Nice cotton tea towel with a burgundy sketch. This is a good tea towel for reawakening memories because it gives me a map of the Isle of Seil and then pinpoints the sites of interest. In the bottom right hand corner, printed on the tea towel, not on a label, is the washing temperature instructions! Don’t wash at a temperature higher than 60 degrees.
So where is the Isle of Seil? The Isle of Seil is 12 miles south of Oban, separated from the mainland by only the thinnest of sea channels; the channel is spanned by the elegant, classic 18th Century Clachan Bridge. This is a bridge clearly not designed for buses or lorries (although both manage the journey). The Clachan Bridge is known locally as “the Bridge over the Atlantic” – always something useful to be known if you are a member of a Pub Quiz team. The Isle of Seil, along with Easdale and Luing, are known as the Slate Islands because of their long history of slate quarrying in the 18th and 19th Century. The Slate Islands are referred to as “the islands that roofed the world”. Wherever you walk on the islands of Easdale or Seil, especially along the shoreline, you are walking on loose slate.
The Isle of Seil can be reached from Oban by bus; it is a nice leisurely journey wending its way through the villages on the outskirts of Oban. I travelled on the school bus which stopped at the most unlikely places on the way. One of the things that I like about this part of Scotland is the ability to wave down a bus, that will always stop for you; one of the not so good things is not knowing what time those buses come, but never mind. Once on the Isle of Seil you do not need a map, just a trusty tea towel. No map will give you the detail of where the local cattery is. Each site of interest is numbered with a small drawing e.g. 1 is Clachan Bridge and clearly shows a narrow, high walled, stone humpbacked bridge. Be warned, not the place to meet another vehicle; 2 is the Tigh an Truish Inn and petrol station and so forth. As I look at the tea towel, it tells me where the Golf Course is, the doctor’s surgery, phone box, post office, war memorial, cemetery and local view point. It all comes rushing back to me. There is a Nature Reserve and the An Cala Garden which abounds with azaleas and flowering Japanese Cherry trees. An Cala is well worth a visit.
Isle of Seil is the base for Sea Life Safaris and Sea Life Adventures; this is not surprising because the island is flat around the coastline and has many good harbours and jetties to start these journeys on inflatables and small boats. The seas are full of Dolphins, basking sharks, seals, gannets, oyster catchers, herons and from a distance the golden eagle and buzzards reside on the hills in the centre.
Ellenbeich is the main village with the Oyster Bar Restaurant and Brewery. I loved the restaurant which has a large selection of fish; the menu changes daily depending on the season and what is caught that day. Many people go once, have a great meal like scallops and go back the following day hoping to have the same only to be disappointed that it is not on the menu. They are not disappointed for long because there is always something else fantastic to try. The seafood paella was pretty spectacular in my eyes.
No one goes to the Isle of Seil without visiting the Highland Art Exhibition. Coaches allow tourists time to spend in this place. It is difficult to describe it. It was founded by C. John Taylor, an artist from England who opened it in the early 1960s. He was obviously an astute business man because in his heyday he had opened about ten such Art Exhibitions across Scotland. Any discerning reader needs to read Andy’s Procrastinating Pencil, a blog at andyelkerton.wordpress.com where there is an article called “The Astounding World of C.John Talylor”. It is hilarious, to the extent I had tears coming down my face as he describes the Highland Art Exhibition; its hilarity comes from the fact that it is absolutely accurate, as are the readers of this blog who have posted comments. The one phrase that stands out is “It’s a gift shop on acid”. As a blogger I never want to be cruel or unkind about others but there is something so quirky about this place that actually gives it charm and makes it a stopping off point for tourists. If you are into ‘people watching’, it is fascinating to see people wandering around, not knowing whether to take this place seriously or not. Andy’s blog says “It’s easy to laugh at C. John Taylor’s work because, not to beat around the bush, his paintings aren’t very good. Best of all, he was an eager amateur……….and more importantly had an utterly unquenchable appetite for producing joyously bizarre art works…..”
I have been to the Isle of Seil several times and always say I will never go in and yet I am constantly drawn back, time after time. The Highland Art Exhibition is rooms upon rooms crammed full of paintings, craft work, tourist memorabilia (sometimes known as tat), plastic toys from China, loads of tea towels covered in dust…. I have never bought anything from the Highlands Art Exhibition, not even this tea towel which came from the Village Store.
The Isle of Seil and Easdale are almost inseparable as islands; to get to Easdale takes a three minute ferry ride. You just stand at the jetty and the boat turns up. Easdale has an amazing folk museum depicting everything about Easdale from the slate industry, army volunteers and public health to geology, boats and entertainment. You couldn’t fit more exhibits into such a small space if you tried. There is a real sense of community and its history. Easdale actually hosts the annual World Stone-Skimming Championships in September each year. Easdale is very small and it is easy to walk around the island along the coast, ending in a nice cup of tea at the Puffer Inn.
I love the Slate Islands although I never got to Luing but I would love to go back and visit. This tea towel is as quirky as the Highland Art Exhibition. Who puts a public toilet and a phone box on a tea towel but it does remind me of my trip to the Isle of Seil and how much I want to go back to visit Luing.
9 September 2016: I discovered this tea towel in my airing cupboard pile. I had completely forgotten about it. But it is fantastic because it celebrates C. John Taylor, the eccentric artist, who worked from Seil Island. I love the song and I can see why I bought it.
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