Wheal Coates, Cornwall: 1982

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I bought this tea towel in St Agnes in Cornwall in 1982. It is a place I have been back to a couple of times for short visits, passing through. It is that first visit I remember so vividly. John and I had our first ‘proper’ holiday together in St Agnes, staying for two weeks in a lovely hotel, up a narrow road, which had some glorious gardens. We spent many evenings sitting in the gardens, smelling the fragrance of the roses and jasmine.

We chose to go to Cornwall because John had never been there and the last time I was there was with my parents when I was 7 years old. We didn’t want to go anywhere which held memories from the past for either of us; certainly nowhere that might have any association with the group holidays for people with learning disabilities that John and I were involved in for many years. That would be too much like work. We needed a proper break. This was a new start for us.

Picking St Agnes as a base was more about luck than judgement – it was about the hotel – but was certainly not something we regretted; it was a good choice.  St Agnes is on the coast of North Cornwall and associated with tin mining. Wheal Coates, as depicted on this tea towel, is one of the classic mine head buildings that Cornwall is famous for. I have stunning, photos of Wheal Coates; stunning, not because I am a great photographer, but because of the setting of Wheal Coates and its iconic style. Whether you are up close or looking at it from a long distance away, Wheal Coates is just beautiful. My pictures either overlook the sea or have an incredible landscape background.

This is a classic tourist tea towel with the illustration of Wheal Coates in brown, just one colour, on a white background. It is a good functional tea towel that has not lost it’s colour after more than 30 years of wiping up; the cotton material that it is made from has a good absorbency.

When I look at this tea towel I remember that holiday as being packed with activity and variety. I was much fitter then, walking along the coastal paths, spending a lot of time paddling in places like Chapel Porth, exploring Wheal Coates; Wheal Coates mine goes right down from the cliffs to the sea and at high tide the waves could be heard crashing through a grate in the floor of the ruin. I have no idea if health and safety still permits that level of exploration. Wheal Coates is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the miners who died there. We climbed St Agnes Beacon, 628 feet above sea level; it is said that from there you could see 23 miles of coastline and 32 church towers can be seen from here. I’m not sure I saw the 32 church towers but I’m sure I saw at least 20 miles of coastline!!

During my holiday at St Agnes we travelled around quite a lot and I rediscovered my love of geology and archeological findings. Cornwall has wonderous megalithic structures like Men-an-Tol, a four stoned structure with a central feature of a large stone with a hole in it, whose purpose remains a mystery. Men-an-Tol is surrounded by folklore and tradition, renowned for curing many ailments; the site has a reputation for curing back ailments which earned it the name of Crick Stone. Not far away is Madron Well, down a muddy path lined with blackthorn and hawthorn, revered for its healing powers.  Even today strips of coloured cloth are seen hanging from the branches of nearby trees signifying prayers for healing.

Further away is Chysauster with eight stone buildings, Courtyard Houses,  representing the earliest identifiable village street in England, probably built and occupied between 100BC and 400AD. Then there was Chun Quoit, a Neolithic period chambered barrow…………..

I loved Cornwall in 1980s and I love this tea towel for reminding me. As I write this, I think I really should go back and revisit all those places especially since I know that places like Chysauster had not fully been excavated. I liked to see the difference.

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York Minster 2006

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I bought this tea towel in 2006 on one of my regular trips to find a good tea room. Besides a trip to York University for a conference, this was my first venture into York City Centre. I knew exactly what I wanted to see; I was absolutely confident of finding a good tea room. On my list of places to find was the Treasurers House, a National Trust property with what I was told would be a great tea room, and they weren’t wrong. However, trips to Bettys and Little Bettys also proved fruitful. What a great day.

York is a lovely city to visit; it is pleasantly compact. Interesting shops in places like the Shambles alongside York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe make an interesting day out. Parking is horrendous. Now you can use the Park and Ride but it was not always like that.

This is a classic tourist tea towel with a picture of York Minster in the centre surrounded by sketches of other notable York sites. I like this tea towel because it has a lot of colour yet has stood the test of time, keeping it’s colour.

When I look at this tea towel I remember the haddock and chips with a pot of Kwazulu tea I had while sitting at the huge glass windows of Bettys watching the world go by.

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Bettys Fancy Tray 2014

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On 18 August 2016, the left hand picture of Betts Fancy Tray came to the top of my airing cupboard pile.  This meant that I do have a duplicate tea towel.  I am going to have to have a better way of recording which tea towels that I own!!

Bettys Cafe and Tea Room in Northallerton is one of my favourite tea rooms. Although Bettys is a long established, well known tea room with branches in York, Harrogate and Ilkley, Northallerton is the one I prefer. The tea room takes me to a different era – glass roof, cream and mushroom decor, mushroom coloured leather-style banquettes, silver teapots, loose leaf tea, silver tea strainers, beautiful cakes, delicious scrambled eggs on toasted muffins . . .  My favourite tea is Kwazulu; I always have it when I go there.

The cream tea towel has a sketch of a tray with rows of little cakes, including carrot cakes, fancy cakes, citron tarts. It is a very understated tea towel, not dramatic or brightly coloured but I wanted a tea towel to remind me of Bettys in Northallerton so, as I dry up, I am able to fantasise about next when I return.

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Herdwicks: 2013

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How could you not fall in love with this tea towel? It is so cute. Look at the faces of those sheep; you almost feel you could touch them.

In 2013, I went to the Lake District for a week, not my first trip. This year everything was about Herdwicks; I’m not sure I was particularly aware of them before. There must have been a great marketing plan because there is a shop dedicated to selling merchandise about Herdwicks, commonly referred to as Herdys. They had key rings, coasters, tea towels (not this one), mouse mats, greetings cards; you want it they had it. This, however, was the only merchandise I saw that had a real picture of  Herdwicks  as opposed to the ‘cartoon’ image.

I hadn’t realised that not only are Herdwicks the native breed of sheep in the Lake District but 95% of all Herdwicks live within 14 miles of Coniston. The lambs are born black; after a year they lighten to a dark brown. After their first shearing their coat lightens further to grey. Herdwicks survive on forage, no artificial food for them; they lamb and rear their young on the fells. If you look at the fells in the Lake District covered with sheep and wonder how the farmers know which are their sheep, the answer is easy. If you keep Herdwicks, they are very territorial and do not stray from the land their owner has introduced them to. It’s called ‘heafing’.

Beatrix Potter moved to the Lake District, after she became famous, and took up farming; she kept Herdwicks and on her death she left the fifteen farms she owned to the National Trust on condition they continued to farm Herdwicks (see the film Miss Potter).

When I look at this tea towel, the thing I remember most is that just before I left home to start the holiday I had an accident in the garden, fell and cut my face open, fractured my cheek bone, broke three ribs and bruised the whole of my face so I looked as though I had been beaten up. I spent four hours in the walk-in centre having my face repaired before setting off.  Then I remember  sitting for three hours looking at a flock of Herdwicks in the middle of nowhere while waiting for the RAC because the car got a flat tyre through hitting a ‘hidden’ pot hole.

Herdwicks were everywhere and I have a camera load of photos to prove it which I have to say is much nicer to look at than the ever changing colours of the bruises on my face which I also have a lot of photos of.

Update: 1 November 2015

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I can’t believe that I have now found another tea towel that I bought in 2013 about Herdwicks; it has come to the top of my pile in the airing cupboard.  Because Herdwicks are the traditional breed of the Lake District, popularised by the film Miss Potter, there is a real branding issue for the Herdwicks.  There is a shop in Coniston dedicated to ‘Herdie’ products; mugs, erasers, mobile phone trinkets, table mats, aprons, mouse mats, coasters and of course the inevitable tea towel.  And here is one.  It is a great marketing brand!  Lots of people got Herdie products for Christmas that year!!

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Isle of Canna: 2005

In New York I could not find a single tea towel with images of New York and its tourist attractions. Yet when I visited Canna, the most westerly of the Small Isles, off the west coast of Scotland, with a population of 19, I found three!

I first visited Canna when I went on  a National Trust cruise round the islands of Scotland. We spent a day on Canna; not that many people left the ship because it was only a small island – quick cup of tea and back on board. When I saw Canna from the boat, I fell in love with the place. There was a new pier at the entrance to a sheltered bay where many small yachts used to harbour (and use the tea room facilities). Canna is just over four miles long and less than a mile across. There are no cars on Canna; there are no roads, just tracks. It’s a farming community so the main source of transport is a tractor, quad bike and the odd Landrover. A lot of the island (islands actually, since it is attached to Sanday by a small bridge), is very difficult to access because of the hills that rise sharply from the sea and the cliffs.

Canna was owned by John Lorne Campbell, collector of Gaelic works. When he died he left the islands, and Canna House collection of Gaelic materials, to the National Trust; it is the greatest collection of Gaelic in the whole of the United Kingdom and you could view it free of charge, if you are a National Trust member, with the help of the extremely knowledgeable curator.

Known as the ‘Garden of the Hebrides’, Canna has fertile soils, green meadows and an abundance of bird life; it has been recognised as a bird sanctuary since 1938 and supports more than 20,000 breeding sea birds including puffins, razorbills and guillemots.

While Canna has no roads, pubs or shops, not even a post office it did, at that time, have a tea room, sustained by the yachting community and the odd day trippers who arrive either by cruise liner or ferry. The tea room was lovely; on that first trip I had the best smoked salmon sandwich I’ve ever had. I can still see it now, thick slabs of smoked salmon, thick white bread that was homemade and salad on the side, not dripping in mayonnaise or stuffed with salad, the smoked salmon stood on its own.  Having had a good walk along the beach, watched the young lambs gambolling in the fields, visited the little church that is in regular use and stood on the bridge between Canna and Sanday and watched the ocean crash against the rocks, we returned for a big slice of homemade chocolate cake and a pot of tea. Then I saw the tea towel; it had to be mine.  The cruise was fantastic and we visited places that I never thought I would get to visit, like St Kilda but I would have to say that Canna was by far my favourite and I vowed I would return. When I look at the tea towel over the washing up I remember my first glimpse of Canna in the bright sunshine and I yearn to return

In fact, it wasn’t until 2008 that I returned, on yet another boat trip, this time with only eight passengers, cruising around the Inner Hebrides for a week. Canna was still the same, exactly as I remembered it. Again it was sunny. This time we walked along the cliff tops but the tea room was open but not serving smoked salmon sandwiches but it did have another tea towel. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was designed by the school children, I assume as a fundraiser, a sketch in green ink of the school building. However this is so pale that it does not show up in a photograph. You just have to take my word for it that it is cute.

I went back in 2009, as I promised myself, to stay a week in a National Trust cottage, with a wood burning stove, a picnic bench outside the front door on the waters edge. Staying on Canna requires good organisational skills. Because there is no shop and because the boat doesn’t call every day and because the boat sails from Mallaig which is 4 hours away and doesn’t do a round trip each day and because you can’t take a car, you have to order your food from the Co-op and they send it packaged up on the boat so it is delivered to your door. The cottage is about a mile from the pier so you don’t want to be carrying a week’s shopping up the road. You have to think of all the meals you want to eat over the next week – breakfast, lunch, dinner and all those holiday ‘treats’. There’s no popping up the road for a bag of chips. I had hoped that the tearoom would be open some of the time but it had closed and was awaiting a new ‘owner’. However, Winnie, who looked after the cottage brought some warm scones one day which was a delight. I did go back again in 2012, had exactly the same amazing time and the same scones. This time the tea room was a bistro two evenings a week. It was good, but not as good as the smoked salmon sandwiches! But, believe it or not, there was another tea towel (the one at the bottom of the Blog).  How many tea towels can an island the size of Canna produce?  At least three; the more the merrier for me!

The tea towel with the map of Canna brings back so many happy memories. I remember the white sandy beaches near the pier on glorious sunny days and there are a lot of warm, sunny days because the Gulf Stream surrounds Canna although the weather can change fast. You can watch the clouds trundle by at a rate of knots – one minute blue skies rapidly followed by big black thunder clouds, rapidly followed by the most amazing rainbows. Some of my best photos are of the rainbows over Sanday. The map on the tea towel shows seals around the island and I remember spending hours sitting on the edge of the beach watching seals at play or walking the cliffs and watching buzzards. The map marks the Celtic Cross I walked up to (and nearly missed) and the Viking Graves on the far side of the island. It also shows the lighthouse but not the old church on Sanday that was being restored when I was last there. The drawings of the gannets remind me of the times I watched a single gannet diving for food.

The third tea towel, at the bottom of the page, came to the top of the airing cupboard pile today; a very different style of tea towel: a black and white sketch showing the bridge that links Sanday and the main island, with birds circling above it and a lone cottage.  Just so beautiful.

However, I have never been to Canna during the puffin season and that is something I really want to do. I have no memories of really cold days (really wet ones but not freezing cold). The Visitors Book did have messages from people who had to stay extra days because the boat wasn’t able to sail. They rarely have snow on Canna but I have fantasised about spending Christmas there.  Sitting here in Leicester, writing about Canna, looking at the tea towel, I can see it in my mind’s eye so clearly. It is the one place in the world I really want to go back to.

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Lake Maggiore: 2012

I went to Lake Maggiore twice. The first time in 2012 when I stayed in Stresa towards the south. I went back the following year and stayed on the opposite shoreline in Maccagno.

There was a particular style of tea towel around Lake Maggiore in 2012 – very large especially wide, on  a white background with a red patterned border.  I bought four tea towels on this holiday but gave two away as Christmas presents.  I kept one with a map of the lake, which always brings back memories and was used to plan a second trip in 2013. The second one I kept was of pasta, the different shapes and where they originated from. The two I gave away were of the wine regions of Italy and cheeses from across Italy. I don’t drink wine and am not a big fan of Italian cheese so it seemed like a good compromise.  There are people across the UK who are suffering in silence, having received the annual ‘compulsory’ tea towel from me.

The two I kept are excellent for wiping up, very functional, good for wiping big items, absorbent and made from sturdy cotton.  I love them because they are good traditional tea towels for tourists like me who want to remember a holiday they enjoyed.

The map of Lake Maggiore gives you an idea of how big it is, that it is surrounded by other lakes and within itself has a number of islands tourists can visit. It is, in fact, the second largest lake in Italy and the largest in Southern Switzerland, is 66 kilometres long and has the Borromean islands within its shores.  Although it shows that Switzerland borders the north of the island, it doesn’t really show that nearly a third of Lake Maggiore is within Switzerland.  The great thing about Lake Maggiore is the public transport system i.e. the water buses. There are stops all around the shoreline, where there are places to visit; you can go along the same shoreline or cross the water. You can even travel to another country. You can buy a ‘pass’ for a couple of days or for a week, which is good value for money and allows unlimited travel.  On a hot sunny day, the journey on the boat is an excursion in itself, just doing a round trip is pleasurable even if you don’t get off the boat.

Staying in Stresa was great; it is a delightful, pretty little town with a low key restaurant, used by locals, selling the most amazing cannelloni in tomato sauce.  The water buses from Stresa take you to the Borremean Islands which are all so different. I liked the Isola Pescatore best; it was possible to walk all round the island, there were lots of little shops and it was really cute. It was where I bought all the tea towels so no wonder it gets my vote!!! And the ice creams were delicious, especially mango. In Italy, you really need to have ice cream every day. I remember, that in Stresa we weren’t far from the Botanical Gardens, set on the Lake’s edge reached by boat. It was easy to take a bus from Stresa to the nearby lake of Orta. In the town of Orta, we found a tea room in a cool courtyard with dainty and ornate metal garden tables and chairs, with masses of bougainvillaea and serving loose leaf tea, would you believe (friends had warned me that I would never find real tea in Italy. Well I proved them wrong).  The tea towel also shows some local pottery (and I bought a jug), the Museum of Hats and the cable car I travelled on – great memories.

The pasta tea towel just shows me all the different pasta shapes you can buy and where they originate from. So have you tried Trenette, Pappadelle, Tortiglioni, Ziti, Fusilli, Tagliatele, Casa Recce, Cavatelli, Orecchiette, Penne Mezzane, Reginette, Farfalle, Rigatoni, Pipe Rigate, Lasagnette, Tripolini, Anellini, Quadratini to name but a few. It’s good to have a reference point for pasta in the kitchen without having to refer to Mr Google. Tea towels can be a great source of information, key snippets of information rather than having to buy a whole book on the subject. Looking at the tea towel, as I write, I could just eat a bowl of pasta, as served at Lake Maggiore – plain tomato with a salad.

I did go back to Lake Maggiore in 2013 with my friend’s grandchildren. We stayed in an apartment in Maccagno – a different side of the lake and much nearer to Switzerland. Without my ‘map’ of Lake Maggiore on the tea towel I forgot how far apart Stresa and Maccagno were.   Italy with young children also gives you a different perspective and a different holiday. This was my excuse to go to the Chocolate Factory, travel on a train, eat loads more ice cream, spend time on a beach and see a Falconry Display. We even travelled to Switzerland, to Locarno, ate bagels with smoked salmon and found yet another, very sophisticated, tea room with loose leaf tea. It doesn’t get better than that.  And I still found two tea rooms in Cannobio serving loose leaf tea.

There is no doubt that having some good tea towels brings back lots of good memories.

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Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch: 1998

My friends, Gwyn and Pete, bought me my first tea towel of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Station in 1998. It is a simple cotton tea towel with a line drawing of the station in a blue colour.  They also bought me the third tea towel with the brown line drawings.

Gwyn’s father was born on Anglesey and in 1998, not long after his wife had died, he asked if they would take him back to Anglesey to see his family for ‘one last time’. Hence the trip, although he went back more than once, and Gwyn and Pete have returned at least once a year ever since. I like the idea of people rediscovering their families.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (for obvious reasons, often known as Llanfair by locals) is probably the most famous place on Anglesey, because with it’s 58 letters is the longest single word in Europe and the second longest in the world. Translated from Welsh, it means “St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave”.  Gwyn can pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch fluently on request; it is fascinating to hear. With my background of university education in Swansea I can manage “Llanfair” and then “gogogoch”, I blag the rest. Pathetic really but then I have the tea towel to remind me!!

I had always assumed that Llanfair…..is a name with deep historical routes. This isn’t strictly true. There has been a settlement there since 4000BC; it has been a farming area and in 1840 had a population of under 400.  Today, it has a population of over 3000; it is the sixth largest settlement in Anglesey, 70% of whom speak Welsh.  In the 1850’s, the railway was built from Chester to Holyhead, going through a village called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll. A committee was formed to try and encourage trains, travellers and 19th Century tourists to stop at the village to help develop it as a commercial and tourist centre, so they renamed the village – with the longest name, at that time, in the world.  Saatchi and Saatchi would earn millions today for coming up with a publicity stunt like that. A publicity stunt that worked!!

However, when I use this tea towel, there are two things that I think of: firstly, Saatchi and Saatchi may employ 6500 staff in 140 offices across 76 countries but some bloke in a small committee in Anglesey in 1850 came up with the greatest publicity stunt ever to attract tourists from all over the world, without harming the environment by creating some great metropolis. Low key effective tourism.  The second thing I am reminded about is that Gwyn and Pete also bought me two other presents from this holiday; the first was an eraser with a red Welsh dragon on it. Bearing in mind it was bought 17 years ago, I am still using it on a regular basis. They don’t make things like that these days.

The second memory I have is of the cassette tape they bought me. It came from the James Pringle shop, a big tourist outlet in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It was a recording of  the James Pringle Ladies’ Choir, singing a specially written song called “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch”. On one side of the tape the song is sung in English and on the other side it is sung in Welsh – exactly the same. It is not a long cassette because there is no other music on it, about 10 minutes on each side? The  song is very simple and just explains what the name means. I love choirs and I think this is a fabulous cassette because it is so quirky and unique. However, it is an acquired taste and I nearly drove my friends potty with it. I used to play the cassette in the car when I was commuting from Leicester to Stevenage on a daily basis (why I did that is the story of another tea towel, the one from Stevenage). I used to take Steve and Liz as passengers. After about three plays of the tape, they would be begging me not to play it any more. However, it was a very effective way to ensure that they both stayed awake on the journey to talk to me otherwise I’d threaten to play it again.

On another occasion, I was driving to Wiltshire with another friend, Fee, who had never had any appreciation of my taste in music. When I was playing the tape, I did actually think she was going to rip the tape out of the tape deck and throw it out of the window but it achieved my aim of having another awake passenger. Sadly, as cars have changed they no longer have cassette decks, only CD players and I could no longer play the tape and I don’t have a cassette deck at home. In the end, I gave the tape to a charity shop and I deeply regret this because I miss the Ladies Choir. In fact, I have tried to track down a copy of the original recording with no luck. I then tried to find out if it was available on CD, again with no luck. I would love to be able to play it again to Steve, Fee and Liz (I’m not sure they would feel the same). So if anyone knows where I can get a copy then please let me know.

Using the tea towel, I remember those journeys to Stevenage, 168 miles round trip, the company I kept and how the Ladies Choir lightened the burden. It was a unique experience.

I do have a second Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch tea towel – a bright red pure linen tea towel, with a print of a railway ticket from the station. I bought it when I visited in 2013. I love the dramatic colour but it still takes me back to the memories of 1998 when Gwyn and Pete bought that first tea towel, eraser and cassette tape. It’s good to have friends.

30 June 2015

This blog spurred Pete to find his copy of the Llanfair song on tape; he had a spare copy which he gave to me. Pete has also put this into a CD, which means I can share it once again with Fee!

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The England, Wales and Northern Ireland Collection