One Weekend- Two Festivals!

Having lived in Saudi for 28 years and missed out on the opportunity to enjoy lots of events I feel we are well and truly making up for lost time! This weekend was certainly an example of this. Having read about the  Inverness Lochness International Knit Festival  way back in spring I made it a definite must do on the calendar. I decided to go for the day on Friday and also take in Ruth Black’s presentation – Pictish Designs in Feltmaking.


Nessie welcome at Eden Court.

It was so inspiring looking around the Crafting area and Marketplace.



2 of Di Gilpin‘s knits.


Danish designer Christel Seyfarth‘s beautiful, colourful wrap. Her knit fest in Denmark had been the inspiration for this one.


Newcomer to the scene and their first ever showing- North Child.


Meeting Philip Paris the author of the new novel ‘Casting Off’.

But one knitted item took me by surprise.


My paternal grandmother’s gansey, knitted for my uncle James.
Moray Firth Gansey Project had a stand and I was instantly drawn to this gansey. The label was tucked behind so it was only when I pulled it forward that I realised it was one of my grandmother’s!
So all in all I had a really good time.
Leaving Inverness behind it was an hour’s drive to Ullapool to go to the Loopallu Music Festival. We had heard a lot about it but hadn’t expected to get there this year until a week ago our usual B&B phoned to say they had a vacancy. Luckily, we were able to get Festival tickets so suddenly we were to be festival goers!!

The setting and the weather were terrific.


The campsite was mobbed!


An excellent 12 year old drummer standing in for the usual drummer who was ill. The group were Davy and the Hosebeast!

Other bands that were a bit more familiar to me were- The Stranglers, The Wonder Stuff, Hunter and the Bear, The Selecter, Rhythm’n’Reel and Manran. As well as playing in the main tent and the ceilidh tent/beer tent there were band in 6 of the pubs in the village. A really good mix of genres too- with the Ullapool Pipe Band kicking off the whole proceedings on Friday afternoon.


Blessed with a lovely evening.

However, I was still on the lookout for colourful knitwear!



The village of Ullapool.

I have visited Ullapool many times and it always seems to come up with one more reason to make it one of my favourite places. This weekend certainly confirmed it.


Learning a new skill.

Plane Tabling? What on earth is that? That was my response to my husband’s query whether we should sign ourselves up for some of the latest NOSAS (North of Scotland Archaeology Society) activities.

Needless to say I googled it! I still wasn’t sure if it was really my thing as I’m not exactly very precise when it comes to measuring and accurate scale drawings which is what it sounded like it entailed. However, what could be the harm in giving it a go and it meant a day out in the fresh air in a part of the country I didn’t know much about. So we signed ourselves up to ‘plane table’ Ormond Castle by Avoch on The Black Isle.


Not a lot remains of this little understood Medieval enclosure castle which is situated on top of the hill. It is traditionally associated with William the Lionheart who built 2 castles on The Black Isle in 1179. This is believed to be the remains of one of them. After being in the hands of the de Moray family it passed to Royal control in 1455 and in 1481 James III granted it to his son, the Marquis of Ormond where it gets its present name from. It was destroyed during Cromwell’s invasion in 1650, with the stones being removed to build his Citadel in Inverness.

The local Avoch archaeology group wanted to record the remaining features of the castle and look into the possibility of a dig sometime in the future. Nowadays, a lot of the recording processes are done with modern instruments like GPS and laser measuring devices but traditionally the process known as ‘plane tabling’ has been used.



After a wee introduction we were assigned to groups and given a section of the site to record. Breathing a sigh of relief, I was told my leader knew all about the process. We only had to record the outlines of features e.g walls that we could ‘see’. However, as everything was overgrown with grass including old tree stumps this wasn’t straightforward and led to a few discussions about where the edges actually were! Measurements were taken and it was all plotted on the paper, before joining up the dots and drawing shapes which hopefully matched what we could see on the ground.

Although the day was a little dull, it stayed dry with only a gentle breeze so our coffee and lunch breaks sitting on top of the hill were very enjoyable. The views down to the small village of Avoch, the snowy hills to the west and across the firth to the Inverness airport area were beautiful. Truly, a great site for a castle.

Our task was purely to record the castle and absolutely not to dig or excavate in any way. However, animals had been digging around so one of the leaders had a wee look at the burrows in case anything had come to the surface. She was rewarded with a piece of medieval pottery which she has now passed on to the concerned authorities.


It doesn’t look very exciting but in real life you could see the typically green glaze that was common at this time. It also reminded me of the pieces that were excavated at Cromarty – not so very far away- last summer.

Well, despite my reservations I really enjoyed the new experience and think my measuring and recording was reasonably accurate! There are 3 more plane tabling days planned to record other sites and I definitely want to go to at least one of them to practise what I’ve learnt and hopefully improve on it- I just hope I’m assigned to as knowledgable and patient a leader as I was this time.



OMG it’s 2016!

And already it’s nearly a week old! It seems 2016 is going to pass by as quickly as 2015. A very good reason to enjoy every moment.

A week ago it was Hogmanay and we went to a town Ceilidh in the nearby Town Hall for the first time. We had a fabulous time. Before ‘the Bells’ i.e midnight, the ceilidh band, a group of 5 local lads who were home from University, but definitely knew what they were doing played two sets of Scottish Country Dance music. Right from the first dance the floor was full! And not just with us old ‘foggies’ who had been brought up with these dances but a really good mix of children and young adults who were definitely having fun.


It was a great start to the New Year and enlightening that although the old tradition of ‘First-footing’ is definitely a thing of the past, families are celebrating the coming of the New Year with an alternative Scottish tradition- a ceilidh.

Slainte Mhor!   Cheers!  Good Health for 2016. May it be a good year for us all.


Beginning to appreciate the Picts.

I’ve always been interested in history – the older the better as far as I’m concerned but for some reason the Picts never really ‘grabbed’ my attention much. Possibly, because there’s not a lot known about them. But with the enthusiasm of Dr. Gordon Noble, and others on the case, a better understanding of these people will hopefully be developed.

Dr. Gordon Noble at the Rhynie Dig 2015. Evidence that this was once the site of a Pictish fort was found.

Dr. Gordon Noble at the Rhynie Dig 2015. Evidence that this was once the site of a Pictish fort was found.

One thing the Picts are known for are their marvellous symbol stones. The significance of these stones and their Pictish symbols are still not fully understood. Once the Picts became introduced to Christianity, this influence can be seen on stones.

The Nigg stone is carved with a cross on one side and Pictish artwork on the other

The Nigg stone is carved with a cross on one side and Pictish artwork on the other. The carving on the top triangle area is regarded as the earliest depiction of the Eucharist.

Having recently joined NOSAS (North of Scotland Archaeology Society) I was keen to extend my knowledge of these stones on a wee tour of 3 stones near Balintore.

Being on an organised tour has it's advantages - we had the key to get inside the protective glass box for a closer look.

Being on an organised tour has it’s advantages – we had the key to get inside the protective glass box for a closer look at the Shandwick stone.

Beautiful sculpted panel.

Beautiful sculpted panel on the Shandwick stone.

The Shandwick stone inside its glass box which was recycled from the Glasgow Garden Festival a few years ago.

The Shandwick stone inside its glass box which was recycled from the Glasgow Garden Festival a few years ago.

The original is in Edinburgh museum. This is a copy carved by a local sculptor.

The original Hilton of Cadboll stone in Edinburgh museum. This is a copy carved by a local sculptor.

I thoroughly enjoyed my excursion. I think I can say that my indifference towards the Picts has gone and I have started reading any theories and evidence I can find about them. Also, there are more stones closer to home which I will have to investigate.

4 Days in the trenches!

I’ve long been interested in Archaeology, but despite Saudi Arabia being an area with so much potential in this field very little has been done to uncover it’s past. I was lucky enough to be at home on holiday a couple of years ago when a local dig was being held and so managed to get my first ever experience ‘in the trenches’. Despite only finding a couple of cows’ teeth – one of the archaeologists did console me with the thought that it was probably from an Iron Age cow- but I think he was probably just trying to keep me interested, I loved it!.

Last winter we heard there was to be a third year of a dig at Cromarty, on The Black Isle, north of Inverness. I had no doubt that  I’d somehow manage a few days up there digging. As time got nearer I was pleasantly surprised by my husband when he said he wanted to volunteer as well- so we ‘bit the bullet’ and officially committed ourselves to 3 days at the site.

Me with the official sign.

Me with the official sign.

The dig is investigating an area of the Royal Burgh of Cromarty that was occupied from 1266AD – 1880AD.

This was the 3rd year of the dig so some areas were well into the Medieval layer.

A large part of the dig.

A large part of the dig.

Being situated close to the sea it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that some of the areas being dug had thick layers of seashells. Mixed through were fish bones and other animal bones. They are assumed to be the remains of middens and possibly the shellfish were more used as bait rather than a source of food.

My husband was lucky to find a spindle whorl and a broken stone which was probably a weight from a loom.

Paul found a spindle whorl.

Paul found a loom weight.

As well as digging there were other activities to get involved with. One morning I helped with washing and sorting some of the finds. Pottery, glass and bone are scrubbed with a damp toothbrush, whereas metal objects are brushed with a dry toothbrush.


Trays of finds.

Another day we had a chance to reconstruct some of the pottery finds from the 2013 dig.

Archaeology jigsaws!

Archaeology jigsaws!

I ended up working on large white porcelain pieces – definitely not medieval but I still had a great sense of achievement at finding how they fitted together and discovering that it had probably been a soup tureen!

My partially reconstructed soup tureen!

My partially reconstructed soup tureen!

Another day we had a talk from the local potter about how the medieval pottery would have been constructed. Really interesting, as although I did some ceramics at college I hadn’t realised there were different ways to make a handle.

Demonstrating how to 'pull' a handle.

Demonstrating how to ‘pull’ a handle.

One of the ‘mysteries’ of the dig is the prolific number of quernstones that have been found. Some are complete but many broken. It could be that the local landowner had them destroyed in order that the people would have to use his mill or……..? One thing that becomes quickly apparent in archaeology- until there’s absolute proof there is always a plethora of theories!

A broken quernstone.

A broken quernstone.

We certainly had a very enjoyable and educational time. So much so that we stayed an extra day. We are also hoping that enough money will be found to continue the dig next summer as we’re both truly hooked on digging around in the trenches!

For more background and info on the project go to

Not A Highland Games!!!

And there was me thinking I’d be writing about a Highland Games next. How could I have forgotten about The Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival when I come from a seafaring background and heritage!

Portsoy is an old fishing village on the north-east coast of Scotland with a picturesque 17th century harbour. The construction of the harbour walls is unusual as they were constructed with vertical stone rather than horizontal. Since 1994 it has been the venue for  an annual boat festival. In the past I have tended to miss it because I was never home on holiday from Saudi at the right time. Not any more!

Traditional boats in the harbour.

Traditional boats in the harbour.

Of course there a variety of boats to be seen.

Boats of yesteryears -big and small!

Boats old and new – big and small!


Coracles drying.




Music of all kinds -nautical, folk and pop.


A chance to ‘have a go’.

The ‘culture tent’ focussed on the similarities and differences between Norwegian and Scottish fishing folk lifestyles.

A part of the Norwegian display.

A part of the Norwegian display.

The typical Scottish fisherfolk diet.

The typical Scottish fisherfolk diet.

But it was disappointing to see that the British jumper for sale was from Guernsey and not a local Gansey.

What no Ganseys!

What no Ganseys!

Not everything was sea related.

This miniature bus taking children around the village made me smile.

Cute miniature bus.

Cute miniature bus.

Earlier in the year I heard that there was a doubt that the Boat Festival would run this year. I’m so glad that it did as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.


One of my lasting memories of my maternal grandmother is that she was always ‘wyvin’ -or in English knitting. And the garments that were always on her ‘wires’ or knitting needles were Ganseys-  patterned fishing jumpers. My father and uncles were fishermen so she always had someone to appreciate her knitting. Despite this she found time to knit for other people who were not so skilled in the art of the Gansey. She never used a pattern and used to mix and match ideas from other jumpers she had seen. Using 4 shiny, silver, metal, double-pointed needles always looked a dangerous procedure to my young eyes. Added to this she wore a knitting sheath/belt where she stabbed one of the needles into, to take the weight of the Gansey whilst she knitted. Each time she thrust the needle into the belt I could hardly believe she hadn’t done herself an injury!

After my grandmother died in 1993 I don’t think I ever saw anyone knit a Gansey again. The fishing industry had declined and the younger fishermen bought ready made clothing (perhaps their womenfolk had other things to do with their time?).

This week the Gansey came into my life again when I read that there was an exhibition in The Maritime Museum in Aberdeen of Ganseys. I just had to go!

2 Ganseys.

2 Ganseys.

One style of neck detail.

One style of neck detail.

Pattern detail.

Pattern detail.

More Ganseys.

More Ganseys.

i am so happy that this skilful art has been recognised and examples saved for posterity. But even better The Moray Firth Gansey Project has not only made more people aware of this knitting heritage but has also encouraged knitters to keep the art alive and evolve new ways to use the patterns like this ladies jumper by knitwear designer, Di Gilpin.

Jumper by Di Gilpin.

Jumper by Di Gilpin.

I also got a lovely surprise to see that 2 of the Ganseys were credited to Mrs. Isabella Stewart- my grandmother!