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Issue 15 - The good, the true and the beautiful

Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004

 

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The good, the true and the beautiful

Craft and gift shops selling quirky, one-off or uniquely Scottish products are found all over Scotland. Kate Patrick provides a short-cut to some of the best

What is it about quaint Victorian girls’ names that makes them so well-suited for shops that sell interesting, quirky or one-off pieces: the perfect rose-quartz necklace, or a sequinned wrap, or a greetings card which is nothing short of a work of art?

In Edinburgh, Doris & Mary and Gertrude & Lily have all now appeared in the increasingly funky urban villages of Stockbridge and Broughton, providing a delicious mix of gifts, garments, treasures and heirlooms.

Both boutiques tend to steer away from traditional Scottish artisan crafts: Broughton’s Gertrude and Lily, named after the owner Louise White’s grandmother and her friend, has mountains of jewelled slippers, butterflies to pin around your bedroom and miniature musical boxes – but also some textural and delightfully bohemian felt and appliqué bags by local Edinburgh designer Suzanne Hamilton Ensom.

Meanwhile, over in Glasgow, a group of international artists has founded Kingdom in an attempt to bring flair, individuality and craftsmanship back into the High Street.

“Market forces,” they say, “need not be at odds with the good, the true and the beautiful.”

Bags, scarves, jewellery, art-glass, cushions, cards… everything is a work of art lovingly made by Scottish and European manufacturers who care intensely about the individuality of the finished product. Kingdom also provides income to an affiliated arts charity, as well as to other good causes.

Local designers are also profiled and sold at the National Trust for Scotland’s elegant Glasgow headquarters, which houses a ‘Glasgow Style’ exhibition. Timorous Beasties (wallpaper), Double Helix (cushions and devoré articles), Fireworks (ceramics), VK & C (paper pulp lamps), Wildwood (flatpack furniture), Bruce Hamilton (Mackintosh reproductions), Submarine (amazing stainless steel baths and washbasins) and Jan Milne (handbags and scarves) are among those exhibited.

If you really want to forage for treasure in Glasgow, the Scottish Craft Centre in Princes Square has a superb collection of Scottish crafts, including wood, glass, metal and ceramic; and De Courcy’s Antique Craft Arcade is an offbeat mix of antiques, crafts and vintage record shops,
along with cafés and bistros for that vital sustenance along the shopping trail.

Venture beyond the cities, and you find in Scotland that for virtually every croft there is a craft; even in winter, you can drive along the west shore of Loch Lomond and find yourself lured off-road by the blandishments of art galleries, furniture workshops, handloom weavers, glassmakers, tea and coffee stops and even a kiltmaker.

One of my favourite styles of Scottish ceramic, which has achieved recognition all over the world, is the product of Crail Pottery, near the harbour along the East Neuk of Fife coast. Located in a tree-shaded Mediterranean-style courtyard and upstairs attic, the pottery is a pandora’s box of original, useful and largely irresistible things. A family business, Crail produces everything from mugs to cooking pots to garden sets – all handthrown, vividly decorated and glazed on the premises.

Just up the road, Bonkers in St Andrews, which has won a Gift Shop of the Year Award, has a broader scope than just local produce. Bonkers does a roaring trade in the fabulous Jellycat soft toys and the gel-filled ‘gel gem’ hearts, flowers and stars that can be used to brighten up your interior décor. You’ll also find Scottish Fine Soaps here, and the offshoot sea kelp home spa products.

For the more essentially Scottish-made crafts, Logie Steading, six miles south of Forres, has some particularly nice art and ceramics from Highland artists, and also second-hand books. It’s housed in the old estate courtyard in beautiful countryside, with woodland walks which are described on the trailboard at the steading – so you can make a day of it.

Not a million miles away, at Beauly, Made in Scotland is a large emporium of artisan and other native products – some are better than others, it’s true, but this is still worth a stop, and just along the road is the irresistible boutique Lynda Usher – not really a gift shop, but I defy you to resist the Johnnie Loves Rosie accessories there.

There are three other notable centres that act as a cooperative for local talent: Balbirnie Craft Centre at Markinch in Fife; Balnakeil Craft Village at Durness, which includes a printmakers’ gallery; and the Buccleuch Estates operation at Drumlanrig Castle near Thornhill in Dumfries.

The blacksmiths shop at Drumlanrig has recently been reconstructed in an old coach house in the stable yard. Artist-blacksmith Stephen Ghlas, who runs the smiddy and can usually be found at work there, has exhibited and been sold through major galleries, including through Sotheby’s in London. In addition to the smiddy, there are other craft workers – potters, sculptors, artists – who draw their inspiration from the tranquil estate on which they work, and a visit to the craft workshops, once you’ve seen the Holbeins, Leonardos and Rembrandts in the castle, is an integral part of visiting Drumlanrig.

I was particularly struck last summer by the style with which An Tuireann does business just outside Portree on the Isle of Skye. ‘The spark of the blacksmith’s anvil’, as the centre’s name means, brings together the work of craftspeople from all over the island, who might otherwise be inaccessibly located at the far end of a single track road, and therefore unlikely to be discovered.

I bought a first-rate sketchbook there, admired the wool and ceramic work, and then had a very good salad in the small but stylish café.

Celtic jewellery is to be found in many places around Scotland, but there’s something about buying a Celtic cross at the place where Christianity was born in Britain – Iona Abbey – that makes it a particularly special purchase. The Iona Abbey Shop has crafts and souvenirs from nearby and around Scotland, and many of the proceeds go to support Christian charities.

Of course no gift or craft shop is complete without mountains of scented candles – the pot pourri de nos jours – but if you want the truly Scottish variety, go west to Glenelg Candles, which is signed from the glen road which comes over the hill from Shiel Bridge.

Look for the Chalcedony decorative candles, individually hand-painted with dramatic whorls of colour to give a marbled finish. Then, head on down the road to the Glenelg Inn for a drink and a bite in the bar with Christopher Main – one Highland host you will never forget.

GIVE US A GIFTIE

Doris & Mary, 63 Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, Edinburgh
Tel: +44 (0)131 315 4111

Gertrude & Lily, 57 Broughton Street, Edinburgh
Tel: +44 (0)131 556 0726

Kingdom, 164b Buchanan Street, Glasgow

Glasgow Style, Hutchesons’ Hall, 158 Ingram Street
Tel: +44 (0)141 552 8391

Scottish Craft Centre, Princes Square, Glasgow
Tel: +44 (0)141 248 2885
http://www.princessquare.co.uk

De Courcy’s Antique Craft Arcade, 5-21 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow
Tel: +44 (0)141 334 6673
http://www.decourcys.co.uk

Crail Pottery, 75 Nethergate, Crail, Fife
Tel: +44 (0)1333 451 212
http://www.crailpottery.com

Bonkers, 80 Market Street, St Andrews, Fife
Tel: +44 (0)1334 473 919
http://www.bonkers-standrews.co.uk

Logie Steading, Logie House, nr Forres, Morayshire
Tel: +44 (0)1309 611 278
http://www.logie.co.uk

Made in Scotland, Station Road, Beauly, Invernessshire
Tel: +44 (0)1463 782 578
http://www.made-in-Scotland.co.uk

Lynda Usher, 50 High Street, Beauly, Invernessshire
Tel: +44 (0)1463 783 017

Balbirnie Craft Centre, Markinch
Tel: +44 (0)1592 753 743

Balnakeil Craft Village, Durness
Tel: +44 (0)1971 511 277
http://www.durness.org/balnakeil

Drumlanrig Castle, nr Thornhill
Tel: +44 (0)1848 600 283
http://www.buccleuch.com

An Tuireann Arts Centre & Cafe, Struan Road, Portree, Skye
Tel: +44 (0)1478 613 306
http://www.antuireann.org.uk

Iona Abbey Shop, Isle of Iona, Argyll
Tel: +44 (0)1681 700 404
http://www.iona.org.uk

Glenelg Candles, Balcraggie, Glenelg, Rossshire
Tel: +44 (0)1599 522 313
http://www.glenelgcandles.co.uk