What did you find today?

I haven’t been on many archaeology digs but I suppose it’s to be expected when you tell someone what you’re doing they invariably ask- What did you find? or Did you find anything? Rarely, have I unearthed anything of great importance but often I’ve been given a tray to put in assorted finds which might include charcoal, bone or pottery depending on the era of the excavation. But what happens to these trays after they are handed in at the end of the day? Since I couldn’t join the trowellers in the trenches, due to a hand operation a few weeks ago, I had opted to help with the finds so I was going to find out.

This week at Tarradale the focus is shell middens from the Mesolithic. Being the Mesolithic there is an expectation to find lithics i.e. pieces of flint or quartz that have been worked in order to be used as tools. Lithics can be very small so easily missed by the troweller in the trench so all their excess trowel material needs to be sieved and in order to make it easier to spot -wet sieved! Sounds fun eh? Donning my waterproof everything I headed to the wet sieving station situated away from the driveway amongst some shrubs and trees.

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I am beginning to realise that archaeologists and their volunteers are nothing if not resourceful and my sieving machine proved this once again. Holes had been drilled in a discarded fish box which had then been mounted on a wooden stand. Inside a piece of fine mesh netting held in place with 6 large clips did the job of allowing the water and soil to pass through but to trap the bigger pieces, hopefully including lithics. I emptied half a bag of trowelled material from Mary’s area and set to work with my high powered hose. Although, a few shiny things caught my eye and I stopped the hose to investigate further they were only fragments of shell with jagged edges. Oyster shells, cockle shells, mussels and winkles filled the bottom of the sieve but no lithics or any other proof of Mesolithic people having created the abundance of shell material being investigated on site. I tipped the washed material onto a tray lined with old newspaper and wrote the information about which trench it was from on a white garden label. On to the next batch, and then the next and the next – still nothing exciting. However, just like trowelling there is always the thought that a find will turn up in the next section. From time to time I wandered up to the polytent for more trays to put the washed material in and to have a chat with Linda, who was painstakingly going through some dry shell material looking for lithics and charcoal.

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Lunch came and we all gathered under the gazebo in the garden to catch up with what we’d all been dong and to ask- have you found anything? This lunchtime also included a wee talk from Steve mainly about how antlers and bone were used to make a variety of tools. This was extremely interesting and fascinating as Steve had created a few of the tools he was showing us using the type of flint tools that have been found from Mesolithic times. Jonie’s husband Richard had made a wooden replica of the impressive antler mattock uncovered last week. Seeing this and hearing Steve describe how it may have been made certainly helped give it life and a small glimpse into the skills of Mesolithic people.

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Lunch over it was back to washing my shell midden material. Still nothing to report. Before long Anne came to get me to work in the gatehouse and record the finds some people had been lucky enough to find. Now I was to find out what happens to that mixed back of finds I have handed in at the end of the day. Each tray was gone through, sorting the contents by material and discarding any that, like my shiny shell, had tricked the troweller into thinking it was something more important. A bag for each material is labelled with the information about it, entered on a card in the dig folder and a smaller duplicate card put inside the bag. Now the bag is ready to be sent for the relevant analysis.

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My day working on the finds came to an end. I’ve certainly learned a lot and am I dispondant at not finding anything sieving? – not at all. I’m back there tomorrow and who knows what’s waiting in those unopened bags.

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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.

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Nessie welcome at Eden Court.

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

 

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2 of Di Gilpin‘s knits.

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

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

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

But one knitted item took me by surprise.

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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!!

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The setting and the weather were terrific.

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The campsite was mobbed!

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

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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.

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Blessed with a lovely evening.

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

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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.

Island Sailing.

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Nine days on ‘Moonshadow of Lorne‘, a beautiful 68 foot yacht.

Our goal- to reach the Islands of St. Kilda, 40 miles to the west of The Outer Hebrides.

Setting off from Dunstaffnage, just north of Oban our first island stop was Canna with the tidal island of Sanday next to it.

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We were not alone as this is a popular stop-over for yachts heading out to the Outer Hebrides.

We went ashore to visit the Church of Scotland Church, Community honesty shop and walk around the garden of Canna House, where John Lorne Campbell had lived. He owned the island and gave it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981.

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Onwards to Lochmaddy, North Uist in the rain!P1040664.JPG

The weather forecast was against continuing to St. Kilda so a change of plan was necessary. North to Rodel on Harris was the decision.

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A short trip ashore and a visit to the 16th century church of St. Clement’s.

The weather turned dreary on the sail north to Scalpay. We were happy to stay on board and dry off our damp things.

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A new day, a new island (or two) to visit. The uninhabited Shiants were our first destination. Uninhabited except for numerous seabirds, including a large colony of puffins.

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Here the puffins make their nests in the gaps formed by the tumbled basalt rocks. Many of the puffins had mouthfuls of sand eels – a clear sign they must have pufflings to feed.

Next stop the island of Rona and a trip ashore. Owned by a Danish couple it is managed by a warden and his wife. They live in the Lodge house.

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A place of interest to visit is the Church Cave.

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The sign points the way to the Church Cave. A path across the moor and a tricky rocky descent which thankfully has a rope railing to help you.

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Inside the cave stones are lined up to provide seats for the congregation. There is a wooden box which contains a Bible, a visitors book and some lighters- you need to bring your own candles. In recent years it has been used for weddings including the warden and his wife who were married here 9 years ago. After struggling down the steep rocky path in walking boots and outdoor clothes I can’t imagine attempting it in a wedding dress!

Leaving Rona behind we headed for ‘civilisation’ – Portree on Skye. A cruise ship with 3000 passengers was anchored there- a huge contrast to the 9 of us who were sailing on ‘Moonshadow’.

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A trip ashore enabled us to do a little shopping and catch up with e-mails in the Cafe Arriba. I also wanted to pop into Skye Batiks to check out their photo wall for my picture which had won their photo competition last year.

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The next day took us under the Skye Bridge. Our yacht  had a tall mast which didn’t leave a lot of space so it probably looked quite dodgy for any spectators.

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Safely under we had a quick stop in Kyle of Lochalsh to top up with water then on down to Isle Ornsay for the night before heading down to Tobermory.

Sailing into Tobermory on the Isle of Mull is so delightful with all its colourful painted houses. (It gained fame as the setting for the children’s programme Balamory)

 

The bay was very busy with yachts as there was a 3 day round Mull race and we heard that 50 yachts had registered to take part.

The next morning as we had breakfast they set off.

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For us it was a long sail south back to Dunstaffnage…

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…..and a parting of the ways for 9 people who 9 days ago had only ever sailed with their partner. We might not have made it to St. Kilda but I for one had a truly memorable, enjoyable time and definitely made some great friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Knitting!

A year ago I visited a delightful wool shop in Aberlour called Three Bags Wool Three Bags Wool and saw these giant-sized knitting needles!

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Instead of knitting normal yarn the owner had sourced tweed/blanket off cuts from the local woollen mills to use. I was ‘in love’ with the novel idea and just had to get some.

My first project was to knit some seat pads for our garden chairs. All went well but the weather was not very encouraging so 3 and a half pads later the project found itself stashed in favour of my ever favourite sock knitting.

Last week the sun shone and the garden furniture came out of the shed and I unearthed the seat pads. Great as long as there was only 3 of us. Re-newed enthusiasm and the 4th is now complete. Here are two on the garden bench, all set for a wee sundowner at the weekend.

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They were very comfy.

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And the sundowners were very enjoyable too!

 

 

 

Not a walk in the Park!

Archaeology takes many forms- something I am becoming more aware of since joining NOSAS (North of Scotland Archaeology Society). Last weekend we ventured to the area around Helmsdale to investigate some archaeological sites. One of which was a hill fort on top of Ben Griam Beg. At less than 2000 feet a mere pimple on the Highland landscape.

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Yes that’s the wee pimple up behind the cottage. From where we left the cars to the top it was 6km ‘as the crow flies’, and there was definitely a few times I wished I could have sprouted wings!

The walk to the cottage was pretty easy going and covered about half the distance. It was a beautiful day and a perfect place to stop to refresh ourselves before the ‘push’ to the top.

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The cottage was uninhabited but is used by various people employed by the estate and also as a holiday cottage from time to time. Inside one of the outbuildings there was an interesting record of some of shepherds and workers who had been there.

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Refreshed with coffee and chocolate we started the second, more demanding stage. Before too long we had broken into 3 groups. The super-fit mountain goats, the fit folk and the ‘OMG what on earth gave me the idea to sign up for this’ group. I was in the last group and it was a definite wake up call to do something about my lack of fitness especially as most of the people in the other groups were older than me!

After a lot of huffing and puffing and catching our breath stops, we reached the top!

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and joined the others for lunch.

The purpose for the climb was to examine the wall structures. Although, Ben Griam Beg is listed as the highest hill-fort in Scotland there is some debate about whether it really is a hill-fort. We, especially the more knowledgeable archaeologists among us, were to look at the evidence and put forward our opinions on the matter.

There were definitely a lot of stone walls to consider

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and an interesting stone in one of the walls which definitely looked like it had been used to  grind meal (?) in.

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After a good look around and much discussion the ‘jury was still out’ on whether it had been a fort but most people doubted it. However, no-one could come up with a satisfactory explanation for all the wall structures. More information about the supposed hill-fort can be found at http://canmore.org.uk/event/651911

 

Although it had been a slog to get to the top it had been worth it. It is definitely an interesting site whatever it is.  I was also blessed with a close viewing of a female ptarmigan with 2 chicks and a hare- both now in their summer colours. Some lovely flowers were also starting to bloom in the rocky, heather landscape.

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Yes, it might not have been a ‘walk in the park’ to climb Ben Griam Beg but I’m so glad I didn’t give up and made it to the top. That evening I really felt I had earned my large portion of chips and battered stuffed jalapeño peppers at the well-known La Mirage restaurant in Helmsdale. Washed down with a glass of wine, of course!

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Interesting light in La Mirage restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

Pleasantly Surprised!

For years I travelled back and forth from Saudi and somehow developed an idea that not a lot really happened around my locality. True the countryside is lovely and the coastal views stunning!

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Having a wee walk along ‘my’ beach!

However, it always seemed to be that when I visited other places there always seemed to be interesting ‘cultural’ things going on there, but I was never aware of anything close to home. Now that I’ve been home for 2 years I have been very pleasantly surprised to find I was very wrong with my initial impression. There are some very good and interesting things happening locally and by some very talented local people.

Last Saturday was one of those. A play written in Doric, the local vernacular by a woman from the next village was performed at the local Warehouse Theatre. Entitled ‘Netting’ it was her second play about the effect the loss of a fishing boat can have on its community. IMG_4625

Netting by Morna Young

Having been brought up in a fishing family in a fishing community the play definitely resonated with me and I’m sure many others in the audience. It was a very powerful and emotive production which held me transfixed throughout. I was so glad that our small local theatre had organised the 2 showings and I had been able to attend. Before being performed in Lossiemouth ‘Netting’ had been on tour to various venues around Scotland, hopefully being enjoyed just as much as I did.

Today I noticed a poster for ‘Robert Burns- The Musical’ which is being produced by the  Rock Academy  which is a dance and drama school situated in Lossiemouth. It was written by the owner of the school based on an idea by Michael Jackson and David Gest! It has already received acclaim and been performed in many of the big theatres around Scotland.

So I was definitely wrong to think nothing very ‘cultural’ happens in my own backyard!

One Mitten Done!

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Yay!! one mitten completed:) It’s been 9 days since I started but it didn’t really take that long. I’ve also been working on a pair of socks which are almost finished. I just can’t let the sock knitting go!

For the observant this mitten is knitted in 2 parts. The first being the plain band around the fingers. For this it was necessary to do a provisional cast on. I have absolutely no memory of ever knitting anything where I had to do this before (I’ve obviously let a sheltered knitting existence!). Luckily, when I entered the term into Google there was a wealth of experienced knitters willing to share their knowledge including quite a few on U-tube. Here is the one I chose https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T7OwOpC6CY. It was easy to follow and I’ve just used it again for the second mitten.

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Once the band has been done it’s just a matter of joining it together using the Kitchener stitch which I’m only too familiar with having knitted all those socks. After picking up the stitches for the main part it’s my favourite ‘knitting in the round’ method with a little shaping for the thumb.

With the way the weather has turned ‘drench’ (wet) and cold I certainly think I’ll get plenty of opportunity to wear them once I’ve finished the second one.