Out and About in the Orkney Islands

Out and About in the Orkney Islands

Although two weeks of lesson planning stopped me sharing on my blog, it didn’t stop us from getting out and about in the Orkney Islands. It was my kids holiday fortnight after all and we had two wonderful days, exploring more of Orkney’s Mainland.

It’s only a short 20 minute ferry ride for us to island hop over to the mainland, but usually our trips over, are just to get supplies. So it was a real treat to take two full days, just to have fun and see the sights!

The glorious picture at the top of this post was taken at Skaill Bay. We have been once before, whilst visiting Skara Brae, when we first arrived in Orkney. It was a beautiful day on that occasion too. We were not disappointed by our return visit and the rough winter seas just made this beautiful stretch of coast, even more stunning.

Our kids had a wonderful time chasing each other in and out of the waves and getting thoroughly soaked. Even though we spend a lot of time on the beaches in Rousay, we always appreciate the excitement of visiting a beach that we don’t often go to.

I always find the sea to be incredibly healing, especially when it’s a bit wild, so this was just what I needed to blow away the stresses, of what has been a very busy few months.


We didn’t just want to spend time on Orkney’s wonderful beaches though (tempting as it is!), we were on the hunt for Orkney’s small patches of woodland too.

Our kids grew up in Cornwall before moving up here and were used to being surrounded by some truly beautiful woodland. We do have a lot of trees on our land, but the wind keeps them short and we wanted a walk amongst tall trees.

So, we headed off to Binscarth Woods, just outside of Finstown.

I think this will become our regular dose of woodland goodness, from now on. It was so nice to see a bit of the autumn colour that we were so used to, to climb trees and hunt for cones and other woodland treasures.

This particular patch of woodland had other delights as well; a series of rope swings running along by the river, some dens to explore and even a funny little gargoyle in one of the trees. I could see how much our kids were enjoying being back among the trees and can’t wait to return and see how the woods change through the seasons.


On the second of our day trips to the mainland, we decided to go for another woodland/coast double bill.

This time we started off at Happy Valley, just outside of Stenness. We had heard people talk about this little gem, which is used by locals as a place for picnics and walks.

It was originally the garden and life’s work of Edwin Harrold, who lived in the traditional single storey cottage here from 1948. After his death the land was gifted to the local community and a charity was set up to help maintain this beautiful woodland garden.

Despite visiting when much of the plant life had already died back for winter, it was still a magical place. The full and urgent river that runs through the grounds has a series of waterfalls and some thoughtful stone benches, provide a peaceful place to stop and enjoy natures beauty.

I am told that Happy Valley is full of bluebells in the spring and we will certainly be returning to find out. We left feeling relaxed and very “happy” indeed!


Finally, with bellies full from our picnic, we headed over to Birsay.

We actually stayed in Birsay, for three weeks when we first move up to Orkney, but a mixture of exhaustion and shock from the stresses of relocating a large family from one end of the UK to the other, meant that we didn’t fully explore the area.

So although we have had walks on a small part of Birsay beach, when much of it was covered by the sea, we had never explored at low tide.

Again, we were very lucky with the weather, especially as it is November and the low winter sun made everywhere look magical!



There are lots of rock pools here (unfortunately, we hadn’t really come prepared for rockpooling, but we will return!) and at low tide you can walk all the way across to the Brough of Birsay. Although the tide had already turned, our kids were determined to walk across, so we made our way quickly but carefully over and then came straight back so that we didn’t get cut off.

There is so much to do and explore along this stretch of coastline and I am looking forward to spending time there next spring and summer.

With the difficulties of covid this year, we haven’t had the chance to explore the islands as we would have liked to. We often feel like we don’t really know what our life here will really be like, when the world is not caught up in a pandemic. We are very fortunate that restrictions have not tightened up here over winter and these couple of days, just spent enjoying this incredible place, have been just what we needed. A glimpse of life outside the little bubble that we have found ourselves in for much of 2020.

I hope that we will get the chance to see a lot more of Orkney’s wonderful landscapes in 2021, but for now we feel refreshed and ready to take on another winter!


Making Advent Peg Dolls

Making Advent Peg Dolls

Making wooden dolls, has been a favourite craft in our house since we started making them last year. Since then, my kids and I have created lots of little characters. Some are just for decoration and others get played with everyday, but all had the same humble beginnings – a little doll blank and a pile of fabric scraps!

This week, we were planning to make some new characters for our advent spiral. After all, Christmas is sneaking up ever so fast. We didn’t have any doll blanks left, but I stopped myself from ordering more, because I was sure that I could just whittle some blanks from wood, from our garden.

Fortunately, I was right (otherwise we would have had a very boring Wednesday craft session!) and they were so easy to make, that next time my kids will be making their own.


I have been cutting our many willows, back into shape this year, as the land at the back of our house was completely overgrown when we moved in. We have been using the trimmings for bonfires etc, but these little pieces of willow branch, had a much more glamorous end.

It took very little time to strip off the bark and shape a little head and shoulders. I honestly can’t think why we haven’t done this before. Not only did it save us money, but it is so nice to have dolls which are all slightly different and a little bit knobbly.

My kids were delighted with them and each picked out the one that they wanted.


I haven’t made a “How To” post, because the joy of peg dolls is that each one is different and can be made with whatever scraps you have. In fact if you don’t have fabric scraps, you could make clothes from paper, dried flowers, old plastic containers, holey socks – the list goes on and on!

We always have scraps of fabric, felt and wool around, because we’re always making something and with a big family, we can’t afford to waste anything.

So at this point, I just let the kids create. Even my two (nearly three year old) loves to make these, but I help with hers. If your making peg dolls with under fives, I would recommend wrapping the head in some tape, if you are going to apply paint to the body. I always do this, because then Wren can just get stuck in and we still have a face at the end of it!

Faces can be drawn on with permanent pen, although sometimes it bleeds into the wood, so I prefer to use watercolour pencils or paint and a fine brush.

We like to use wool roving for hair. It’s great, because you can make pretty much any style you like with it and even needlefelt little beards etc.


I really enjoy seeing what my kids come up with and their dolls always have a little bit of their own personality in them.

To me, they are the perfect example of being able to make something really special, from very little. I know that ours, will be treasured for years to come and will be perfect for our winter celebrations.

So, get some doll blanks and have a go, or do as I did and whittle your own. I guarantee that you’ll have a lot of fun!

Using Charcoal for Paints and Dyes

Using Charcoal for Paints and Dyes

An experiment with natural dyes turned into a fun activity for Wren (my two year old) this week, as she found out how to make charcoal paint.

I had been experimenting with making heather dye for a few days, but having left it rather late in the season, was only managing to achieve a colour very similar to my willow and fern dye. It’s a really nice colour, but I wanted something different to work with, so I went back to the drawing board.

I was having a think about it, while Wren and I were clearing up our bonfire area. We’re having a combined Halloween/Bonfire Night celebration next week and were taking advantage of the dry weather to tidy up and cut plenty of wood to dry out.

We don’t usually celebrate either of these events, apart from the occasionally having taken our kids to see the local fireworks display, back in Cornwall. This year however (with covid19 to contend with), after months of not seeing anyone and living a very quiet life, little celebrations like these have helped to give our kids a boost.

Wren often likes to scribble with the charcoal from our fire pit and we have found that willow makes fantastic charcoal without any need for special conditions. I decided to gather some and see if I could use it to either deepen, or completely change the colour of the raffia that I had been dyeing.


We filled a pot with lumps of charcoal and as we don’t have a pestle and mortar, took a large flat stone and a smaller rounded pebble, to grind it up.

It had been raining for several days beforehand and the charcoal must have soaked up a lot of water, because as I started to bash it up it started to turn into a thick paste.

Wren quickly wanted to try it for herself and the charcoal had become so soft that it was no problem for her to break it up and grind the rocks together to make more paste.

It was very satisfying work for a little one and as we had some of her toy pans to hand, we put some in her pot and some into my big dye pan.


Wren could have used the paste as it was, but she was keen to add some water. She had a lovely time stirring it and painting the concrete outside our backdoor, while I went to grab some paper for her.

There were still fair few lumps in the mixture, because we were focused on having fun rather than making perfect paint, but I think with a bit more time spent grinding and possibly some egg or gum arabic, you could make a really good paint with this willow charcoal.

My 16 year old is just starting to delve into the world of natural paints and inks and having seen her little sister getting stuck into the charcoal, she is keen to try her own experiments.

It just goes to show how we can all learn from each other, no matter what age we are.


While I continued to break up charcoal for my dye pot, Wren was having a wonderful time with her new paint.

“Look mummy, I’m painting a thunder storm!”

It was great to see her getting so much out of making her own art materials and having her work alongside me, as I was developing my own creative skills.

We will definitely try more paint making and it’s something that I am sure my 10 and 13 yr olds would enjoy as well. I think that we will even have a go at making our own brushes and other art tools and why not paper too, so that we can see the processes through from start to finish.

I think that this year, of using foraged resources for basketry and dye making, has shown me that the process of making and creating is more important than the finished piece. There is so much to be gained from that connection with your materials and I am so glad to be able to share that with my kids. Even over the space of a few months, I have watched their creativity and resourcefulness grow and it is wonderful to see.

That is one of the things about home-education that I love the most. We all learn alongside each other and from each other. Our kids are just as much teachers as we are and I am grateful for everything that they teach me. I am all the better for everything that I learn from them and for striving to find better ways of living, so that we can help them on the journey to a happy life as adults.

Bringing Basketry and Natural Dyeing Together

Bringing Basketry and Natural Dyeing Together

It’s been a few weeks now since I first started to hand-dye my own raffia with natural dyes. Since then, I have been having a great time using it and making more dyes along the way.

It has been really satisfying to start bringing these skills together and I feel full of ideas at the moment, it’s just a matter of finding the time to try them all.

I had to try out that gorgeously intense, crowberry dyed raffia first. I was just so blown away by the colour. I decided to work it up into a basket, along with some un-dyed raffia.

The contrast worked really well and I had a lot of fun making it. I thought that this special  basket deserved a special border, so I tried out something new. I wanted to to create a flower shape and worked the rim in the crowberry.

I was really happy with the results and I think that my enjoyment must have shown in the finished basket, as it flew out of my shop the same day as it went in.


After that, I received a commission for a large mat, to use as a decorative surface protector. This time round, I used some of my willow leaf and fern frond raffia.

I had seen pictures of my customer’s living space and along with working up a couple of samples and discussing design options through with her, I decided that this subtle combination would be just right for her space.

She opted for a flower petal border and I am glad that she did, because I think it transformed this simple mat, into something much more special.

I often take the time to make some braid or cordage to wrap up orders and whipped up some, with more of the willow and fern and also some crowberry raffia. I really liked the combination of these two colours and knew that I wanted to do more with them.

A week later, I started to make a set of hanging decorations for winter celebrations in that very same combination, working each one with a similar wavy border.


My hands were particularly busy that week, as I was also working on a little raffia basket.

Just before autumn really took hold, I had been tidying up our fuchsia hedge, that runs along the front of our property. I had let it run quite wild over summer, because it was such a haven for bees here. With the hedge looking considerably neater, I started to clear away all of the trimmings, but I couldn’t bring myself to waste those beautiful blooms. I collected up as many as I could and boiled them in a little bit of water.

It was a very small amount of dye, but I really wanted to try it on some raffia.

Unfortunately, I was finishing the dyeing process at the same time as helping one of my kids with some maths problems and our youngest with some craft time. The pan boiled dry! I realised before any heat had damaged the raffia, but I feared that the colour would now be terribly uneven.

I hate waste, so I finished the process and dried the raffia out in the sunshine. I’m glad that I didn’t scrap it, because once fully dry, it revealed a gorgeous variegated effect, the colour of dried flower petals.

This actually turned out to be my favourite hand-dyed raffia yet and I paired it with some blackberry dyed raffia, to make a sweet little basket with a hanging loop rim.


Dyeing my own raffia, has added a whole new aspect to my work, a deeper connection and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am determined to find other plants to use for dyes over the winter, even though the choices are obviously much more limited.

I have started to plan a dyers garden to the side of our house, for spring, which is a very exciting thought. For now, I am hoping to experiment with kale (we have a large crop growing in our kitchen garden), heather and crocosmia, if it will just stop pouring with rain!

I feel like I have already come a long way on my journey, working with the plants around me. It has made me feel grounded, awakened my creativity and strengthened my own feelings of identity.

As a busy mum and home educator, it is quite easy to lose myself and identify myself as being mum to five, rather than Jane Haselden. Being mum to my five beautiful children and wife to my lovely husband, will always be the most important part of my life, but it is good to feel more connected to myself as well.

I hope that my creative adventures will show our children, that they can follow their dreams too and that they should never be put off by limited resources. Really, limited resources, just mean that you have to look a bit harder – be more creative. My eyes have been opened to just how bountiful natures resources are. I have all of the art and craft materials that I need on the land around me.