I recently returned from the beautiful Islands of Scotland, having completed the final checks for our needlework retreat beginning in a few days. This was the last of three trips we have made over the past year to make sure everything is in order and expectations are met for our small group of needlework enthusiasts when they arrive on Tuesday. It seems like an age ago that we first started building this itinerary and I am quite thrilled by what we have in store most of which we have kept a secret until now.
As I made my way around the Western Isles with Richard, I took some notes to share with those who can't be with us the delights of this cherished country. Although a border is drawn between Scotland and England, Scotland is a country loved by all, particularly those of us who live just south of said border like me! I am so grateful for any opportunity I have to visit Scotland and urge those who can to do so too. It is most definitely worth the trip.
When I travel I always seem to have something urgent to finish stitching before I leave and this time it's a wonderful Arts & Crafts piece I am teaching at BATB in 2020. The subtle browns, greens and purples of the mossy, heather laden Scottish mountains go perfectly with my wools.
Our trip will begin in Edinburgh and we will travel north towards the Highlands but here I want to reveal a little about the last part of the trip, when we head over to the Western Isles.
I am particularly excited about taking our group to the little harbour town of Portree, on the Isle of Skye. Apart from being laden with history, this capital of the Island is a perfect mix of upmarket restaurants and good quality textiles shops, locally made and only available there. Although I like to think I'm all about the needlework, I am still seriously partial to a serious shopping opportunity.
Another exciting part of the journey on this side of the country will be catching the 'Harry Potter' train from Mallaig to Fort William. This train is known as ‘The Jacobite’ and it was famously featured in the Harry Potter films. When I told Laura I had put this in the itinerary she couldn't quite believe it and seriously considered putting the kids in to summer camp so she join us.
Our coach driver meanwhile will go the long way around the Highlands with our suitcases and will meet us in Fort William to drive us the final leg to our last hotel in Oban. One of the many advantages of specialist group travel is that we can leave all that junk on the coach!
One of the four classically Scottish hotels (by that I mean great hospitality and tartan everywhere) we will be staying in is the Perle Oban. This is a characterful hotel just a two-minute walk from the ferry which takes us to the Isle of Mull and Iona.
After an hour on the ferry to Mull, we drove across the Island to our next ferry to Iona. Apart from the famous Abbey, Iona’s beautiful light gives the sea a perfect turquoise colour in the sunshine. There are charming, cafes, shops and stunning coves and beaches.
Before leaving Oban, we visit Dunollie Castle, which is one of many castles we visit en route. My crewel design is based on the blue bed hangings at the castle, which will be revealed along with Meredith's Dunollie design very soon!
Checking everything on a tour in the last few months before our retreat is such a useful exercise. We find out the details of where we can find the current best cup of coffee, where for example the lovely sweater shop has gone in Mallaig (it has now been replaced by an even lovelier Highland co-op gift shop in case you were wondering)
We try to add in little treats en route as we remember all the extra bits and pieces we wanted to include but would have never remembered if we hadn't made the trip to check. Like on the final day we have managed to fit in meeting old friends Liz and Graham who run Heartfelt Studio at Dalmally Station. They restored and converted this former Victorian railway ticket office and into workshops and a meeting places for textile enthusiasts from far and wide. I'm not going to reveal yet what we will do there but it is an ancient custom associated with wool. We will take part in an ancient wool custom that only takes place once a year and I can't wait!
On returning to Edinburgh I am so excited about our retreat and returning to all of these places and so many more with Meredith and our guests.
Travel well ladies and bring your stitching fingers!