This is the most civilized thing I have ever done in my life.
That is what I murmured to Pamela when we walked into heritage center/former laird’s home on Whalsay. The cozy, warm room was humming with five or six different dialects of English in women’s friendly voices. The air was redolent with coffee and tea, homebaked scones were generously stacked high on platters, and in the center of our work table was piled clear plastic bags full of yarn–beautiful jewel-like shades of Jamieson and Smith 2-ply jumper weight, bundled into complementary colors for our workshop projects.
Amanda and Janet, our instructors, had also covered a table in the corner with a riot of Fair Isle garments, and both of them were wearing sweaters they had made. The colors, patterns, shadings, detail, technique–all of it was glorious.
Outside the wind and rain thrummed. I sighed and smiled at Pamela, who answered with the same look. This was heaven.
Amanda and Janet also loaned us knitting belts to try. These traditional Shetland knitting tools are a leather belt fitted with a small pouch stuffed with horsehair and poked full of holes. The knitter sticks one of her needles into a hole in the pouch so that she can knit with one hand whilst walking around and feeding livestock, tending the garden, and caring for bairns with her other hand. Multitasking traditional Shetland style!
We spent the day starting on our pillow covers–a simple in-the-round pattern that would give us the gist of working the Fair Isle charts with two strands going at once. We laughed, told stories, made friends, made mistakes, and learned. I took a break and walked outside for a few inhalations of the cold, salty, wet air on Whalsay. Here’s how happy I was.
Late that afternoon, after the ferry back to the mainland, Pamela and I arrived at our B&B. I’ll just let these photos speak for themselves.
The following day we hired a tour company to show us more of the island. When we told Tom we wanted to see beautiful scenery, animal life, and archeological sites, he really came through. Jarlshof was a palimpsest of architectural ruins dating back from pre-history, continuing through the Viking settlement era, and on up through the eighteenth century. The croft museum made me long for a farm on a windswept coastal cliffside. We saw seals, heritage breed Shetland sheep (the sheep-to-human ratio in Shetland is 20 to 1), Shetland ponies (of course). Our lunch of potato leek soup and bannocks at the inn in Spiggie was divine.
But the most magical stop for me was St. Ninian’s Isle. The isle is connected to the mainland by a narrow spit of beach with the ocean rolling in on either side.
Atop the highest point on the isle is the ruin of a twelfth-century church where a buried treasure was unearthed from beneath a floor slab of the chapel by a curious schoolboy in the 1950s. The silver pieces, dating back to the Anglo-Saxons and Pictish eras, now are in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The place is almost unbearably beautiful–all sky and grass and sand and sea and wind and wild. When we got out of the van in the parking lot, before we walked across the spit to the island, a border collie romped up to us and immediately tagged Pamela and me as the giant doggie suckers we both are. Playful and friendly, he stuck with us during our entire visit to St. Ninian’s. Whiskeyknitter Kate suggested he was part of the International Dork Network and had gotten an advance cable from my Dorks, Caleb and Cooper, about our visit. I believe it.
On our final (sob) day in Shetland, we visited the mother ship — Jamieson and Smith, the major wool brokers of Shetland.
Never have two Whiskeyknitters entered a place with such greed in their hearts (well, maybe one other Whiskeyknitter). We both lingered and touched, sniffed and squeezed, and finally each bought so much yarn we had to have the store ship it home for us. And still it was not enough.
Before catching our ferry out of Lerwick and back to Aberdeen, we also managed to squeeze in visits to the Shetland Museum and Archive and the Shetland Textile Museum, my personal favorite–small, quirky, run mostly by volunteers, fantastic gift shop where I bought a skein of handspun natural yarn that I knew would be a treasure. It eventually became this.
Due to some dire weather predictions coming in for the North Sea, our ferry left a few hours early (I’ll let Pamela fill you in on that eventful voyage back to Aberdeen).
I had tears in my eyes as we boarded. I was not ready to leave. My ears had become accustomed to the Nordic-inflected Scottish English of Shetland, my hands still smelled of lanolin from all the wool we had touched that day, and my heart was braced on a windy hillside overlooking the sea, a leaping border collie at my side.
It was not enough. I’ll see you soon, Shetland.