Maxine changes life and turns hobby into business

Around ten years ago, Maxine Stephenson – originally from Yorkshire – and her husband decided the time had come to drastically alter their work-life balance. 

Working in retail management, she had tired of their very busy stressful working lives, so they quit the rat race. In May 2006 they put the house up for sale and in November that year they moved to the Isle of Skye. 

She says: “I was born in Yorkshire and my parents moved us to Scunthorpe when I was 13. I was 47 when we moved to Skye and this is the first time I have felt at home since being 13.” 

Though things didn’t go to plan at first after the move, they finally moved into their self-build house in Glendale in April 2011 and “our time” began...and, she says: “left with all this time on my hands I started to sew, and something clicked... I loved it! 

She already knew she wanted to work from home and be creative, and while she started to sew for a hobby, she says “as I progressed I knew I could do something with this. 

“I can see the Outer Hebrides from the house and already had a passion for Harris Tweed so it took no thinking about. A love of handbags and Harris Tweed is a match made in heaven. 

In 2014, the Wheatear Textiles website went live and work started on her studio, just metres from the house. 

The name Wheatear came about when a pair of these birds decided to make their nest and raise their young in a pile of rocks just across from where my studio now stands, and have arrived every year since. The studio first opened to the public in the spring of 2015. 

 

“I’m very lucky in where I am placed, very much on the tourist trail, with every nationality visiting my studio in Glendale. Everyone appreciates what I am doing and are interested or know about Harris Tweed.” 

Quirky story of business leap into unknown

Story and photographs by Roz Skinner

The actions of our predecessors can have far-reaching effects. For instance, if 17th century Caisteal Uisdean (Hugh’s Castle) was fitted with a door, then David Taylor’s life could have turned out very differently. 

The Castle, which sits broodingly on the edge of Loch Snizort,
was previously accessed by means of a ladder to the upper floor. Today, visitors to the ruins squeeze themselves through a window. For David, this unusual building changed his whole life. 

“My wife and I went for a walk with our friends,” explains David. “We climbed up and into the Castle, but, after we had explored, we wondered how to get down. The ladies sat down on the wall and then slithered off, but my friend jumped straight off. I thought I would do the same to save face. So I jumped off, landed badly on my ankle and broke it.” 

This one event plunged David into inactivity, rendering him unable to go very far away from home. “My wife works at Uig Pottery and one day she said: ‘Come into work with me, otherwise you will go crazy sitting at home’,” says David. “They had me making small Highland cows and I absolutely hated it. 

“‘Never again!’ I thought. However, it was better than sitting doing nothing, so I ended up making more from home.” 

By the end of 2014, David had started his business – Quirky Clay. Using clay to celebrate all things Scottish, David currently specialises in creating Highland cows. Despite his vow never to make another cow, David now makes around 20 a day, each lovingly crafted by hand. Every cow comes with a name tag and an individual personality. “I try to make each one different,” David says. “I change the head angles, the tilt of the horns and the expression on their faces. I also make them in different sizes - either a small one of around seven centimetres or one that is five times that size.” 

The process of making the cows is intriguing. To capture the Highland cows’ distinctive hide, David inserts the clay in a tube, which then oozes out spaghetti- like strands. “I make the basic form, then they are fired, then painted, then fired again,” David explains. The final result is a quirky, expressive sculpture of one of Scotland’s best-loved creatures. 

David admits to loving his job. “Once you know that people like your work, that changes everything,” he reveals. “I listen to audio books when I make the cows, so the process itself is more enjoyable, and when I see people buying them, it’s very flattering.” Quirky Clay designs are currently sold in 30 different outlets in Scotland, including Uig Pottery and Portree’s Crocks & Rocks. 

Quirky Clay will be adding a new range of animals to the production line. In 2017, David hopes to add sheep to the Quirky Clay menagerie. Tiny balls of clay form their woolly coats, giving them an incredibly life-like appearance. 

The start of every new business requires a leap. Perhaps one day Quirky Clay will produce miniatures of Caisteal Uisdean to commemorate David’s jump, both literally and metaphorically, into his new business! 

To keep up to date with the latest news from Quirky Clay, visit the Quirky Clay website or check out their Facebook page

Louise weaves a business out of a pastime 

Turning a hobby into a business wasn’t the initial plan for Louise White when she moved from Edinburgh to Carbost in 2012. 

But it seems that life, and Harris Tweed, had other plans for the Skye-based designer as her company ‘Lou Lou Designs’ has proved popular with both locals and visitors alike. 

An entirely self-taught seamstress, Louise creates a variety of Harris Tweed handbags – each a one- off design – as well as scarves, brooches, key-rings and custom design Tweed skirts. 

“I watched a YouTube video on how to make square-bottomed bags and that was the start,” Louise explained. “The business has grown as a result of people liking what I do and I’ve got a really loyal local customer base, which is just lovely. 

Finding inspiration every day from her new island home surroundings, Louise is pleased this year to welcome visitors to her pop-up shop in Carbost, situated in the shadow of the Cuillin mountains and on the shores of Loch Harport. 

And working with the world-famous Harris Tweed cloth – much of which she sources from the Shawbost Mill on the Isle of Lewis – is a delight for the designer, as she said: “It is such a special thing. 

“I knew of Harris Tweed when I was growing up, but it was when I worked in the shop at Dunvegan Castle that I found out more about it, its story,” Louise continued.” 

“It’s very easy to work with and very forgiving, but it’s not just a piece of cloth, it’s the person who has weaved it, those who have designed it.” 

She added: “The Tweed brings the bags to life and the feedback from people has been lovely; they talk about the bags and use the words I feel inside, so I must be doing something right!” 

To find out more about Louise and Lou Lou Designs, why not pop into the Carbost shop, or check out Lou Lou Designs Facebook page

Button boxes… 

A box of colourful, shining buttons instantly takes jewellery-maker, Michelle Seviour of Indigo Berry, on a trip back in time. 

It transports her to a childhood spent raiding her grandmother’s button box, admiring the sheen, the shape and the stories, and being inspired at an early age to explore texture and colour. 

“My grandmother let me play with them,” Michelle explains. “I loved to lay them out, exploring which shapes and colours worked well together, feeling the textures and enjoying the story behind each one.” This was just one of the early influences that led to Michelle’s interest in art and she went on to study Art History at Leeds University. But, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that Michelle’s art took a different form. 

“I didn’t have pierced ears, so I had to make my own earrings,” Michelle reveals. “I made items that I wanted to wear, heavily influenced by my favourite colour: purple! I love adapting familiar items into my jewellery. So, as well as buttons, anything from belt buckles to keyhole fittings have been upcycled!” 

Michelle later moved to Skye, which opened up a whole new range of inspiration. She enthuses: “I am constantly influenced by natural forms. My work-room looks over the loch, so I can watch the weather and light change. I also find my materials inspiring. I love using gemstones and glass beads in my designs.” But it is the button box that frequently plays a starring role in Michelle’s work! “I will often include the buttons in my designs,” she explains. “I love to add that vintage twist to my contemporary work. People have even given me buttons belonging to their own grandmothers, which is lovely!” 

What started off as a creative hobby grew into Indigo Berry - a name that nods to Michelle’s favourite colour and the potential for growth represented by a berry. Specialising in original and one-off pieces, Michelle transforms her materials into intriguing and unique pieces. “I also love to work on commissions,” Michelle says. “I mostly create necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets, but I also love working with fabric and crafting other things such as lavender bags.” Craft and jewellery meet in her popular Tattie Bogal character brooches, inspired by a local scarecrow festival. Each one is a unique character, finished with a button and named after a place in the Minginish area of Skye.

What does the future hold for Indigo Berry? Michelle is always looking for new ways to express her creativity. “I have so many ideas,” she laughs. “I have an idea to create jewellery involving fossils. I have some ammonites which I plan to wire-wrap and make into pendants.

“This year, I am branching further afield with a stall at the annual Bourneville Festival in Birmingham on the 25th of June, so that will be very exciting!”

Nearer home, Michelle is a regular at craft fairs in Skye and Lochalsh, including the popular Made in Minginish Community Hall ‘Craft and Tea’ events, which take place every Wednesday during summer (late April to mid-September.)

View Michelle’s unique designs with a vintage twist at her website www.indigoberry.co.uk, or in her Etsy shop

Gallery brings art forms together

An island filled with creative surprises, Skye provides the perfect home for contemporary artists Ian and Gill Williams – and one which has seen the pair switch from policing to painting. 

Originally from North Wales, Ian spent 20 years in the Metropolitan and Thames Valley police forces. In 1996 however, his life was changed when he was attacked in the course of duty, severely injured and forced to retire. 

During his recovery, Ian was introduced to making salt dough figurines. He discovered a talent and a passion and enrolled in Fine Art at the Buckinghamshire Collage in High Wycombe, later graduating with a Degree with Honours. 

New career underway, a visit to Skye then brought about a new home for Ian and wife and artist Gill, with the Brae Fasach Gallery, and recently Cafe – alongside the neighbouring self-catering accommodation – established at Waternish in 2002; situated next to Skye’s five-star exhibition tannery Skyeskyns. 

Ian and Gill exhibit a large range of intriguing works, alongside a selection of fine arts, painting, cards, and photography. 

Ian’s works, ranging from paintings and sketches to ceramics, sculptures and his unique visual poetry, emerge from his personality and circumstances,each vibrant and full of emotion. 

And this year has seen the launch of Ian’s first three short stories, ‘Driftwood’, ‘Locked in’ and ‘Draw yourself a picture and step in’. All of which are available to download from Amazon. 

Ian’s works are complemented by Gill’s pastel paintings and photography, and as well as original works by Gill and Ian, pieces are also available as mounted prints, or on tea towels, ceramic mugs, bags or cushions. 

The Williams also offer a commercial service from the Brae Fasach Gallery, incorporating your logo, or image of a special memory, in any of the printing formats. 

And with the self-catering next door, the combination of accommodation and gallery make destination for retreats and relaxation. 

 

Brae Fasach Gallery and Cafe are open daily from 11am to 5pm. To find out more, please visit www.ian-williams-skye.co.uk

Worldwide lure of a good cup of coffee

Where would you least expect expect to find quality coffee? On top of a mountain? At sea? How about in the shadow of the Cuillins, just beyond the dancing Fairy Pools? 

The Cuillin Coffee Company aims to blend delicious coffee within Skye’s breathtaking scenery. Located at the Glenbrittle Campsite shop and cafe or in the Fairy Pools car park, their distinctive coffee is a welcome treat for walkers, explorers and coffee aficionados. 

Barista, Keegan McLean, explains what makes the Cuillin Coffee Company unique, saying: “There’s a warm Highland welcome that comes with the coffee! At the Campsite, I can sit down with the customer and talk to them. I’m genuinely interested in how their day is going and I want to hear what’s happening as they explore one of the most beautiful places in the world.” As well as iconic coffee, Campsite visitors can collect a range of Cuillin Coffee merchandise, from reusable cups to fun T-shirts - a perfect holiday memento. 

Coffee has long been an important part of Keegan’s life. “I’ve always had an obsession with coffee,” he laughs. “I slowly learned about where it comes from and the process from farm to cup. I’m from Australia and I worked in an Australian roastery. I was working in London when a friend mentioned she had seen a job posted on Twitter. The job was based on the Isle of Skye, and I thought it sounded great. I did an online interview and got the job! I packed my stuff, flew to Glasgow, bought a car and moved to Skye!” 

The Cuillin Coffee beans come from Brazil, El Salvador and Ethiopia and pervade the coffee with a rich and creamy essence. Keegan says: “We have put a lot of thought into where our coffee comes from, how it’s roasted and how we make the coffee itself to produce a quality, consistent cup. We work closely with a roaster based in Perth, but we provide the roast profile, which means we tell them how we want the coffee to taste. We like our flavours to develop over time. I would describe our coffee  as a bit like a Bakewell slice. It has a ripe, fruity taste, but then a nutty, chocolatey aftertaste! When the beans are roasted, they need at least five days to de-gas and around 7-14 days for the characteristics to fully develop. It’s almost like it’s a living thing - it needs the oxygen to pull the gases out and result in a delicious taste.” 

The idea to combine an outdoor experience with quality coffee came from Iain Langlands, the Financial Director of the MacLeod Estate. “Iain was a roaster, so he knew how good coffee can be and he wanted to bring a quality-focused approach to Skye through the establishment of the Cuillin Coffee brand and ethos,” explains Keegan. 

 

The distinctive, delicious coffee is set to be an attraction for locals and visitors alike. Whether you are staying on the Campsite or simply want to taste a lovingly-made cup of coffee, you will find a warm welcome at the Glenbrittle Campsite cafe and the Cuillin Coffee van at the Fairy Pools car park from 9am to 5pm. 

Green, lost but never forgotten

Nestled just beyond Eynort in western Skye sprawls a pocket of green land, scattered with ruined dwellings. They lie snuggled together, their stones patterned with moss and lichen. The only sound is the whisper of a river and the cry of distant birds. You would never think, from the serenity of the area, that this was once the scene of great tragedy and injustice. 

The location is Tusdale - a place once known as “the capital of Skye.” Around the year 1840, 12 families, who had been living “in comfortable circumstances,” were driven away from their homes to make way for profitable sheep flocks. The area was cleared by tacksmen under the MacLeod landlord, first by Dr Lachlan MacLean and then by Hugh MacCaskill. This period was known as “The Reign Of Terror,” according to evidence given to the Napier Commission in 1883 into landownership by Alexander Mathieson of nearby Carbost. 

The Highland Clearances had a significant impact on Skye. Characterised by the forced displacement of tenants in a given area, the tragedy took place throughout northern Scotland and resulted in many Highlanders emigrating. In the case of Tusdale, the entire glen was utterly depopulated. 

But before that period of turmoil and tragedy, Tusdale must have been an idyllic place to live. The glen is tranquil, shielded by the surrounding hills, a perfect place for families to raise their sheep and cattle. The hundreds of lazy beds and the well-crafted houses tell the stories of a hard-working people. It is easy to imagine them, busily tending their flocks or digging the fields, occasionally pausing to take in their exquisite, ever-changing view of the loch and the distant Isle of Canna. Perhaps some are building, creating themselves a house with thick walls and rounded corners, or collecting water from the two sparkling streams. There might be time to enjoy a meal with their neighbours, exchanging news or stories of the day. This is their home, this peaceful, serene valley, and it feels safe. 

Not a great deal is known about the area, but a fictional account of the Tusdale Clearances can be found in Love And Music Will Endure - a novel by Skye author, Liz Macrae Shaw. The book is based on the life of Màiri Mhòr nan Oran (Great Mary of the Songs), a bard and political campaigner during the 1800’s. Mairi was heavily involved with the struggles of the Highland Land League, a political force involved in fighting for land reform. 

Liz explains her reasons for including Tusdale in the novel, saying: “Living on Skye, Mairi would certainly be very aware of the Clearances. In her poetry she describes the desolation of the deserted townships and the heartache that the evicted people suffered. She writes about coming back to a place and finding all the people gone and just a dog barking. It would be very odd if she hadn’t had a direct experience of the Clearances and, being the sort of person she was, she would have had plenty to say about it!” 

The account of Tusdale’s Clearance in Love And Music Will Endure is made more vivid by the truth interwoven with the fiction. The story of a local woman is brought to life in the book. To ensure her eviction, the tacksmen set a match to her roof. Her winter’s supply of butter and cheese melted and began to run down Cnoc Loisgte (Hillock Of The Burning.) All the families were uprooted from their homes and forced to build their lives all over again. 

Today, on the shore of Loch Eynort, there stands a ruined church and chapel. The walk round the churchyard is like a journey back in time - history
lies literally at your feet. Lichen smothers the gravestones, but the names can still be traced - many of them including MacCaskills and MacLeods - and date from the 1770’s to the 1970’s. 

It’s interesting to ponder what the future of Tusdale would have been had the Clearances not killed the village. Would it have retained its nickname: “the capital of Skye?” The knowledge that Tusdale was once a bustling hub of activity makes its peaceful atmosphere especially poignant. All that remains are the ruins and the lazy beds - a defiant reminder of the period before the Clearances, telling the story of people who fought the land to make their living - and fought so hard that their endeavours remain etched for all to see. 

Feasting on fine food and great views!

Situated in a raised location above the roadside as it slopes down into Uig village, Uig Hotel overlooks Uig Bay with views to hills across Loch Snizort, plus there’s the chance of a walk up the narrow road behind the hotel to the mysterious Fairy Glen, which featured extensively in the Hollywood film Stardust. 

But the best views are from the bedrooms of the separate lodge higher on the hill behind the hotel...and this accommodation has now been modernised to the highest standards. 

These are the latest changes wrought by owners Billy and Anne Harley who took over the Uig Hotel in August 2013. Since then, they have made many improvements, especially to the hotel’s menu aiming to provide “Scottish food with a classical twist. We have a passion for sourcing local produce wherever we can from seafood fresh from Loch Snizort to venison direct from the local gamekeeper.” 

And similar attention to detail has gone into all the work over the winter on the lodge accommodation including modernising the overall look by cladding the exterior in larch. 

Inside there are all new furnishings; all new bath and shower rooms; a fabulous family suite over two rooms sleeping up to five people; high speed fibre internet access in all bedrooms; and new windows and heating as well. 

 

But even Billy and Anne cannot improve on the view of Uig Bay and Loch Snizort from all the bedroom windows! 

Kitchenware add to lure of Jans - along with cafe and wifi!

Photograph and story by Roz Skinner 

Delicious jams, colourful kitchen utensils, special glasses to stop your tears when cutting onions... 

These are some of what’s now available at Jans hardware store in Broom Place, Portree. These items used to be available at the Jans-owned shop, Rona@Home in Wentworth Street, but, since December 2015, they have been integrated into the premises at Jans. 

Director, Donnie Nicolson, explains: “Since 2008, Rona@Home has been specialising in high-end kitchenware and gift ideas. However, customers say it’s good to see the stock relocated to our main store.” 

The new kitchenware section is next to the Red Brick Cafe area – however, the cafe itself is a growing attraction for the hardware store. Good food, fast WiFi and charging points for mobile phones and tablets make the Red Brick Cafe a favourite stop for locals and visitors alike. 

“The WiFi is a massive draw,” admits Donnie. “We have a lot of people come here to do business. And they know they are able to charge their device. The cafe itself has stayed much the same since we first opened, but we are always changing the menu. We are fortunate to have a loyal customer base and we want to keep things fresh for them.” 

Another exciting development is the addition of a new service - confidential shredding. Donnie says: “We will take away your documents and get them shredded and recycled by the company, Simply Shredding. You receive documentation that it has been destroyed correctly. We are incorporating this service to Skye and Lochalsh as well as the Outer Isles. We already have a delivery network of vehicles all over those areas, so we are easily able to collect the documents.” 

One of Jan’s most popular features is their self-storage facilities. “We have 50 containers on site and we looking to expand our self-storage options,” reveals Donnie. “We acquired a big shed at Crossal and our idea is for more self-storage there. The idea would be that you could rent shed space. We will be putting several containers down there, and they will be easy to access by customers from all ends of the island.” 

So, if you are looking for storage space, in search of useful kitchen utensils or simply want a delicious meal and fast WiFi, visit Jans! 

Skye candle power

When businessman, James Robertson, was in primary school, he could often be found melting wax crayons over the radiators. His teachers may not have approved of his exploits, but perhaps this fired James’ love of the candle-making process – ultimately leading him to start the award-winning Isle Of Skye Candle Company!

However, James did not anticipate his career. He reveals: “I grew up in Glasgow and I was accepted to do a course in aeronautical engineering at university. I soon realised it wasn’t for me. I then headed out to Canada, where I became a snowboard instructor. However, that was too seasonal to be a career.

“I had to decide what to do with my life, and that’s when I realised how much I missed Skye! My Mum is from Skye and my Dad is from North Uist, so we used to come up to the islands on holiday. I made the decision to move up to Skye and then looked for work.”

After spotting a gap in the market, James formed the Isle of Skye Candle Company - a career that could combine his penchant for melting wax with a fascination for experimenting with essential oils.

“I worked in the Isle of Skye Soap Company and was intrigued with what they could do with aromatherapy,” James explains. Basing his workshop in a renovated bothy in Braes, James spent two years researching and experimenting. From there, he built up outlets in Broadford, Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews and now also has distributors as far away as Australia!

“Our aim is to make candles that are an affordable luxury, creating the best-quality products at reasonable prices,” James says. “Our goal is to be the biggest natural candle company in the UK. Because all our candles are hand-made, business expansion will create more employment opportunities, which is a big part of my ethos.”

Using evocative fragrances, such as Bohemian Rose, Lemongrass and Pomegranate and Plum, Skye Candles capture the senses and take you on a scented journey. “One of our more unusual combinations is Vanilla and Fig,” says James. “It surprises people that we put those two together, but that is actually one of our best candles!”

Last year, Skye Candles introduced a Scottish Range, capturing Scotland’s most magical and iconic fragrances, such as Scottish Bluebell; Bog Myrtle and Fresh Mint; Heather and Wild Berries; and Raspberry and White Ginger. “The White Ginger isn’t very Scottish, but the Raspberry part is,” laughs James.

Skye Candles favour the use of soya wax (a vegetable wax made from the oil of soya beans) in their candles. “It is completely renewable as well as healthy and toxin-free,” explains James. “It also burns at a lower temperature, which means longer lasting candles, and a better fragrance.”

James outlines the candle-making procedure, saying: “We start off with our flakes of soya wax. Then we add botanical oils to give it better burning properties. We put that in our boiler, heat it to the right temperature, then add premixed oils. We wait for it to cool down, then pour it into a mould.

“Because the process is fairly simple, I often say it’s easy to make a candle, but to make a good candle is pretty difficult! It has to burn properly, have a pleasing fragrance and look good!”

In spite of the company winning “Best New Scottish Company” at the Scottish Variety Awards and the ScotEdge award, James’ dynamic drive means he is never complacent. “We are always working on developments! We will be opening a cafe in Broadford, where Skye Serpentarium used to be,” he reveals.

“I also want to concentrate on exporting our candles throughout the world. The ScotEdge award gave us extra funding to make that happen - so watch this space!”

If you want to spark off a scented adventure, visit the nearest Isle of Skye Candle Company shop or view their website at www.skyecandles.co.uk.

 

It's festival No 25 for arts group

Quality lasts – and, by that mantra, arts producer SEALL definitely has the seal of approval – this year marks SEALL’s 25th birthday!

Since its inception in 1991, SEALL has organised more than 1,000 events and is the force behind The Skye Festival or Fèis an Eilein.

The acronym SEALL is formed from the phrase “Skye Events For All” and is also the Gaelic for “look” or “see” and there are plenty Skye events for all to see!

Director Duncan MacInnes outlines some of the upcoming attractions this year, saying: “The first SEALL event took place in May 1991, so we want to do something special to celebrate this year.

“We aim to have a lot of variety, so we cover just about anything that happens on stage! Our events include traditional and classical music, as well as jazz, blues, opera and folk music. This year, we will have our very first Country and Western concert.” SEALL has also organised theatre events, comedians and literary evenings, bringing international talents to a local audience.

Duncan is one of eight directors, whose aim is to put Skye on the map as an arts destination and to promote the local talent. Duncan says: “We have a number of volunteers, and we are extremely grateful for their support. We also have tremendous help from our part-time administrator, Alison Livingstone.” Most of the SEALL events are held at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Sleat. Events will often be introduced bilingually, giving visitors a taste of Gaelic and the local culture.

The Skye Festival has gradually evolved to a spectacular, two-month long event. Duncan says: “This year features a lot of interesting acts! It will start off with three days of musicians from various Celtic areas. Our main venue, the Gaelic College at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has pulled together people from Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland to celebrate Celtic music. We also have the whole National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, the Scottish

Chamber Orchestra Strings and Blazin’ Fiddles, to name a few.”

The SEALL team work hard to create a welcoming atmosphere for all ages. Duncan explains: “Most of our acts are family-friendly. We want to create a comfortable place for youngsters to come and enjoy the events. Our policy is that all children under 10 get in free. For the last couple of years, we have created links with the puppet animation festivals.”

Duncan sums up the past 25 years saying: “It’s been good fun! It’s great to work with fantastic, supportive people in the community. The whole experience of being involved in SEALL just gives you a buzz. Okay, it’s not much fun pasting posters up at midnight the night before a concert because you’re panicking that no one is going to come, but there are so many fun experiences too! Our first concert this year was on a wet night in early January and we had 65 people attend, so we had a ball.”

To find out what SEALL has in store for the rest of the year, visit www.seall.co.uk and be enthralled by the diverse range of exciting, upcoming events.

 

A plethora of tastes and textures

Words: Fred Silver Photographs: Jan Goris

The extent of the modern food revolution was driven home to me by the wonderful tastes of a meal at Scorrybreac on the second night they were open in Portree this year – Oatmeal crusted crowdie soufflé, with Talisker whisky and honey reduction; Mozzarella

Mille-feuille with roast courgette and aubergine; and Peanut butter fondant with malt ice cream.

Keen readers will note this is a vegetarian choice, and of course, vegetarians, until recent times, were usually offered just pasta and omelettes in many restaurants.

In contrast, this was a truly memorable meal, going straight into my Top Ten, with a plethora

of tastes and textures which, with every mouthful, reminded me what a great pleasure good food can be.

Scorrybreac, which opened in Spring 2015, in the premises that formerly housed the Harbour View restaurant, followed on from a two-year seasonal pop-up project which Calum Munro operated out of his childhood home not far away.

The menu centres on high quality, locally sourced ingredients and

blends tradition and invention in the dishes on the ever-changing menu.

No stranger to high-calibre cuisine having worked in one of Skye’s Michelin-starred restaurants, Kinloch Lodge, and the opulent and demanding environment of an up-market Parisian restaurant, Calum was always keen for his new venture to place the emphasis on the food – and, on the basis of my experience, he has done this successfully.

Hotel transformed

 

Taking guests back to the grandeur and elegance of the late 1920s, with all the comforts and convenience of modern day living, is the aim of Paul and Bette Temming, owners of The Flodigarry Hotel.

Having sold up their house and sailing ship in Holland, the couple took over the former hunting lodge three years ago – and have renovated all the rooms, the restaurant and bar over the winters since then.

The hotel was built in 1985 as a hunting lodge originally. In 1928, it opened as a hotel, and has since been welcoming guests to enjoy a stay in the Jurassic landscapes of north east Skye, with the Fairy Glen, Kilt Rock Waterfall, Old Man of Storr and Quiraing all only around

15 minutes away.

The Flodigarry Hotel boasts 18 rooms in total – 11 in the main house and seven in the neighbouring Flora MacDonald Cottage, where the Uist-born heroine of the Bonnie Prince Charlie story raised five of her seven children.

And all the rooms, bar one, have spectacular sea views across to the Torridon mountains on the mainland.

There are Flagship, Superior, Premier and Attic rooms to choose from, with the 1920s décor throughout the hotel; and in the Cottage, each room is distinctively furnished and decorated in specifically selected colours and historic themes to recreate the Scottish Highlands from centuries past.

And keeping the traditional style, albeit with a modern twist, is an important part of the renovation for Paul and Bette.“We wanted to reflect the history and go back to that 1920s style, which I love,” Bette said. “It’s a style from times after the industrial revolution, a lot of furniture made from wood and steel, what we’d call ‘retro’ now.

“There really is that 1920s feeling about it now, and it’s a style that guests recognise and comment on.”

Another aspect to The Flodigarry that is keeping visitors talking is the hotel’s 50-cover Skye Seafood and Steaks Restaurant.

United by a common vision of showcasing the best of local produce, simply because it is so fabulously good, the relaunched restaurant highlights Paul and Bette’s ‘farm to fork’ philosophy of bringing the best of the Highlands and Islands to their guests’ tables.

“Whenever possible, the finest of local ingredients are showcased, this of course includes the vegetables from our own greenhouse,” said Bette.

“Over the last three years I’ve learned where to source foods from nearby and we invite visitors to come and taste the best Scottish produce – caviar, oysters, coquilles, St Jacques, salmon, langoustines, lobsters, lemon sole, lamb, beef and venison – or sample more and choose an extravagant Skye Seafood Platter or Skye Surf & Turf, with 35-day matured fillet or rump steak accompanied with scallops or langoustines,” she continued.

“Whatever we have, it’s all available within our surroundings. We want to produce international dishes using Scottish sourced ingredients, not Scottish dishes using internationally sourced ingredients. I think that’s what’s different about us.”

For hotel guests, and visitors to the Trotternish peninsula of Skye, the Skye Bar at The Flodigarry – originally the Billiard Room of the 1895-built hunting lodge – offers a delightful rest-stop with food, local ales and fine whiskies, as well as regular live music.

And the hotel’s Lounge and Conservatory present the perfect place for a spot of Afternoon Tea, with breathtaking views looking out to sea towards the Torridon mountains.

“We do find many people come to visit us for the experience of the hotel itself,” said Bette.

“And we’re in the middle of some of the most beautiful places, with the Fairy Glen, Old Man of Storr and the Kilt Rock Waterfall near by.

“It must be one of the most remote locations in Scotland on the north east edge of Skye, but the hotel is a wonderful surprise for guests when they reach the end of the road.”

To find out more about The Flodigarry Hotel, please visit

News about Skye

Portree music event

A SCOTTISH indie band who used Staffin as the setting for their song’s video are to play Portree later this month.
Ayrshire three-piece Fatherson will perform at the Portree Community Centre on Thursday, May 26 during their national tour in support of their new album “Open Book” which is released in June

Chance for car wash

Portree High School's S3 Enterprise class are holding a car wash this Saturday 21st May at 10am, at the High School's bus park.
It will cost £5 for a full outer car wash and polish

Football success

Portree Primary youngsters have made it to a footballing finals.

The local youngsters will take on counterparts from five other schools from across Scotland in this year’s Cuach na Cloinne competition which will take place on June 7.

Set to dock

Portree will tomorrow (Wednesday 18 May) see the arrival of the cruise ship MS Astor bringing upwards of 400 people to the village.

The ship with a crew of 287, is currently taking a west coast of Scotland cruise after leaving Dublin and is set to anchor in the bay between 1400 and 2000.

Built in 1987 and once owned by the Soviet Union’s Black Sea shipping company, the vessel is run by Cruise and Maritime Voyages and operates in Europe, South Africa and Australia.

Bikers top the ton

Five motorcyclist travelling at speeds in excess of 100mph have been caught on roads near Skye.

As part of Police Scotland’s on-going “Operation Zenith2 to drive down speed, the bikers were pulled over on the A890 between Lochcarron and Achnasheen as they travelled way in excess of the 60mph limit.

With hundreds of motorcyclists making their way to Skye every year the new national initiative by the police is intended to have a real impact and stop those driving at inappropriate speeds.

Skye High event

Skye’s starring role in the world of astronomy is further enhanced next week.

Recognised as one of the best places in Europe to view the dark skies, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown will be on the island on Tuesday 24th May to give not one but two talks as an easy to follow introduction.

The event takes place at Sleat’s Sabhal Mor Ostaig with a discussion entitled “Gobsmacking Facts About our Universe” taking place at 2pm. This will be followed in the evening, at 8pm, by “Comets – as harbringers of life and death”

Both events are suitable for 8 year olds and over and are free as part of the Plasma Conference being run by the Institute of Physics at SMO.

Still sailing on, Waverley celebrates 70th off Skye coast

The grand old lady of the sea - ps Waverley – will be celebrating her 70th birthday off the coast of Skye.

The last sea-going paddle steamer in existence was named after Sir Walter Scott’s first novel.

Awards for Island companies

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has congratulated five of the region’s businesses which scooped food ‘oscars’ at the 2015 Scotland Food and Drink Awards on Wednesday 27 May.

The ambitious companies from the Highlands and Islands recognised at the ceremony were: Isle of Skye Sea Salt Co which came first in the Soups, Preserves & Accompaniments category; Golspie Mill which won the Bakery & cereal Based category; The Argyll Smokery which won the Fish & Seafood category; Bruichladdich Distillery & The Agronomy Institute of the University of the Highlands and the Islands which came first in the Innovation category; and the Scottish Salmon Company, who won the Business of the Year category.

 

Knitting together Isle project for new wool mill

Much of the mill's machinery has been completely refurbished by Dana and her team

By Iain A MacSween
Famed for its expertise in producing traditional wooden boats, the small island of Grimsay is bracing itself for the international spotlight once more, following the creation of a new wool mill.
Uist Wool has emerged after several years of development by a group of dedicated volunteers, and although the enterprise will not be fully functional until 2016, already massive steps have been taken in establishing a world class wool mill in the Uists. 
The project is currently managed by Dana Macphee, originally from Crossbost in Lochs, Isle of Lewis.  Dana says the mill is the realisation of a long-held ambition, although one which necessitated a real leap of faith in its potential.
She said: “I did a degree in textiles and in 1989 I heard that Museum nan Eilean were looking for someone to help for about 6 weeks.  I ended up there for two and a half years!”
Dana loved the job so much she studied for another qualification and became a museum curator.  “In 1996, a museums officer post was advertised for Uist and Barra,” she said.
“The plan was to be here for a couple of years then move back to the mainland to continue my museum career but I’m still here. 
“I worked at Museum nan Eilean until 2007, and then I was in Taigh Chearsabhagh for just over three years.”
Plans for establishing a new Mill in Uist started with the Wool Development Group in 2008 and Dana became involved as a volunteer in 2009.  By 2010 the community consultation and feasibility study was completed that fully supported the setting up a wool mill in the area. 
“After that I took a year out to fully dedicate my time for fundraising and filling out forms,” she said.   “Through my work in the museums I had gained a bit of experience at fundraising, doing the invisible work to get projects off the ground.   I really enjoyed it though. 
“It was a leap of faith but I was very lucky to have other people involved who have been great at encouraging me.”
“One of the members of the group had land in Grimsay which was available, and the croft had been part of the Stewart family for many years.  It belonged to the original Grimsay boat builders. 
“So because there was a heritage of boat-building here, we felt a strong motivation to bring industry back to a place that had a traditional connection with a specialist craft. 
“It’s part of a general regeneration for Grimsay and ties in with the existing fishing industry and boat building and repair activities along the road at Kallin Harhour.”
Uist Wool is classed as a community benefit society, and is a registered Scottish charity. 
“That allows us to obtain grant funding for development, educational work, training and such,” said Dana.   “We are allowed then to trade and all profits are ploughed back into the charitable activity.”
Dana found funding from the European Social Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund for the training project CALANAS which started in 2012 and concludes in June this year. 
Over the past three years Uist Wool has offered a range of workshops and short courses designed to develop interest in working with wool and the Mill. 
Part of CALANAS included a placement scheme and the mill currently has three full-time and three part-time Mill Craft Engineer trainees learning about the production process and technical activities associated with running a wool Mill. 
It also currently hosts a short term course in Heritage and Practice in Woollen Textile Production “Those on the short course get paid an allowance, as some are taking time off work,” said Dana.  “The mill placement scheme was open recruitment with a training bursary.”
Uist Wool runs out of three buildings, of which the main unit is the newly-built Mill that houses a combination of heritage and modern machinery which have been sourced from places such as Argyll, Yorkshire and Canada.
The plan is to add a top storey on to the main building later this year, The Wool Centre, which will host an exhibition area and allow customers to buy yarns which have been created downstairs.
“In summer this year we will begin operating as a trading enterprise plus our ongoing charitable activity,” said Dana.   “Once the Wool Centre is complete it will be much easier to host exhibitions, workshops and events and welcome visitors in to see what we do.
“This year is a bit of a transition year, and although I can’t say for certain when building work will start on the top level, I hope it’s in June. 
“When you are merging an annex onto an existing building you have to take the roof off, and we have a lot of machinery that we have spent a lot of time and energy getting into working order. 
“We are conscious that we can’t have the mill running when that work is taking place, but there are other things we can do such as wool grading, etc.  We will still be kept very busy!”
If all goes to plan, work on the building will be complete by late Autumn, with a view to being fully functional for 2016.   “We are very much looking forward to welcoming visitors,” said Dana.
“We hope to develop a programme where people will take part in specialist workshops and get a chance to experiment with local wool, and get the hands-on experience that as knitters, you rarely get.  A lot of people have enquired about that.”
One advantage of a wool mill is the readily available material with which to work.  And Dana says that she intends to make it as attractive as possible for local crofters to supply Uist Wool with plenty of good quality local wool.  “The wool on the sheep grows every year and something has to happen to it,” she said. 
“If we can keep the value here, pay people a bit more than they are getting for their wool at present, then we can convert that into something very desirable.”
The next two years, said Dana, will be ‘all about establishing the Mill and Wool Centre as a productive asset for the local area’
“We are moving from the point of start-up, research and training, from being grant –supported, into earning money, and paying people a realistic living wage,” she said.  “And as well as that we hope to support the local creative industries, not just here, but all over the Outer Hebrides.  There’s great talent all over the islands.”
To get to this point, Uist Wool has had 24 funding applications received favourably, bringing in almost £900,000 of investment to the project.  “I had to do a double-take when I worked that out,” she smiled. 
“If I did a value calculation on the amount of voluntary goodwill we’ve received in that time I’m sure that figure would double.”
And she added, she had a small confession to make.  “I don’t actually knit though I love wool!” she laughed.  “I am a reluctant knitter, but I am absolutely stunned by other people who do knit, as it is such an art.  I’m very lucky to have people around me that do the knitting for me!”

Handmade…with style and Harris Tweed

It’s hard to walk past the window display at By Rosie – a mere glance will tempt you from right across the road to discover the store and workshop where all of the items are produced right there, on site. 
By Rosie goes into its fifth summer, this year, continuing to create beautiful, colourful and contemporary bags, accessories and now the ‘Harris Tweed Hoody,’ all from 100% genuine Harris Tweed cloth produced on the islands.  By Rosie aims to produce top quality, handmade and considered items with flair and original use of design and palette. 
‘Inspired by the colours of the islands’, each piece combines different colours and weaves of the fabulous heritage cloth in unusual and creative combinations. 
This year the product range is bigger than ever, from small accessories such as brooches and make-up bags, to cushion covers and handbags, hoodys and skirts. 
The quirky workshop is always buzzing away, with the wee shop adjacent providing an absolute treat for tweed lovers and supporters of handmade modern craft.

A family history with Harris Tweed woven into it

By Iain A MacSween
They say that if you want to find something truly special, then you have to be willing to spend some time looking.
It’s certainly the case for a special Harris Tweed exhibition in thew village of Drinishader, in Harris, run by Catherine Campbell.
For tucked away in what was once the village school is a display of huge sentimental value, detailing the life and tweeds of the legendary Marion Campbell.
Born in 1909, Marion is remembered as an icon of Harris Tweed weaving.  She first sat at a loom at the tender age of 14.  Before turning 21, she had won a Harris Tweed Association design competition, beating off older more experienced weavers to pick up first prize and a handsome reward of 20 guineas.  Her gift for design and colour ensured this was only the start of Marion’s success and rise to prominence as an exemplar of the craft of Harris Tweed weaving.
What made Marion’s tweeds so special was the fact that she oversaw and conducted the entire process herself, from raising the sheep that provided the wool, spinning and dyeing the yarn for her loom right through to the finished tweed length. 
The one thing that was outwith her personal control was the stamping of her tweeds with the world-famous Orb Mark.  This was the sole preserve of the Harris Tweed Association inspector.
Sixty years after she first started weaving Marion was still making tweeds in the manner of her youth.  During the summer months especially, there was a constant stream of visitors to her loom shed in Plocrapool.  They came from all over the world having seen Marion featured in magazine and newspaper articles or on TV programmes.  In 1987, for example, more than 800 tourists pitched up at her door hoping to see Marion at her loom and buy some Harris Tweed for a tweed jacket or tweed skirt.
In effect, Marion was a one-woman marketing campaign for the Islands, a fact that was recognised not only locally but nationally too.  Her decades as an ambassador for Harris Tweed and the Western Isles earned her a British Empire Medal in the 1985 Queen’s New Year Honours List.  The honour was to mark her lifelong service to the Harris Tweed industry.
Typically, Marion insisted the honour was not for her, but for the whole of Harris and turned down the trip to Buckingham Palace.  Instead, the medal was presented to her in Harris.
Marion continued working in the traditional manner of the Harris Tweed weaver until into her eighties.  She died on January 6, 1996 at the age of 86.
Marion’s nephew Alistair (Mor) Campbell was also a weaver.  Alistair, like his aunt Marion, had an eye for design and together with his wife Katie also provided weaving demonstrations to visitors and bus parties in Ploclapool.  Visitors then had the opportunity to purchase tweed, wool and woollen items on the premises.
Alistair was weaving until the age of 71 but sadly died in November 1995. 
Alistair’s wife Katie and daughter Catherine continued the family tradition but sadly Katie passed away in January 2010.  Catherine says “Sometimes it’s very hard to continue the work without the ones who brought you up to learn, love and live for it.  However if you give up then you give up all that inspired them and yourself.”

Harris Tweed…cloth for stars across the world

By Iain A MacSween
There has been an explosive rebirth of Harris Tweed in recent years.
In the mid 2000’s it really did seem to most that the unique Hebridean cloth was destined for the history books – but, like a phoenix from the ashes, Harris Tweed is today vividly alive.
And across the world, agents of the main producer, Harris Tweed Hebrides, make it their business to sell the product – and they’re doing a grand job of it.
Currently in the USA, Harris Tweed is the ‘in’ fashion garment.  Best-selling author Dan Brown, of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ fame, always has his main protagonist, Robert Langdon, bedecked in a Harris Tweed blazer.  And a recent reboot of Dr Who, with the Time Lord festooned in the Hebridean cloth, has also added to its cultural allure.
But a real spike in interest came when it was revealed that Harris Tweed jackets were actually the unofficial uniform of the CIA when operatives were on overseas missions.  Tony Mendez was involved in the rescue of six Americans hiding in Tehran after the storming of the US embassy in November 1979.  In ‘Argo’, the Oscar-winning film about the rescue, Mendez is played by Ben Affleck, who wore tweed in the movie.
Mendez later revealed Harris Tweed was favoured by US spies during the Cold War.  “The jackets were representative of our group. Those of us in the CIA who did overseas work, work in the field,” he said.
“If you were in the field during the Blitz, you wore a trench coat. If you were tracking Ivan (the Soviet Union and its allies), you had Harris Tweed.”
Similar quirky events have given rise to an increase in profile of Harris Tweed in America.  Who could forget the trainers manufactured by sports behemoth Nike, that were also fashioned from the famous fabric?  In 2004, looking for a way to update a trainer called The Terminator, a basketball shoe from the 1980s, Nike approached Donald John MacKay, a weaver in Luskentyre, in Harris.
After seeing test swatches, Nike ordered nearly 10,000 metres of cloth.  Weavers throughout the Outer Hebrides were called into action to meet the demand, because Mr MacKay could only produce so much in the loom shed behind his house.
Yet, despite the boom in interest from “across the pond”, the United States is not the biggest importer of Harris Tweed today. That credit goes to Germany, Japan, and Korea.
In Germany, Horst Shrotberger has made his lifetime’s living out of promoting tweed there.   Still sprightly at the age of 81, and with no plans for retiring, he is thrilled at the resurgence of Harris Tweed on the global market.
“I got involved in Harris Tweed in 1955 when the oldest Harris Tweed weaver of the day, David Tolmie and Co., asked if I would be their agent,” said Horst. “I’ve spent my working life with international weaving companies selling to clothing manufacturers across Germany.”
Of his country’s attraction to the cloth, he said: “The perception of Harris Tweed here in Germany is that it is a well-known, respected, international brand.  That counts for a lot.”
In Korea, Angel Hwang is the representative for Mik Chung, a Harris Tweed agency based in Suwon.  “Korea loves Harris Tweed! We think it is amazing,” he said.  “I travel often to exhibitions across the world, but a real highlight was visiting the Harris Tweed head office in Scotland.
“Our company has made three books which are on sale in Korea, detailing what Harris Tweed is, and how it can be used.  We are trying to get it used not only in clothes, but in hats, furniture, shoes, etc.  There is so much potential for it. It’s an incredible fabric.”
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Moscato founded Pugliese & Moscato in Italy in 1985.
Based in Florence, he was forced to stop being an agent when Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd. was taken over by Brian Haggas in 2005.
However, following the remarkable rise of Harris Tweed Hebrides, he is now back in the business.  “Italians love British fabrics, and they particularly like Harris Tweed,” he said.
“It is starting to be well-known between the young generations due to the use of Harris Tweed by fashion designers.
“However, it is an expensive product for expensive garments, so that can be off-putting.”
With a concentrated effort now being made to get Harris Tweed into the world’s four fastest growing economies – i.e Brazil, Russia, India and China  - the future looks brighter than ever for the industry.

In Paris with Harris Tweed

By Fred Silver
It’s France, during one of the hottest Septembers on record.  Opposite me on the underground-overground train from the south of Paris to Charles de Gaulle Airport - a full-size train which runs right under the centre of the capital city - a woman passenger tries to cool her face by repeatedly wafting a folded piece of paper. 
Around us, there is nothing but talk of fashion, in English and in French.  Now the train pulls into the international Exhibition Centre station, 45 minutes of standing-room-only journey from the city centre of Paris.
And for thousands of people, this is their destination.  Crowds fill the platform, blocking even the widest stairways, leaving only a tiny handful in each carriage to carry on to the airport.  This is 9.05am, Wednesday September 17, and this is the approach to Première Vision, one of the world’s biggest fashion and textile shows.  
Spread over four vast halls, the show attracts buyers, sellers and visitors from all across the globe. And amidst the thousands of stands, there is Harris Tweed Hebrides, based in tiny and distant Shawbost, but now rallying its agents from three continents to provide an international approach to the multilingual flood of customers coming down each aisle.
Firms producing Harris Tweed from the Isle of Lewis have been attending the event for many years, but 2014 is a unique year, as the Harris Tweed Authority held a special hour-long event for the international media to introduce the background to the cloth, and its unique place in the world of fabric and fashion.
This was held in the extensive and well-appointed Première Vision Press Club on the Mezzanine floor of Hall Six, starting at 5pm on Tuesday, the end of the first day of the event. There was a display of Harris Tweed products and materials, full press packs for each of those attending, and an assortment of nibbles and drinks for those staying on afterwards.
Present were Norman L Macdonald, chairman of the Harris Tweed Authority, and vice-chairman Councillor Alasdair Macleod, along with a variety of other staff from the HTA and HTH.  After a brief introduction in French, Norman L Macdonald proceeded to give a general background to Harris Tweed and the special role of the Orb Mark and the unique Act of Parliament which protects the industry and its rules.
He was followed by Peter Ackroyd, an independent international consultant who is president of the International Wool Textile Organisation and the Global Strategic Advisor for the Woolmark Company in Sydney, Australia.  He is also Vice President of the Strategy Board of Première Vision.   Ackroyd specialises in world markets for woollen and worsted fabrics, and has particular expertise in marketing of yarns and fabrics in Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Korea and China. He has specialist knowledge of the menswear supply chain ‘from farm to fashion’.
Norman L Macdonald drew attention to the relative scale of the Harris Tweed industry…with the entire population of the islands being less than the total number of people at Première Vision that afternoon. There were only nine people per hectare on average. He spoke of Harris Tweed being a high-quality luxury cloth produced by highly skilled artisans working in their own homes.  Around 300 people in total were now employed by the industry.  He outlined the history of the HTA and its work to defend the integrity of the Orb Mark across the world, involving constant legal battles to defend their position.  The unpaid Islanders who make up the board of the Harris Tweed Authority are charged with promoting and protecting the cloth throughout the world.  “It’s a cloth which comes from the land.”
This concept was taken up by Peter Ackroyd who explained he had been involved with Harris Tweed since 1976 when he was in New York in the era when Harris Tweed cloth had a preferential tariff for entering the US market. He said the concept of the cloth coming from the land was well-understood in France with its idea of terroir, linking both land and produce.  Harris Tweed also fitted exceptionally well into modern ideas of fashion, which linked the origin of the cloth with the final product.  In addition, it was exceptionally sustainable and almost carbon-neutral as a product.
He congratulated the industry on its success in tripling output during the recent recession, something which no other part of the textile industry had managed to do, and also on their success in Japan, a market which always looked for high quality in its products.  He pointed out that what he termed ingredient branding had become ever more important since the 1970s, with the cloth used in a product becoming an important way to distinguish it amid international competition.  Harris Tweed was ideally placed to serve this need.  “The market is demanding exactly what you are producing.”
A series of questions followed, from various journalists, including one about whether Harris Tweed could ever become an active fabric, rather than just a fashion brand.  To general amusement, Norman L Macdonald pointed out that aspect had been dealt with long ago  – decades ago explorer and mountaineer W H Tilman had worn Harris Tweed on his Himalayan climbing expeditions while George Mallory, who may have reached the summit of Everest in 1924 before dying on the climb down, had been found still wearing his Harris Tweed suit by an expedition in 1999.

• The Parc des Expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte is a large convention centre located in Villepinte near Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris. The centre opened in 1982 and is the second-largest in France. The centre covers 115 hectares and has 246,000 square metres of convention space in eight halls. The centre is served by the Parc des Expositions station on the RER B railway line.

Chance visit leads to month’s chance to paint in France for artist

 

By Mike Briggs

 

There must be days when Harris artist Margarita Williams wishes the rain and wind would go away so she can get out onto the moors, beaches and hills which inspire her dramatic work.

One such stormy day, however, ended up giving her a bad case of sunburn and also helped her create some stunning paintings.  It is a tale of a lucky chance seized and perfectly illustrates the old adage about ill winds and their tangential benignity.

“I had a party of French visitors in the gallery,” said Margarita.  “They were supposed to be going to St Kilda but the trip was cancelled because of the windy weather.  So they just drove round exploring instead, saw the sign outside and came in.”

The visitors bought one or two small works and were just walking out of the door when one of them turned to Margarita and asked if she had ever considered applying for a place on an annual art residency run by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Association of France, of which the visitors were members.  She said she had not.  They said she should.  And thus it was that Margarita eventually found herself painting away beneath blazing blue skies in the beautiful little town of Collioure on the Mediterranean coast.

Rather too blazing, as it turned out.  “The weather was perfect and I was working ‘en plein air’, but I just wasn’t paying attention and got very sunburned one day,” said Margarita who spent a month in Collioure last May along with fellow Scottish artist George Donald who also won a place on the residency.

The residency was inaugurated by the Association in 2004, on the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, and is designed as a retreat for two commercially and artistically recognized Scottish artists to get away from everyday pressures and lose themselves in their art while exploring the novel stimuli of rural maritime France.

“It was a working holiday,” said Margarita, who lives and works in Quidinish, where she was born.  “I worked hard and have a full sketchbook and about 15 finished pieces to show for it.  One of the aims of the retreat is to allow you to explore new directions in a different setting but as I began learning more about the area it struck me how many parallels there were with home.

“There was the sea, of course, and the mountains, although both had a completely different character from the islands.  But also it is a traditionally rural economy which was once dominated by anchovy fishing, as ours was by herring, and which declined as larger foreign boats moved in.  Then, the people in that region, which is right on the Spanish border, have their own Catalan language in the same way we have Gaelic, which is my own native tongue.  And even the worked land with the furrows and ridges of the vineyards, reminded me of the patterns made by lazybeds.  There were a lot of echoes.”

Margarita has captured this slightly familiar unfamiliarity in a collection of pictures, mostly watercolours, which vibrate with Gallic (and Gaelic) energy and take the viewer deep into the warmth and richness of the ancient mediaeval county of Roussillon (or Northern Catalonia, as the Catalan speakers refer to it), which has entranced artists over the years.  She was following in the footsteps of Matisse, Derain and Picasso as well as Mackintosh himself, who spent four years in the area with his wife Margaret MacDonald before his death in 1928.

Sadly, because of loss of financial support from Creative Arts Scotland and other local political difficulties, the artists’ retreat will not be running this year and might well end altogether, which means Margarita and George Donald would be the last to benefit from an inspirational and productive initiative.

“It would be a great shame if we were the last,” said Margarita, “because it was a wonderful experience and a trigger for a whole range of work I now want to do, including etching which is new to me.”

Some of Margarita’s work from the Collioure retreat, along with her home-grown output which includes mixed-media and some ethereal Japanese woodblock prints, is now on show at the Holmasaig Gallery in Quidinish, which she opened in 2009 after deciding to quit teaching and become a full-time artist.  The decision has proved a success with sales last year reaching a new high and some of her work going on show at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

The gallery is open from open from April to October but for those who don’t get a chance to drop by, much of the artwork is available to view online at www.holmasaiggallery.com.

On-line booking warning about Tarbert, Harris

Travellers booking accommodation online for Tarbert, Harris, are being asked to take care that they are not booking hotels in Tarbert, Argyll.
Staff at the Tarbert VisitScotland office report that a number of tourists intending to stay in the Harris port have booked hotel accommodation in the town’s mainland namesake after making reservations online.
Carol at the Harris office said: “Some of the people are left devastated. They come in, tell us the name of the hotel and that it overlooks the harbour and ask how to get there – but the hotel they’ve booked is actually on Loch Fyne.
“People do intend to come here, but are booking it just not realising that it’s not in Harris,” she continued.
“We try to find them something suitable here, do our best to get people relocated. We let the provider know there’s been a mistake and also let the other hotel know; but sometimes people aren’t able to get their money back."
Taking a quick look at a variety of online booking websites and the confusion is clear. Put ‘Tarbert’ into Google search engine,  it’s a scroll down to entry No.8 before Harris is mentioned.
Booking site Laterooms.com will take visitors to Loch Fyne when searching for Tarbert, but will bring up Hotel Hebrides if the search is refined to ‘Tarbert, Harris’.
Gosur.com will also take searches to hotels in the Loch Fyne area – even if the search is refined to include Harris; and Lastminute.com also goes direct to Loch Fyne accommodation – and adding Harris ends up in  the search timing out.
Booking.com manages slightly better, giving different options of Tarberts – however, even then it’s not quite right as to book island accommodation, visitors must select ‘Tarbert, Isle of Lewis’.
“It’s nobody’s fault but people do have to be careful when booking online,” added Carol.