Þingvellir

Þingvellir3

About 30 miles North East of Reykjavik is Þingvellir National Park. Here there are many visible signs of volcanic activity within the past two millenia.

Þingvellirrock

The park crosses a rift valley separating the Continental plates of Europe and America. These tectonic plates are now steadily pulling apart, at a rate of about an inch a year.

Þingvellirrift

But this is not only a spectacular spot, of immense geological significance. Þingvellir is the locale of Iceland’s ancient parliament – the AlÞing, or plains of the people – one of the world’s oldest extant political institutions.

Þingvellir1

Here Iceland’s settlers established what is known as the “Old Commonwealth” in 930, and the commonwealth’s general assemblies (which anyone could attend) were held at Þingvellir annually between then and 1262. Indeed, through all of Iceland’s constitutional changes during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, Þingvellir remained the official space of assembly for the Icelandic people until 1798. I confess to being something of a Commonwealth nerd: much of my Phd research and first book explored women’s attachment to this noble political ideal from the English Republic to the early years of the American Revolution. I also have a thing for outdoor assembly spaces: indeed, my favourite spot on earth is one. I found Þingvellir an incredibly impressive and deeply moving place to be.

Þingvellir2

Here there are no monuments, no palaces, no relics of individual wealth or power. Across the valley stands a modest church, similar in form to many Icelandic churches.

Þingvellir5

The power here derives from the landscape itself, and from the knowledge that this is a place that for over a thousand years, has played an important role in the lives of all Icelandic people. During the first Commonwealth, Þingvellir was not only the spot where political decisions were made and laws passed, but also a locale of celebration and festival for the majority of ordinary folk. Centrally located to be accessed by a ride of no more than a couple of weeks, scattered family members met once a year; friends shared the news from their respective regions; and young men and women might lay eyes on future partners. Þingvellir has always played a central role in the cultural life of the Icelandic nation.

1930
(celebrating Þingvellir’s thousandth anniversary in 1930)
1944
(celebrating independence at Þingvellir in 1944)

There are many things I found vaguely utopian about Iceland: it is certainly a paradise for anyone who loves knitting or the great outdoors; a recent World Economic Foundation report ranked it top of all nations for gender equality and here LGBT couples are accorded the same rights to marriage, surrogacy, and adoption as their straight counterparts. But for me this site of ancient democracy — a rift in the earth where an entire nation might gather in a spirit of collective self-determination — is the most utopian thing of all.

LANDSCAPE

ást

nearskogar1

seljalandfoss1

mel

basalt

thufur

glacier1

seljalandsfossme

I am home! I sort of knew I would like Iceland, but I was not prepared to be totally blown away. Due to my annoying health issues, we did not quite accomplish everything we’d set out to, but we met some lovely people, learned much more about Icelandic wool and textiles, and gained a taste of a truly incredible landscape and culture that makes me immediately want to return. I think I might have to do just that. I’m processing my photographs and will show you more very soon!

a little snow

brackensnow

Everything is relative: I am sure that those of you in North America, who have been shovelling the white stuff for months, will not be in the least excited to hear that it actually snowed, but here, where winter has been horribly dank and soggy thus far, it is an exceedingly welcome change. It is the cold, crisp, crunchy days that get me through the Winter: there have been far too few of them and I confess that the sight of this in the morning made me foolishly happy.

snowfirs
snowonthecampsies
snowdumgoyne
snowgate

Bruce is also in a good mood.

flakybruce
bruce1
bruce2
bruce3
bruce4

I love to walk in the snow, and we spent a good couple of hours out there this morning in the silence, with no other folk in sight. Birds seemed everywhere, immediately spotted against the landscape’s white blanket. As well as the usual neighbourhood woodpecker and buzzards I saw an osprey by the loch and a hen harrier hovering above the snow-covered fields. The birds are pairing up: this cold snap has come late, and there are already signs of Spring.

snowgorse

I wonder how the bulbs I planted will fare.

Well, its back to my desk. I have my first post-stroke driving lesson tomorrow – wish me luck!

whwsnow

g(love)

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. A while ago, we lived in a tall stone building in a city where there were lots of cars. Now we live here:

welivehere

Where there are lots of these:

trees

And a few of these:

cows

One of the many good things about it round here is that there are many Paths and I get to walk on these Paths with Kate and Tom. Sometimes I get to go swimming, and sometimes I leap about in the long grass, smelling interesting animal smells. But wherever we go, there is generally some water and mud for me to get myself nicely lathered up in. Hurrah!

puddle

This particular Path is known as West Highland Way and is frequented not only by dogs and cows and deer but by many human walkers. Human walkers can be forgetful, and occasionally they discard their belongings along Path. That is OK though, because I sniff out and find these belongings, and then I make them MINE. Without a doubt, the best of these found belongings is GLOVE.

vileobject

Now, I first found GLOVE about three weeks ago by Path. Since then I have played with it many times and it is now sodden and chewed and has a delicious bovine odour. GLOVE seems quite robust though: Kate tells me that it is fashioned from acrylic, and is therefore a sort of plastic which refuses to decay. But though GLOVE is indestructible, and now has a very strong smell about it, sometimes I play with it so hard that I actually manage to lose it in the grass. Tom or Kate will insist that GLOVE is finally lost forever, but then, O joy of joys, a few days later I will always find it again, usually in a completely different location. I suspect the cows to have a hand (or hoof) in its unaccountable movements.

bruceglovecow

Now, there are many fun things to do with GLOVE but probably the most fun to be had is when the humans throw it for you. Kate describes GLOVE as “a vile object” and is sometimes unwilling to join in the game. But, dear friends, let me tell you a good trick I have discovered: If you present Kate with GLOVE often enough, and stare at her for long enough with your most persuasive expression, she will eventually join in.

persuasion

Once Kate has capitulated, and throws GLOVE for you, you can retrieve and prance with GLOVE until you are exhausted.

prancing1

prancing2

prancing3

F U N!

But, eventually, it is time to leave and – sadly – to leave GLOVE beind, as for some unknown reason, Kate will not allow me to bring GLOVE home.

goodbyeglove

This is Gate which leads home off West Highland Way.

gate

Right by Gate there is Old Wall.

oldwall

Kate instructs me to LEAVEIT behind Old Wall. This makes me sad.

mustIdropit

But if I don’t LEAVEIT behind Old Wall we don’t go home.

Well, goodbye, fun GLOVE buddy.

leftbythewall

Probably the only good thing about leaving GLOVE behind Old Wall is that, unlike losing it in the grass, it is always there next time, and I am always surprised and happy to discover it once again!

path

See you soon, love Bruce xx

A walk to Dumgoyach

dumgoyneevening

West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .

whw

If you look North across the fields . . .

scabious

You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .

path

. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.

fieldmargin

Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.

dumgoyne

And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.

duntreath

Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .

stones

. . . these stones.

recumbent

lichen

Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.

bruceandstones

(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

Braid Hills

braidhill1

So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!

braidhill8

This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.

gorse

The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.

braidhill6

I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.

detailbuttonband

Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.

VAME.5091-1905

(Victoria and Albert Museum)

C.I.39.13.211

(Met Museum)

I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.

detailbuttons

The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .

1751_louisa_balfour_by_phil

(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)

. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.

braidhillblurry

Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)

braidhill10

The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .

detail1

I am fond of these cuffs.

detailcuff

Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.

braidhill7

This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…

braidhill9

So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!

You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.

braidhillback

Happy knitting!

New Lanark, the egg, and the naming of things

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about the place called New Lanark.

newlanark

Tom and Kate have been to this place many times, and are fond of it for many reasons. Kate particularly likes New Lanark because
1) it is the birthplace of Utopian Socialism and
2) it makes yarn.

yarn

As well as being an important World Heritage Site, New Lanark is a place where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Falls of Clyde.

fallsofclyde

This was definitely the bit that interested me.

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Up along the river banks and woods, there is much fun walking to be had. I smelt many interesting smells and went for a swim . . .

retrieval

. . .I looked after the humans, hurrying them along the paths, and posing obligingly for photographs.

wazznbruce

. . . I also heard some sounds that were new to me. For example, these icicles on the opposite bank made an interesting crrrrrrack and crrrrrash sound as they broke and fell into the river.

icicles

Then we came to a place called The Hide.

hide

There was much excitement around The Hide because The Egg had just appeared in the nest of a Peregrine. The humans at The Hide had equipment through which Tom and Kate could look and see the Peregrine sitting on The Egg. Kate seemed quite interested in The Egg, but was perhaps even more animated by the colour of the Peregrine’s eyelids, which were apparently a very very very bright yellow. I was not allowed to look through the equipment, but I was very good on my lead and did not snaffle any of the Hide humans’ tasty meat-filled sandwiches while they were being distracted by the excitement of The Egg.

confusion

Now, I know and understand many human words — egg and chicken, for example, are two words that make a lot of sense to me. But two words that do not make sense are the words called Monkey Walking, which is what the humans shout at me with glee when I do this on a path with gaps in it:

monkeywalking

The naming of things is perhaps the deepest of all human mysteries. For example, why is this crunchy, tasteless, pointless thing called Lichen when there is nothing to like about it at all?

lichen

Why is this piece of Scottish hydroelectrical equipment called YORKSHIRE?

yorkshire

Who named this bench BROWN LONG EARED BAT?

brownlongearedbat

And which daft human decided that this fence should be called DONKEY?

donkey

Answers on a postcard, please . . .

seeya

See you soon, Love Bruce

Kate adds: A shout-out to Laura, the New Lanark ranger, who reads this blog and who we met on our walk today. Thanks so much to Laura and all her colleagues for their hard work maintaining this wonderful landscape for everyone to walk in and enjoy! xx

the highlands and the hunky bunk

greetings

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am pleased, because, after a long break for the Winter, the walking and camping times have begun again! This particular walking and camping time was a surprise, because the weather is good, and Tom has not yet begun New Job. We packed up the van, and set off for West Highlands, a place in which Tom and Kate always seem very happy.

highlandwazz

In West Highlands there is excellent walking to be had, and many interesting smells that I do not smell in other places. These smells are because of the big deer buddies, with whom I am not allowed to play. Indeed, an interesting feature of West Highlands is the prevalence of fences and gates, which are there to keep the buddies IN and me OUT. As you can see, however, the buddies sometimes get OUT . . .

stag

. . . and (with human assistance) I can get IN.

closethegate

These gates are mystifying machines. Try as I might, I cannot operate them.

The best thing about West Highlands is that we go for lovely long walks. This time we walked up hills and through woods. . .

walkingbuddies

and then we walked along the side of the water. All of this was fun.

water

Afterwards, we went to camp in the place that is called Bridge of Orchy.

Boo

The place is called Bridge of Orchy because of this:

bridge

The Bridge. Of Orchy.

At Bridge of Orchy it became very cold. I am often told that I have a nice thick coat, but although this is true, I do not have extra woolly clothes and fluffy bags to keep me warm in Extreme Highland Conditions. The humans have these things, and though they were cold, they were not as cold as I. Then a very exciting thing happened. Because I was cold, I was allowed to get on the hunky bunk with the humans for the first time ever! It was cold on the floor, but it was warm on the hunky bunk with three of us, and so we all slept there together! This was very good. All I can say is, now I know just how good it is on the hunky bunk, I shall definitely expect to sleep there at all times. I shall ignore all human mutterings of “this is not a precedent” and suchlike — YES! ITS THE HUNKY BUNK FOR ME!!

In the morning, there was ice all over the van, and the water had frozen in the pipes. And then we discovered that the van had run out of cooking gas. Kate was extremely worried that she would not be able to have her requisite Giant Cup of Tea, but disaster was averted by Tom, who is the keeper of all equipment, and who had the forethought to bring the spare camping stove.

disasteraverted

Giant cups of tea were drunk, I snaffled half a hot cross bun, and everyone was happy.

highlandbruce

See you soon, love Bruce xxx

snowballs and other mysteries

bruceinthesnow

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today there is SNOW. I like SNOW because when it arrives we get up early and go for fun walks in my favourite places.

One of the many mysteries of taking a walk in the SNOW with humans is how very different their priorities are from mine. Kate, for example is endlessly preoccupied with taking pictures of the SNOW. . .

flurry
holly
bridge
branches

. . . as well as photographing other humans lost property . . .

specs
mitten

. . . and muttering in vague rhapsodic fashion about how Edinburgh looks beautiful in the SNOW.

arthursseat

I on the other hand know that SNOW is best for frolicking . . .

frolicking

. . . and that if you are good in the SNOW, BISKITZ magically appear.

biskitz

However, one thing that is very odd about SNOW is the thing that is called SNOWBALL.

snawball

While other BALLS may be chased after, retrieved, and chewed, SNOWBALLS are mysterious and elusive. They smell of next to nothing, and, when thrown and chased after, they are somehow able to conceal themselves in an extremely vexing fashion!

huntthesnawball

And worst of all, on the occasions that you manage to catch a SNOWBALL in your mouth, it just makes things cold, and then it disappears! Beware! These SNOWBALLS are not at all like other balls, but are confusing and not to be trusted!

confusing

Personally, I find a STICK to be a much more steady and reliable creature, even when it is covered in SNOW.

stickleap

And one of the best things about this particular SNOWY walk is that it visits a selection of my very favourite sticks. Do you remember that I once told you about the sticks that sing? Well, here are the singing sticks, singing in the SNOW.

marimba1
marimba2
marimba3

The obvious conclusion: sticks beat SNOWBALLS paws down.

Hang on . . . she’s off again. . . . I’d better catch up . . .

offagain


See you soon, love Bruce xxx

surfacing

Whoa. I didn’t mean to just disappear on you there! Don’t worry — I’ve not, like the indomitable Betty Mouat, been cast adrift on the North Sea with half a bottle of milk and a biscuit — but I have just been really, really, really busy — working on my book, and a few other projects, as well as spending more time in Shetland photographing my new designs. I’m actually enjoying being so, um, occupied (it is genuinely lovely to feel able to work at a reasonable pace again) but it does mean that I have got stupidly behind with many other things — so if you have been waiting to hear from me, my apologies!!

Anyway, here are today’s announcements:

As the pic at the top of the post suggests, an edited version of my Betty Mouat feature article appears in this months edition of 60 North Magazine. Even if you’ve already read the article, or have no interest in the trials of Betty M, I would encourage you to pop right over to 60 North and download your (free) copy immediately.


There’s a great feature about the new Shetland Textile Museum, its unparalleled resources, and the expertise of the amazing women behind it, and I really enjoyed reading Jordan Ogg’s lively guide to spending the day in Lerwick (which includes some great tips about the best local charity shops for knitwear). There’s also a a piece about the restoration of Unst’s beautiful Belmont House (an idyllic knitting retreat if ever there was one) and a fascinating interview with Ann Cleeves (whose Shetland Quartet has recently been adapted for the BBC and whose adaptation will feature . . . some of my stuff!!)


(Peerie Flooers hat, coming soon to a TV screen near you)

Also, I just released a pattern.

These wee fingerless gloves have been in the pipeline since Spring, and I’ve written up the design for my friends at Studio Donegal. If you visit their lovely shop in Kilcar, you can actually buy a pair of these gloves hand-made by local knitters in beautiful Donegal tweed . . . but if you fancy making your own, you can now find the pattern here or here)

And while we are on the subject of patterns . . .

Did you see that Cloudy Apples has been released?

Cloudy Apples is a collection of accessories that my lovely friend, Jen Arnall-Culliford has created with the equally lovely Kyoko Nakayoshi. The patterns are being released in stages, and first up are these terrifically elegant socks, designed by Jen.


(Dunkerton Sweet socks, designed by Jen Arnall-Culliford. Photograph ©Jesse Wild)

Each design in the collection has been named after an apple — and just like apples, these accessories are sweet, seasonal, and very tasty.

ALSO — Tom’s news is that he’s just accepted a great new job at Glasgow University. He starts in-post next March, and will commute for the time being . . . but in the long term this may herald a Westward move for the Davies / Barr homestead. . . exciting!

AND FINALLY, for those who have missed Bruce, here he is, sitting nicely in the exact location of the discovery of the St Ninian’s Isle treasure 58 years ago. . .

. . . negotiating a stile in customarily elegant fashion . . .

. . . and being intrepid on the cliffs of St Ninian’s Isle.

What a grand walk we had that day.

There is much more to tell you. I’ll be back very soon xx

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