Tag Archives: Scotland


The first thing that drew me to Nova Scotia as a honeymoon destination was it’s clear cultural ties to Scotland, especially cultural ties expressed in wool. M and I made a trip to Scotland in 2015, and I had since been interested in the historic and present ties to New Scotland.

In the 1800’s, the infamous Highland Clearances took place across northern Scotland. Landlords forced thousands of peasants from their homes in favor of sheep. These people were forced to settle in Scotland’s less arable lands and many risked emmigration rather than eek out meager livings on the plots allowed to them in Scotland. Scots arrived at the harbors of Cape Breton and made new lives for themselves as fisherman, subsitence farmers, and, later, coal miners. (I suspect that these people included my maternal grandmother’s Murray ancestors, though my great great grandfather ended up in Montreal rather than Cape Breton.) Commercial fishing, farming, and mining have all declined, but Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage continues to thrive in the language, music, and dance of Scotland, which have evolved into endemic styles.

Less attention is given to the geological ties between these lands. The Aspy Fault slices through the Cape Breton Highlands just as the Great Glen Fault cleaves the Scottish Highlands. Two faults are in fact one in the same. They are both part of the 300 km fissure known as the Great Glen Fault formed millenia ago when Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and Northern Scotland were all part of the Avalonian subcontinent.

Travelling the Cabot Trail brings you to a number of Aspy Fault viewpoints. If you are moving by pedal bicycle, these points are good places to rest after climbing the steep road.DSC_0419DSC_0413DSC_0410

The vegetation makes for a different looking landscape, but standing at a Cabot Trail overlook of the Aspy Fault, I also saw the view from Conic Hill in my mind’s eye. I like to think that the ancient geological connection between Scotland and New Scotland is part of what drew thousands of Scots to settle the northwestern Atlantic Coast. True, these people were low on options, but perhaps the Canadian land felt surprisingly familiar to its new residents and allowed for the flourishing of Celtic-Canadian culture that continues to this day.





Knitting the Isle of Arran

Months ago, I wrote a bit about M and my travels in Scotland, and our time on the West Highland Way. Following our hike, we also visited the Isle of Arran, one of Scotland’s larger islands, located to the southeast.

To reach the island, we took the ferry from Adrossan to Brodick. It was a cloudy, misty day, and our views were minimal, but we could sense the ocean around us and the islands in the distance.DSC_0098

We set up our camp behind a hedge of gorse outside of Lochranza, the picturesque village situated on Loch Ranza…P1020042…and spent the day exploring a section of the Coastal Way.

The island was beautiful and made me say to myself in an Anne of Green Gables sort of way, “Oh! I wish I could capture this beauty and keep it with me always!” The colors of the coastal seaweeds, lichens, and plants were incredibly bright, yet relaxing to the eye at the same time.
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The ocean was calm, yet full of potential energy, and I was able to forget for a while that we would ever have to leave.DSC_0127DSC_0121DSC_0124

On our second day, the skies cleared, and the neighboring islands were visible across the sea. At the town of Blackwaterfoot, the ocean took on deep shade of green and blues, contrasting with the white houses, the brown seaweed, and the green grasses.DSC_0161P1020086P1020091The world felt perfect.

When we did returned to the mainland, I wanted to knit myself a tangible memory of our time by the coast. I had already purchased two skeins of Jamieson and Smith Shetland wool at Yarn Cakes in Glasgow, but I need a few more shades to capture the blues of the ocean and the sky. On my last rainy day in Edinburgh, I walked across town to Kathy’s Knits, and the proprietress helped me choose four additional colors to use in my Memory Piece. I began knitting on my flight back to the States, and completed my hat a week later. I wanted my hat to reflect the spontaneity of the coast, so I did not draw out a pattern or even think more than a few rows ahead. Just this week, as the mornings have to feel chilly, I sewed in a thin fleece lining. I am looking forward to wearing it this winter, and remembering our few, gorgeous days in the Scottish Isles.

Machrie Moor


Two weekends ago, my family hiked Mt. VanHovenberg near Lake Placid, New York. At the peak, I celebrated the completion of a new Memory Piece.


This sweater has been in progress, mentally and then physically, since April 2015, when my sister and I visited the Machrie Moor standing stones on the Isle of Arran, Scotland.


The Machrie Moor standing stones have been in place for ~4000 years. M and I have been to many historic places, but I felt particularly honored to be at Machrie Moor. We spent a beautiful, windy morning touching the rocks, breathing in the wind, and warming our face with the sun. Our experience was intimate, but also shared with an unknown number of other humans. There were settlers who lived on this land before there were stones, there were workers who erected the stones, there were  worshippers who gathered at the stones, there were and are farmers who have maintained the land around the stones, and, now, there are visitors like us, trying to understand our own places in history.DSC_0144

This particular stone especially appealed to me, and I chose the yarn (Tormentil in Alice Starmore’s Hebridean 3-ply) for my sweater based on its tone and texture.DSC_0153 - Copy

The cables in my sweater represent the ridges, and the different front and back reflect the distinct sides of the stone.DSC_0155

On Ravelry here.

The West Highland Way – Drymen to Sallochy


On our second day on the Way, M and I woke up after for the last time well after the sun had risen. The campers around us were starting to roll over in their bags and to emerge slowly from their tents. We packed up our things, shook the dew from our tent, stuffed everything in to our still-too-heavy packs, and hit the road. (And it was a road all the way to the town of Drymen.)

Drymen is a small town, with lovely houses and colorful gardens. The town center is dominated by a large bed and breakfast, and there is also a grocery, a cafe, and a few restaurants. (Until recently there was an outdoors store for hikers, but this appeared to have closed permanently.) I was hoping for a cup of coffee and M had read that the butcher sold pies to-go, but it turns out that Drymen is impossible to get to [on public transit] on Sundays and just no fun to get to on Mondays. The butcher and the cafe were both closed for the day.

From, Drymen, the Way passes through a few pastures before entering land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland (Comisean na Coiltearachd Alba). Our guidebook (2013) described this section, as “…a shaded track through mature conifer forest”. Apparently since 2013, someone in the Commission decided that the forest was a bit too mature, and went about clear cutting the entire hillside.DSC_0028eNow, I am aware that clear-cutting, especially when slash is left in place, can be part of a responsible forest management strategy. This scene, however, was painful, disappointing, and confusing for us. According to the Forestry Commission’s Cowal and Trossachs Distric Strategic Plan (PDF), forests make up only 9% of Scotland’s total land area. Is clear-cutting the little forest that there is truly the best approach?

From the Forestry land, the Way continues toward Loch Lomond, taking a turn through sheep pasture, and then up over the shoulder of Conic Hill…

P1010941Views of Loch Lomond

DSC_0030 (2)A managed burn, visible from Conic Hill

…before descending through plantation forest…

DSC_0035Primrose (Primula vulgaris) growing in the forest understory

and to the loch-side town of Balmaha.

Balmaha is home to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Centre. M and I have visited dozens of National Parks together, and we always go to the Visitors Centers to read the interpretive panels, speak with the staff, and, if possible, become Junior Rangers. (OK, this last one only applies to me.)

National Parks are new additions to Scotland; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was the first in 2002. We go the impression that Scots are still figuring out just what having a National Park means for them. (There were survey questions for visitors to answer. Should the main road through the National Park be expanded? Miles of forest would be affected, but the local people would have a safer route to and from their homes. Should a popular trail be closed in order to save an endangered species of flower?)

M and I bought ice cream at a cafe, stopped for a photo with Tom WeirDSC_0040 …and followed the paved path out of town.

We reached Loch Lomond’s most famous tree in the afternoon…DSC_0047e…and took time to play on the rocks.


The rest of day was spent on sidewalks and paths through the woods along the road…DSC_0056We reached Sallochy Camping late in the afternoon, with sore feet and crabby additudes. Enough of this walking on pavement!

Fortunately, out campsite was beautiful and quiet…DSC_0057

and right on the loch. We made tea and drank it with our toes in the cool loch water…



before eating a simple dinner as the light faded…DSC_0062

Walking the West Highland Way


Three weeks ago, my sister and I spent four days on Scotland’s most famous Long Distance Route – the West Highland Way. The Way is a 96 mile (154Km) path that runs south to north from the rolling lands of Milngavie to the dramatic mountains of Fort William. I first heard about it when reading about the International Appalachian Trail a few years ago, and then rediscovered it on Kate Davies’ blog.

My sister and I planned to start our hike on Sunday, April 19th from Drymen – 12 miles north of The Way’s official starting point. As it turns out, there are no buses to Drymen on Sundays, and we were forced to take a train from Glasgow to Milngavie, and start at the true beginning.


Here is M enjoying a toastie before we begin.

The Way began in a along a wooded path in a town park, with plenty of folks walking well-behaved dogs. Before long, though, the landscape opened up and there were views of tomorrow’s hills.


And, not long after that, there were SHEEP.DSC_0013Most hikers are probably not as excited to see sheep along the trail as I was. This first pasture was special for us, though, because most of the reason that Meghan and I were even in Scotland was because of sheep and the wool that they produce. We were there because of our love of knitting and our desire to see the landscape that has inspired the most famous knitting traditions in the world.

If not for the sheep, their adorable frolicking lambs, and the gorgeous SPRING flora, the Way through this section is may have seemed monotonous. It is built on an old railway bed, making for easy, graded walking close to homes and highways.

Here are a few of my favorite botanical sites from the day:

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

Larch (Larix sp.)

Beautiful buds

For the last few miles, we followed a paved country road by picturesque steadings, arriving at Drymen Camping before 5 PM. Normally we would not stop so early in the day, but with plans to buy groceries in Drymen, we had no choice but to set up camp on the slope next to the horse pasture…

and spend the next three hours eating Ayrshire cheese, stretching our sore toes, and watching the sun go down.

Travelling Scotland

My sister and I have recently returned from SCOTLAND.

We spent over a week there, hiking on the West Highland Way…P1010999e…visiting Glasgow…DSC_0068  …touring the Isle of Arran…DSC_0113…and finishing in Edinburgh.DSC_0187

It was a wonderful trip, and I will be sharing more about it just as soon as I have unpacked!