Persabus Pottery Islay
Interview with Rosemary Fletcher
Persabus Pottery Islay is run by Rosemary Fletcher and is based on the family farm at Persabus. The Fletcher family have farmed on Islay for over 400 years and at Persabus for well over 100 years and it has evolved into a multitude of enterprises, including a ceramic cafe, camp site and luxury self catering accommodation.
Donald and Rosemary’s story is worthy of any romantic movie. Rosemary was from the Midlands but regularly travelled to the Isle of Jura, where she hiked along the rugged coastline with her brother. On one of these trips there had been a fell race, Rosemary and her brother were in a taxi when the driver urged them to visit Craig House to participate in the post-race Ceilidh. On a whim they agreed. In a true boy meets girl fashion, Donald was captivated when he saw Rosemary and quite literally swept her off her feet, picking her up in a fireman’s lift and kidnapping her so she couldn’t leave. She laughs as she recalls these events. “Naturally it took a bit more persuasion than that,” she muses, “but not long after I moved to Islay and I love it”.
Donald and Rosemary have kept the 400-year farming livelihood, as Persabus is still is a working farm. Yet they have fused it beautifully with modern amenities that cater for the many tourists that visit Islay every year. Two self-catering cottages, farmhouse accommodation, a small campsite, a café and of course the now famous Persabus pottery.
Being a naturally artistic talent, Rosemary has been able to channel her own creativity to the Persabus brand. Continuing with the pottery tradition started by her mother and sister in law, Rosemary produces her own hand-painted pots whilst facilitating workshops where adults and children can come and paint their own ceramic gifts.
Persabus Farm offers luxurious self-catering accommodation for Islay tourists. They regularly welcome visitors to Islay who are on the whisky trail, or participating in adrenaline fuelled holidays or for the more leisurely fishing fraternity.
They offer two self-catering cottages, Persabus Cottages and Persabus Millhouse, as well as Farmhouse accommodation and a small campsite with a warm breakfast served from the Persabus café! What other camp site would wake you up with such delights?
Persabus Pottery Islay
Persabus Pottery Islay was established many years ago by Donald’s mother and sister. Soon after, Donald’s brothers, Iomhair and Arra Fletcher started to produce pots made from hand carved moulds lovingly hand-painted with Celtic designs, which over the years have become highly collectable. Such is their reputation that even though they are no longer active at the pottery, make small batches of select popular pieces that wing their way to far flung places across Europe.
Rosemary designs and hand paints all the pieces that she sells in her own collection. This assortment offers the opportunity to purchase a unique gift which would be wonderful for anyone that has connections to, or memories of Islay. This is because every pattern is directly inspired by Rosemary’s family and friends as well as the rolling landscape of Islay, its seasons, its colours and its characters.
Rosemary releases around 5 new designs every year. She is so passionate about Islay and the endless inspiration it provides from its topography, weather and vegetation. With no end of subject matter, it is little wonder that the pottery has a broad range to choose from.
Here is a sample of Rosemary’s pieces
Saligo coastline – wild beaches, turquoise seas, white horses, glints of yellow sand are prevalent in this sunny portfolio.
Killinallan – a range that is named after Rosemary’s favourite beach where she regularly hikes and swims with the children. They also love to frolick in the sand dunes, creating sculptures, collecting shells and paddling. With this beautiful pottery on the shelves, every day is a beach day. Inspired by a commission from a regular guest, Alice who also has a love of Killinallan Beach.
Ocean swirls – Naturally inspired by the stormy seas, moodiness and emotion of Islay’s tumultuous coast
Duncan’s Bunnahabhain Range, is a tribute to the wild blustery walks Rosemary enjoys with her son on the headland at Bunnahabhain
Persabus Pottery Islay Grey Lag handmade jugs that are ideal for malt whisky
Perabus Fuschia Donald’s grandmother planted fuchsias on the farm that have gone from strength to strength and are captured beautifully in this assortment
Misty Isle depicts the vibrant autumnal colours that arrive in autumn and continue throughout winter on Islay
Valinda Tartan named after Rosemary’s late mother in law who had a love of tartan, a stunning vibrant blue
I was really taken by the gorgeous paintings that Rosemary has on her pottery and the fact that every single piece has a story behind it. One of my favourite’s is Sheena’s Islay Beach Time Range
Sheena is one of Rosemary’s closest friends and Rosemary launched it to celebrate Sheena’s ‘big birthday’. Sheena is a local jazz singer with presence, who is also a regular performer at the Islay Jazz Festival. Every December, she celebrates her birthday on the beach with flasks of hot soups, barbecues and a basket of goodies. The paintings are a timeless reminder of these memories, usually synonymous of hot summer days, taking place on icy sands. As a fellow music lover with a December birthday, this lady sounds like my soul sister and I can totally relate.
Paint Your Own Pottery Workshop
Rosemary also runs a workshop in the ceramic café where guests and visitors can relax and unwind with refreshments whilst creating their own painted pots. This is a huge hit with visitors all over the Island and is now part of Islay’s tourist attractions.
2020 the season that wasn’t
I asked Rosemary how she and Donald have coped during 2020 after being forced to close during the Covid-19 crisis and how it has affected the Islanders.
“We had to close at the beginning of the season and only re-opened at the end of July” Rosemary told us. She continued, “It has been quieter than usual, but we have seen a change in the type of guest. Normally we have a lot of people visiting the distilleries, but this year has been more of the bucket and spade family holidays.”
So, it seems families are still keen to still to get away, but with the distilleries having to turn visitors away, it is having a significant impact on the tourism on Islay.
Adapting to the new normal
The ‘New Normal’ is a term we have all had to get to grips with in 2020. Rosemary relayed to us how she has adapted part of the business to changing circumstances.
“I had to think about how I could continue to deliver our pottery painting workshops, especially as we had to keep the café shut, even once the accommodation had re-opened. So, I devised a pottery take away box. This allows people to pick up a box, take it away and paint it. They then drop it off for me to glaze and fire in the kiln and then it is ready for collection a couple of days later.”
I asked her how this had been received, “Really well, we have had a lot of support from locals and people visiting, it has been a huge hit.”
Take Away Boxes
Each box contains different bisque shapes to choose from and includes paint brushes and 5 pots of paint, all ready to go.
Some of the shapes include skull tea light holders, ghost tealight holders, party animals, money banks, cereal bowls, mugs, plates and jugs.
Like any close-knit community that is isolated from the mainland, Islay residents have pulled together to support each other during a challenging year. Rosemary was quick to praise Calmac, the ferry company that keeps Islay fed and connected.
Rosemary testified “The ferries have been wonderful. They ran a service throughout the Covid-19 crisis with a tight booking service that meant everyone remained safe. They also ensured that the islanders got regular supplies of food”. This is a great testimony about a company that probably had its own troubles during this period, still taking care of the wider community.
Supporting Local Businesses
As more restrictions have been announced at the time of this blog being published, many accommodation providers are closing their doors now for the rest of the 2020 season. Hopefully 2021 will see looser rules that allow more travelling and the return of international visitors. In the meantime, anyone thinking of a 2021 Staycation, make the Highlands and Islands part of your immediate bucket list as these small businesses have been hit really hard, especially islanders.
Let us support our UK economy back to life.