..and I’ve been up in the Highlands – my idea of minimising the driving I usually have to do for our holidays. In recent years this has been in the region of a six-hour drive, after we’ve already driven the six hours down to my dad’s house in the Midlands and stopped over the night, to either Dorset, Cornwall or North Wales. It turned out that getting to our first destination on the northwest coast (and on the newly-created North Coast 500 route) would’ve involved almost a six hour drive from here, so I treated us (or at the very least, me) to an overnight stay in Inverness, which was, handily, slightly over halfway to our destination. It really was my treat, because I picked the Black Isle Bar & Rooms as our stopover – in part because it supplied precisely what we needed, ie reasonably priced no-frills accommodation, but also because it’s owned by my favourite brewery. All of which meant I could have a few drinks of my favourite beer – cask conditioned – along with some excellent pizza before retiring for the night (a rare thing indeed for me, as we seldom eat out anyway, and I’m always the designated driver). I’d heartily recommend it, a great night, congenial atmosphere, and cheery staff, and though we took the kids upstairs about 9pm (and after that took turns to visit the ‘secret’ beer garden and keep my dad company!), I’d say it was one of the most family friendly places I’ve been in for a long while.
So, on we went to the west coast, eventually arriving at Clashnessie, in Assynt, which doesn’t look that remote on the map, really, but really kind of is, due to the number of single-track roads and wiggly ins-and-outs that the coastline takes between each village and hamlet. I’m sure there are many many more remote places in the world (and the broadband speeds were no worse than our own at home!) but for the UK, and for me and my family, it’s plenty remote enough. We spent a glorious week mostly visiting quiet beaches and going for walks, which all sounds quite relaxing, but with three kids is always a bit of an Expotition. Ooh, and my dad and I crept off earlyish one morning and did a spot of fishing from the rocks beside the bay, and we had pollack for dinner – not quite the hordes of mackerel we landed in Dorset the year before, but tasty nonetheless. We might’ve got more, but the rocks were really snaggy and we only had two sets of feathers so had to go home after about half an hour as we had no hooks left to catch anything with.
On the whole we were so lucky with the weather, only being rained off on one day (not a bad average for Scotland, over two whole weeks!), which we decided to spend cosied up in ‘our’ roomy cottage, for the most part. The rain eased off at about half three, so I decided to take the opportunity to pop out and leave the kids behind with my husband, and visit a local indie dyer whose sign I’d spotted at the end of a track in the next village, Clachtoll – Ripples Crafts.
Obviously as yet I’ve no idea how it knits up but the laceweight feels beautifully next-to-skin-soft (I notice from the website that the dark – yes, Tardis-like – blue isn’t listed, so I’m pleased I spotted that one!) and the sock yarn feels soft but sturdy. I’m already thinking about using the lace yarn to design a small shawl or scarf inspired by my week in Assynt, much as Helen takes her own inspiration for her colourways from the landscape around her. Both colourways have a subtle semi-solid thing going on, they really are lovely.
In the background of the photo above is the yarn I found in the second week of our holiday, spent on the slightly less-remote but just as windswept and interesting east coast, more specifically, in Easter Ross. I’d come across the shop before while trying to find chenille for a Season 17 Doctor Who scarf (they do a rust, albeit in a lighter weight than I was after), but had forgotten that it was in the same area until I googled for local yarn shops, and up they popped. Kingcraig Fabrics have a small shop in Dornoch – a little town which I’d never visited before but is shortbread-tin-pretty, and unsurprisingly visited by the coachload (we missed our chance to sample the local hotel’s renowned Whisky Bar) – as well as a larger one in Brora, further north, where they’re based. It’s a great shop, full of all kinds of beautiful woollen products, and a small selection of great, and very reasonably priced yarn. It’s a shame we never made it up as far as Brora, as apparently they have more yarn there, both cakes and cones (and I’d have liked to have made it up to see the Grey Cairns of Camster too) but after almost two weeks of tootling about I think the family had had enough of any car journeys that took longer than 30 minutes or so, and they were a good hour or so away, at least, so that was that.
The dark brown cakes are a 3ply merino cashmere blend, speckled with a rainbow of colours, and they’re going to be a probably-hooded massive cardi for me eventually, I’m thinking. They came without any kind of yardage, and the (very friendly) lady in the shop couldn’t help, but I think from looking at their ebay shop that they’re something like 700m, if the other similar stock they have is anything to go by. At £3 a cake, I couldn’t help but buy half a dozen just to make sure I’d have enough, at that yardage I’m sure I’ll be fine!
The red cakes are a merino 2ply, and again, judging by the yardage on the ebay store probably in the region of 900m a cake. And they were also only £3, so I bought three of those. I’m really not sure what I’m going to do with them just now but in both cases a good swatching is definitely in order before I start anything major. I might well use the red to design another Pictish stone inspired shawl, along the same lines as my Nigg and Aberlady designs. We stayed close to Nigg that week, in nearby Balintore, which lies between two more of the standing stones along that little stretch of coast, at Shandwick and Hilton of Cadboll. There’s lots of interesting information, and more stone fragments, at the Tarbat Discovery Centre in Portmahomack, which goes some way to describing the people responsible for their creation, and explaining the reason for them – though as with anything Pictish, I think much of it is educated guesswork. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area, we spent a good hour inside the old church it’s housed in finding out about the relatively recent excavations made there.
In other news, needs must etc, and I’m looking into starting up an etsy shop – to begin with I’m going to likely be stocking it with finished knitted items but may eventually add handspun yarn too. Watch this space…