It seemed only fitting that the first HGC blog post on our shiny new platform be about something inspirational and what better to look at than our group trip to Kilkenny.
I say group, but as is often the case we these things, not every member was able to join us for our overnight stay. Rest assured, those of us that did go, were sure to soak up enough of the atmosphere to share among all of the members.
Whilst in the discussion stage, Kilkenny was suggested as an ideal location to visit because of the number of wonderful places to visit. No fibre lovers’ trip to the county would be complete without calling to Cushendale Woollen Mills, equally exciting was the chance to visit Zwartbles Ireland.
Our planned excursion to Kilkenny was the first overnight trip the guild has planned on for several years now and preparation was key. Heather, located the lovely Brandon View House at the foot of the Blackstairs Mountains, for us to stay and put together a fantastic itinerary so we could pack as much into our time away as possible.
With several of us travelling from different parts of the South East, we only had time to freshen up a little before heading to the Waterside Restaurant in Graiguenamanagh for our dinner. There’s nothing like good food to aid conversation and we paused only to make our way back to the guesthouse before resuming our conversations in the lounge until after midnight.
Well breakfasted, we said our thanks and goodbyes to Helen our amazing hostess and headed in procession to Cushendale Woollen Mills under the lovely warm glow of the Springtime sun. Roadworks meant, we were able to take in a little more of the scenery than you would do usually, but having arrived, we parked and headed into the Mill Shop.
If fibre is your thing and your fortunate enough to be in the area, a tour of Cushendale Woollen Mills is well worth the money. Run by Phillip Cushen and his wife Mary the mill has been in the Cushen family since 1773, although the mills’ history goes back further to the 13th century.
Despite it being a Saturday morning, Phillip took us on a journey through the history of the mill and the steps in the production process from fibre to yarn. We were treated to a demonstration of each of the machines on the floor, including The Mule, which dates back to 1890 and was installed by Phillip’s father in the 1920’s.
If you’d like to read more about Cushendale Woollen Mills, Olann and wrote an article about it in their December 2016 issue.
As we would be passing Nicholas Mosse Pottery in Bennetsbridge on our way to Zwartbles Ireland in the afternoon, the café seemed like the obvious choice for a spot of lunch. Given a little longer, we’d have probably taken a walk along the river, however, we were too interested in the delicious array of salads and tempting cakes. Can I take a minute here to recommend the little Jam and Almond Bakewell Tarts if you’re ever lucky enough to visit.
With full stomachs and the sun shining high in the sky, we made our way to Zwartbles Ireland, owned and run by Shepherdess Suzanna Crampton.
Greeted by Inca and Bear, two of Suzanna’s dogs we spent the most idyllic couple of hours in the company of Suzanna, her Zwartbles Sheep, their lambs and a couple of her Alpacas. Little Bit, an orphan lamb, followed Suzanna around wherever she went and was her constant companion whilst we were there.
Suzanna has converted one of the outbuildings on the farm into an education space and had taken the time to light a welcoming turf fire. Through the different exhibits, Suzanna explains all about the sheep, their characteristics and the process from fibre to yarn. Her enthusiasm for the Zwartbles breed is obvious and she is a great champion for them both in person and online and she is a great champion for them both in person and online, where she has amassed a huge following. People from all over the world follow Suzanna, her sheep and other animals, regular updates and as a result, some have included a stop at the farm when they visit Ireland.
The sheep themselves are fascinating, with their dark chocolate fleeces white blaze on their nose and two or four white socks.
Suzanna gathers the fleeces from her sheep and those of other Zwartbles Shepherds and sends it to Phillip at the Cushendale Woollen Mills. There it is processed, with the majority of it being made into blankets which echo the distinctive markings of the Zwartbles Sheep. A limited amount of the wool is kept as yarn for hand knitters, which is available to purchase directly from the Zwartbles Ireland website.
An invitation from Suzanna to pick our very own bunch of Daffodils from the twenty varieties growing on the farm was a very unexpected bonus
Of course, our group includes several spinners, so it goes without saying that a couple of fleeces were purchased on the day. As were a couple of hanks of the beautiful rich brown, alpaca yarn which comes from Suzanna’s alpacas.
To find out more about Suzanna and how her Zwartbles story has evolved, pop over to the article that appeared in the September 2016 issue of Olann and here.
(Photos used with kind permission by Frances and Leftfootdaisy)