Bibury: U.T.T.


William Morris once described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England”; it is a ‘chocolate box’ village with some of the most photographed houses in England.  Bibury is home to Bibury Trout Farm, founded in 1902 and open to the public since 1965, which breeds and rears both Brown and Rainbow Trout – up to 10 million a year are spawned.  The site covers 15 acres.  The tea towel above is inscribed with ‘designed exclusively for Bibury Trout Farm’.

My Bibury tea towel is a classic U.T.T, an Unidentified Tea Towel.  I don’t recognise it; I don’t remember visiting the hamlet; I have certainly never been to the Trout Farm.  So was it a present?  I don’t know who would buy me a tea towel from a Trout Farm; it sounds unlikely.  Did I inherit it?  No, definitely not.  So where did it come from?  The simple answer is that I do not know.

The only thing that might be a clue is that Bibury is about 12 miles from Bourton-on-the-Water and I have another tea towel, Birdland, which is also a classic U.T.T and which I blogged about on 15 June 2016.  Is there a link?  I don’t know but Bibury looks like a nice place, perhaps I’ll go there one day.


Mine’s a Loose Leaf: 2003


I did write about this tea towel, as a Page not a Blog, about two years ago, under the title ‘Getting Your Message Across’.  It was a tea towel, designed by Margaret Thornby, author of four editions of ‘Guide to the Tea Rooms of Britain’ between 1995 and 2006.  She also was the Editor of ‘Tea and Tea Room Talk’, a magazine for tea lovers with everything about tea and tea rooms, between 2006 and 2014.  Margaret had her own website, Blog and was a regular contributor to Twitter via her Twitter account.  Margaret had a unique, and laborious, way of reviewing Tea Rooms – visiting every one in her guide book, personally and incognito.  No one could pay to be in the book; it was a Guide Book with integrity.  Margaret had a phenomenal knowledge about tea, tea rooms, tea paraphernalia, tea personalities, Afternoon Tea and much more.  Listening to her talk was such a pleasure and from my friendship with her over more than 20 years I learnt such a lot, including a true love of loose leaf tea and the importance of quality tea.  She inspired me to visit places like Sri Lanka and Kenya and even Ecuador, an emerging tea growing nation.

But not only was I a friend of hers (and still am) but I worked alongside her for many years, in a voluntary capacity.  I was involved in proof reading her work, doing some preliminary research so she didn’t have to waste time in actually tracking down any tea rooms but providing her with a list to ‘vet’.  It was great fun and certainly gave me the opportunity to have a cup of tea or two in nice surroundings.

Margaret retired a year ago.  She still loves a good tea room and a nice cup of tea in a china cup but takes that pleasure without the pressure of having to write about her experience.  When she retired, she gave me the last 9 of her tea towels that hadn’t been sold.  She knew that I had a passion for tea towels and that I was embarking upon some kind of project with tea towels.  She thought they might be useful.  And she was right.

When I first catalogued my tea towels, I discovered that I had a few duplicates; to be fair, a surprisingly small amount considering the size of my collection.  I decided that it was stupid to keep ‘two of a kind’ in the collection so I resolved to give the duplicates away.  First of all, I offered them, generally, to my friends and had no ‘takers’ so I decided to carefully select ones for people I thought might appreciate them.  Once handed over, I have no concern about what they do with them; it is no longer my responsibility.  I have enjoyed this process and this does include my ‘Mine’s a Loose Leaf’ Tea Towels.  I have even catalogued where they went (just in case I make another mistake with duplicates and know not to give them to the same person).

So, where did they go?  Two Mules (she worked in a Co-operative), London Bridge (she lives in London) and Tea Time (she likes a good cup of tea) went to Leanne as part of her wedding present; Clipper Tea (she likes a good cup of tea), Shipping Forecast (she loves the Shipping Forecast) and Betty’s Fancy Tray (we went to Betty’s for a birthday treat) went to Liz K for her Significant Birthday; Wheal Coates went to Jane to thank her for doing her Guest Tea Towel (and she goes to Cornwall for her holidays); Aberdeen went to Jenny whose son lives in Aberdeen; Old Hunstanton and Xmas Snowmen went to Alan and Christine in exchange for their tea towels that they gave to me (they live in Norfolk); Scarborough, Xmas Tree and Sarah Nelson went to Fee who has few tea towels, most of which I gave her (Fee actually chose the ones she wanted);  Clare had an unused Margaret Thornby tea towel as a house warming present; I sent Cure Brain Cancer (Australia) one as a thank you for being the first ChariTea Towel in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum; I gave Richard (who I have never met but is the husband of my reflexologist) Shakespeare because he is doing an M.A. in Shakespeare.  I understand it is hanging on the wall of his office.  Gwyneth has been given Canna (she liked it), Cambridge (she liked it), Self Advocacy in Action (she worked with the group), Beningborough Hall (by this time she was still a bit short of tea towels) and an unused Mine’s a Loose Leaf (she liked the idea of a new tea towel) and finally, Andrew had an unused Union Jack with a Corgi from the Diamond Jubilee and an unused Mine’s a Loose Leaf which I used as wrapping paper for his and Elena’s 25th Wedding Anniversary.  So now all I am left with is 6 unused Mine’s a Loose Leaf tea towel which are open to any readers of this blog – just leave a message and you will get one!!  Better get in quick.

It gives me great pleasure being able to give tea towels to people who want them, or as a present so why not snap up one of Margaret Thornby’s tea towels and make me happy?  The fact is that there were only 200 Margaret Thornby tea towels and there won’t be any more so these are, in essence, a Limited Edition, adds a bit of value to them.


Aberglasney Gardens: 2012


My tea towel from Aberglasney Gardens has been ‘on my radar’, for several months, waiting to be blogged about.  I write the first line and then get stuck: should I write about the history of the Gardens and House (and there is a very long history)? Should it just be a description of my visit in 2014, in the rain?  Should it be a description of the tea towel?  What about anecdotes from the past?  Too many questions, so I move on to another tea towel but it always comes back to haunt me; it is out of sync, its the turn of Aberglasney Gardens to be blogged about.  Then the miraculous happened; I was inspired by something that happened on Twitter.

My visit in 2012 was quite a visit; it was cold, it was misty and it was raining but we had decided to go to the Gardens and, with a full set of waterproofs, anything is possible.  As long as you are well protected then gardens are truly magical places to observe in the wet, you get a totally different perspective, you can appreciate nature at its best.  Aberglasney House and Gardens became the property of the Aberglasney Restoration Trust in 1995, dragging the property from dereliction and disrepair, back to life.  Since 1995, it has become a Grade II Listed property, three walled gardens have been developed, the Pool Garden has been brought back to life.  There are 10 acres of gardens which also include the Sunken Garden, Stream Garden, Upper Walled Garden, Asiatic Garden, the Ninfarium with subtropical and exotic species based on the gardens at Ninfa near Rome, the Cloister Garden.  The Elizabethan/Jacobean Cloister Garden has a rare parapet walk at its centre, bounded by an arched walkway along three sides (a good place to shelter in the heavy rain, along with the great cafe).  There is a three hundred year old yew tunnel with an amazing intertwining of tree trunks, probably not originally designed as a tunnel.  There is a large stone Gatehouse standing alone; it was originally thought to have been a Victorian Folly to draw the eye to a particular point in the garden but more recent research has shown that it was actually a Gatehouse of a much older structure.  Back in 1480, Lewis Glyn Cethi wrote a poem about Aberglasney, describing ‘nine green gardens’; there are no plans which show what this meant  but it was assumed that it had something to do with small gardens partitioned off with grassy areas.

The tea towel is a traditional tourist tea towel with the sketches of the Upper Walled Garden, Cloister Garden, Gatehouse, the mansion and an Orange Tree (not sure of the actual location of this, is it in the Ninfarium?).  There is also 10 lines of a poem; this is 10 lines of a 54 line poem called ‘The Country Walk’, written by John Dyer, painter and poet, son of Robert Dyer who bought the property in 1710.  The fact is, it could seem like Aberglasney House and Gardens was ‘cursed’ because there are so many bankruptcies associated with the property, including that of Robert Dyer.  The property over the centuries had been split up, sold off in lots and let fall into disrepair; it is surprising that it is still around and such a delightful place to visit.

So what inspired me to put finger to keyboard to write about Aberglasney Gardens?  One of the people that I follow on Twitter is Medwyn Williams (@medwynsofangles), a plantsman with a passion for growing vegetables and winner of 11 consecutive Gold Medals at Chelsea Flower Show; I have followed him since my early days on Twitter.  There are often complaints about people being rude, or offensive, on Twitter; but not Medwyn.  What I love about his Twitter Feed is that it is really just about vegetables, accompanied by some fabulous pictures of growing vegetables and their various stages of development; vegetables he enters in shows but also vegetables he judges in shows.  Medwyn is an expert.  His pictures remind me that there is an ordinary world out there, people getting on with their lives, a world beyond Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Brexit.  Last weekend, Medwyn was judging the Giant Vegetable Competition that was held at Aberglasney Gardens; he stayed in the old Coachman’s Cottage which has been done up and posted some amazing photographs not only of the vegetables but of the gardens in autumn, and the gardens in the rain, and it took me right back.  I would have to say that I think there is something a ‘little obscene’, and somewhat weird, about giant pumpkins weighing 1498.4 lbs.  I thought the picture of the ‘best looking’ pumpkin at 968 lbs was much better.  Other that that I love seeing Medwyn’s tweets and pictures, they brighten my day, and I am certainly in admiration of his skill, and when I use this tea towel I will remember not only Aberglasney Gardens but also Medwyn and his vegetables.

Mullion Cove, Cornwall: 1983


Mullion Cove is on the west coast of the Lizard Peninsula, thereby taking the full brunt of  any weather system from the Atlantic Ocean.  Mullion Cove is home to Mullion Harbour, built by the then owner, Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock, in 1890s as a shelter for the pilchard fleet.  The pilchard fleet no longer exists but the harbour still takes a few small boats; it is owned by the National Trust and welcomes 80,000 visitors a year.

A few days ago, I did a Tea Towel Blog about Emmetts Garden and the work the National Trust was involved in as a result of the Great Storm of 1987 (the anniversary of which is actually today).  Mullion Cove challenges the National Trust in a similar way: since 1945 the National Trust has spent more than £2 million on repairing, and securing, the harbour walls because of the regular pounding by the winter storms of the Atlantic.  In 2014, there was a prolonged period of bad weather, several gales with winds of up to 80mph, waves of more than 16 metres high and the heaviest rainfall recorded since 1770.  The small winch house at the harbour was completely destroyed.  It is 34 years since I last visited Mullion Cove and its harbour; I don’t know if the building shown on the tea towel is actually the winch house; if so, it’s no longer there.  Many photos I’ve looked at don’t seem to have that building on them.

The National Trust has undertaken a big consultation with stake-holders about their priority with regard to Mullion Cove.  Work after the damage of 2014 did show that the harbour walls are basically sound so it was agreed that a continuous maintenance programme would happen in the future but it was accepted that if such exceptional weather continued they would review the structure of the harbour.  There can be no stopping nature at work.

I bought this tea towel in 1983, when on holiday with John in Cornwall.  This was in the days when I was a lot fitter.  Although John was a lot older than I was, he had been a Royal Marine and was proud of the fact that his training involved walking up Snowdon with an 80lb pack on his back.  He was always keen on long walks (and fortunately carried any supplies).  I remember walking all over the Lizard Peninsula, along the coastal paths, across beaches, over hills, with me dragging behind.  But the weather was spectacular, the views splendid and loads of history and geology (which always gave me an excuse for a breather).  I did love going to Cornwall on holiday, always something different to do.  While so many people look through the catalogues for foreign holidays at this time of the year (including me) we forget what a wonderful land we live in and a great place to holiday.

Wiping up is going to take a lot longer if I have to wonder whether it is the winch house on the tea towel, the one that has disappeared.  I wonder if someone knows the answer.

PS: I don’t know what that strange circular stain is at the top of the tea towel!

The Poems of Robert Burns: 1999, 2009 and 2017

It is difficult to make sense of how many works that Robert Burns produced in his short life.  That is because he wrote original compositions, collected Scottish folk songs some of which he adapted or revised; he wrote epitaphs and elegies.  It is probably safe to say that he produced at least 716 works.  He died at the age of 37 in 1796.

Robert Burns was also a man of many professions: poet and song writer, farmer, flax dresser, book-keeper and exciseman.  He was a man of many lovers who produced for him 12 children, although only three lived beyond infancy.  Many regard him as the National Poet of Scotland; in 2009, he was chosen, by public vote, as the Greatest Scotsman of all time.  He is probably the best known poet to have written in the Scots Language although he did not confine himself to that; he wrote some of his political works in English and he also used a light Scots Dialect.  There is a dictionary to translate over 2000 words that Burns used from the Scots Language and Dialect, to make it accessible all round the world.  In 19th and 20th Centuries, there was almost a charismatic cult for Burns.  There are statues of Robert Burns all over the world, from Dunedin to Victoria, from Leith to Boston.

And then there is the Burns Supper, also known as Burns Night, which is celebrated all over the world, usually to the same format.  It takes place on 25 January each year (the date of Burns’ birthday), and is quite an occasion, in time-honoured tradition, either as informal or formal proceedings.  It starts with the Selkirk Grace.  The first course is soup, usually a traditional Scottish soup like Cock-a-leekie or Cullen Skink.  A piper will then ‘pipe in’ the Haggis on a dish, carried by the cook.  Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ is read, all eight verses; on the reading of the third verse, with the line “An’ cut you up wiv ready slickit”, a large knife is used to cut the Haggis.  The main course is Haggis, neeps and tattties, followed by a pudding, often Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dish.  This is served with an abundance of Scotch Whiskey.  The first Burns’ Supper was on 25 January 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death.

Burns’ influence on language and literature has also been felt world-wide.  The title ‘Of Mice and Men’, John Steinbeck’s novel written in 1937, was taken from a Burns poem; Bob Dylan said that ‘Red, Red Rose’ was the lyric that had had most effect on him, especially the realism with which he wrote; ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung every New Year’s Eve, in most countries of the world; ‘Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger, in 1951, was taken from ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’.

I studied literature all through my school life and I can safely say that never once were we given a Robert Burns poem to read or study, but then I came from London.  Yet I love Robert Burns.  I love those poems that have been put to music and the songs he wrote.  I love a bit of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ but also ‘To A Mouse’, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’ and many more.  Many years ago I was given a sampler, beautifully embroidered, of ‘Red, Red Rose’ which I have had framed and hangs on my wall.  Back to YouTube, as I was writing this, I found so many versions of ‘Red, Red Rose’ sung by so many artists, that again I got distracted.

A couple of years ago, I saw the tea towel with the picture of Robert Burns in the centre, with snippets of some of his poems.  I didn’t buy it and regretted it, so on my trip to Edinburgh, this year, I was determined to find one.  I was very excited when I found it and, as I came to write this Blog, I realised that I actually had three other tea towels with Robert Burns poems on them.  I bought the ‘sampler’ version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at Gretna Green in 1999.  The 2009 ‘O’ Guid Ale Comes’ came from the Isle of Arran, when I visited the Arran Brewery, never realising that this genuinely was a Burns poem.  The other 2017 tea towel, ‘Address to the Haggis’ was bought at the Scottish Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh; I have already blogged about that (Blog dated 12/2/2017) but I couldn’t not include it in this tribute to Robert Burns.

I have a feeling that I might be on the look-out for other tea towels, with any poem by Robert Burns, to add to my collection but in the meantime my wiping up has risen to a different level when I am reciting a Robert Burns poem amongst my dishes.

Highland Memories: 1999


I have definitely discovered that writing this Tea Towel Blog is taking longer than I thought.  If I buy tea towels at the rate that I am, and write at this speed, I will never complete the task.  So why is it taking longer than I had originally thought?  The answer is simple: YouTube should not have been invented!  Every time I go to YouTube I am mesmerised by one recording, and that leads to another…….. Today, first of all, I decided to see if I could identify the author of ‘Highland Memories’, no luck, so I thought I would just listen to a song about Skye, see if there was any link.  From the ‘Skye Boat Song’ (sung by at least five different people) through to ‘Flower of Scotland’ onto the Hibernian Football Club Supporters singing ‘Sunshine over Leith’ at the Scottish Cup Final last year (and everyone should watch that) to Andy Stewart singing ‘Aberdeen’, three hours later and I hadn’t written a line.

Weirdly, this is one of my favourite tea towels.  Normally I like those tea towels that are vibrant, a picture full of colour but this is a four verse poem, written out in full, with some small sketches, in blue shadowed with yellow, sepia-like, round the edges.  I saw the tea towel, as usual hanging on a clothes dryer, in a small shop near Gairloch.  It was alongside a lot of other Scottish tea towels; I suppose it stood out because it wasn’t like any of the others.  The style of the tea towel reflected the sentiment of the poem, that of nostalgia, days of someone’s youth.  The sketches illustrate those thoughts: of Skye, the journey by train, waiting on a platform, the Cuillin Hills, grouse shooting, fishing and salmon leaping, the ferry across to Skye (there was no bridge in 1999); these may be romantic ideals of the Highlands and Islands but it is how I think of them.  Years may pass but those years don’t make great changes on the landscape.  The ferries are still the lifeline to the islands, salmon, grouse and venison are still the foods that people seek on a Scottish holiday, the Jacobite rail journey, one I have travelled many times, has to be one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a magical feat of engineering and determination in itself.  The railway stations haven’t changed that much although the steam has, in the main, gone.

I only need to think about those sights and a tingle runs down my spine, a smile crosses my face and I am drawn back to Andy Stewart, Kenneth McKellar, the Alexander Brothers and their successors, the Proclaimers and the Sorries, who sing about the beauty and history of Scotland and another three hours will disappear.  That is why I like this tea towel so much and if you can’t visit Scotland, go to YouTube and enjoy yourself.  I can do the latter and enjoy wiping up with my tea towel.

Durham Cathedral (from the River Wear): 1993


Back in the early 1990s, during the University holidays, Durham University used to run 5 day history courses.  You would arrrive on Sunday night in time for dinner, have an evening lecture from someone from the history department, stay five nights in University Halls of Residence; the following day you would go out, as a small group of about 10 people, to visit the sites that you had learnt about the previous evening.  The same pattern was repeated for five days although you did get half a day free to explore Durham and its surroundings.  John and I went on three courses altogether, all with different themes.  The theme of the 1993 one was Saints and Churches.  I always hoped that seeing so many different places would mean a lot of tea towels but no, they were few and far between.

One of our visits was to Durham Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham to give it it’s full title.   Built in 1093, in 1986 it was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status (and in my experience, WHS almost always brings with it a tea towel).  “I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for the best cathedral on Planet Earth” says Bill Bryson in ‘Notes from a Small Island’.  I remember walking into the cathedral and being almost overwhelmed by its sheer size, both in length and height (469 feet long and 218 feet to the top of the central tower).  There weren’t a lot of people around  and I felt the necessity to whisper for fear that my voice would echo around the lofts.  What I liked about the course was that we had had the lecture the previous evening so you could wander around on your own but if you needed to ask a question someone was on hand; I often think that it is a shame that holiday tours don’t work like that so you don’t have to be herded around, following a raised umbrella.

Durham Cathedral holds the relics of St Cuthbert, the head of St Oswald of Northumbria and the remains of the Venerable Bede plus three copies of the Magna Carta and some very rare pre-Dissolution of the Monasteries monastic accounts.  What more could you want than the head of St Oswald?  As I reflect on my visit, I can still feel the chill of the Cathedral, the echoing of voices and the vast amount of space.  Incredible.

I was lucky with my Durham Cathedral tea towel; designed by Mathew Rice, son of Pat Albeck, my favourite tea towel designer, he certainly followed in his mother’s footsteps, although this is the only one I have by him.  What puzzles me, to this day, is that it clearly says ‘designed for the National Trust’, yet I know that they do not own Durham Cathedral and I have never known them to sell tea towels of places that they do not own.  I am sure there is an answer to this, somewhere.

Maybe the last words of this Tea Towel Blog belong to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, from ‘The Buildings of England’ where he says “Durham is one of the great experiences of Europe to the eyes of those that appreciate architecture, and to the minds of those that understand architecture.  The group of Cathedral, Castle and Monastery, on the rock, can only be compared to Avignon and Prague”.  I am truly glad I visited Durham Cathedral.