Category Archives: outdoors

munro, kintail and ardnamurchan

After being happily car-free for more than two years, we all of a sudden realised that we really wanted to have more freedom to explore Scotland and to see more of its wild and hidden places… in the best of affirmations, less than a month passed between making that decision and finding a perfect little van for ourselves, not for city driving but just for weekend hikes and camping and we are very happy that we made the decision! We’ve already got quite friendly with our “Munro”, heading out of Glasgow almost every weekend since, and it’s already enabled us to visit friends on the west coast, with more visits planned soon… Crucially for me, self-employed and working from home, it’s really creating a break between the end of the working week and beginning of the weekend, something I’m not very good at. So it’s a wonderful thing. And, just so you can see how wonderful, here are few highlights of the first couple of outings in Munro!

Rainbow over Loch Lomond

On the way up to Skye- Eilan Donan, one of Scotland’s most photographed views

Eilan Donan

One of the five sisters of Kintail

The view from Glenelg to the five sisters of Kintail

For all the HP fans: the Glenfinnan viaduct

In the hills of Ardnamurchan, looking to the west coast

As I said, another thing about Munro is that he enables us to visit friends around Scotland and the UK and I was especially keen to visit my friend Debbie and her husband John in Ardnamurchan. Deb has been extraordinarily supportive and generous since we met not long after Scotto and I arrived in Scotland and I really wanted the chance to spend some time with her (although on one of the world’s most beautiful train lines, Ardnamurchan is so beautiful that you want to cruise along the tiny coast roads and really take in the views, either in a car and on foot if you have the time!).

We timed our trip to combine it with a workshop run by Plantlife Scotland on lichens and the Celtic or Atlantic rain forests of the west coast of Scotland and so met Deb and John at the Ariundle Centre in Strontian. We spent the day learning about lichens- the complex, almost magical way that these organisms come about and the intricate relationships that they have with the plants and environment around them- and collecting and dyeing with some of the windfall species found in the rainforest. There are so many different species of lichen in this habitat…

A mini forest of lichens!

Lobaria sp

Lobaria sp

Dog Lichen (because of the "teeth" on the underside)

Dog Lichen (because of the “teeth” on the underside)

Macro closeup of the tiny fruiting bodies of Cladonia sp.

Lobaria pulmonaria (Lungwort)

Beautiful white crusty lichen and moss

Beautiful white crusty lichen and moss

And here are a few moments captured in the dye studio:

Preparing Bog Myrtle and Usnea dye baths

Fleece dyed with Lungwort, Usnea and Bog Myrtle

Usnea sp (Old Man’s Beard) and a small sample of fleece dyed with it

Yarn dyed with Lungwort

It was a wonderful day and a lovely way to share some time with new friends!

Next stop… who knows! But I know it will be somewhere beautiful- pretty much all of Scotland is stunning : )

coming home: an old maiden aunt collaboration

Last June an email from Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt dropped into my inbox about the making of a book to celebrate the tenth year of her business. I was super excited for her but, as I opened the email, wondered why she was contacting me about it… We are friends and have had some lovely chats about dyeing and running a small business but I didn’t know what I might have to offer such a project… and then she came to it- would I act as her pattern model for the book?

I have to say, my gut clenched slightly as I read this and the rest of the email! As any regular readers will know, I very rarely post photos of myself, either here on or on my Instagram feed, and get very nervous standing up in front of a group to talk or teach. I push myself on this because part of my job is teaching and I love sharing skills but it is an ongoing challenge for me! When it comes down to it, I’ve realised that it’s not that I’m particularly camera-shy but more that having everyones’s eyes on me provokes real anxiety for me… and I knew that taking this on would challenge all that. (And, let’s be honest, challenge my vanity too!)

But I really wanted to be part of such an amazing project! And to have the chance to work with not only Lilith and Jeni (who knows my deal and, over the course of photographing a few patterns for me, has worked out how to put me at ease!) but all the other amazing women who had gathered around Lilith for the project: designers Anna Maltz, Ysolda Teague, Kristen Kapur, Rachel Coopey, Lorna Reid, Felix Ford and Bristol Ivy, essayist Clara Parkes and book-makers Amelia Hodson and Nic Vowles… How often do so many talented women come together?! I feel so lucky to be able to have a small business, to be able to make my own work and shape my year as I like, but I really do miss working with other people and these kinds of collaborations are becoming more and more important to me… did I really want to let my own thoughts of whether I looked ridiculous get in the way of being part of this wonderful undertaking?!

Lilith reassured me that she was after a very relaxed look for the book and, as I thought about it, I began to trust that, if Jeni thought she could get what she needed from me, I’d take the leap and see it as a chance to explore and learn- and, after all, a weekend in a cottage in the forests of Dumfries with friends and a dog was a major enticement…

Lilith, Amelia and Jeni all did a beautiful job at putting me at ease, making me laugh in between shots and discretely looking the other way when I was trying to relax my face out of a grimace! It was a joy to work with them and I think we were all aware just how rare that kind of time is, to be working with friends and colleagues in such a beautiful setting and on such a heartfelt project.

Lilith realising I really didn’t have any idea how to put on my own makeup ; )

Amelia working her production editor magic in the Dumfries woods

Lilith giving me a lesson on how not to look ridiculous leaning against a tree

And I’m so glad I did take that leap. So often we hold back from doing things because of the anticipation of things going somehow horribly wrong and this is the perfect example of that… and yet such a huge amount of joy was had that weekend (and since) that all that anxiety has faded into the background! And look at the beautiful shots that Jeni made:

Felix’s Mountain Time mitts and flowering quinces

The perfect setting for Anna’s beautiful Bounnet

All the colours in the landscape picked up in Ysolda’s Inchgarvie shawl

Bristol Ivy’s beautiful Canadee-i-o cowl made me feel like I was on a shoot for a Rowan magazine!

Lilith is launching Coming Home at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival but you can see all the designs on Ravelry and preorder your copy via Lilith’s shop. It’s a real beauty of a book and I’m so pleased to have played a small role in its making… thank you so much, Lilith, for including me in this lovely group of women (and giving me a gentle nudge to do something I never thought I could) and huge congratulations on 10 years of your business!

oban, argyll and benmore

Scotto had a birthday recently and both our mums, knowing how much we both treasure presents that are experiences, rather than things, and remembering what it’s like to be away from family, gave him some money towards something that we’d love and remember in years to come- a fantastic daylong boat trip to Lunga and Staffa to see the thousands of puffins and other seabirds nesting on the tiny islands, as well as seal pups, amazing landscapes and the famous Fingal’s Cave!

We hired a car for a couple of nights and headed up to Oban, pitching our tent in the beautiful Sutherland’s Grove, a small forestry park with a towering stand of Douglas firs, some up to 45m and planted in 1870. We snuck in a quick walk in the twilight, soaking in the damp beauty of the place, before the rain set in. It continued all night and, although snug and dry in our tent, we woke up with a nagging suspicion that things might not be looking so bright for our day on the boat! Alas, the notoriously wet west coast weather had set in for a good few days and the tour was cancelled… SO sad. Still, there is a reason why Scotland is so beautiful and mossy and green and it requires giving up the expectation of reliable good weather and we’re getting used to that! So the puffin plans are on hold until next spring ; )

As we’ve already spent a bit of time in Oban, we decided to head down into Argyll Forest to have a wander through its stunning oak forests and rivers and to see if we could get to Benmore Botanic Gardens, a place I’d heard about and had been keen to visit… Benmore is a part of the RBGEdinburgh, a place envisioned for species of plants better suited to this wet coastline than Edinburgh; it houses many species of conifers and broadleaf trees from western USA, Asia and Europe and extensive collections from Japan, Bhutan, Chile and even Tasmania. A major drawcard to the gardens is the amazing avenue of Giant Redwoods which were planted here in 1863 and stand at over 50m…

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

And there are many other younger redwoods planted across the gardens, ensuring an ongoing population here- not that there is any expectation of the older specimens dyeing anytime soon as they can live up to 3000 years!

Walking among baby giants...

Walking among baby giants…

Stand of immense conifers, Benmore

Beautiful conifer root system, Benmore

I always enjoy seeing species that I’m familiar with a very different habit to normal; this English Oak is growing amongst quite tall firs and spruces, which has encouraged the development of a tall, straight trunk with very little branching. And, interestingly, the bark on the lower branches is white and thin, almost like a birch and very unlike the grey, fissured bark usually seen on this species…

Quercus robur (English or White Oak)

Quercus robur (English Oak)

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum

Benmore is particularly known for its rhododendron collection, not a genus I’ve been particularly interested in in the past… I’ve always found the highly hybridised cultivars that we see in Australian and UK gardens pretty gaudy and also very blobby in the landscape but here there were some beautifully slender silhouettes and really interesting foliage. I think I need to add it to next spring’s calendar as I suspect that the flowers on some of these may be much more subtle and beautiful than the ones I’ve seen before!

Rhododendron pachysanthum (Thick-flowered Rhododendron)

Rhododendron pachysanthum (Thick-flowered Rhododendron)

Layered rhododendron roots

Lovely layered rhododendron roots

It was a real treat for us to discover the Tasmanian collection and to wander through the eucalypts, cedars,  and southern beeches and to smell the lovely heavy fragrance of Eucryphia lucida, which is used to make our distinctive leatherwood honey… I miss the flora of Australia!

Eucryphia lucida (Leatherwood)

Eucryphia lucida (Leatherwood)

Eucalyptus pauciflora (Snow Gum)

Eucalyptus pauciflora (Snow Gum)

Dianella tasmanica (Tasmanian Flax-lily)

Dianella tasmanica (Tasmanian Flax-lily)

And the fernery… the subject of an 18-month project involving the renovation of the Victorian building that had fallen into terrible condition, the fernery is beautiful in and of itself but also forms a great method of display for its collection- I was really excited to see ferns growing all the way up the stone walls on protruding stones and plinths. The collection is still in its development stage and I think it will be an amazing and innovative display in years to come.

The fernery and Tasmanian Ridge

The fernery and Tasmanian Ridge

Ferns on stones

Ferns on stones

Unfurling

Unfurling

I love these millipede-like fern fronds!

I love these millipede-like fern fronds!

Such complexity in these structures...

Such complexity in these structures…

Soft new growth

Soft new growth

Beautiful mauve, fuzzy new growth

Beautiful mauve, fuzzy new growth

Doodia aspera

Doodia aspera (Prickly Rasp Fern)

The gardens are open from March 1 to October 31 and I’d really recommend including them in a trip to the west coast. If you’re interested in visiting and are also into walking, CowalFest, a local festival of walking and the outdoors in the first two weeks of October, is offering a number of walks combining the gardens with the surrounding landscapes. We’re definitely hopping to get there so perhaps I’ll see you there!

dye workshop: nettle, coreopsis, elder and logwood

Another group of newbies got a taste of natural dyeing a couple of weeks ago… as always, I was too busy setting up and then teaching to get any photos of the workshop itself but here are the results from our dye baths…

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

We worked with both protein and cellulose fibres and four plants that display some important  aspects of the dye process: nettle as a readily-available, weedy species with a strong affinity with different mordants; dyers coreopsis, a flower that is easy to grow and requires very little processing to extract its dye compounds; logwood extract for easy, quick colour and elderberry for its crazy colour response to pH change. (I’d also hoped to use iron to modify some of our logwood samples but had a scale malfunction and the samples were WAY too dark to show any further colour modification!)

Nettle on silk velvet, silk, habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

Nettle on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

logwood1

Logwood on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

logwood1

Logwood on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

logwood1

Logwood on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

elder1

Elderberry on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen; we dyed extra samples of silk velvet and habutai and then treated them with acid (upper) and alkali (lower) in order to demonstrate the influence of pH on the colour achieved from anthocyanin-rich plants (middle)

elder1

Elderberry on organic merino, mordanted with alum + acid, alum, alum + alkali, copper and iron

As always, it was interesting to see how different fibres took up the dyes; I was particularly interested to try a yarn base with two strands of merino and 1 of superwash merino (third from the left in the bundle), as it is commonly thought that superwash yarns take up dye more readily and are less able to hold onto the colour over time. So it was fascinating to see that, while that proved true in this case, the degree of difference in colour uptake seems to depend on the dye! It definitely needs more work but it certainly looks like there is more difference in colour in the coreopsis sample than in the others…

And I was thrilled to get such strong blues on wool using the logwood extract, because dyeing with indigo, while a magical and essentially simple process, requires a lot more work to set up (and a bit tricky in an indoor rental space!). The downside is that logwood is not as colourfast as indigo but using an iron modifier will greatly improve fastness…Something to play around with more.

Logwood on organic merino over dyers chamomile

Logwood on organic merino (over dyers chamomile)

If you are interested in learning more about plant dyes, there are places available in my next class on June 19 at the Glasgow Botanics Kibble Palace; you can find more information through my shop.  And, bonus, here will be so many plants to try by then!

spring

Without us even realising, spring has arrived! After all the preparation for Edinburgh Yarn Festival and then the joy of the actual weekend itself (more on that soon!), it feels like I’ve now stopped to look around and everything has changed… the daylight lasts two hours longer than it did a couple of months ago, we all have a spring in our step, the tiny birds are out collecting for their nests and calling at all hours and there are green shoots everywhere!

Buds

Buds

Fresh green leaves!

Fresh green leaves!

Tiny bundles of larch needles

Larix decidua: European Larch

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

japmaple

Acer palmatum ‘Sangu-kaku’: Coral-bark Maple

We recently moved and are lucky enough to now overlook the river Kelvin (just a ten-minute walk along the river to the Botanics!) so those shoots are whispering promises of the green cathedral that will be on our doorstep in just a few weeks… and, although we are so excited about the idea of all that green, we can’t quite believe it will actually happen! I’m wondering if that is just because we’ve only had one spring here or if it is another expression of the human capacity to forget all but the physical state we are currently in? Perhaps part of the reason that the ancients performed midwinter rituals to recall the sun back to them was because they didn’t quite believe that it would return of its own accord! We haven’t been ritualising but we certainly have been willing the sun to come… For those who’ve grown up in cold climates, te’ll me, do you begin to remember the seasons as you see years pass?

The early spring flowers are certainly nudging us to remember the colourful beauty of last year’s warmer months…

Salix sp: Willow

Salix sp: Willow

cornus

Cornus mas: Cornelian Cherry

Gold

Forsythia sp.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Flowering currant

Ribes sanguineum: Flowering Currant

We were lucky enough to head out on Good Friday with one of Scotland’s great foragers, Mark Williams, to learn about recognising and harvesting wild foods which shows that, even this early in the growing season, there is plenty of stuff out and about!

I hope you’re enjoying the swing of the seasons, wherever you live xx