn, needles, and everything else that a knitter might need, was colossal. I literally lost my breath when stepped inside. This was a place where I would love to die one day. And yes, I bought two big bags of yarn there and I don’t think anyone can blame me. It was inevitable. Places like that one should be marked on maps as “yarntraps” or “knitterstraps”.
Mushroom hunting was another big and unforgettable experience from our stay on Skye.

With so much rain and air temperature far from tropical mushrooms grow like… well, like mushrooms in patches of the island covered with trees, especially rowan trees.
One time, while driving on a tiny road, we found 10 or even more boletes without even getting out of the car. Mushrooms were so big that we could easily spot them just by looking through the car windows.
Our first serious “mushroom hunting” experience happened unexpectedly when we were visiting the historic Dunvegan castle.
The castle is Bronte sisters’ wet dream – old, dark, gothic and romantic in a melodramatic sort of way. It is surrounded by an immense garden which, as we soon discovered, was full of mushrooms. Since we came unequipped for mushroom picking, at first my husband was putting mushrooms into his pockets. Yet, after a while he had to retrieve grocery bags from our car that we filled in no time. All the while, I felt really awkward because no one else around was interested in mushrooms and it looked somehow inappropriate to pick mushrooms on someone else’s property. So, while my daughter and my husband got carried away full of excitement and enthusiasm, I followed them pretending to be an innocent bystander.
We used to go mushroom hunting rather often when we lived in Russia, but in all my life I never had as many mushrooms for one meal as I had on Skye.

Because after our first foray, we discovered even more mushrooms growing around another castle, or rather ruins of a castle – Armadale.
Note to myself – where is a castle, there must be mushrooms!
Another unexpected discovery made on Skye was the gigantic amount of people running from civilization. The island was supposed to be a rather isolated place beneficial for solitude and meditation, yet, there were herds of people running around in cars and on foot, climbing every mounting, walking every path, parking in every parking spot (and where there was NO PARKING sign), sleeping in tents, cars, RVs everywhere we went. Once, while visiting the famous fairy glen with otherworldly beautiful fairy pools I had to put my headphones on to isolate myself from crowd’s noises, because the traffic along the waterfalls was exceptionally heavy. If you are thinking about visiting the island one day and want to avoid big crowds of people, I found a special website just for you. I wish I saw it before our trip.
All in all, our trip to Skye this year was an immense success. The island is so beautiful that I was constantly taking pictures of everything around.
That is why this post has so many photographs. I took them with my phone (I refuse to carry a camera when I travel) and I left them almost unedited and without any filters or other fancy adornments.

These pictures are mostly for my friends who haven’t had an opportunity to see the island yet, but would like to know more details about it.
As to my knitting, of course I was knitting on the island. Even before we left for Europe, I finished two hats from my never ending stash of Rowan fine tweed. I tried to photograph them in action there but hats and knits were not a priority on Skye so I didn’t try too hard. Here are some of the pics. My daughter and I are the models.

According to my plans (ha-ha, remember those?), in August I was supposed to work on my third big project for the #summerofbasics. I wanted to use as much of my ColourMart Fine Geelong yarn as possible (I already used it for 2 projects but still had quite a lot) and I thought that I found the right pattern for it. Wrong! The yarn didn’t want to become that pattern. Actually, the yarn turned out to be rather tricky and didn’t want to become any pattern. 
A couple of days before our departure I started making Tensile by Emily Greene from it because I got exactly the same gauge as needed for the pattern (rare occurrence for me) and I dutifully plugged away at it while in Scotland. Then, one bright and sunny day, after having bought a new yarn bowl, I decided to photograph my progress (and the yarn bowl).
My pictures showed clearly what I knew all along – the beautiful lace pattern was indiscernible in this yarn, it was useless to work so hard on something that won’t be even visible.
Finally, a day before we left the island, I saw these patterns published by Quince and Co and couldn’t resist anymore. My Tensile was unraveled because it had to become Slouchy.
However, this is a totally different story, that I’ll tell you next time. This post is dedicated to the magical and mystical Isle of Sky.

Talk soon,


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