A walk to Dumgoyach


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


If you look North across the fields . . .


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


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


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.


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


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


. . . these stones.



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.


(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.


I can’t quite believe I’m writing a post about interior decor (really, folks, my home is not all that) . . .but I confess that I am very pleased with the pod’s new posh paint job, and with my revitalised workspace, so here are a few details.

The walls are painted with “Skimming Stone”. We used this same shade when redecorating our bedroom last year (I have a habit of getting paint for my birthday), and at that time had lengthy discussions about the different qualities of Farrow and Ball’s neutrals, which their colour card (lovely as it is) does not convey. Both of us were initially very keen to cover our walls with “Elephant’s Breath”, but when we swatched, it turned out to be the mucky grey-ey brown that its name perhaps suggests. “Skimming Stone” has a warmth, a clarity, and a quietness to it. You can see this, I think, on some of the interior shots I’ve taken in our bedroom – for example here and here. I think it is a neutral that does great things with whatever light there is.

The woodwork, chair, and some of the shelves, are painted with “Pigeon.” I heart pigeon! A few years ago I was doing some research for a piece about dolls which took me to Mary King’s Close, where I got to pop inside some of the spaces in the buried tenements that are not open to the public. Pigeon, to me, is the colour of those hidden rooms.

It is very hard to photograph the pod, because it is so damned small, but this shot gives you a reasonable sense of the Skimming Stone Walls, with a Pigeon-coloured bookcase at the bottom edge of the pic.

The light is coming from a gigantic wall-mounted lamp that, in lieu of a window, blasts out 10000 lux to prevent the pod from feeling too much like the storage cupboard it really is. The prints depict my locale, and its fisherfolk, a century and a half ago. The fishy theme continues elsewhere on the walls . . .

(this winsome lassie is a fashion plate from the moment when there was a brief trend in fishwife chic, following the International Fisheries Exhibitions of the late 1890s)

. . . on the desk

(a happy ebay find)

. . . and on my new pinboard, for swatches and design ideas.

Above the desk is a framed print of Caspar Netscher’s Lacemaker, which I’ve had for many years.

I’ve read a few fairly standard readings about gender and virtue &c &c in this painting, but what I really like about it is its Chinese-box quality: she is sat in a small box-like space, contemplatively engaged in detailed textile work; Netscher (a superlative painter of textiles if ever there was one), is similarly engaged, and I, sat at my desk in my pod, am too. I love the heavy woolliness of her woollen skirt and bodice, and the detail of her cap just about kills me – perhaps not least because I own a dress whose fabric is curiously reminiscent of it.

Well, that’s all you get to see of the pod today. But lest you think that I’ve gone all ideal home on you or summat, and since all Tuesdays are messy ones round here, I present to you some details from the rooms which are not neat and freshly painted.

Tea stains and dog hair perfectly set off an Orla Kiely radio. . .

Dust gathering in picturesque fashion against Farrow and Ball paintwork

Paint covered overalls that are yet to be dealt with . . . .

. . . and finally, and most messy of all, a terrifying discovery among the pod’s accumulated detritus

me, in 1992.

spinning further

(Several Hamiltons. By George Romney)

I so enjoyed the discussion on the last post, I thought I’d continue the theme. Above you see a few more of Romney’s Hamiltons. I think you can see how Kirsty’s point — about the essential kinkiness of the spinning portrait — is reinforced in most of these paintings of Hamilton. So much of her is about performance, and certainly the most persuasive way of reading her famous ‘attitudes’ (in which she embodied the essential characters of classical and eighteenth-century heroines for an assembled audience of connoisseurs) is as a form of elegant striptease. She would start off upright, as the repellent figure of Medea, but end up on the floor as a Bacchante, in a sort of sprawling disarray. Anyway, the more I look at her spinning portrait the more entirely about fantasy and artifice it becomes.

(here she is again)

Hamilton is not spinning in a cosy domestic interior, but in the artist’s studio. She is depicted against a generic leafy backdrop, a woodland and a hillside with the suggestion of a cottage in which her labours might more appropriately take place. This is spinning at one remove from itself: it is spinning on a stage. And the frank exchange of glances between the spinner and the watcher — the use of her work as an opportunity to display for us her wrists and hands — suggests an awareness of herself as a confection. The way that this portrait produces its own fantasy of the spinning woman is interesting to consider in the light of those fabulous, luminous French genre paintings that Rhian mentioned. All of these images seem to call up questions about what it means to watch women performing activities (spinning, knitting, crochet) that are not just laborious, but contemplative. The women are not idle (and therefore they are not sexually dissolute) but still: their minds are not entirely on their work. Though their hands are busy all of them are clearly thinking about . . . a something else. And these images feed the nineteenth-century viewer’s fantasies (about feminine industry, performance, desire, whatever) by positioning them where they think they know what that something else might be.

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

Not entirely unrelated, and as (I hope) a sort of treat for you American spinners, I here reproduce Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s song The American Spinning Wheel. I doubt you’ll have seen it before, and I hope you like it. This song appears in several of Fergusson’s manuscripts and is included in one of her commonplace books (that I’ve been editing). Unlike Hamilton, Fergusson was herself a practiced spinner — of fleece and of flax — and was well-aware of the political implications of producing American homespun. She engaged in her own revolutionary performance in the winter of 1777, when the linen thread she spun on her wheel at Graeme Park was sent to be woven into cloth to clothe the American prisoners of war then held in British-occupied Philadelphia. Fergusson wrote the song for the people of Horsham (close to her contested estate) and in her headnote says it is: “to be sung at a country spinning frolic, written in the late war when it was the custom for the young people to collect to help to spin and then in the evening be joined by the lads of the neighborhood and have a little hop.”

Fergusson is so much in my head at the moment, that if I start talking about her — her economic and political position; what it meant for her to spin, or indeed to write this song — I’m afraid I’ll never shut up. So I leave it up to you spinners to make of it what you will.

The American Spinning Wheel

Since Fate has assigned us these rural abodes,
Remote both from fortune and honor’s high roads;
Let us cheerfully pass through life’s innocent dale,
Nor look up to the mountain since fix’d in the vale.
When storms rage the fiercest, and mighty trees fall;
The low shrub is sheltered which clings to the wall.
Let our wheels and our reels go merrily round,
While health, peace, and virtue amongst us are found.

Though the great deem us little, and do us despise;
Let them know it is wise to make little suffice.
In this we will teach them, though ever so great;
It is always true wisdom to yield to your fate.
For though King or Congress stand to carry the day;
We farmers and spinners at last must obey.
Let our wheels and our reels go merrily round,
While health, peace, and virtue amongst us are found.

Our flax has it’s beauties, an elegant green;
When it shoots from the earth it enamels the scene.
When moistened and broken in filaments fine,
Our maidens they draw out the flexible line;
Some fine as a cobweb, while others more coarse,
To wear but on work days for substance and force.
Then the wheels and our reels go merrily round,
While health, peace, and virtue among us are found.

Since all here assembled to card and spin;
Come girls, lets be nimble and quickly begin,
To help neighbor Friendly, and when we have done,
The boys they shall join us at close of the sun.
Perhaps our brisk partners may lead us through life,
And the dance of the night end in husband and wife.
Let our wheels and our reels go merrily round,
While health, peace, and virtue amongst us are found.

Graeme Park, 1782


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