Thursday, July 11, 2013

In Which Much Yarn is Spun and Tamzin Takes a Dip

It's been extraordinarily hot here in West Cork over the past couple of weeks.  OK, not such soaring temperatures as you get in Texas or SoCal, but well above anything we are used to.  And it doesn't cool down much at night which is tiring when you don't have air conditioning.  Don't have air conditioning, I hear you shriek? Listen, for about 99 years out of a century, air conditioning in Ireland would be a bit like an ice-making machine in Alaska.  Getting enough wood dry to keep the stove going is a more usual concern.  But this summer is very different.  Never thought I'd be yearning for the soft dampness after rain, the misty clouds on the hilltops, but I am.  Can't feel comfortable with pitiless clear blue skies day after day.

Ah well, doubtless it will change back to the old style soon enough.  In the meantime, spare a thought for those exhausted cyclists slogging up the Pyrenees and the Alps during the Tour de France.  I've been thinking about them quite a lot more than usual, because this is also the season of the Tour de Fleece on Ravelry.  You know how 'spinning' is the term for creating yarn out of fleece, and it's also now commonly used as a description of stationary cycling in a fitness centre?  Well somebody linked those two together and in Tour de Fleece you spin every day that the competitors are cycling, take rest days when they do, and on the most challenging day of the Tour de France (I think it's Day 18, coming up soon, when they tackle the frightening fastnesses of the unforgiving Alps) you are supposed to take on a challenge of your own - spin straw into gold, create ultra-fine silken yarn out of a hog's ear, something like that.

My chosen fibre was a beautiful soft grey Gotland roving which I had bought ages ago from World of Wool in Yorkshire, on hearing that the creators of the Lord of the Rings movies had insisted only that fleece would do to create the grey Elven cloaks worn by Frodo and his friends on their adventures.  Who could resist spinning a magical yarn like that?  And, having spun some, it seemed entirely natural to start knitting with it - a Mithril Vest to protect the wearer from dangerous dragons and evil Black Riders.  Here you can see some bobbins of just-spun yarn on the Haldane Orkney, together with some balls of yarn wound up, and the start of the vest.  The idea is to get it all done in perfect timing with the finale of the Tour de France in Paris.

 Also had a go at spinning silk,  Finally twigged that you need a very light hand indeed to spin such a slippery fine fibre, so hauled out the lightest spindle in my collection.

It didn't do too badly.  Made quite a respectable skein of about 40 yds or so.  Only another 5 or so of those, and I just might be able to make a tiny neck scarf!  But hey, I did it!

Actually it's quite fun getting yarn spun and plied, winding skeins, washing them and hanging them out to dry in this fine weather.  But by yesterday it was definitely time for a bit of a break.  Somewhere with water, please!

Eagle Rock - Sliabh an Iolar - on Killarney's Upper Lake.  This canoeist had the right idea, paddling through the calm clear water without the slightest ruffle of a breeze.

The dogs had been suffering a bit in the heat, so it was time for a dip.  Sophy is well used to it, and lost no time in finding a nice shallow spot and lying down with a sigh of satisfaction.  Tamzin was very nervous, but once she had been firmly placed in a safe spot with cool water lapping around her knees, she gradually relaxed and sank down, her eyes widening with surprise as the water cooled her hot little tummy.  Had a job getting them out of there!

And then we sat in the shade of the trees near Lord Brandon's Cottage, once a decorative little place for the gentry to be rowed up to for picnics from the great houses of Killarney, now a very pleasant cafe.

We did have a mission.  Hadn't been to see the Kissane sheep farm for a couple of years and wanted to see that they were OK and managing in this unpredictable weather we've been having for the last while.  John was in good form, demonstrating sheep herding (or shepherding) to visitors with the help of his able team of dogs. I love hearing his calls and cries of guidance which go back into the mists of time.  'Come bye, come bye!  Go left, go left, go left! Look back, look back, look back!'  And the dogs double and turn and run and round up the sheep and drive them in exactly the direction they are told to.  How long does it take to train a good sheep dog?  Years.  And you might pay a lot for a good one, says John, and then find that it will never do.  'It might be fine for cattle, but no good at all with sheep.  You just can't tell until you work them.'

John's son, Sean, a sturdy five-year-old, wanted to show us his rescue pony.  What was his name, we asked?  'Sweet horse' said Sean firmly.  And went off to help his Dad in the Adopt a Sheep department which was proving very popular with visitors.  Just imagine, you could go home to your own part of the world, knowing that there was a little Irish sheep living in the depths of the Kerry mountains who belonged to you!.  It's also a practical idea, attracting tourism and enabling sheep farming to continue here in the face of ever rising costs and overseas competition.

Here is one of the sheepdogs trudging back up the hill after a quick trip to the stream for a drink.  Not a bad place for a dog to live - with Magillicuddy's Reeks and the Black Valley stretching for miles, and nothing to be heard but the baa of a sheep or the call of a raven overhead.  A peaceful life indeed.  Even if he does have a demanding day job.