Shieldaig, Wester Ross: 1999


I am surprised how long ago it is since I blogged about a ‘typical’ touristy tea towel, and a tea towel with age. It’s good to be reminded about how my collection of tea towels came about, just being bought to remind me of places that I have visited.  In 1999, I was on holiday in the North West Highlands of Scotland; the weather was beautiful, we were staying in a very remote area.  To get from one place to another you could drive many, many miles without seeing another car, certainly no petrol station, nor another person or even a settlement and definitely no shop but there were a lot of sheep.  One day we were meandering along the coast of Wester Ross, when we suddenly came upon Shieldaig.  It was a bit like ‘Brigadoon’, seeing a small Scottish village arise unexpectedly out of nowhere; we weren’t expecting it.  For such a small community, of about 80 people, there was a hotel/pub, shop, community centre.  We stopped for a cup of coffee (I drank coffee in those days) in the hotel; afterwards, as we wandered past the shop, I saw this tea towel in the window. ‘That’s for me’ I said; it has been a holiday of few tea towels so finding one in such a remote place was a sheer delight.

Shieldaig is a strange place in that it can pinpoint the exact date that it was founded – in 1800.  It can do that because it was established as a training base for seaman who were going to be involved in the Napoleonic Wars; fir trees were planted on the small island in Loch Shieldaig, just off the coast, so that they could be cut for sailing masts.  Once Napoleon was exiled to the Isle of Elba in 1814, the need for Shieldaig as a training base, and source of wood, no longer existed and it became a successful fishing village (After all, ‘Shieldaig’ means Loch of the Herring in Viking).  The island is now protected by the National Trust for Scotland, as a nature reserve.

I love this tea towel because of the detail in it; I can always fall for a map.  It shows the small island with the fir trees; it lists the hills and mountains of Torridon with a picture of the hill-walker; there is a directional compass;  the longitude and latitude is marked on it; I like the shading of the coastline; I like the fact that it is in black and white with just a small amount of yellow to highlight the name; I like the way that coastline is drawn, showing how difficult it is to go from one place to another.  ‘As the crow flies’ just does not apply to Wester Ross and Torridon.  When I look at it, I remember that cup of coffee and how welcome it was, being so unexpected.

A few weeks ago I was looking at the Ettrick Valley website (the people who produce tea towels with a Scottish theme) and saw my Shieldaig tea towel in the background display; it wasn’t on sale.  I contacted Bryan Hoggan to ask him about this and he confirmed that Ettrick Valley had designed and printed this tea towel more than 23 years ago, before he owned the firm.  I like to know the history of my tea towels; it was a special design for Shieldaig Stores. I haven’t yet been able to track down the artist, Ric Singerton, but maybe one day I will; it will give me something to think about while wiping up.

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