The 12th Scottish Skeins & Skerries Tour in July 2008 was another memorable opportunity to meet talented textile artists, to take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy the warmth of a Scottish welcome. Two full days in Edinburgh allowed us to acclimatize and to enjoy the stunning setting of this proud city, before boarding our Loganair flight to the Shetland Islands.
Our time on these unique islands is always a high point of our travels -- from the time our favourite coach driver, Magnus Smith, meets us at Sumburgh Airport, to our last day when we check out of our hotel in Lerwick for departure to the airport. As in previous years, our time on Shetland was a mixture of visits to archaeological sites, workshops of talented knitwear designers, a jewellery design workshop, the home of a talented basket maker, shops including a cooperative selling local knitwear, and a visit to a farm to see a flock of traditional Shetland sheep breeds.
Special additions to this year's tour were two morning workshops, where we were privileged to meet with especially accomplished Shetlanders for tuition in Shetland lace and Fair Isle knitting. Not only did we learn the fine points of these techniques, but tour members commented that it was a treat to just sit and chat casually with these ladies. Another highlight was a visit with the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Knitters. Guild members welcomed us with a delicious homemade lunch and an exhibition of their handiwork. The venue was a community centre within sight of their ambitious project, the new Shetland Textile Working Museum. Once a nearby manor house is restored and enlarged, the Guild will have a permanent home for their collections and a space for meetings and workshops. Our group was pleased to present them with a contribution to help with their many expenses.
Another special visit was with Dr. Carol Christiansen, an American who is curator of the textile collection at the Shetland Museum and Archives. Dr. Christiansen showed us around the exhibits and explained their historical significance and how the Museum was able to acquire them, and talked about the importance of conservation of the collection. A visit to this stunning centre is not to be missed. The Museum is extremely interesting and Shetlanders are rightly proud of this building located on the Lerwick harbour. Although it only opened in 2007, the Museum had already received a five-star status from Visit Scotland.
After a memorable stay on Shetland, we had more wonderful experiences awaiting us on the nearby Orkney Islands. Orkney doesn't have as strong a textile tradition as Shetland, however our days here were filled with visits to the incredible archaeological sites of Scara Brae and Maeshowe, and to the many talented jewellery designers for which the islands are well known. We also took a short ferry ride from the mainland one afternoon and had a tour and tea at Balfour Castle. Before leaving Orkney we visited the small town of Stromness, where in previous centuries, Hudson Bay ships sailed for North America. One day, some members of the group took the short flight to the island of North Ronaldsay, home of the primitive breed of sheep of the same name.
Our last island stop on the tour was to the Outer Hebrides, now known as the Western Isles. Our very comfortable hotel, the Cabarfeidh, is located in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Our popular Blue Badge Guide, Joan Morrison, spent the next four days giving us a memorable introduction to both Lewis and Harris. Our days were a mixture of touring and free time: we visited talented Harris tweed weavers in their weaving sheds; the control room of the Coast Guard Station (responsible for marine rescues over a wide area of the North Atlantic Ocean); galleries and the Neolithic site of the Calanais Standing Stones, which are older than Stonehenge. Our visit ended with a very special stop at Gearrannan Village, a restored collection of traditional thatched blackhouses, where we enjoyed a talk by the guide there, followed by a delicious dinner prepared by a local chef.
After our flight from Stornoway to Glasgow and checking into our hotel at the Glasgow airport, we went to the nearby Paisley Museum where one of the curators of the collection of traditional Paisley shawls gave us a private tour and showed us two of the huge looms which the weavers used.
The next Scottish Skeins & Skerries Tour is scheduled for July 2009. The details of this unique tour are on my website. www.joycejamestours.com