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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The View from a Train and York

I travelled to York this morning - shared a  taxi to the station with Liz and Marie-Claude with an hour to spare. I might be a 'just-in-time' traveller at home, but away from home and on my own I am ultra cautious. I ascertained at the station that my train was the Inverness to London train, found the platform, and once the 10.30 train had departed, a seat on which to wait out the hour.

Even the station is squeezed by stone wall and defences.
The train was on time. A bit busier than the Cheltenham to Edinburgh train, but fine. The scenery was interesting - the train runs within sight of the cliff edge around Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed in the early part of the journey. 

There were people playing golf and cattle grazing close to the cliff edge. Then the Tweed went out to sea. 
There were refreshments  and wifi. 
The first stop was Newcastle.
I caught a glimpse of Durham
before alighting in York at 1.54 pm with the generous assistance of the on-train attendants.

It has finally warmed up. The 28C in York feels like Summer. This is where I could do with the sandals and cropped jeans I sent home from Norfolk! I even abandoned my only short-sleeved Tshirt in Edinburgh. 

This afternoon I have had a bit of a rest, then got a map and formulated a bit of a plan for tomorrow. The good old hop-on-hop off bus stops close to the hotel, so I think I shall spend tomorrow - and maybe Thursday as well, hopping on and off at the key points I want to visit.

The hotel has a pool and backs on to the River Foss, which flows into the Ouse a few hundred yards downstream.  I walked along the river a little to orient myself. It is a quiet place for a bit of fishing 
and the nearby footbridge carries a lot of cyclists with views of swans.
Directly behind the hotel is a sluice gate on the River Foss.
The castle is clearly visible from the sluice gate.
I'm enjoying being able to take my time - but missing my fellow stitchers. I hope they all made their respective flights and connections. 

I shall overcome my aversion to talking about food long enough to say I had a good dinner tonight- a two ducks entre (smoked and pate - with cherries), 
A 'super salad'
and (here's a surprise) icecream and sorbets!
I should sleep well.

Monday, 29 June 2015


We left Blair Atholl at 9 this morning for Glamis. The drive was just over an hour, through highly cultivated agricultural country. 

There is a long entrance drive to the castle.
Sir John Lyon was made Thane of Glamis (rhymes with harms) in 1372 by Robert II, first of the Stewart Kings, and the Castle has been the residence of the Earls of Strathmore for 18 generations. It was remodelled in the 17th century. It was, of course, the birthplace of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother, and where she and the then Duke of York spent their honeymoon.

Our prime interest at Glamis was the significant needlework collection - and in particular the Queen Mother's Suite, with its embroidered bed hangings and cover. The bed hangings were made over a hundred years ago by Cecilia, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, but the original bedcover was lost. 

Phillipa Turnbull was commissioned to work a replica to replace the cover for the Queen Mother's 100th birthday. The replacement now adorns the bed and its quality and fame insured our priveledged treatment at the castle.

Phillipa is clearly well-known and welcome here. We were not only granted private access to the rooms on display, but allowed to take photographs for our own study. We were very conscious of the privelige.
I do not have permission to publish my photos, so will not be posting them. Suffice it to say, we were all really pleased to view, on the inside of the bed head, the original thistle and rose design we have been working over the last 10 days. The texture of the silk makes a difference to shine and colour - a whole new dimension.

There are many other pieces of embroidery done by women in the household - including really wonderful wall hangings. There are numerous tapestries and some beautifully embroidered costumes. It was extraordinary to be viewing these with Phillipa (and a highly knowledgable young guide) and be able to see them at close quarters.

We were able to also go on a scheduled guided tour, and many did. I chose to sit for a while and take in the surroundings, visit the highland cattle and walk around the exterior of the house.

There is a cafe, a restaurant and a very good gift shop.
We finally left about 2.30 pm and drove back to Edinburgh, catching glimpses of Edinburgh Castle through the streets and alleys.
We had our final dinner at the Scran & Scallie Bistro. The meals were generous.
The Champagne Jelly and sorbet was great. No one ordered game after the warning on the menu!
I feel as if I am left with the 'lurk in the bar' from the menu. Wi-fi is not working in my room, so I am writing this in the bar - without however, the wee dram!

This has been a great trip. The women participating have been terrific companions, the teaching excellent and I've learned heaps. Very satisfying and a lot of fun.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Quiet stitching day

Today we had two classes with a lot of free time in between. Some people walked into Pitlochry for lunch and/or shopping, others did washing in the hotel's guests' laundry. I had lunch in the hotel with a newfound friend and re-packed my suitcase. The weather has warmed up so I managed to get my coat and my two embroidery projects (including threads) into my suitcase. I still haven't used the expander, but may need to do so when I get to Nottingham. By then it won't matter, as I won't have to manoeuvre the bag on public transport.

My morning class was the crewel work project. We learned a new (to me) technique of French knots. It's about the placement of both hands and the technique of holding the wool and pulling it through.i felt pretty confident about it by the end. We also worked the bud, with a process for building thickness and raising the stitches.
Tomorrow we see the original of this designat Glamis. It is on the inside of the bed hangings.

In the afternoon I did a last class with Meredith on the Phoebe Anna piece. I worked on finishing the bird. I didn't get it finished, but I made an impression on it. I am itching to finish this - but have quite a way to go. I have handed back my sitting frame that I borrowed from Phillipa - so won't be able to do much of it until I get home.

Meredith kindly sent me a copy of a photo she took yesterday. Thanks Meredith, it was really kind.
After dinner- for me, a really good entre of haggis in a pastry puff, followed by poached salmon- Phillipa gave an illustrated talk on the history of British embroiderery through pieces in private collections. It was very helpful. 

Tomorrow is our last day and should be great.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Lady Evelyn Stewart Murray and Phoebe Anna Traquair

Our morning destination, Blair Castle.was only a 20 minute drive away. In contrast to yesterday, the sun was out this morning as we left our hotel - the Atholl Palace (built as part of the hydropathic 
movement of the 1870s).
As you might guess from the view over the car park as we left, there is a sports car club rally here this weekend.
We had an appointment at 9.30 with Jane Anderson, the Blair Castle archivist and made it in comfortable time.
Jane told us the story of Lady Evelyn Stewart Murray (1868-1940), daughter of the 7th Duke of Atholl and Louisa Moncrieffe. Lady Evelyn suffered illnesses in her teen years, including diphtheria and depression. She was tutored in, and spoke, Perthshire Gaelic, but her parents were apparently unimpressed when she spent her time talking Gaelic to the tenants and gathering their stories into a book instead of 'coming out' and presenting herself as a prospective wife on the court circuit. Her story collection has only recently been published in English and Gaelic.
Eventually, she was sent abroad with a companion to break this undesirable pattern of behaviour, but she got interested in lace and embroidery and stayed away for decades studying, collecting and perfecting her own embroidery skills.

Blair Castle has a phenomenal collection of lace and embroidery - some of it done by Lady Evelyn and some of it collected by her. She was caught in Belgium in WWI and, although safe, suffered some deprivation and continuous illness. She returned to England after the war and lived with her younger brother who ensured the preservation of her needlework after her death in 1940. It was terrific to hear this story from the castle archivist who had so much knowledge of the primary sources and such a depth of expertise.

We were priveledged to see many samples of both her work and her collection. Many of the pieces are almost unimaginably fine. We needed magnifying glasses to see the stitches.  There are also, throughout the house, samplers, fire screens, bedspreads and clothing made, or collected by several generations of women of the family. There is a brief account of her life in print and also a book, now out of print, on her embroidery. The photo on the cover of the latter is of a piece of Lady Evelyn's work on display in the castle.
The house is well organised for visitors. After our time with the embroideries and curator we had plenty of time to tour the house and grounds - and to listen to the piper who played at 11am, 12 noon and 1pm - as our coach was departing. I have not lost my love of pipe music.

Most of us chose to be dropped in Pitlochry on the way back, where we explored the shops and grabbed something for lunch - in my case soup from one of the pubs.
Many of us, myself included, visited the heather jewellery factory. Heather jewellery is made from dried heather, collected in bundles, stripped of its bark, coloured with naturally-occurring local dies, compressed, sliced, cut and set. Some of the results are very beautiful. I have been very restrained about shopping on this trip. I need to be shedding 'stuff', not adding to it, but I did indulge in a piece of heather jewellery. 
In the late afternoon we did another class. I worked with Meredith on the Phoebe Anna Traquair piece. We began the birds, and I did a little more of the leaf crouching. I love the way the coaching settles and flattens the underneath layer.
After dinner, Meredith made a presentation on the work of Phoebe Anna Traquair. I think we are all entranced - and so pleased to have, in a small way, got to know something about the extraordinary woman and artist. It is exciting to discover an artist and a body of work with which I was totally unfamiliar. I really want to talk about her work with the Embroiderers' Guild in Sourh Australia - and also to see if there are other embroiderers whose work could similarly inspire. Learning of such women in one day is mind blowing.

 No visits tomorrow. I'm looking forward to relaxed stitching.