Looking through my files this morning I came across the following bit of writing. It is an account of a trip Ian and I made in 2004 to Mull in Scotland. Read on, if interested.
KNITTING AND SPINNING RETREAT
ISLE OF MULL, SCOTLAND JULY 24-31, 2004
“I should have brought my knitting” – this is what I said when I entered the room of the hostel where my companions for the next week were gathered. This no frills Knitting and Spinning Week had been organised all the way from Tasmania, Australia, with more local co-ordination from Orkney far to the north in Scotland. Fifteen of the twenty-five members of the group were staying in the hostel, Creich Hall; the rest of us were staying in b&b’s nearby. The definition of b&b is a broad one – two people were staying in their van. Each of us had travelled many hours and days to get there – several came from Australia, a large contingent came from Oregon and other parts of the U.S., one person from southern Germany, another from France, several from England, several from Scotland, myself from Ireland.
My journey to get to the Retreat had started several days previously with a short flight from Dublin to Glasgow, a wonderful 3 hour train journey on the historic West Highland Railway from Glasgow to Oban, 2 nights in Oban, then a 45 minute ferry trip from Oban to Craignure, and finally a 1 ¼ hour bus journey to our b&b near Fionnphort. Our arrival at the b&b was like something out of Wuthering Heights. As we drew nearer to Fionnphort the bus driver pulled to the side of the road and announced that we were outside Achaban House, where we were to stay. We unloaded our bags from the bus – feeling we were in the middle of nowhere – trudged across the cattle grid and up the hill in the rain to the lone house. We expected the Hound of the Baskervilles to start howling at any moment. All was well though and our hostess appeared and showed us our room – and gave us a lift down to the local pub for lunch
Having had lunch we tried to find out where the Retreat was to take place. It was not immediately obvious. We had previously enquired from our hostess at the Achaban but she had no idea, nor did anyone in the pub or the shop. It was a mystery. The locals were intrigued but had no idea where such an event could be taking place. There was certainly no hostel in Fionnphort – the nearest one was on Iona, another ferry trip away to the west. Failing that, there was a hostel in Tobermory, even further away to the north of the island. Eventually one young fellow, enjoying his pints in the midafternoon in the local pub, thought it might be in a hall down the road and off to the left – far far too far to walk – assessing myself and my husband. (A typical assessment from someone who would think that 50 was old.) When asked for a lift he of course replied that he was drinking so that would not be possible.
So off we marched, walking about a mile back along the road to our b&b, none the wiser. We carried on walking past our b&b to the next turn on our left and not far from the road was indeed Creich Hall and lo and behold, this was the place. Only a 10 minute walk and within sight of our b&b. Serendipity!
Later in the afternoon I wandered over to see if more people had gathered and yes, there they were, over 20 people seated in a circle surrounded by wool, spinning wheels, knitting. I was introduced to one and all – some of whom I had met 2 days previously in Oban. Gradually over the course of the week these names and faces gathered momentum, so to speak.
Meeting the members of the group was such an integral part of the pleasure of the week. A few months previously one of the members of the group had set up a website and a yahoo group whereby we could communicate and get to know each other online. Some members posted pictures and short bios to the website and we had a steady chatter online as the weeks went by in anticipation of the week when we would all be together – knitting and spinning. So we had some idea of what to expect come the big week. Reality proved to enrich our online acquaintanceships – although in many cases gears had to be shifted to adjust to what the person was actually like compared with what our online perception had lead us to expect. This just added to the fun of the whole experience.
Our week together was a rich one – friendships forged, much knitting and spinning, visits to local tourist attractions. Just absorbing the “atmosphere of Mull”. For many of us, it was heaven on earth.
Following our initial get-together on the Saturday, some of us took the short ferry trip to Iona on Sunday and attended the ecumenical service in the Abbey. On the bus from Craignure to reach our b&b near Fionnphort I had sat next to a woman who was going to visit her daughter on Iona. Said daughter had been on Iona for 2 years as the Director of Music. So when we went to the Abbey for the service I began to understand how big a job that would be – the congregation was so large and the explanation of the various programmes carried out by the Iona Community made it clear that Director of Music had indeed a full-time job.
We had a lovely day on Iona – clear and warm. A wonderful introduction to one of the many attractions to be found in the area. One member of our group even got a serious sunburn, rather to her later regret, but it does indicate how good the weather was – that day.
On the Monday a tour had been organised to Ardalanish, an organic farm a few miles away from the hostel. What a wonderful visit it was. Minty and Aeneas MacKay were so welcoming. And they were so good in explaining the history of their farm and their work in trying to restore the agricultural life of the area. Their practices are based on a system of crop rotation to restore the fertility of the land and animal husbandry in harmony with nature. Hebridean sheep and Highland cattle and 3 sheep dogs surrounded us as we made our way between the farmhouse and the barn where Bob the weaver did his weaving on a power operated fly shuttle loom which he had rescued from somewhere in Wales. Many of us bought fleece and yarn spun from the sheep. Bob did a brisk trade. Later in the day there was a local craft fair at the hostel and Ardalanish had a stall. More sales of blankets and clothing made from Bob’s cloth. Minty was also selling meat from their animals. A tall and handsome young Norwegian tourist came in to our workroom to model the rich brown kilt made up from material woven by Bob. The tourist was so pleased to have found such a unique item.
On Tuesday we had our first workshop and were kept very busy all day by Debbie New. Debbie had more projects than we could do but it was such a treat to at least get a start on some very unusual knitting. Debbie has a fascinating approach to knitting. She is always experimenting and looking at knitting and structures with a fresh and innovative eye. An inspiration. We started out knitting a sample strip based on knit and pearl stitches. From there we moved on to an innovative way of knitting socks – the “Mousetrap Sock”. And some progressed further to an unusual way to knit a baby sweater. All to be found in Debbie’s recently published book Unexpected Knitting.
Wednesday was a touring day again for those who wanted to. Trips to the island of Staffa, a return to Iona, a trip to Tobermory – take your pick. And then in the evening there was the Ceilidh (Cayley) in a community hall in Bunessan, about 5 miles away. Fortunately there were enough cars among the members of the group that lifts were organised to the hall. Even those who walked part of the way were given a lift in the end. What an evening it was. All local talent and a wonderful evening of singing, dancing, bagpipe playing, fiddle playing, etc. And a very large supper. All provided by the local and long-term summer residents. Not many ceilidhs of that sort have been held in recent years so we were very fortunate that we were there to attend this one.
Thursday was another workshop day. In fact there were 2 workshops, given by Liz Lovick. And very well organised they were. Liz had brought so much material with her. I just marvel at how she managed to transport it all coming all the way from Orkney. The workshops were on lace knitting and Fisherman’s ganseys. We were all so busy working away on our projects that we were quite oblivious to the weather outside. I suspect that might have been one of the days that it rained but I was blissfully unaware. These workshop days were very intensive but I never wanted them to end.
Friday was another free day and people either continued knitting and/or spinning and did more sightseeing and walking in the area. For myself and a few others, this was the day of departure, and the remaining people left on Saturday.
Prior to the week on Mull each of us had been asked to contribute an 8” x 8” knitted square, done in a natural colour of either our own handspun or a commercial yarn. How interesting to see the great variety of squares produced – variety in colours and shades and technique During the week these squares were joined together and the resulting friendhsip blanket has been donated to the Mull community in remembrance of our wonderful week there.
I spent the Friday night in Oban and then quite unexpectedly had a grand reunion with several of the group to take the train to Glasgow on the Saturday. I sat near Debbie New on the train from Oban back to Glasgow – I noticed that Debbie was doing what I thought were crossword puzzles – I looked more closely and was not surprised to see that she was actually doing problems of mathematical logic – incidentally she volunteered that she hadn’t been able to have her knitting with her at that point but she would have been happy to work on anyone else’s. Debbie is an enthusiastic knitter!!
Saturday night in Glasgow and then home to Dublin on the Sunday. Since our return I am getting great enjoyment out of reading the emails as to how other people have returned to their homes or have travelled on to other destinations – and how they have got on with their various projects and ideas generated during our marvellous Knitting and Spinning Retreat on the Isle of Mull.
What a magical week it was. And all initiated by Kerry Edwards from Tasmania!
I have neglected the spinning side of our week, partly because I didn’t find time to try the spinning. We all had drop spindles, kindly provided by one of the members of the group, and many of the members did quite a bit of spinning. They particularly enjoyed using the colourful rovings provided by another member of the group. And the 2 members of the group who had managed to actually bring their spinning wheels did a lot of spinning. I have my spindle as well as any number of unfinished knitting projects so at some point I fully intend to have a go at the spinning as well. And who knows, I might even reassemble my spinning wheel which is languishing in the garden shed.
The above bit of writing is obviously not the end of the story. Now we and most of the contents of the garden sheds have moved to Seattle. Mull seems a long way away – well, it is. But we now, as then, long to go back and revisit Achaban House and Iona and Minty and Aeneas’s farm. One of the charms of that trip was the ferry to get there. Now here in Seattle there are ferries going in all directions and one day last week I finally made a day outing of a trip on the ferry to Bainbridge. I find it a great way to travel. Pictures to follow in another post.