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!




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