Cambridge: 2010



I have strong memories of my childhood and watching the Oxbridge University Boat Race each year. My earliest memories are of going down to the Thames, as we lived in London. As soon as we got a TV we watched the race on the television. I have to say things I improved once there was colour television because it is important to be able to distinguish the dark from light blue colours. I have always supported Cambridge while both my parents supported Oxford (I suspect my mother supported Oxford because navy was her favourite colour and I supported Cambridge just because I wanted to be contrary).

While a Cambridge Boat Race supporter, I have to say that Cambridge as a town ‘doesn’t do it for me’. You’d think it would be my cup of tea with it’s history, old buildings, great architecture, good book shops, lots of tea rooms, Loch Fyne Restaurant etc.  But no! I dislike it. I don’t want to go there. I think that the traffic system is the problem. One way systems, no through roads, dead ends, lack of parking, road signs that don’t mean anything to a visitor, traffic wardens, loads of tourists in overcrowded places. In 2010, I discovered the Park and Ride and while I used it, it didn’t make me like Cambridge any better. However, I was keen to buy a tea towel since I had visited the place but even that was difficult to find. In the end I think I found a really nice one with the background in the pale blue colour of the Cambridge Boat Race, bringing back all those memories but I haven’t been round any of the colleges, or been on a punt or visited any of the places on the tea towel.

It is a nice straightforward tea towel with the names of all the Cambridge Colleges around the edge, each with their Coat of Arms and in the centre the Coat of Arms of Cambridge University. At that time there were apparently 23 colleges in total. Amongst all these Coats of Arms are some pictures of places like Kings College Chapel, Mathematical Bridge, Clare Bridge and the Backs with punts on the river, the Bridge of Sighs, the Round Church and the very different New Hall.

However, having said all this I did recently discover an old picture of my friend Pete in the ‘official’ Jesus College photo  which was dated 1969. Perhaps I should go back and have a look round Jesus College where he went.

Update: 18 October 2015


For someone who has professed not to like Cambridge very much then I have obviously been there more than once because this tea towel has come to the top of the airing cupboard pile and was part of my latest photo shoot.  It definitely wasn’t a present from anyone.  I think I bought it when I went to meet friends at the Loch Fyne restaurant on 2011 although I can’t be sure.  Anyway, what this tea towel does is reaffirm my dislike of Cambridge because it is exactly the same design layout as the one I have from Warwick and one I have from Cheltenham.  Cambridge even had to use an unoriginal design when it has the most amazing historic buildings and history – you’d think it could create an amazing tea towel.

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Yorkshire 2013


I love the work of Emma Ball. Her water colour vignettes are a delight.  She can paint a house, a hill, a coastal path or a field and conjure up a feeling, in the viewer,  that you want to be there and if you were there it would be sunshine and you’d have a great day out. These tiny pictures of hers make you feel that all is right with the world. This is a wonderful talent to have in what can sometimes can seem like a grim world.

That’s how I felt when I was on holiday in Yorkshire myself. Regardless of the weather it was a happy place, away from the cares of the world. When we went to Yorkshire we stayed in a magnificent eco-friendly cottage in the middle of nowhere; the nearest town was Richmond, a great place to get around from and the mixed weather encouraged us to visit lots of places. If I look at the tea towel I know I have visited all those places.

Kilburn is a small village in North Yorkshire, mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is where the wood craftsman, Robert Thompson, (the ‘Mouseman’) lived and worked. He carved a mouse on every piece of furniture he completed. Many churches in Yorkshire have pieces of his work. Staithes is a tiny village on the coast with narrow lanes, not a place I’d recommend to visit in a car. It was the base for the well known Staithes Group of Artists. You’d never believe to look at it that this was once the largest fishing port on the North East coast. It is also part of the ‘Dinosaur Coast’ where a huge amount of fossils have been found, a geologists dream.

Fountains Abbey is the magnificent ruins of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monastery in England. Founded in 1132, Fountains Abbey was abandoned during the reign of Henry VIII, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and owned by the National Trust. If ever there was a place that conjures up the ghosts of the past, it is Fountains Abbey. It is an amazing place to wander around and lose yourself in the mists of time. There is a silence that surrounds Fountains Abbey, after all Cistercians were a silent order. Why would anyone want to destroy such a magnificent building?

Hebden Bridge is, on the other hand, is the home of clog-making. Ed Sheeran was born there and Sylvia Plath is buried there. Holmfirth is another small, hilly town where the Last of the Summer Wine was filmed between 1973 and 2010. In the town there was a delightful tea room called The Wrinkled Stocking, inspired by Nora Batty and her friends.  Muker is a village, at the western end of Swalesdale, where the murder scene in Evil Under the Sun was filmed in 1982.  Bolton Abbey is a 12th Century Augustinian  monastery in Wharfdale, another place with a great tea room.

Knaresborough is a market town on the river Nidd, 4 miles east of Harrogate with a good Wednesday market; another place with a history dating back to the Domesday  Book. Robin Hood’s Bay has nothing to do with Robin Hood; it is, in fact, the eastern terminus of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk and the start of the Cleveland Way. It is 5 miles south of Whitby. Robin Hood’ s Bay was famous for smuggling, because of the narrow streets and numerous places the smuggled  tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco could be hidden.

Finally is Whitby, a delightful seaside town at the mouth of the river Esk. Whitby is famous for a bizarre range of things from being the place that Captain Cook served his Apprenticeship and commemorated by a statue and numerous references. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is based in Whitby. Whitby Jet is used in all sorts of jewellery from earrings to necklaces, rings to bracelets. Every other shop in Whitby sells jet. The oldest and most prominent landmark is Whitby Abbey high on the cliffs overlooking the sea, founded in 656 by Abbess Hilda. Whitby is a town of steep hills; I remember walking up and down the steep and narrow streets on both sides of the estuary looking for Elizabeth Botham’s tea room and it was certainly worth the walk. There is one thing that I was intrigued about; looking at the tea towel there is a sign on the house in Whitby. I struggled to read it so I contacted Emma Ball. The sign on the upstairs says ‘Harbour Tea Room’ and on the ground floor it says ‘Museum of Victorian Whitby’. However, Mr Google can give me no information about these two names. There is a Harbourside Tea Room and a Victorian Museum but that is in  Glaisedale .

One look at the tea towel brings all these memories back. I wish I knew the story of the signs on the house in Whitby but it was a great holiday, made all the better by having Emma Ball’s tea towel.

Tiree: 1998


I’ve been galvanised into action to write my blog on Tiree as a result of all the inspirational Tweets about the recent Tiree Music Festival, the photos,  the campsite that was flooded out and the locals who sheltered campers in the local school. My memory of Tiree is of very friendly locals who always stopped to chat. Twitter is full of people who are inspired and enthused by the Inner Hebrides and it is a great vehicle to post the most amazing photos; you need few words, the images speak for themselves.

The Tweets bring back so many memories of my holiday in Tiree 17 years ago, and it certainly doesn’t seem that long ago although when I look at my holiday photos there are a lot less wrinkles and fewer grey hairs. This is one of those great tea towels for memories: the map of the island, sketches of seals and birds, locations of visitor highlights, just great when you are wiping up.

We were renting a cottage on Tiree for a week, taking the car by the Calmac ferry from Oban. Simple. Except I only had two weeks holiday so we had to drive up to Oban in one day. It was a long drive. The ferry left at 6.30am so we stayed in a small guest house on the sea front to be near the ferry in the morning. Armed with several alarm clocks and the promise of a wake-up call we fell into a deep sleep. None of the alarm clocks went off and we didn’t hear the wake-up call, if there was one. We woke refreshed at 6.10am. Panic. Couldn’t think what to do. We were too late surely. We had that ‘paralysed’ inaction. Just stood there trying to think sensibly. Then decided we would have to try to catch the ferry because there were only four in a week and definitely not one the next day. A jumper over our pyjamas, we ran like bats out of hell to the car and drove beyond the speed limit, arriving at the boat one minute before they were stopping cars get on the ferry, and only because we had pre-booked. Panic over. Now we were in the embarrassing position of having to get some clothes out of the back of the car on the car deck and sneak up to the toilets to wash and change. We managed to ‘play it cool’ and stroll along the deck as if this is how we always travelled. Once we found the toilets, washed and changed and began to feel civilised and ready for one of Calmac’s famous breakfasts which lived up to our expectations and felt like the start of the holiday.

There is no question that the start of the Tiree journey has had a lasting impact on my approach to travelling. If my journey involves catching anything – be it a plane or boat or train – then I have to leave early, my friends would say ridiculously early. Even I, know it’s too early but I can’t help it. Anyone who has travelled with me knows there is no getting around it. We’ve tried the CBT approach, what is the worst thing that could happen? Answer I’d miss the train/boat/plane. Panic. I can’t bear that stomach churning of being late. Because I haven’t driven since 2001, I put this pressure on other drivers. Heaven only knows why anyone agrees to take me anywhere.

Wiping up with this tea towel, my first thought is of getting to Tiree by boat; later, memories of Tiree itself come flooding back. Part of the Inner Hebrides, Tiree is 22 miles west of Ardnamurchan, the nearest point to Tiree on the mainland, the most westerly island, next stop America. Although the 12th largest island around the British Isles it is only 12 miles long and three miles wide. Tiree is almost flat; the highest hill is just over 400 feet above sea level. There are no cliffs; you can walk the 46 mile circumference along the sands, across the rocks and along the machair. There are no trees, a few hedges, because the wind blows from the Atlantic. It is known for being windy but because there are no mountains weather systems pass quickly over Tiree. Tiree holds the record as the sunniest spot in Britain with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else. Tiree is warmed by the Gulf Stream Drift with no frost or snow. There is certainly less rainfall than most parts of Scotland. The wind means that Tiree is not troubled by the infamous midges. With white sandy beaches of crushed shells Tiree is an ideal holiday location, full of charm and beauty. It has everything you could ask for: Iron Age forts, crofting, traditional black and white ‘spotty’ houses developed in Tiree, windsurfing, miles and miles of continuous white beaches, machair, the history of settlement by St Columba, seaweed in abundance, vast amount of wildlife……..Recently a rare leatherback turtle was sighted off Tiree.

My memory of Tiree is the local Co-op which sold everything you needed and was always busy; the local Business Centre where I was able to photocopy a tender I had written when I worked for POhWER in Stevenage and had run out of time before my holiday; an amazing pottery in a very large shed where I bought several bowls, a plate, two jugs inscribed on the bottom with ‘Tyrii’; walking along the sea shore picking up driftwood and a huge array of shells which still adorn my garden. I remember walking through a field to see a Standing Stone, wondering if it was ok to do that and returning to the car to see a man leaning against a fence and thinking that this is where we get told off for trespassing when he said ‘hello just stopped to see if you were enjoying yourself’, just great.

We stayed in a very, very small cottage with the bedroom in the attic which overlooked the sea, where I drank far too much vodka and have some very drunken looking photos to prove it, wearing a jumper that I still have and consider to be my favourite. In the garden was a rotary washing line and I have a superb photo of a chicken sitting on top of it.

I bought this tea towel in a strange shop in the middle of the island that sold the weirdest collection of things including tea towels and toilet brushes but not a lot else. However, once you have a tea towel there is not much else that you could want.

Tiree was a fabulous place; I went back on a day trip about three years ago and it really hadn’t changed very much. The beauty of the island almost takes your breath away. Now, on 21 February 2017, I was sorting out my tea towels and came across this one bought on my last day trip.  I do love tea towels with handprints (the Pre-Five Group of Tiree). I saw it in a shop and thought “that’s my sort of tea towel”.  It is nearly two years since I first published this Blog and am happy to add this tea towel to it.  I said, two years ago, that I would like to go back and stay and that is still my feeling. One day!



Wedding Anniversaries Sampler 2007


At Dorothy and David’s 60th wedding anniversary party in June 2015 (see tea towel blog) their daughter arranged a quiz for two teams – the men versus the women – to take place in between the main meal and the cake. Very much a Pub Quiz type affair where information you can gather from tea towels becomes very useful. One of the questions was ‘which present is traditionally given for a 10th wedding anniversary?’. No one knew the answer (tin, of course). For me this was incredibly frustrating because I knew I had a tea towel, produced by Ulster Weavers, which lists the traditional gifts for wedding anniversaries from the first to the sixtieth, but I didn’t have it with me!!!

This is the sort of tea towel that I love – lots of information that will be useful on a Pub Quiz Team. Unfortunately, you either have to memorise the information or carry the tea towel with you. Even I’m not that obsessed! I knew the 25th anniversary was silver, 30th pearl and 50th gold but did you know it is leather for the third or copper for the seventh or even pottery for the ninth?

I bought this tea towel in 2007, purely as a means of finding out what I should buy for my friend’s daughter’s first wedding anniversary (paper). Besides being the source of valuable information, I like this tea towel because it is linen, and therefore a good wiper-upper, it holds it’s colour and is designed as an embroidered sampler with the house and garden at the top with rows of embroidered flowers in the garden. The list of wedding anniversaries from one to fifteen and then every fifth one thereafter up to the sixtieth is below. Ulster Weavers needs to look at this because if you read the papers, more and more couples are reaching 65, 70 and more wedding anniversaries. What should I buy Dorothy and David next year? My tea towel doesn’t tell me.

It’s a shame this tea towel came to the top of the pile four weeks too late for the anniversary quiz but Gwyn and Pete celebrate 40 years of married life in September 2015 and I now know what I have to buy.

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Ratby, Leicestershire: 1999


The only word to describe this tea towel is ‘poignant’. The photograph doesn’t do it justice. It’s my “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” tea towel. It reminds me that however bleak things were in the late 1990s, things did get better, slowly and with the help of some very good friends. I don’t have a ‘favourite’ tea towel but this one is treated in a special fashion. When the Ratby tea towel comes to the top of the pile it hangs for one week on the back of the kitchen door, unused so I can just look at it. The second week it goes into use. I think of the memories. I don’t want to put them away too quickly. Those memories are a part of who I am today.

This was a present for my 48th birthday. Knowing my love of tea towels, a good friend made this one for me. It is a traditional Glass Cloth with the red line down the centre. She used fabric marker pens to draw a washing line with tea towels pegged on it. On each tea towel she has written the names of places she knew I had tea towels from e.g. Cornwall, Leicester, China, National Trust, Hull, Harrogate etc.

There is a another line of jugs hanging on hooks on the wooden beams of my cottage. This reflects the collection of jugs that I had, a growing collection I would have to say, but not a collection I have a blog about you will all be pleased to note. The third piece of the drawing is Main Street, Ratby, the road on which I lived and in the corner is a very good likeness of my 18th Century cottage with the tub of bright pink petunias that was on my front door step throughout each summer.

52 Main Street, Ratby was a small and dinky, one and a half bedroomed cottage whose front door opened directly onto the street. I lived there for two and a half years. It was a spur of the moment decision to buy it one lonely Spring Bank Holiday weekend. All my friends thought it was completely out of character for me (which it was). I wasn’t any good at decorating or DIY and you really needed those skills if you were going to make any changes. However, it was in a Conservation Area so there were few changes that could be made. You have to remember that I am a woman who collects a ridiculous amount of tea towels and jugs. At that time, I had a lot of books and needed a lot of space. The garden was just a back yard with the most enormous shed in it. I never understood what anyone needed such a big shed for, especially one geared up with fluorescent lighting, electric points etc in such a tiny outdoor space. The cottage, they all thought, was much too small.

The reason the tea towel signifies “the light at the end of the tunnel” is that I bought 52 not long after my husband died very suddenly. I needed to move out of the house and change my job. They always say you shouldn’t make big decisions about things like moving house too quickly after a bereavement; you shouldn’t rush into things.  Grief takes people in different ways; I had to work things out in my own way. The only way I managed to do that was with the support and long suffering of a small group of friends who ‘held my hand’, listened to me rabbit on, watched me make some decisions that I know they felt weren’t wise but stood by me. I can honestly say that those people are those that are still my friends now. And I would go “to the ends of the earth” for them today as I felt they did for me. This tea towel was drawn by one of those people and it picks out the things that were important to me – a quirky house, hundreds of tea towels, probably too many jugs – I am filled with gratitude that someone would go to those lengths to do that for me. Grief was still a bit raw but I have amazing photos of me holding up my tea towel and laughing.

I don’t have a lot of momentos of 52 except for the tea towel. 52 was an important step for me. It was the place I probably drank far too much wine, smoked too many cigarettes sitting in the dusk in the back yard, watched too much TV, cried all day long on the day Princess Diana died and watched the coverage on TV incessantly, ate very badly, made long phone calls at ridiculous times of the night to long suffering friends. It was never going to be somewhere I was going to live for a long time but it was somewhere for me to think, get my life in order and find that light at the end of the tunnel. Grief is a powerful thing but used wisely, as a piece of learning it can help develop another side of you. What many people never understood, and perhaps why I did not maintain a friendship with them, is that after a close bereavement you can never go back to being the same person, you will always be different. That isn’t a bad thing or wrong thing. It’s just life. I watched people waiting for me to be the old Barbara and that was never going to happen. I knew that on 18 November 1996, others thought it was a matter of time. My tea towel symbolises and embodies that process of change. I can’t change the past. I can remember and move on. Thank you for my tea towel.

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Horner Tea Garden, Exmoor 2003


This is a classic tea towel from my collection in that it relates to one tea garden, as part of their publicity material. White background, functional cotton with black ink line drawings. It is a true momento of a pleasant tea room on the edge of Exmoor. The first time I wanted to visit, it was out of season in February. It was closed. The second time it was raining so I couldn’t have my tea and the third time (because I am tenacious when I think there might be a good tea room to visit) it was bright sunshine, very warm, the sort of day you really do want to sit in a tea garden and sip a really hot cup of tea, which genuinely has a cooling effect. The Victoria Sponge Sandwich was light and fluffy, the view amazing and the ambiance delightful. It was the sort of place you would always want to go back to. The only problem was that there was no indoor seating so it was dependent on the weather and if it was possible to sit under one of the umbrellas in the rain. My view is that a tea garden is only for the warm sunny days, pretending it’s fun in the wet is ridiculous.

The sketch of the little house is exactly as I remember it; you queued up at the window of the house to order your food. The building is actually a Grade II Listed building on the Holnicote Estate. I have no idea what it is like today because I haven’t been back since 2003 and I understand that the last new owner took over in 2014. But doing the washing up I can remember, as though I was there, the warmth of that day. A happy time and that is what a good tea towel should do for you, create that memory.

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Isle of Seil 2009


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 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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