Filled with as many colours as a Malcolm Mowat’s handmade worsted wool scarf, the meadows of Scotland are a natural wonder that is best seen between June and September. At this time of year the meadows of Scotland are drawing towards the end of their Summer show, but they are still filled with flowers and seed heads of all shapes and sizes. Until they are cut in early October, they also continue to provide shelter to a host of animals.
Scottish meadows come in five main varieties. You get wet meadows, dry meadows, woodland meadows, Highland grassland meadows and coastal meadows.
Beinn Ghobhlach is a spectacular mountain.
In the picture below you can just see how the light skims across the heather moorland in the surrounding landscape; taken as a whole, the image seems to show a gentle scene. This gives one the (dangerously misleading) feeling that anyone can just walk across the hills with little or no preparation. This has proved in the past to be a fatal mistake.
One can only imagine what this home would have been like to live in during a massive storm. From experience I know that the wind howls up the loch so the thought of living spitting distance from the sea is quite something.
The Slaggan scarf is named after a very special and remote sprinkling of ruins in Wester Ross. It is accessed down a long track. It is a common myth that this track is not navigable in anything other than a 4x4. In truth, as long as you are not in a 200mph supercar, you will find the track easy to drive on. Just take the pace steady and avoid the potholes and you’ll be fine. It really isn’t that bad.
On the way down the track you will pass numerous little lochs. These all contain superb little brown trout which peak at about 7oz in weight. Please remember, though, that if you want to fish them then you must – must – have the landowner’s permission.
Almost invariably you will encounter a beautiful herd of Highland cows which have been grazing the area for a good few years now. If they have calves near them then stay out of their way otherwise you may find yourself running for cover; not an easy task in a virtually treeless landscape!
Once you arrive you will immediately be struck by two gable ends rising up out of a flat patch of bog; an incessant reminder that humans have found this area to be too tough to live in. These gable ends are all that remains of a croft built in 1936 which burnt to the ground only a short time later in 1942.
The beach at the end of the track is your reward for your efforts. It has white sand which is stunning, but unfortunately due to the position of the beach it is covered in rubbish of all sorts. The seals don’t seem to mind this, though, and you will often see twenty bobbing up and down in the U shaped bay. After this fire Slaggan became uninhabited.
Another common myth states that Slaggan became depopulated because of the clearances. This happens because people who are ignorant about Scottish history attribute every ruin they see to be the work of ‘evil/ undemocratic/ elite/ greedy/ selfish’ landowners. They are usually embittered SNP supporters who take Braveheart to be gospel and, ironically, ignore the local truth.
In the case of Slaggan, war and a lack of jobs were the primary reasons behind the depopulation.
In the last decade some native tree planting has occurred. Birches, rowans and Scot’s pine have all been planted and at least some of them are taking.
Finally, I must say that the jewel in the crown of this area can be seen at sunset. Due to the position of the beach the sun sets smack bang in the middle of the horizon. It is a truly majestic site.
Our Slaggan worsted wool scarf can be worn by men and women and it is extremely good value at £35. It contains dark blues, greens, blacks and yellows. The compliments this gets have to be heard to be believed. People just fall in love with it. I sincerely hope you will too.
It is available to purchase here: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/products/slaggan-scarfThank you for taking the time to read this post.
The Malcolm Mowat’s Gruinard scarf is named after Gruinard Island which is located in Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross, Scotland. Given the islands seemingly remote location it has a scarcely believable history involving biological warfare.
In 1942 British military scientists working near Salisbury decided to test out the effectiveness of anthrax as a biological weapon when dispersed with explosives. They also wanted to see how vulnerable British forces would be if Germany decided to launch a similar attack against them. These scientists knew from past experiences that testing anthrax on any land would render that land unsafe for many years, so they needed a remote location where no people lived.
Gruinard Island, being uninhabited, was seen to be a good spot for trials so the British Government bought it outright from the owners. The other advantage the wider area had was that it was very sparsely populated and only contained a few small communities which meant that spies would find it almost impossible to blend into the area.
So now that the scientists had a deadly strain of anthrax (Vollum 14578) and an uninhabited island they now needed to formulate an experiment. They ultimately decided that the best way to test the anthrax was with sheep so they took about 80 local sheep to the island, tied them to posts in small groups and proceeded to set off small bombs filled with anthrax spores nearby. Over the course of the next few days all the sheep died. The conclusion was worrying; that anthrax was tough enough to be dispersed with explosives and remain deadly.
Some of the dead sheep were burnt whilst others, it seems, were taken to the base of a cliff on the island. The cliff was then blown up – the idea being that the sheep would be buried under thousands of tonnes of rock. What actually happened was that some of the sheep were blown out into the sea. It is said that as these few sheep washed up on the mainland that nearby cows died.
To avoid panic and press, the official story was that some Greek sailors had tossed some diseased sheep overboard. The British government then reimbursed the crofters, whose sheep they were, on behalf of the Greek government.
What makes this story even more fascinating - or scandalous, perhaps - is that the island is not actually that remote at all. In fact, people live on the mainland on all three sides of Gruinard Bay. The island is not far from the mainland, either. At its nearest point it’s only c. 900 metres from shore. When you consider that anthrax can easily be carried by the wind and that this area is particularly windy, the whole operation begins to look almost farcical.
In 1986 there was a major attempt to rid the island of anthrax. This operation lasted until 1990 and involved the removal of topsoil, controlled fires, hundreds of tonnes of formaldehyde and more tests on animals to make sure that the island was safe. In 1990 it was declared safe and the original owners bought it back from the government for £500.
Even now, though, many doubt that the island is truly safe based on evidence elsewhere in the world which clearly show that deadly anthrax spores can survive for hundreds of years underground. As a result it remains uninhabited and it is only very rarely visited by curious boat owners.
The silver lining to this story is that the same military research facility, in 2001, produced an anthrax vaccine.
Many of you will have seen heather in the background of the pictures present on our website and on our Flickr page. Scotland’s purple covered hills are deservedly iconic and they are best experienced between August and September. Here are some facts, uses and stories involving heather.
Heather was once commonly used for bedding as a mattress could be constructed easily from great bundles of it. It has also been used for brooms and thatching material. Osgood Mackenzie – who wrote the book A Hundred Years in the Highlands – noted that heather has also been used as an improvised sieve. He stated that:
“There was a big pot hanging by a chain over the peaty fire, and a creel heaped up with short heather, which the women tear up by the roots and with which they bed the cows. The wife took an armful of this heather and deposited it at the feet of the nearest cow ... to form a drainer. Then, lifting the pot off the fire, she emptied it on to the heather; the hot water disappeared and ran away among the cow's legs, but the content of the pot consisting of potatoes and fish boiled together, remained on top of the heather. Then from a very black looking bed three stark naked boys arose one by one, aged, I should say, from six to ten years, and made for the fish and potatoes, each youngster carrying off as much as both his hands could contain.”
Heather has been used to flavour beer in Scotland since 2000 BC. It gives the beer a very floral and fresh taste and it can still be purchased easily today. The entrances to hidden caves where whisky was illegally made were nearly always hidden by heather covered doors (heather was used because it has a very shallow root system). This meant that the entrances to these illegal distilleries became virtually invisible.
Bees which are bred in a heather covered area create a very distinctive honey. This honey has a particularly strong taste and it also has an unusual jelly like texture until stirred.
Heather has traditionally been seen to be lucky. Many parents will give their children sprigs of heather just before big exams or place bits of white heather in bridal bouquets, for example. Despite the fact that heather is truly abundant in Scotland, many unsuspecting tourists will often be sold tiny bunches of it for £2 a pop!
In the coming months we will be expanding our product range. Some of our new lightweight worsted wool scarves have a purple in them which is very evocative of the heather covered hills in Summer. We are sure that you will enjoy them. Our current range of handmade scarves can be purchased here: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/collections/all
Merino wool comes from Merino sheep.
The Merino is generally regarded as having the finest fleece of any sheep. The wool, both on and off the sheep, is extremely soft and fine. To give you an idea of just how fine it is, one Merino hair is about 10 times thinner than a human hair. In some countries, like South Africa, it is also bred for its meat.
As the wool is incredibly fine it is very well suited for ‘blending’; the process whereby other materials like cashmere are added to it for extra softness. However, Merino wool on its own has many unexpected useful properties. For instance, did you know that it is especially good in scarf form against the skin because it provides some warmth whilst not allowing the wearer to get too hot? This is because of a natural process called ‘wicking’ where the wool draws sweat away from the skin. Thus the sweat evaporates quickly, the material doesn’t become wet and the wearer doesn’t get too hot. This property means that Merino wool is often used in the very finest sports clothing.
People seem to enjoy the weight of our spring scarves. They are very light and thin. However, using Merino means that the warmth factor is not compromised. This is because it has an exceptionally impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. You’ll notice in other stores that sell things like cotton scarves that many of the scarves on sale are almost comically thick. You see people walking down the street wearing these looking as though they have a sleeping bag wrapped round their neck! It’s not an effective or sensible way of making clothing.
So in summary, Merino sheep are little woollen miracles. As a result, they often fetch absurd amounts of money at auctions. In 1988, for example, a Merino ram sold in Australia for just over £300,000. £300,000! Incidentally, Australia also happens to produce about 80% of the world’s Merino wool.