Knitting in the Northern Borders, part 1

I’ve had a few days now to relax, regroup, and most importantly… do laundry! House/petsitting is an ideal way to spend a few days in one place. I get to snuggle in to one spot. I also get to cook for myself and explore the location at my ease. But today I’m off again – north to Harrogate and then onward to Edinburgh. I find myself on a train with nothing I’d like to do more than tell you about the most recent tour of the trip: Knitting in the Northern Borders.

Participants came from all over the US. About a third had traveled with us before.

By the way, before I go on with things, this is what I’m looking at when I stop to look away from my phone..

A number of folks had come in a day or more before the tour started, either to acclimate or to do a bit of exploring. By Wednesday morning, Heather and I scooped everyone up and took them with us to the airport. There we met our final four arrivals and we were off on our adventure! Ah, sorry – forgot to mention that we started at Edinburgh. But we didn’t stay in the city longer than it took to find our folks at the airport. We were headed south, out of the urban area.

And where would a group of fiber-obsessed travelers go first on a trip like ours? Why to visit a sheep farm, of course. And not just any sheep farm. We went to visit The Sheep Shed at Temple Farm. The family there has had the farm for several generations. Among other things, they keep a flock of Ryland sheep from which they have their own yarn and tweed cloth made. Very unusual. Ryelands are a heritage (old) breed. I don’t know as much about them as I do some of the other heritage and/or conservation breeds. Time for me to do some studying. Nonetheless, they are both white and colored. When we visited, the adults had already been sheared. But the lambs’ coats gave us a good idea of what the fleeces look like.

After our farm stop, we arrived in the town of Kelso, our destination for the day. We were treated to a lovely tea at Floors Castle. It was good to stretch our legs with a wander through the garden. Big difference from what the castle gardens looked like last year (I visited about the same time but during a record heat wave.) Most everything was only thinking about blooming. You’ll notice too, that as our group moved south over the course of the trip, the gardens began to warm and expand in their bloomery.

That’s a word. I just created it.

We made our way over to Ednam House, in the town of Kelso. It’s a stately old place, with room after room of comfortable, living room type seating. You expect to see a cricket team gathered at one of the groupings of chairs and tables. “Another gin and tonic, if you pease!” Yes, it’s Scotland, but after visiting the castle and then arriving here, one does feel posh indeed.

I wish I had taken pictures of the dining room. Beautifully appointed, late afternoon sun streaming in and reflecting off glassware, plates and silver. It was very elegant. And there we were, at a long table, enjoying what would be the first of many wonderful meals at our hotel dining rooms. Most of the small hotels Heather and I choose for our trips have dining rooms. There’s always a fantastic breakfast, both continental and cooked to order. But the hotels really shine with their dinner menus. I’ve never had a bad meal at one of our hotels. Or even a mediocre one, come to think of it. Even last year’s not-so-great hotel in the Highlands (which will remain unnamed, but we’ll never stay there again!) had a fantastic dinner for us. One of the best surprises for me about traveling in the UK has been the food. Outstanding. Everywhere.

Maybe a little too outstanding. At least on the Cotswold tour we were walking several miles a day… On this one, not so much!

Our second day of the tour we were put and about in this area of Scotland known as The Borders. It’s a gentle landscape, full of soft, rolling hills and pasture. Sheep dot the fields. (But you knew I’d say that, right?) We first stopped at A. Elliot Weavers, one of the few remaining weaving mills in an area that once was famous for its textile production. The current owner and manager is Robin Elliot. He was brought up in the trade (his father was Andrew Elliot). He has worked hard to maintain the integrity of the mill, sourcing locally as much as possible… like wool from nearby flocks like the Ryelands at Temple Farms. He also designs custom tartans and textile patterns for families and the fashion industry.

We made a stop at The Haining, an estate recently acquired by The National Trust and undergoing restoration. Then we went to the nearby town of Melrose. Everyone had time to find some lunch. We picked a time to meet up so we could visit the abbey there – one of my favorites. As you can see, the day was perfect. Not hot, not cold, perfectly sunny.

Melrose abbey is significant to me as the first place I was ever able to see and understand how the stone churches of the Europe were actually built. It is one thing to see them as completed structures. Or to read descriptions of the step-by-step building process. But the ruins of the Cistercian abbeys allow me to see into the buildings themselves. I can see the layers of stone behind the facades, between the arches, on top of the vaults but below the roof. And there it all is- the whole building process revealed.

Melrose Abbey is also exceptionally beautiful. As you can see. And you get to climb to the top. On a day like this one, there was no reason not to!

But was our day out and about in the Scottish Borders done after the abbey? Goodness no. Next we were off the visit a specialist spinning mill nearby. The Border Mill is a small, “mini – mill” operation, similar to Upspunni in Iceland, which I visited in February. However, the Border Mill specializes in something quite unusual for this region: alpaca! We enjoyed a tour of the mill with the owner. We also had a chance to peruse their yarn and finished goods. I am not a particular fan of alpaca. However, I have to admit that the fine quality of the wool used, combined with the owner’s masterful color blending, made this a VERY tempting stop for me. I’m glad others bought yarn. I had to go outside and pet the dogs to prevent myself from starting the trip with a huge yarn purchase.

And then when we got back to Ednam House, there were even more temptations as Heather had invited a few of our favorite local makers from the area to come for a visit. Ooooh, aaaah…

Are you tired yet? I’m tired… whew. And this was just the beginning of an amazing trip. Lucky for you, I have another train ride today (cause actually I’m loading photos at my hotel and it’s tomorrow morning). More coming soon, including cute angora kids that I wanted to bring home, a boat ride, a garden dedicated to just plants that can poison you, and more!!!


(ta ta for now…)


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