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Scottish Borders launches new textile trail

Other posts by  |  Steve Smith on Google+ |  August 31, 2012 | 0 Comments

The Textile Trail, The Scottish Borders

A new visitor trail has been launched in the Scottish Borders. The Textile Trail is a celebration of an impressive and integral part of Borders history that continues to thrive today. The textile industry played a key part in the development of the Borders economy and culture over the centuries. The industry has survived the technological revolution of the last decades and is a testament to Scottish creativity, culture and enterprise.

Lochcarron gift shop, Selkirk

Lochcarron gift shop, Selkirk

The Textile Trail will appeal to many visitors to the region, and if you are interested in fashion, textiles, architecture, Scottish history, old mills, or simply want to enjoy a journey through a beautiful part of the world with some shopping and sites of interest along the way, then the new Scottish Borders Textile Trail is for you.

The new trail takes visitors on a beautiful and interesting journey where you can witness the creation of world-famous textiles and clothing, such as cashmere from Hawick, wool from Johnstons located in Selkirk, and not least tartan from Lochcarran, also based in Selkirk.

The Textile Trail brings together the best textile attractions in Scotland. In the Scottish Borders you can choose from 10 of visitor centres, factory outlets and museums, illustrated in this new Scottish Borders Textile Trail leaflet. Within the Scottish Borders the recommended mills are all within 30 miles of each other and can be easily reached from Carlisle, Edinburgh, Northumberland and Newcastle. Peebles, nearby Innerleithen and Selkirk are all interesting historic towns with other museums and pleasant walks leaving from the town centres, so there is lots to do, as well as visiting the textile centres.

Hawick can claim the title of the capital for cashmere in the region. A busy historic market town you can also visit the elegant Wilton Lodge Park to the south-west and Tower Mill, now café, tourist information centre and theatre/cinema, at the end of the High Street.

Forest Mill, Selkirk, and Caerlee Mills, Innerleithen

My first experience of visiting a mill in the Scottish Borders was going into the shop at Forest Mill in Selkirk, operated by Andrew Elliot Ltd.  This mill is not officially on the Textile Trail, but I recommend making a stop to see it because it is such an interesting building.  It was one of the first mills in this busy manufacturing town, and the building dates from 1838. George Roberts & Co had come from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire where they had made Paisley style shawls.

Caerlee Mill, Innerleithen

Caerlee Mill, Innerleithen

They caught on early to the booming woollen industry in the borders region, their legacy continues with a small working mill.

Everything about the Forest Mill building, even the outdoor environment within its curtilage, contains the energy of the past. The sign on the outer wall is of a traditional hand painted sign-makers style, and cobbles make up the court area in front of the entrance. This may be a caricature of memory but the stairs up to the shop seem dimly lit and the wooden steps and handrails have the smoothness of time and the oils from the cloth.

Although the first modern factory in the Borders was Caerlee Mill in Innerleithen, the manufacturing of wool had actually begun in the 1100s. The first sizeable monasteries took advantage of the hill pastures for rearing herds of sheep and the clean waters of the River Tweed for washing the wool.

Lochcarron Mill, Selkirk

Johnstons of Elgin is famous for its cashmere products, including throws

Johnstons of Scotland is famous for its cashmere products, including throws

A factory tour completes a quality visitor experience at Lochcarron, although this mill encounter is completely different from the intimacy of a smaller mill. Your guide will take you to the dyers, weavers and darners. Visiting each section tugs on many of the senses; the first sense that is alerted on entering the manufacturing floor is smell – dyes, machine oils and dust pervade the air.

Another constant factor is the noise of the machines which I imagine has changed little since the modernisation of the equipment. Touch is an important part of the tour from the different yarns at the start to the women burling (removing knots, lumps and slubs from woven cloth). I watched hands setting yarns, hands fixing yarns, hands twisting yarns, hands working cloth; despite all the machines the sense of an ancient craft is present.

Download the Scottish Borders Textile Trail leaflet here.

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