What we know about back and pony creels of the Highlands and Islands

John Gillies with his sons Callum and Ian, carrying peat creels near their home on Eilean Fladday, off Raasay. Gairloch Museum and Archive

In the Highlands and Islands creels enabled people and ponies to carry peat, seaweed, potatoes and other produce across rough ground that wheeled carts were not able to access. Usually made of willow, but sometimes with heather, they were made upside down by sticking stakes into the ground, or into a template (known as a caep in gaelic), and weaving around them. The upright stakes were then bent over to complete the base.

Creel, Tarbert, Harris. Detail of band. Highland Folk Museum

Creel, Tarbert, Harris. Detail of band. Highland Folk Museum

Details of the design of these creels varied from place to place but they all generally differed from east coast creels by having an open ‘band’ mid-way up the side, called the briagan or breugan, which was used for a strap to help carry it. The strap went across the front of the body and around the shoulders to hold a loaded creel on a persons back. A fully loaded creel was a heavy load and photos show crofters, often the women, bent double carrying these on their backs.

Many crofts had their own willow gardens for creel making and probably at one time there would have been one person in most households who would have known how to make a creel. In more recent times as they began to be used less often less people made them and so people tended to buy them from specific makers.

By Julie Gurr

See also How to Make Back/Pony Creels,    East Coast Fishwives Back Creels

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