Tuesday, 15 July 2008
The loveliest yarn shop in the world?
Just south of Ullswater, or at the bottom of the Kirkstone Pass if you're coming from the south Lakes, sits Crookabeck Farm. Hidden off the A592, across a little stone-and-metal bridge over a stream and down a bumpy track, Crookabeck Farm is home to the redoubtable Mary and her family, flocks of Angora goats and Herdwick sheep, and studio and shop (and, I've discovered, a holiday cottage!).
And what a shop. Not everything Mary sells is from her own animals, but all of it is British, mostly yarn spun in Wales from the fleece of sheep grazed in Cumbria, and without exception everything in the shop is awe-inspiring. It took me about fifteen minutes just to decide what I wanted to look at again. From wiry, robust Herdwick and Swaledale aran-weight to lofty, downy, Bluefaced Leicester spun from Hogg fleece and silky, fluffy Finn kid mohair, the selection is incredible. Most of it is undyed, but Mary dyes some of it into vibrant skeins, often sold with a co-ordinating boucle, as well as shawl- and hat- kits, and mohair socks. Crookabeck also sells Herdwick rugs and blankets, cashmere lace shawls and mounds of tops which made me long to spin. Mary wasn't very well when we went to visit so I didn't ask to see the goats. Hopefully we'll be back soon, though!
Crookabeck Herdwicks grazing in front of the shop
I found it by accident, almost. Knitmap. Have you seen it? I just googled 'yarn shop Cumbria' the night before we set off, and lots of the links were to entries on Knitmap. A word of warning. I'm not sure why, but the phone numbers for both Crookabeck and Woolclip were missing the final digit, so if you're going to use a Knitmap entry, it's worth checking the details before you save the page on your laptop and merrily go away to somewhere you won't have internet access. Luckily my dear ma looked them up for me so I was able to call and ask them when they were open. Woolclip, for example, says it closes at 4 pm but is in fact open 'til 5 pm in the summer, and since Crookabeck is Mary's home it's a good idea to ring before you go.
View back to Ullswater from the bumpy track
The other contender for the title is Woolclip, the other stop on our day 'woolling', as Deri put it. Set up in 2001 by a group including the late Carolyn Rawlinson whose idea Woolfest was, in reaction to the low price being offered for wool, notably 2p per kg of Herdwick fleece, in the middle of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the Woolclip is a co-operative of fifteen women involved in the fibre arts. Members of Woolclip organise Woolfest, and their collective shop is set in Caldbeck, a charming fell village just north of the Lake District national park (and when I say 'charming', we were charmed. D noticed a GP practice there, and has been audibly thinking that it might be very nice to live and work there ever since).
Visiting Woolclip wasn't just fun because they have lots of nice yarn (and rugs. In my flat-in-the-sky, I've a rug by Chris Crofts on each side of the bed, and another huge one in front of the sofa). It was heartwarming, uplifiting and inspiring. I have since (cough cough) rung to order some more yarn by post, and to ask questions, and without exception everyone I've spoken to has been warm and exremely helpful, but I feel particularly privileged to have met Cecilia. She answered questions I never knew I had, taught me more about yarn in a few short hours than I learned in a year of knitting, and introduced me to a panoply of ideas, books and blogs and other yarn shops, and people. We stayed chatting 'til way past closing (and feeding-time for her poor goats! Sorry goats), sitting on a pile of Chris's rugs.
I would have been happy to come away with any or all of the yarn from either shop, and have since been ringing to find out what this particular yarn was or that so that I can jot them down for future projects, because of course I forgot to take anything useful like a notebook. This is eventually what I bought after much dithering.
... DK Jacob Wool
... 4 ply worsted-spun kid mohair
and from Woolclip:
... Herdwick rug wool dyed by Chris Crofts
... and Cecilia's handpun, Gotland and Bluefaced leicester.
The rest of the holiday was good, too. It rained quite a lot so we didn’t walk as much as we’d hoped (city slickers that we are, we didn’t feel quite brave enough to strike out in threatening storms), but I read a bit, knitted some, cooked lots of recipes I’d been wanting to try for ages, met up with old friends and spent time with the boy.
Ullswater with sheep and feeding lamb, from atop Arnside Crag
Sweet and too short.