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A Brief History of Welsh Wool

Nia Knott

A brief history of Welsh wool

The Welsh have used wool since prehistory. For much of history the wool was spun and knitted in cottage industry style; the beginnings of industrialisation came in medieval times, promoted by the Cistercian communities at Tintern, Margam and Neath, in South Wales in particular. With the adoption of the water wheel to power woollen mills the industry thrived.

It was the 19th and 20th Centuries, however, in which the wool industry held a huge importance for Wales. Raw materials were in plentiful supply, as was a good local workforce skilled in the production of wool. In areas such as the Teifi valley in Ceredigion & Carmarthenshire, the abundance of fast flowing water to power the mills, as well as good rail links for exporting, made it an important textile manufacturing region.

Traditional use for wool products was for local demand for tweed or flannel clothing such as shawls, shirts and socks, and for household items such as blankets and bed covers. Women would use their shawls as baby carriers. Much wool was shipped to London to be exported around the world. However, there was a dark side to the success of the industry. Welsh wool clothing, or 'plains' as they were known, became the preferred option for slave masters in the West Indies to clothe slaves. It's hard to imagine the Welsh, who have historically fought for justice for themselves and others, and recently campaigned to be the world's first Fair Trade Nation, supporting the slave industry in such a way, but the Welsh played a role, and it should not be forgotten. 

There was fierce competition for the industry from Northern England, and aside from a boost during the First World War, when the demand for soldier's clothing was high, the industry began to decline. Following the coal depression of the 1920s - 1930s, few woollen mills remained. 

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The Welsh Wool Revival?

The Welsh wool industry has continued, albeit at a small scale, to the present day. Due to regulations, wool produced in Wales is collected centrally by the British Wool Marketing Board, who have been in charge of collecting, promoting & selling all wool in Britain since the 1950s. Very much an international market, wool is exported as British, and in turn, weavers here in Wales often use imported wool. 

Over the last few years, there has been a resurgence in interest in Welsh Wool. Customers now want products that have a story behind them, are local and they are more interested than ever in the provenance and heritage of the items they are buying. There has been an increased demand for tapestry made in Wales. Woollen mills and individual weavers still create their own unique and distinctive patterns, and as well as producing the traditional blankets now produce a wide range of other items made from Welsh tapestry. 

Taking it a step further, the Cambrian Wool Initiative was recently established as a way to try to protect the origin and promote wool produced in the Cambrian Mountains area in rural West Wales. They have begun to produce, collect, and directly sell wool that can be used in a variety of ways to create beautiful, and importantly, sustainable, products. They are also working with one of Wales' best established mills to hopefully create fully Welsh-wool, Welsh-woven products. 

Discover more

Visit the National Wool Museum of Wales

Visit the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan's

Shop

Melin Tregwynt (Huge range of colours, styles and products, top quality)

Sian O'Doherty (Fresh designs and workshops)

Jane Beck Welsh Blankets (Large collection of vintage, antique & modern)

The Welsh Girl (Unique clothing and home textiles)

 

Want to learn more about Wales' wool industry? Immerse yourself in creativity on a craft break? We can organise you and your group a personalised tour including craft workshops, demonstrations, visits to working mills and craft museums. Just ask us how we can help you. 

 

 

 

Responsible Travel: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint While Travelling

Nia Knott

 

Most people, especially travellers, are aware that plastic is a huge problem in today's world. It's bad news for our health and the environment. When you're travelling it may not seem easy to avoid plastic as well as you may be able to do at home - it is everywhere! Fortunately, there are some really simple steps you can take to lessen your plastic footprint while you're on the road. Here are 5 to get you started:

1. Bring a reusable water bottle

Plastic water bottles are one of the worst overuses of plastics that travellers are guilty of making. It's important to keep hydrated when travelling and you get through a load of water. Plus, you want to avoid getting sick so bottled water seems safer. The solution? Bring a reusable water bottle. In many places you'll be able to refill with safe drinking water. If you don't think this is going to be possible, consider investing in a special filter bottle. You can get some really amazing filters now which cut out all contaminants, bacteria, pathogens and viruses, making virtually any water safe to drink. The best have recyclable filters.

2. Ditch plastic straws and carrier bags

There are very few incidences in which plastic straws are necessary for the general population. They are an example of a completely avoidable use of plastic yet are so commonplace they're often provided even if you haven't asked for one. It's easy to make a small impact by quitting plastic straws! Simply refuse straws if they are offered to you, and don't be afraid of making a friendly suggestion to any bars or restaurants you visit that are still using them. 

To avoid needing plastic carrier bags, remember to pack a soft reusable bag - some of them fold up really small so are perfect for travel. 

3. Avoid tacky souvenirs

Do you really need another plastic keyring or fridge magnet? Although they may have pictures or words of the place you're visiting on them, chances are they were made on the other side of the world in a factory with questionable working conditions! Instead, ask around for ideas of local, sustainable crafts that will make a unique, durable and low-impact momento of your time in a country. 

Local tip: In Wales, we produce beautiful woollen tapestry, products, traditional love spoons (check for sustainable wood), and artisan slate products. 

4. Research your recycling options

Prevention is always better than cure and recycling does use energy, so avoiding plastic as far as possible is the ideal. However, where plastic use isn't easily avoided, try to find out what recycling facilities are available. Ask around - a local, a tourism information officer or a hotel concierge. Even if there aren't facilities available, simply asking the question can be powerful. Imagine the impact if every hotel guest asked about a hotel's recycling facilities! 

5. Do a 5 minute beach clean

So maybe you're on holiday and just want to relax, but how good does it feel to leave somewhere a little bit better than when you arrived? To be part of the solution and not the problem. Our oceans are teeming with plastics, harmful to marine wildlife, and to our health, as plastic particles have been found to get in to the food chain. Beaches and shorelines see marine litter from hundreds to thousands of miles away wash up every day, endangering shore animals and seabirds in the process. It can seem like an overwhelming problem but just taking 5 minutes to pick up a few pieces of plastic while you're at the coast is a positive step. You may inspire others who see you doing it too. Again, imagine if everyone who visited did this! 

Do you have any tips for reducing your plastic use while travelling? Please share your ideas with everyone by commenting below.

Please share this post - let's make an impact! 

 

Image Courtesy of Keattikorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

7 Reasons Wales Should Be On Your Winter Travel Bucketlist

Nia Knott

It's not the obvious choice for a winter trip; not quite north or continental enough to get guaranteed snow or northern lights ( though Wales does see both frequently through the Winter); the Autumn winds have stripped the trees bare and the sun barely lifts its head above the horizon... it's dark, mystical and the perfect time to uncover the real Wales... Here are seven reasons to make a winter escape to Wales. 

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What to pack for a trip to Wales

Nia Knott

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You've booked your trip now all that's left to do is pack! Packing to visit a country with such a range of sights and unpredictable climate can be pretty daunting, but don't worry, we've got your packing covered. 

What to Wear

First things first, packing the right clothes can make or break your time in Wales. We recommend packing layers so that you can change with the weather. A couple of t-shirts, warm jumper or sweater, and whatever you do don't forget a waterproof coat, even if you're visiting Wales in Summer. Quick-dry trousers or waterproof over trousers may not win you many style points but you'll feel pretty pleased with yourself when everyone else gets caught out in a downpour in jeans! 

If you're visiting October - March you may want a woolly hat, scarf and gloves and if you're visiting April - September bring a hat and sunscreen. Sunglasses are useful year-round, because of the low angle of the sun in winter.

If you're spending any time exploring some of Wales' amazing countryside - whether it's the coastline or mountains then hiking boots will keep you supported and help to prevent injuries. If you're planning to explore cities, towns & castles then some lighter shoes are also a good idea. Wales isn't only about the outdoors though; our towns and cities have some brilliant nightlife so you might want to bring something to dress up for the evening. 

Travel essentials

All the usual travel essentials apply when visiting Wales. You'll really regret not bringing your 'proper' camera if you have one as Wales is a photographer's paradise, though phones do the job pretty well now too and make sharing photos so much easier, so if you're short on space just pack your phone (and charger!). Wales has pretty good wifi in most places now, so you can keep connected on the road. 

Most essentials like toiletries and over the counter medications can be picked up in Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor etc and even smaller towns will have places to stock up, so you can pack travel size toiletries then pick up more when you're here. 

Be a responsible traveller and bring a reusable water bottle - if you ask in pubs or cafes most will be happy to refill your bottle for you which cuts down on unnecessary plastic waste. 

We still love a good hard copy of a guidebook. Lonely Planet & Rough Guides both have Wales-specific guidebooks, and don't miss the official Wales Coast Path guide books - you can pick them up online before your trip or at most book shops here. 

These are our packing recommendations but we'd love to hear from you - what would you pack for Wales - tell us in the comments below!