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TITLE
A Traveller's Tale - Bow Tents
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_TRAVELLER_INTERVIEW_02
PLACENAME
N/A
DATE OF IMAGE
2003
PERIOD
2000s
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
11716
KEYWORDS
travelling folk
travellers
lifestyles
bow tents
A Traveller's Tale - Bow Tents

In 2003 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery held an exhibition on travelling people. To help with the research for the exhibition, Willie, a traveller, took part in an interesting and very informative oral history interview. Here, he talks about one of the traveller's portable homes - the bow tent. (The image shows a typical traveller's camp from around 1920-1940)

What kind of wood was used for the bow tent?

It would be hazel or ash, somethin bendable, ye know? They carried the sticks a lot with them - the tents had tae travel ye know? Sometimes they left the sticks; depends where they were gaun tae. Depends - some camps ye cud get plenty sticks, ye know? A lot o them carried the sticks with them. We called them bow tents - lochgellys - gellys. But the New Age travellers, they call them the benders, ye know? And they carried the canvas with them ye know, everywhere they went. An then they carried more o these willows - the hazel saplings as they call them - they carried a lot more in the winter because the tents had to be- Well, the bow tents had to be stronger.

How long did it take to put up a bow tent?

Well, it could take ye - depend on the weather [laughs]. It wiz the men that put it up. In oor family, it was ma father put them up. In the summer time ye could put them up in an hour because ye didn't really have tae be strong in summer or warm in the summer - maybe just a couple o hazel bows. We called them bows. It'd be easy enough to call them willows but we just called them bows. The sticks themselves, we called them bows. A politer word would be hazel willows.

Did you just stick them in the ground?

Ye shove them in. In the winter ye pit them deep an a bit thicker, quite a lot together, ye know? In the summer, you put maybe five at one side, five on the other - not to be strong, ye know - it was summertime. In the winter, the gales, it had to be strong. Some o the winter gales, some o the places on Skye were very exposed.

Were the bow tents warm?

Well they were, because Ah was brought up in one! Ah went tae school an aw in them. And eh, Ah remember years and years ago, the 'Press an Journal' comin, in takin photies o them. Och it wiz so an so, bit harsh in the winter, a bit cold gettin up for the school - (when we went tae the school).

What did you have on the ground?

Oh, we had straw on the ground, but eh, jist a sheet on it, made a matrass. But there was a big family, seven of us. An we had the girls on one side, had the boys on the bottom side an the parents this side, an we had whit ye ca - a stove in the middle.

Are caravans better than tents?

Well, ye're better in a carvan, eh! Don't get me wrong! It's warm, an all ye do when ye pull intae an auld camp place, ye pit the jacks doon. But where are the camps nowadays? If ye've got more than mebbe two, three caravans it's classed as a convoy, ye know?

Well, Ah mostly travelled on ma own, ye know, mebbe with jist two or three caravans. I'm mostly on ma own, but ye get families that sometimes doesnae separate at all. Goes fae camp tae camp. Likes the Irish Travellers, they just go to the caravan sites, all the one family, year after year, they jist come in. Ye've got a lot o Scottish travellers. They mix in between.

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A Traveller's Tale - Bow Tents

2000s

travelling folk; travellers; lifestyles; bow tents

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

A Traveller's Tale

In 2003 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery held an exhibition on travelling people. To help with the research for the exhibition, Willie, a traveller, took part in an interesting and very informative oral history interview. Here, he talks about one of the traveller's portable homes - the bow tent. (The image shows a typical traveller's camp from around 1920-1940)<br /> <br /> What kind of wood was used for the bow tent?<br /> <br /> It would be hazel or ash, somethin bendable, ye know? They carried the sticks a lot with them - the tents had tae travel ye know? Sometimes they left the sticks; depends where they were gaun tae. Depends - some camps ye cud get plenty sticks, ye know? A lot o them carried the sticks with them. We called them bow tents - lochgellys - gellys. But the New Age travellers, they call them the benders, ye know? And they carried the canvas with them ye know, everywhere they went. An then they carried more o these willows - the hazel saplings as they call them - they carried a lot more in the winter because the tents had to be- Well, the bow tents had to be stronger.<br /> <br /> How long did it take to put up a bow tent?<br /> <br /> Well, it could take ye - depend on the weather [laughs]. It wiz the men that put it up. In oor family, it was ma father put them up. In the summer time ye could put them up in an hour because ye didn't really have tae be strong in summer or warm in the summer - maybe just a couple o hazel bows. We called them bows. It'd be easy enough to call them willows but we just called them bows. The sticks themselves, we called them bows. A politer word would be hazel willows.<br /> <br /> Did you just stick them in the ground?<br /> <br /> Ye shove them in. In the winter ye pit them deep an a bit thicker, quite a lot together, ye know? In the summer, you put maybe five at one side, five on the other - not to be strong, ye know - it was summertime. In the winter, the gales, it had to be strong. Some o the winter gales, some o the places on Skye were very exposed. <br /> <br /> Were the bow tents warm?<br /> <br /> Well they were, because Ah was brought up in one! Ah went tae school an aw in them. And eh, Ah remember years and years ago, the 'Press an Journal' comin, in takin photies o them. Och it wiz so an so, bit harsh in the winter, a bit cold gettin up for the school - (when we went tae the school). <br /> <br /> What did you have on the ground?<br /> <br /> Oh, we had straw on the ground, but eh, jist a sheet on it, made a matrass. But there was a big family, seven of us. An we had the girls on one side, had the boys on the bottom side an the parents this side, an we had whit ye ca - a stove in the middle.<br /> <br /> Are caravans better than tents?<br /> <br /> Well, ye're better in a carvan, eh! Don't get me wrong! It's warm, an all ye do when ye pull intae an auld camp place, ye pit the jacks doon. But where are the camps nowadays? If ye've got more than mebbe two, three caravans it's classed as a convoy, ye know?<br /> <br /> Well, Ah mostly travelled on ma own, ye know, mebbe with jist two or three caravans. I'm mostly on ma own, but ye get families that sometimes doesnae separate at all. Goes fae camp tae camp. Likes the Irish Travellers, they just go to the caravan sites, all the one family, year after year, they jist come in. Ye've got a lot o Scottish travellers. They mix in between.