It is a truth universally acknowledged that a knitter in possession of a taste for whisk(e)y must be in want of a trip to Scotland. I planned my journey in summer 2014 after hearing a story on NPR about knitting traditions in Shetland: a few Google hopscotches later I was making my plans to attend Wool Week in Shetland in October. I decided to divide my time between the Highlands, where I would visit distilleries and absorb history, and Shetland, where I would knit at Wool Week and absorb culture.
I mentioned my intentions to my dear friend and fellow Whiskeyknitter Pamela, She of the House of Edward, and as luck would have it, she and The Songwriter would be in the UK at nearly the same time. So she tweaked her travel plans by a few days, and we made arrangements to meet up in Aberdeen to take the overnight ferry over the North Sea to Lerwick.
Before Aberdeen, however, I had a few days on my own in Inverness, which served as my home base for several days while I made short jaunts around the Highlands. I visited two distilleries—Glenmorangie and Glenmoray—where I saw, smelled, and tasted the entire process of making single malt from two different makers’ philosophies. Glenmorangie loves to experiment with the nearly infinite variety of cask finishes, while Glenmoray, which is a smaller and younger operation, specializes in bourbon barrel maturing (I brought home some of both).
I wandered through the Highland Folk Museum, a marvelous open-air museum of structures that demonstrate life in the Highlands in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and kicked around the little nearby village of Newtonmore for a day. After a walk around a small loch there, in a hotel pub I sampled Macallan 12, which, while marvelously smooth, was a little too much of a punch in the nose for my palate.
In Inverness I sampled more single malts of the region, including Tomatin 12, which tasted like maple syrup on the finish and made me fall in love. I ate lamb stovies at a shared table with strangers from all over the world at a place called Hootenanny, where I discovered the flavour map on the left tacked to a pillar. It helped me make sense of everything.
And I visited what quickly became one of my most favorite rare and used bookstores, Leakey’s (a wood-burning stove in the middle of it!).
All of my travel in the Highlands was by train, bus, and foot, which suited me perfectly. It gave me hours to knit and watch the endless gentle hills, tiny ancient villages, rocky coastlines, and pastures of grazing sheep roll past. My project for the trip was a small scarf—the pattern is “Maluka”—which I made with Eden Cottage Bowland DK that my Sweet Feller from Texas had bought for me at Loop, in London a few months before (yes, that yarn traveled over the Atlantic twice). I listened to audiobooks whilst the buses, trains, and hours took me on my meanderings. In fact, it was part of the reason I went on this trip: I am a big believer in public transit knitting.
After a few days of quiet, solitary wandering, I was ready for Pamela’s good company. We shared a cosy cabin overnight from Aberdeen on relatively gentle seas and arrived in Lerwick early the next morning. We picked up our rental car (thank goodness for Pamela’s left-side driving skills!) and, lacking a good map and a decent signal that would give us GPS navigation on our phones, we promptly got lost. Soon, however, we found our bearings, our inn, and yet another ferry terminal for the vessel that would take us to Whalsay for our Fair Isle knitting workshop.
We boarded the Whalsay ferry in Voe feeling like we couldn’t get much farther away from anything known than this place, but that turned out not to be the case. On board were a collection of other knitters from all over the English-speaking world, bound for the same workshop. One recognized my Agnes Scott College class ring, and when she heard that Pamela and I were from Atlanta, she promptly noted how lucky we were to live near Eat.Sleep.Knit.
A half-hour later, we were warmly greeted on Whalsay by our two instructors, who shuttled us up a steep hill to a stone mansion, formerly the laird’s home, which had later been turned into a heritage center and a school. The weather was blustery and cold, so we were glad to get inside, and even more glad when steaming pots of tea and coffee and platters of homemade scones with jam and clotted cream began making the rounds.
In Part the Second, The Part with the Knitting: Pamela and Allison go wild and wooly with a plunge into Fair Isle knitting, the International Dork Network, and the yarn shop mothership.