Knitting in the Northern Borders, Part 2

Well, onward then to more of the tour. Our next day was a real winner in my book. We started with a drive over to Whistlebare Yarns. Here’s a pic that will explain immediately why I was so happy.

Whistlebare is the home of many, many well-taken-care -of angora goats, a flock of lovely Wensleydale sheep, and a passel of yarns made from their own and nearby farms’ harvested wool. Our hostess, Alice, owner, dyer, designer and chief angora shearer, took us right out to the barn to see the spring crop of kids. I was not the only one in heaven.

Even our bus driver, Stephen, got into the action.

And then, of course, there were the sheep. But these sheep, acting like normal sheep on a farm (rather than sheep pets, which have a very different relationship with people) took off as soon as we started coming near their field. In fact, I did not get any pictures of them. They were beautiful though. From a distance.

But you can only hang with the animals for so long. And then ya gotta check out the yarn, maybe eat something and learn a bit of knitting technique. We had a workshop on a pretty sophisticated lace technique. I got it, but just barely. Heather had previously made the pattern, so she was able to help folks. I realized I had the wrong number of stitches and pulled everything to start over. You can guess what happened then.



Of course there wasn’t time to restart. I can see this project is going home to be restarted then! (She said with great optimism…)

Again, Stephen got right in there!

Okay, I’m having some fun at Stephen’s expense. However, I will tell you he was a great addition to our tour. Stephen lives in the States. He’s married to an American and lives in Oklahoma. But for years he was a tour guide in the UK. He’s a blue badge guide. That means he had to go through lots and lots of training in order to tell visitors everything about everywhere they visit. These days, he comes over to the UK for part of the year to do some driving and lead his own tours. We were lucky enough to have him as a driver. It was an absolute pleasure, as he shared lots of info and history all along the way. He also spent plenty of time jawing with our sole male tour participant, Roger. He even took Roger to a special visit while we were all doing yarny things one day. I think we were at a workshop. Those two went off to visit a fishing museum or some such thing. Bravo, Stephen!

We reluctantly left Whistlebare after lunch. (More amazing food. Thanks, Alice and crew!) But again, it was alright to leave because we were on our way to the town of Alnwick (pronounced “ANN-ick”, for some reason). The town has grown up around ANN-ick castle. It’s one of the oldest and grandest castles in the north of England. It has an amazing history. It is still lived in. However, it is most famous these days for being the set of numerous Harry Potter filming scenes. (Mom and Dad, have you NEVER seen these movies? We really need to remedy that situation. Plus I’ll get to feel very important as I jump up and down at various scenes yelling “I’ve been there! I’ve been there!”) I wandered the castle just long enough to see where Harry, Hermione and the others first learned to fly their wands. Then I went over to the castle’s gardens. I could have spent an entire day there. It was… well, here’s how it was.

That last pic is the gate into The Poison Garden. cue scary music You have to go in there with a guide. The place is full of all the plants you never realized were poisonous – or if you did, you certainly weren’t aware of how very poisonous they are. I will never have a yew tree or laurel bay bush in my courtyard. The guide seemed to enjoy himself immensely as he told tales of all the grisly ways people have been killed with the various plants. It was so gruesome, in fact, that our only defense in the face of our growing panic (What if we end up trapped in this garden with this guide who never releases us and practices his herbal skills on us?!?! Does anyone remember we were going to this part of the castle?!?!?) was to giggle helplessly. In fact, later, several us experienced trauma on seeing plants like foxglove, rhododendrons and poppies and began shouting “Poison!” from time to time.

We were able to overcome our fright by eating at this amazing restaurant: The Tree House.

I also visited Barter Books, a fantastic place. It’s one of the largest secondhand bookstores in all the UK, having taken over the former train station in Alnwick. The entire train station building. You could bring your dogs, have a glass of wine… Literary quotes and poetry were posted all over the place. They had an amazing selection of collectibles. Yum.

Oh heck, I’ll go on with the next day.

By the way, I am writing this from a train again. Heading north again, to Edinburgh. I’m enjoying the the sunny pics as I post, ’cause here’s what it looks like outside right now. Pic taken just a bit south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Pronounced BEHR-ick.

The next day was Sunday. We were up and off to new destinations once again. Though we’d crossed from Scotland into England already – as soon as we were halfway to Whistlebare – we hadn’t made a big deal of the “border” between the two. Now, however, we got to spend some time at the historic dividing line between Roman Brittanica and the northern hordes (i.e. the folks that would one day become Scots).

We stopped at several spots along Hadrian’s wall. First at an extant section of the wall located right smack in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Then the group split to visit the archaeological dig at Vindolanda or the Roman Museum nearby, then we reconvened to stop in another spot with a great view of the wall snaking over hills and valleys.

We continued south, down into the county of Cumbria. We were approaching the Lake District. Luckily, Heather knew of this. tiny shop in a tiny town, called The Wool Clip. It was the most fantastic depository of breed specific yarns, wool for spinning, finished textile goodies (felted, woven, knitted, sewn, and more). We were in Heaven!

Yes, Anna, look what I found to bring home for you!!!

And then after all that yarny goodness, we had to celebrate with coffee and possibly the best sticky toffee pudding of the trip. It was that good. And lasted mere moments.

So after this stop, we were set to arrive at our hotel in the Lake District. But you know what? I just realized that I skipped an entire day!


Ummm… And the train is quickly approaching Edinburgh, my destination. I’ll have to fill you in on that missing day, plus the continuation of the trip a little later. Hopefully I’ll soon be tucked in at the Parliament House hotel, having a whisky and enjoying a nice fire. Yep, still rainy and about 60 degrees.

Stay tuned…


  1. O, those babies … I’m in love. And castles and gardens! How I’d love to see, especially, the poison garden. I need this very trip, I’m afraid.


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