Posted by: christinelaennec | August 8, 2010

Isle of Harris 2: tweed and the South Harris Show

As I mentioned, we were blessed with a number of visitors during our week in Harris.  The first of these were dear friends from Benbecula, one of the islands to the south of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  These friends first welcomed me to their home in 1994, and very patiently taught me a great deal of Gaelic.  They have since had our family to stay many times, and so it’s always a pleasure to be able to show them some hospitality in return.  One of the things we did together was to go visit Donald John MacKay, the weaver in Luskentyre.

Donald John MacKay, weaver and owner (with his wife Maureen) of the Luskentyre Harris Tweed Company

Donald works out of his weaving shed next to his house, and welcomes interruptions from visitors with such courtesy and friendliness that you always feel he’s happy to see you.  He has always spoken Gaelic with us and the children, which is great.  He’s a very down-to-earth guy, but must have quite the entrepreneurial spirit, because he has had several contracts with Nike for his tweed over the last few years.  The day we visited him he was weaving the most magical tweed out of heathered green (warp) and a vivid purple (weft).  The result was a fabric whose colour seemed to combine the two as if they had been liquids rather than solids:

What Donald John was weaving - end of July, 2010

We couldn’t fail to notice a photocopy of Donald John’s invitation to the garden party at Buckingham Palace in June – and we all forgot to ask him about it!  Perhaps he goes every year?  Our friends wondered whether he might not weave for the royal family.  It wouldn’t surprise me, but the nice thing is that he would care just as much that you were happy with his tweed.  He loves his craft, and told us he generally weaves 10 hours a day to fill all his orders.  Across from his house was a wee foal and its mother:

Horse and foal in Luskentyre

Donald John’s house and weaving shed looks out across this field to the wide estuary between Luskentyre and the township of Seilebost (pron. Sheh-le-bost) on the other side.  As the waters come in and out of the estuary the colours change rapidly, often producing the most stunning aquas and turquoises.  On this day, you could barely discern the water and sand through the mist.  But you can see that Donald John has plenty of inspiration on his doorstep for his designs.

Tuesday was the South Harris Agricultural Show, which took place in Leverburgh – the other town in Harris apart from Tarbert.  (“Town” is perhaps misleading – they’re villages, really.)  Our Benbecula friends were going back home on the afternoon ferry, so we all visited the Show first.  That morning all of the Western Isles had been without electricity for three hours, so things were a bit late in starting, and they hadn’t finished the judging by opening time.  The weather was variable, you might say.

Building a tractor at the South Harris Agricultural Show - note approaching cloud!

Within two minutes of taking this photo, the rain was upon us.  The sheep judging (a very undignified procedure for the sheep) continued regardless:

Judging the sheep continues in a downpour (you can see the rain against the folks on the far left). I thought the judge's shepherd's crook was beautiful.

The sheep didn’t care about the rain, and those involved in the judging had no choice, but everyone else rushed inside the school to look at the indoor displays.

Part of the baking competitions, which filled an entire room

I believe what we are looking at here is Section H – Baking:  1) 4 oatcakes; 2) 4 griddle scones; 3) 4 oven scones; 4) 4 treacle scones; 5) 4 pancakes.  It’s good to see that the judges don’t go by looks alone!

The fruits and vegetables were in another room, and were pure poetry.

The potato sections of the Fruit and Vegetables competition

I think the beautiful produce offsets the children’s artwork perfectly.  There is something very satisfying about the fact that children in the Outer Hebrides are studying Henry Moore, and participating in the Edinburgh Fringe.  My most favourite exhibit of all was this one:

An entry in the "3 stems pansies" category

It was time to say goodbye to our friends, and guess what – the sun came out!  When that happens, you feel as if it never had rained.

The ferry terminal in Leverburgh, looking across to North Uist

The rain came down again later that afternoon, but later in the week we had a perfect day.  I’ll tell you about that in my next Harris post!


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