A Highland Fling (Harris Tweed diary week four)
Waking up under a fine Egyptian cotton duvet, comforted by super puffy down pillows and a view of my marble bathroom is a far cry from the wild camping over the past three weeks. Yes I am in the lap of luxury at the Blythswood Square Hotel Glasgow, and I deserve it I promptly remind myself. As a photographer I have had to endure endless days and nights of rain, diminished grey and unsightly flat clouds, which, for anyone who looks to the weather and light as a car looks to fuel (of which ever sort it may require) is an extremely tough call.
Saying this however, the Outer Hebrides, the Highlands and Borders (my three main pit stops) are the most remarkable locations that the British Isles has to offer come rain or shine and with a well equipped tent, camera kit and vehicle, any terrain in any weather ought to provide for some expressive or atmospheric imagery.
Meanwhile back here in the lap of luxury, something that I cling onto for the whole day, moving from first of all the Breakfast room to the Tea Salon upstairs, I manage to keep myself pampered for one day at least.
The Blythswood Square Hotel is the second hotel I find myself at where the upholstery is made with the fabric of Harris Tweed, the reason for my Scottish jaunt. The first being the Hotel Hebrides in Tarbert Harris, another venue of cosmopolitan significance, especially when the other lodgings on the Isle are although clean and pleasant, have yet to ‘catch up’ to what is expected these days of modern decorative interiors.
The Hotel Hebrides right on the harbour has a wonderful tweed, bought as stock from Catherine Campbell, of Margaret and Katy Campbell status, from the saved Mackenzie Tweeds, (the mill that closed and then bought by Yorkshire businessman Brian Haggis, who cleared out the mill to produce a limited set of patterns). The Hotel’s interior utilises the pale green tweed upholstered on the bar seats. It works well and provides a terrifically clean and modern take, (with a hint to the clean lines of the 1930’s) on a bar. The bedrooms are also decorated with a modern feel, simple cushions, one wall wallpapered, (in most rooms I think) modern white bathroom units and certainly a welcome from the traditional rooms I have stayed in. The food offered here is fresh local and totally delicious, with a chef who really likes to play. Three menus in the two dining areas provide a varied exposé of what this fine fishing port has to offer.
Whilst at the Hebrides, I discovered the old Scottish RAC building, Glasgow, now the Blythswood Square and promptly made my way towards this Mecca of Harris Tweed: the biggest commission of Tweed since the QE2 I am lead to believe. Looking round this hotel I believe the presumption. Lampshades, (large shades with tweed on the exterior and photos of old car rallies on the inside) chair covers, (bar stools, armchairs, settees) headboards and bedsteads, cushions, curtains, waiters’ waste coats; the list goes on. Anything that can be Harris Tweed is Harris Tweed. The old building has been sympathetically restored and looking at it from the outside, the architecture is certainly robust enough to hold the durability of the cloth inside.
I learn sitting here in the Salon that Alfa Romeo launched the MiTo here without any knowledge that the hotel was smothered with tweed. The MiTo, had one model prepared in a red and black cloth, something I discovered whilst at the Amhuinnsuide Castle just days earlier, whilst the upholster of the said car was on a fishing holiday at what can only be described as the most opportune place to see salmon jumping upstream.
Despite the feeling of being extremely isolated in the Outer Hebrides, coincidence after coincidence occurred and the pampering at the Blythswood all made for a complete understanding of what my jaunt is about.
Taking a break from the hotel I visit the Glasgow School of Art, a Charles Renne Mackintosh building, a creation that until you have stood inside the wooden hallway and witnessed the stained glass inserts into the doors, touched the brass door plates and smelt the history, a full appreciation of this iconic structure, voted as one of Britain’s favourite buildings, you will not fully understand why. Now offering tours around the public and private areas of the school, I want to visit Donald Bliss’s studio at the top, but alas, I settle for the gift shop!
Wrapping up my time in Scotland, I headed over to catch the beginning of the Edinburgh fringe, to see an evening show at the Gilded Balloon and to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art to see ‘Another World’, the latest Surrealist / Dada-ist exhibition to be ‘given’ to the public. Although with an entry fee, this fine example of drawings and British Surrealist works most certainly provide for a good show. Duchamp’s lavatory was of course there, placed in the centre, as to say, look, judge for yourself, for those of you who have not seen this before, this is the original, the foremost of Surrealist pieces, along with Magritte and Dali, to have a look to see where Monte Python or modern day advertising comes from.
Finally it was time for me to drive the long drive back to London and begin city life all over again.
The Outer Hebrides is an extraordinary place, with landscapes that will haunt me for days and possibly years to come. I can survive the rain and lacklustre skies offered to me, I can survive the solitude. But forgive me if you will, I need the light. I think I will have to have another fling up there to see what else the weather can provide me, I know it was hiding the goods.
As always I would like to thank Leica for allowing me to work with the best equipment and funny as it may seem, I have to thank my new trusted Freelander for getting me there and back in one piece.
For details on all the places I stayed and visited please below: