Wednesday, 20 May 2015

North lands

With less than 24 hours left until I leave for 10 days travelling Iceland, I'm procrastinating from packing by mulling over recent photos from my road trip up north. I spent several days in Inverness and various small towns in Sutherland - Tain, Dornoch, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale - researching jewellery made from Scottish gold. I was there for work, scouring museums and castles for historical jewels for a paper I'm giving at the Costume Society conference, 'Power of Gold', at the V&A at July.

In between research visits, I got a chance to walk around some of the areas related to the nineteenth-century Sutherland gold rush. The trip marked the furthest north I've been on the Scottish mainland. When you spend most of your life living in Shetland, urban spaces or warmer climes are often more appealing destinations than nooks in the north east (beautiful as those nooks may be), so I was delighted to get the chance to visit. Here are some photos taken on wanders around the hills and burns of the gorgeous Helmsdale and Kildonan area. 

I expect that my instagram feed will be full of mountains, glaciers and icebergs over the next little while, and I'll be back here soon with landscapes from much further north. Meantime, all top tips for Iceland are more than welcome - any suggestions?

All photographs were taken in and around Helmsdale. This trip was part-funded by a travel award from the Design History SocietyYou can find out more about the Gold Rush from Timespan

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sumburgh Head | Shetland

I went on a puffin seeking expedition at Sumburgh Head last weekend. Armed with a mammoth picnic and numerous flasks of tea, the whole family set out to explore on Saturday morning. I've made this trip many times, since I was really little, but even at the right time of year the tammie norries can be elusive. I was sceptical about our chances, but we hadn't gone far before we spotted a little group. They put on some show, dancing and bashing their beautiful beaks together and parading around right in front of us.

After admiring the puffins for a while (and taking *far* too many photos), we headed further up the cliffs to the Lighthouse and visitor centre, which reopened last summer after a huge project to restore the light and its cluster of outbuildings. Each building houses a stand-alone exhibition. We listened to bird and whale noises in the Marine Life Centre, pressed buttons on interactive displays in the engine room and sounded the (pretend but deafening) foghorn over and over, prompting delighted giggles from the little humans in our group. We climbed up to the old foghorn via a lovely new spiral staircase, past the original ladder that we were never allowed up as bairns (such a treat to finally get to the top). From there, we looked out toward Fair Isle on the horizon, and watched seabirds swoop and dive around the cliffs below.

While this was my first visit to Sumburgh Head since the work was finished, everyone else in the group had been up at least once since it opened last summer. They pulled me around, urging me to listen to the orcas, to look at the forge and tools in the smithy workshop, and to come into the secret radar hut to learn about how its staff foiled a potentially disastrous attack on the British Naval fleet during the Second World War. After hours of exploring and a picnic with a panoramic view in the education room, we headed down to the beach and looked back at the lighthouse in the distance.

You fly or sail past Sumburgh Head on your way between Shetland and mainland Scotland. It is a beacon of home. Every time I see it, I remember how it looked from the sky one day when I was a fashion student in my late-teens, on a journey home from uni. The sea was dark purple, the sky mauve streaked with lava-orange, and the whitewashed lighthouse buildings teetered on the edge of the maroon cliffs. Full of inspiration, I went home and sketched a taffeta dress that never quite made it to the sewing machine. I'm sure I'll get around to making it some day.

The Sumburgh Head renovations have given new life to a this dear old place, while managing to avoid taking anything away from its charm. It's a wonderful nature reserve, a fascinating insight into the light itself and the everyday lives of the keepers and their families, and a giant playground. If you get a chance to go, do not pass it up. Meantime, you can follow @SumburghHead on twitter and keep an eye on the birds with the live PuffinCam.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The New Craftsmen

I finally got along to The New Craftsmen in London last weekend. The Mayfair shop contains work from over seventy of Britain's makers in a beautiful space which was, at one time, a leather goods workshop. Alongside the finished pieces, craftspeople design and make work, giving visitors a chance to understand the materials, skills and processes that go in to some of the objects on sale.

Some of my favourite makers from Scotland are involved including Hannah McAndrew (pottery), Ebba Goring (jewellery), Scarlett Cohen French (jewellery) and Grant McCaig (silver). Shetland is represented with work from Mati Ventrillon (knitwear), who was recently featured in my article on Fair Isle for a special knit edition of Selvedge. Orkney features too with sheepskins from Isle of Auskerry. Hooray for amazing craft from all over the UK under the one roof.

It's the presence and visibility of materials and craftspeople that makes this place really special. Seeing and hearing the process and watching objects come into being means that it's almost impossible to leave without something. I would have happily gone home with Dalston-based Gareth Neal's Brogdar, a modern take on the Orkney chair. But, alas, it was not to be. 

I fell in love with some silk fish stuffed with gorgeous lavender by Rose de Borman. Rose hand paints on silk, drawing inspiration from folk-art and traditional techniques inspired by her day-job sourcing antique fabrics. Choosing between them was tough. In the end I went for a lovely little guy that looks like a mackerel (perhaps not a surprising choice for a Shetlander) who is now happy and at home on our Edinburgh fireplace.

Hannah McAndrew 2 Rose de Borman 3&4 Gareth Neal 5 Ebba Goring 6 Stuart Carey 7 Iva Polachova (white pieces) and Nicola Tassie (brown mug) 8 Iva Polachova 9 Catarina Riccabona 10 Mourne Textiles 11&12 A happy Rose de Borman mackerel in Edinburgh

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Friday, 6 February 2015

Oh, Lerwick town

Sometimes home seems awfully far away. I've spent my evening revisiting some of my special Lerwick spots through photos. All of these pictures were taken in early January this year.

1. South end of Lerwick from Ness of Sound 2. Looking into the hills from Cunningham Way 3. A greedy little pony who follows me down to the beach pleading for sweeties 4. Looking south from the Sands of Sound on a stormy day 5. A very special red front door, behind which the world's best scones await 6. Sun setting over the Ness of Sound from the Knab.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Happy New Year

We're 11 days in to 2015 already, but it's not too late to say 'Happy New Year'! I saw off 2014 by going on a big long walk with my family to my favourite place in the world. We traced the coastline of Eshaness for a couple of miles and brewed a cup of tea at the Grind o da Navir, a natural amphitheatre hewn out of the cliffs by sea-flung boulders. An afternoon of biting winds and thundering waves was the perfect way to take stock of the last 12 months and contemplate the year ahead.

Last year was beautiful but oh-so-busy with the wedding, house moves, and all sorts. I don't have any new year's resolutions as such, but I'm hoping it will be a year of small pleasures rather than big changes. To that end, I've made a selfish promise to myself to do more of the little things that make me happy (and productive - the two go hand-in-hand at the moment) including such delights as:

- going to bed super-early with a book (I'm currently reading The Memory Palace and loving it)
- writing early in the morning when it feels like the whole world is still asleep
- walking slowly to nowhere in particular
- having very long, completely pointless phone conversations
- drinking even more tea

It will be a year of thinking hard and writing lots - with a trip to Iceland somewhere in the middle - and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.

I hope 2015 is already shaping up nicely for you. Happy, happy new year!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas folks. I'm home in Shetland for a few days of visiting, walking and guddling for stones at the beach. I hope you're having a lovely festive break, wherever you are. Take care and have fun.