Sign Of The Times

Last week, we marked another important milestone in our journey, the sign-writing of our Tarbert home with the bold words ‘ISLE OF HARRIS DISTILLERY’. It was a simple thing, but following a long Scottish tradition of black lettering on whitewashed distillery walls, it’s the final touch on our beautiful building.

To ensure the work was done to highest standard, we turned to the artistic skills and craftsmanship of Robin Abbey, a traditional sign-writer based in Edinburgh. 

Born in Beaminster, Dorset, England in 1948, Robin developed a passion for lettering at school, fostered by art teacher, Richard Ansdell, and went on to attend Somerset College of Art to study letterpress typographic design.


He then worked for a local sign firm in Taunton, under the mentorship of Bev Blackmore, who taught Robin ‘how to be a craftsman’, and the training has stood him in good stead ever since. ​

“I have always worked as a graphic designer or at related occupations in the printing industry, as well as doing signwriting. Signwriting has to be practised, like a musical instrument and I am grateful that the signwriter in Bridgwater, Harry Dyte, let me watch him work with a method I can only describe as modest self-assurance.”

Earlier this year, we visited Robin at his studio in Leith to discuss the project, working with our own graphic designer to explore fonts, photo-montages and using an architect’s elevation of the distillery to work from. From these he was able to calculate the exact size of the letters and spacing required and make plans to undertake the job.


A final design was endorsed by founder and chairman Anderson Bakewell and a date set to undertake the long drive and ferry journey to our shores. Last Thursday morning, Robin and his colleague, Tatch Robertson, were at our door, ready to begin their work…​

“As it all had to be marked and painted on a very heavy harling, I had cut out of thin plyboard in the studio the basic elements of the letters; then drew round them on site, using chalk and carpenters’ pencils.  Finally, they were painted-in using stiff bristle brushes called fitches. Having prepared as much as possible beforehand, we were able to get all the lettering on in one long day, not much interrupted by rain, and also able to do the snagging the next morning before the heavens opened.”

As they boxed their brushes and packed up their colourful paint cases, their craftsmanship shone through despite the dark clouds beginning to break above them.


Robin tells us… ​

"We are glad to have been part of the distillery’s development, and I’m sure the signage will ‘grow old gracefully’ and feature in innumerable photographs in years to come.”

Proud and prominent, upon the south-facing exterior wall of our Spirit Hall, our name is now there for all to see, particularly those arriving by sea. It’s a bold and confident statement of presence and intent, as we distill world class spirits here in the Isle of Harris. 

We thank Robin and Tatch for their wonderful work and wish them all the best for the future, with an open invitation to return to see their handiwork any time.

< Back to journal