Last Sunday, I went to and very much enjoyed the first of a course of six sketching classes under the auspices of that very active lot, Assynt Leisure. There was a good turnout; seven in all with only just enough room around the table, and we were given water colour paints and bits of cardboard to apply background of colour which will be dry and ready to draw on next Sunday. It was great fun, I haven’t done anything like this since I was about six years old:-)
I guess it was because we didn’t have to concentrate much on what we were doing that there was plenty of crac going on round the table. Jane Tulloch was there. She is a director of the Assynt Foundation, and was telling us the things which have been going on and also things which are planned to take place at Glencanisp Lodge this summer. She was saying how much she had enjoyed the day course on traditional cooking skills which was taken by my friend, Claire. She and I are fellow travellers when it comes to skills in the kitchen, and such things often form part of our Gaelic conversations when we both have time to meet regularly in the Mission – which just now, we have not! We are both very busy with things of spring-tide; especially Claire who is not only tutoring two Ùlpan classes a week just now, but also has a croft to run and at this time of year is very busy with lambs, planting veg, etc.
On this course, Claire had shown the participants how to make “sourdough” bread and yoghurt, neither of which are traditional for this area where no wheat was grown and the staple grain was oats, and although much butter and cheese was made in the summer months, yoghurt never got this far north. In fact I remember that as a child in the 50s and 60s it was a novelty even in London!! But although these skills may not be “native” to here in the past, that is no reason at all not to have them now and create a new tradition! I made my first loaf of bread when I was 13 or 14, and have made all the bread and bread related items for the family for over 35 years, and it is giving me a lot of pleasure to realise how popular a pastime it is becoming. I hope it lasts. The muck they sell as “bread” in supermarkets is not fit even for pigs!
I have been using the sourdough method myself now for the past several years and as I said, Claire and I have often discussed our activities in our Gaelic practice sessions. We agreed sometime ago that we prefer the term “natural dough” to sourdough and worked out the Gaelic for that – toais-nadarra. Toais (pronounced roughly tooirsh) is the Gaelic for dough. It is fun working out proper Gaelic words for expressions which otherwise don’t really exist in the language itself:-)
Jane was also talking about the residential courses planned for Glencanisp Lodge this summer. She mentioned pottery, kayaking, hill walking and knitting. Knitting? I hear you exclaim!! Well, it does sound a bit strange but talking about it put me in mind of a Knitting Retreat I went to some years ago in Orkney. Now the residents of Orkney, living as they do on islands just off the coast of Caithness and having for much of their history been under the control of Norway, don’t really consider themselves as Scottish, never mind part of the Highlands, but I think they can have their place here in this Diary in spite of that.
I went to this retreat because my American/Canadian friend, Lynne, was coming over for it with a couple of other friends. I went via Inverness to pick up three Australians – a bit of a long way round for me, but I enjoyed the drive up the coast in their company. The week was a very busy one with workshops during the day and in the evening. I wasn’t too involved in the workshops. I was on the periphery of a natural dyeing workshop because I had picked some bog myrtle for it, which is one of the few plants which gives a green without having to use an extra mordant to change yellow to green, and I found myself accidentally taking an evening workshop!! This was “fleece appreciation” and when I was asked to help, I thought I would be unrolling fleeces and what-have-you, and I received the list of the fleeces just before supper on the day. Then the person who organised the whole thing, whose name I can’t recall much to my chagrin, kicked off with showing and describing a fleece from a North Ronaldsay sheep – the local breed – and then said “over to you, Clarinda”! Eeek!! Fortunately, the task turned out to be an easy one as all the fleeces were good and I hadn’t a bad word to say about any of them, which was just as well as the chap who had bought them along was sitting right behind me as I discovered afterwards!
There was one day “off” during the week when we took a bus round the main island to places such as Skara Brae and Meas Howe. I drove behind the bus taking a couple of people who, like me, do not travel well on coaches. I thought at the time that the only sad thing about the way the week was set up was that with the exception of Lorelee, one of the Canadian friends who was there to walk rather than knit, none of the folk got to see the Italian Chapel. Lorelee and I went together, and we both found it a very moving experience. I also enjoyed just stravaiging around the islands, driving over the causeways between them, seeing what there was to be seen, and a few of us did sneak a day off to go to Kirkwall. My only disappointment was not to get further north on the islands or over to Hoy to see the Old Man. Maybe one day, I will manage to drag Himself up to Orkney to do that and also to take the shortest flight in the world – the flight between Mainland and Papay. It takes but a minute of actual flying time!
So, there you have it. I am sure the Knitting Retreat at Glencanisp, which is to be taken by Helen Lockhart of Ripplecraft Yarns, will be just as good but probably quite different to that retreat of fond memory. Helen has told me that although the words “knitting course” are being used as a sort of “work in progress” title, “Fibre Retreat” is a more accurate description. She says that there will be no classes as such, just people working on their own projects, so will also include spinning, weaving and such crafts. It is designed as an opportunity to get together, take time out of busy lives to indulge an interest in crafts and to inspire each other! It will indeed be a bit different, but every bit as enjoyable for the participants.
I make no apologies that the pictures this week were taken on Orkney with the exception of my biscotti which I made for the spinners who came here on Monday. By all accounts they were just as they should be, which was gratifying to hear as it was my first go at them! Unfortunately, I can no longer eat such things, but that’s another story and probably more suited to my weight-loss site www.happiness-by-design.com
[Photos by Clarinda]