North Berwick: Rant and Roar across the Salt Seas

June 30, 2014

Not far from Edinburgh is the town of North Berwick. It's a coastal town, part of the East Lothian Council area. Although they say you're never far from the sea in the Netherlands, I actually hadn't seen a beach in years. North Berwick and the waves of the North Sea managed to ensorcell me completely. The town is shaped by it's two long bays, with the harbour jutting out between the two.

North Berwick looks and feels like a bona-fide Victorian seaside resort, though it's history actually goes back much further. This is evident from the two photographs below: the first is Berwick Law, a low but steep hill overlooking the area. On top of it are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, while in the town itself, the remains of the St. Andrews Church still linger since the twelfth century.

St. Andrews church is on a small peninsula between the two beaches. The peninsula also houses the very colourful harbour and the Scottish Sea bird Centre.

The Scottish Seabird Centre is a visitor attraction dedicated to preserving endangered wildlife in the area. Contrary to it's name, the list of animals also includes seals, but the focus is on the many birds that populate the Lothian Area in very large numbers. Some of these birds we saw in the wild, but their main mascot are, naturally, the puffin and the gannet. Though we haven't seen any puffins, we have seen some hints to their existence.

There's a hint in here. Somewhere.

After crossing the East Bay, we decided to take a walk eastwards away from the town. Although there was a beautiful castle to be seen a stiff walk away if you used the pathway going over a golf course, we were drawn to the sea. Leaving the path, we started climbing the cliffs instead. Choosing this route means you will never arrive anywhere (unless you've got a whole lot of time to spend), but the seaside cliffs, beaches and nooks are capable of making you forget any pre-intended destination.


Finally, this is Bass Rock. Although we managed to get this close, from a distance, this rock looks very different. From far enough away, the rock looks completely white, because it is completely covered in gannets nestling there.

When we finally got back from our refuge amongst the cliffs, North Berwick was setting into a positively laid-back evening atmosphere. We returned to Edinburgh for a very late dinner. At the dinner table (in, honesty obliges me to say, a fast food pizza chain), one last prejudice about the Scottish was confirmed: they're positively knit-crazy. This was exemplified by a long chat with the serving girl who had recognized the Owls Cardigan by Kate Davies that I was wearing.

This will be my last post on Scotland. I loved the place very much, enough to still blog about it two months later. Perhaps for the blog, it's better that I can finally resume blogging about the knitting projects I finished in the meantime or the knitting books I've found, but personally, it feels like finally saying goodbye to the trip for real. Edinburgh; thank you for the great inspiration, blog readers; thank you for the patience, and Scotland: I will be back!



Scotland: The bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond

June 26, 2014

Of all the things we did and saw in Scotland I was most looking forward to going to Loch Lomond, where I could see Scotlands famous lakes and Highlands. And yes, that's Loch Lomond of folk music fame

We decided to go for a walk in the picturesque town of Balmaha. Generally, Balhmaha is noted in tourist guides as little more than a car park, but the town has a tiny harbour and a pretty decent pub, but more importantly, Balmaha is the point of departure for several walking routes.

The route we took first was the Millennium Forest Path, a short route that takes you by the coast of the lake and into a quite young patch of forest.

All through the day, we had a magnificent view on Ben Lomond, the mountain that shares its name with the Loch.

 The Millennium path takes you on a round trip back to Balmaha, but there's another route passing the village: the West Highland Way, a long distance route through the Highlands. Near the town, it passes over a hill called Conic Hill. Although the hill pales in comparison with the Ben Lomond, it is quite a climb in its own right, and a stunning sight for two tourists used to the flat, Dutch fields.

Very near to the top, we were surprised by a flock of sheep, lazily grazing as if they did not even realize they lived in the most beautiful landscape on earth.

A last look at the Ben Lomond before descending back to Balmaha.

While the top of Conic Hill might feel like somewhere completely isolated of all civilisation, isolation has created an unique civilisation along the south-eastern shore of Loch Lomond. The only train arrives at Balloch, a water sports resort on the southernmost tip of the lake. If travelling by public transport, the only way to get to Balmaha is a bus that only departs once every two hours. The bus is usually driven by a local driver, as is made apparent because at every stop, there's someone stopping the bus just for some small talk with the bus driver, at times not even bothering to actually ride on the bus at all. 

It's impossible to sit on that bus, and not hear politics. The group of men and women sharing our ride back to Balloch had a very passionate debate on Scottish independence, and everyone getting on the bus had to show their colours first. As arguments and insults were traded ("But he slept with your wife!"), the debaters kept a friendly attitude. After an early lead for the yes camp, the debate seemed to end in a draw, until the bus driver (who had initially proclaimed "I'll have nae politics on my bus!"), decided the issue for all of them. And that is how I ended up in a crowded bus, slaloming a country road, with the bus driver slamming the horn and repeatedly yelling 
"Yea! Yea! Yea!"


Scotland: Yarn Stores : I went to Scotland and I brought back....

June 22, 2014

It's been a while hasn't it? The past few weeks have been ridiculous at university. I seriously never had such a busy period in my life. The worst is behind me now, so I have good hopes that things will improve in the next few weeks. I had hoped to have finished the Scotland blog series by now, but because I was so busy things went slower than I had anticipated. In this blog post, we're talking yarn in in Scotland!

Before I went to Scotland I did some research as to where the wooly goodness was to be found. To my utter delight there are a lot of yarn stores in Scotland. Not only in the bigger cities, like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, but the smaller places as well. A big change from what I'm used to, here in the Netherlands. I visited some stores in Edinburgh, because that was were we stayed, and one in Stirling. I had lot's of opportunities to quickly whip into a store when I was in the area anyway. 

Knitting in the Highlands

Kathy's Knits

This was the first yarn store I visited. It was a bit of a hassle to find her (advise to other tourists: the store is located on Broughton Street, but not on street level. You have to go down the stairs, so when in doubt: you probably are going in the right direction, you're just looking at street level instead of down). Broughton is at the edge of the New Town, a small area with lot's of bars and small shops. I really liked this yarn store. Kathy's Knits stocks  a wide range of British yarns, some notable brands are Jamieson and Smiths, Blacker yarns, Hebridean, Titus, Yarnpony and New Lanark. She had a large amount of patterns and books on display as well. I was quite impressed with the amount of yarn Kathy was able to fit into her relatively tiny store. There were a lot of patterns, books and sample knits from Scottish designers on display (lots of familiar faces there). Kathy was very kind and helpful and we spend quite a lot of time just chatting about places we had visited and still planned to visit in Scotland. Ultimately this was my favourite yarn store of all the once we visited.

K1 Yarns

Beforehand this was the yarn store I was most looking forward to. They seemed to have a decent range of yarns and offered some yarn brands I had never heard of before. However, when I visited them in person I was a bit underwhelmed. Instead of the promised range of yarns they really only had their own yarn brand, and even in that brand, they had very little actual stock in store. It was a bit surreal to walk into an almost empty shop. I was just looking up their website to link to for this post and have found out the reason as to why the shop was so empty, which explains a lot. They'll quit their brick and mortar shop in June to focus on their online shop. In hindsight it is logical explanation,  but I would've expected a sign or something. I was not super impressed with their own brand, called Old Town Yarns. K1 Yarns was however located in a very great location, on the W Bow right at the foot of the castle. They're actually closing down this very day, so I wish Katherine lots of luck with her new focus!

Other Edinburg Yarn Stores:

There are more yarn store in Edinburgh, but I only gave them a brief visit so have less to say about them. There's big warehouses that stock some yarns, like Jenners and John Lewis Edinburgh. Be Inspired Fibres, a short walk south from the Old Town, offers a wide range of exciting yarn brands. They stock some of the big yarn brands such as Malabrigo, Istex, Artesano, Cascade, Lang Yarns, Host and Shoppelwolle, but the shop also stocks quite a number of independent and/or less well known yarn brands, such as Shilasdair, Lotus Yarns, Yarnpony, Fyberspates and ITO. Located on London Street, the Ginger Twist Studio has a logo that features a ginger cat with glasses playing with a ball of yarn...need I say more? You probably want to know the details about the yarn brands. The store sells, amongst others, Exelana, New Lanark, Cascade, West Yorkshire Spinners, Brigantia Luxury Yarn and their own Ginger's Hand Dyed Yarn,

I visited one other yarn store in Scotland: McAree Brothers in Stirling (and the yarn fairy knows I would have hopped into that store in North Berick  as well, had we not visited it on a Sunday). McAree Brothers is a huge yarn store which sells a lot of Rowan (I suspect all of their varieties), Sublime, Patons, Sirdar and Artesano. We had a friendly discussion with the shop lady on the size of pennies. Can someone explain to me why the 50 and 20 pence are smaller than the 10p? It makes no sense! 

Now you're probably wondering whether I brought something back... Which I should probably note is quite a self-explanatory question. The actual question ought to be what I brought back.

First up is some Jamieson and Smith Shetland Surpreme Jumperweight in sweater quantity. This is yarn is made up out of hand sorted Shetland fleeces. It comes in nine sheepy colours and is completely dye free. They all have fabulous names in Shetland dialect representing the traditional Shetland sheep colours. I wanted to try this yarn since forever and was really happy when I spied it on the shelves at Kathy's Knits.  I got three different colours and want to use it for a yoke sweater, with yuglet (the darkest colour) for the main colour.

Next up is yarn from the Hebrides; Shilasdair from the Isle of Skye. The yarn is a mix  of 10% cashmere, 10% baby camel, 40% angora, and 40% lambswool, which makes it the most diverse fibre mix I own. What makes this yarn special is that it is naturally dyed with locally sourced dye materials. I heard about this yarn before and was very excited to find it there. I brought back yarn for a shawl as well as some yarn as a present for my mum.

Shilasdair in colourway blackberry.

Finally I brought back some more Hebridean yarn skeins, which I plan to use for one of Kate Davies' stranded colourwork hat. I have not yet decided on which hat it's going to be, but for now I'm happy to just stare at these gorgeous little skeins, and occasionally pet them.

Well that rounds up my Scottish yarn post, looks like I got my work cut out for me for the summer.
 I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps find it useful when you visit Edinburgh yourself. As you can see I only brought back Scottish yarn. Both because they are difficult to come by in my own country and because I've been meaning to try these yarn brands for a while. It is a welcome added bonus that they are sourced locally...from the same country that is, because while Shetland is a Scottish island it it still a 12 hour boat trip away ;) Do you look out for yarn stores when your on a  holiday?



Stirling: Gateway to the Highlands

June 06, 2014

No, I am not yet done with Scotland. Before I got to the famous highlands, I first had to pass through the 'gateway to the highlands', as the town of Stirling has been called many times in history.

This is where the Stirling Boy Scouts hold their meetings,
according to the sign above the door

During the Civil War, not only castles were sieged: the pockmarks on this churchtower
are said to be the result of Cromwell's soldiers trying to get the priest to surrender this church
Compared to the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh, Stirling was an oasis of calmth. (Even the pidgeons were a lot more laid-back than the seagulls of the big city) The town itself was a steep hill, leading to a hilltop with a castle that has a view on what are arguably Scotland's most famous battlegrounds: Stirling Castle.

The hill has been inhabited since Roman times, but most of the standing buildings date from the fifteenth century. The castle has been a residence for Scottish royalty, and also a favorite target for English kings in their bid for conquest. This is because Stirling The famous Battle of Stirling bridge, in which William Wallace fought and defeated the English, was near the castle. From the castle you can also see the location of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which the Bruce did much the same.

Why is the building on the right so orange? Blame the French!
The French built a large part of the castle as part of the Auld Alliance with Scotland.
A few years ago the Great Hall was restored to look more like it would
have looked when it was first built. 

For those of you who are into football: according to history,
this is where the world's first recorded match was played.

This little courtyard was home to a different game:
one of the James' held a living Lion here,
to impress his visitors.

Even apart from the architecture, the castle has a lot to offer. Stirling is famous for the Stirling Heads, a collection of woodcuts featuring portraits of famous and legendary people. Although the originals are mostly lost or spread around the world, replica's are kept in the hugely entertaining museum in the castle. An added extra is the workshop. Within the defensive walls, a workshop has been errected with a huge medieval loom in it. The above picture is one of a collection of medieval tapestries that are being reproduced, as historically correct as possible, while the public watches. It was a sight to see, even though I couldn't take pictures there.

And now, I'm on to -what else- my exams.
Wish me luck,
and I promise you,
there's a knitting post coming up!


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