Harris Tweed diary – week one

Blue Pig (Thursday 15th July)

Today I woke up with a tremendous need to run and have a hot bath, the wind had kept me awake until 3am when I eventually got dozy but needed to leave my tent to run to the lavatory, however, it was raining cheetahs and lions I decided to wait…….right up until 8am.  This camping lark is really getting to me and luckily I see from my bank account I can book myself into a hotel as soon as I find a vacant one what with the festival being on and all.

Don’t get me wrong, I like camping, actually I love camping, sleeping on the ground close to mother nature I do in fact like it very much but day after day when there is rain, I simply can not take any more of it on this visit here.

So wonderfully, I am staying for two nights in a wee little shed at the Blue Pig Gallery over in Carloway. Run by Jane and Peter Barker, this gallery has local arts and crafts, gifts, workshops and has a small fridge and mini shop, which I have found to be a godsend. They stock the simple tinned tuna and raspberry jam, some fruit and when the chickens wish to, some eggs. On passing there this evening after my day in the Harris Tweed Textiles mill, Carloway, I realised that I might have some eggs for my breakfast I popped in to find that there were no eggs but there was indeed a little shed for me to lay my head, so immediately I kissed her and booked two nights!

The mill today was magical, busy and enlightening. I met George the ‘stamper’ of the Orb, someone who I have been wanting to meet for quite some time. He was previously a weaver and still a young chap. Brimming with enthusiasm about the current state of the industry, first on three days a week when he started three years ago, he is now working 4 days a week. The mills are keeping him busy, they have the meterage for sale and it is increasing. trade is getting better after the closure of the Mackenzie mill. (Obviously now reopened under new ownership, but I will not write about that, not here, not until I get some positive perspective on it all, if there is any).

So until tomorrow in my cosy shed.

Tong (Wednesday 14th July)

In prep for today I am wearing welly boots I hear there is rain and my gosh I can see rain up there. Off to see two weavers then time on the computer to write a little.  Will use the Leica bins today. This may turn into a Leica Bins day.

Visited a weaver this morning in Tong, the last in his village, when once there were one in every three houses clicketing away.  He started weaving from leaving school and had as a boy earned his pocket money from changing bobbins on the single width loom.  I shall leave the rest for the book on his story. With a short break and a pop into the anLanntair Arts Centre, I looked a  brilliant photo exhibition by Mclean…. I went over to see my youngest yet, female weaver.  Evelyn has been weaving for 12 years and this lifestyle suits her perfectly. she can  work to her own hours and look after her children and raise her family alongside the weaving job which has in the past few years become a full time profession, this was not always so however, as the Mackenzie Mill closed,  the mill that she regularly worked for she lost her main source of income and took a part time job elsewhere, luckily the Shawbost mill re-opened and it is they who have since supplied Evelyn with her yards to weave. Again more of this perhaps, will be in the book.

Back in the Arts Centre I am hiding out with warm tea and festival buzz. I keep meeting the Christian missionaries who are staying on my campsite the Eilean Froach in Shawbost, run by Iain and Mary Macleod funny I keep seeing her, she is always brimming with smiles and has certainly cheered me up. The weather, the story I am on and being away from home is starting to get to me. (Only one week in mind).

I have my free wrist band for the festival and trying to nib my way into the Highland Games too. We’ll see. Leica Leica Leica is still in the bag and need to utilise both the ‘bins and the M9 so I can feel happy again!

Shawbost  (Tuesday 13th July)

Staying at the ‘commune’ where the 50 pence shower is actually £1.00 and everyone is really friendly. Spanish, Edinburghians, borders and myself,  a Londoner.

The spiders may be a problem for me: they are pale yellow with and an orange bindy, however, I do have it on good local authority that they do not bite. Today I am off to see a ‘resting’ weaver who is now working as a fisherman, catching crab and lobster, I will see him this morning at 10am after he returns from a 5am start. The weather is calm and so I hope he doesn’t mind retuning into shore to allow me to photograph him. Sean stores his crab in boxes in the water to keep them alive for the market at the weekend.  Now that really is fresh produce! I did wonder how the fish stays fresh at market, perhaps there are fisherman who catch during the week and sell it.

Meanwhile I am off to see the ‘resting’ weaver in the morning on his morning break specifically for me. so once the fish are caught and placed into boxes….

Back from the crab catch and the visit to the largest mill in Stornway. Feeling rather melancholic I think I might have to watch what  I say here, but overall, I find the whole weaving industry up here at such a crucial point in its future. I am not an economic whizz or a politician, but I am beginning to see the inherent problem that has a number of solutions if only they would get together and solve them.

Almost used the Leica Binoculars on a road trip across the island, but time caught me. Have planned time off tomorrow to just go looking.  The Freelander has eaten up a whole petrol station and the Hasselblad is clicking away just fine.

Off to rid my tent of spiders.

Edward  (Tuesday 6th – Monday 12th July)

I has come to me that I ought to be writing a journal about my work on the Harris Tweed publication, without of course giving too much away of what might be in the book. So I thought I would make a journal similar to my Polaroid book and my written diary from the last book ‘Art Workers Guild 125 Years’.  So here goes, something of a rough start but I hope something that I may be able to use in the book too.

I head off up the M40 to Temple Guiting to meet my new best friend, Edward, a scruffy puppy at the home of the Tilley Loughreys, hoping to dognap him I have a quick cup of tea and move over to Chorley to play with a couple of Porsche cars then over to Dewstone to the wool scouring mill.

(I think I might have to write something of the Freelander as my good god, its not as fast as the Astra 1.8, or perhaps the Hyundai Santa Fae, but it does the job and looks the part and the brakes do the trick even if it eats benzine more than I can drink Earl Grey. So more on the Freelander on another edition I think.)

At Dewstone, the wool scouring mill, the smell that greets you as you open your car door is somewhat pungent. It’s not a smell that you can describe. It’s not sheep pooh its not sheep wool its a mixture and rather odd and rather unpleasant. You don’t want to belch or vomit  it literally takes your breath away.

Once used to that and the fact the mill is totally humid and dusty I manage to take a few shots and hope that my Hasselblad is ok. I use dust off at any given occasion and can not stay in the mill for longer than a few minutes at a time or the camera would have collapsed into a humid puddle.

Later at a little past midday I see a tweet from my friend @Ponyxx who, says she is in Leeds and is taking time out. Well, what a perfect opportunity to go and see her. I do and I stay one night then another, having a traditional family dinner on the Friday night with her mum and dad. I leave on the Saturday, having made her laugh and made some new family members. Thank you Mr and Mrs S.

I make my way up north from bright hot hot sun to rain, storms, wind and ghastly weather. I get tired and need to stop by Avimoor, but there are no vacancies, so I head up to Ullerpool and take a campsite there.  what with the heavy torrential rainstorms and wind I stay another night and here I am on the ferry crossing to Lewis for the beginning of my Harris tweed adventure Summer 2010.

I spot binoculars, I spot top boxes, caravans, motor homes, water proof clothing and more water proof clothing. I make a mental note. I have the Leica binoculars, I have no need for a top box, but I may have left some vital waterproof clothing items behind. We shall see. We shall see.

Monday lunch time ferry crossing Ullerpool to Stornaway I play a game of how many bicycles, top boxes, caravans and motorhomes can I spot? it’s a good game and I quite forget how long i am spending on it. The ferry lands at Stornoway and I quite reluctant to look at the weather as it starts to spit with rain. I investigate the campsite and see  it has a room where I can plug in. that has sold me. The simply knowledge that I can plug in. internet would be a luxury. No telephone reception however, I must calm myself and hope that someone pays me soon so I can upgrade to a hotel.

Meanwhile the  Eilean Fraoich campsite has a great kitchen where we are all meeting for our dinner.  and Plugging in which of course is way important.