Duff House

One day last week the weather forecast showed the whole of Scotland under cloud apart from one little triangle in the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire area on the east coast.

Chasing forecasts often proves a futile business in this country, but as it happens on this occasion the forecasters got it bang on.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I hopped into the motor and sped off in the right direction, stopping en route at the splendid Balmakewan, where we partook of light refreshments.

A flat white with coffee and walnut cake for my delightful assistant:


Imagine sinking your teeth into an extremely light, soft and delicious coffee sponge cake with unbelievably fluffy icing that melts as soon as it hits the tongue, and you’re part of the way to having the Balmakewan coffee walnut cake experience.

I had a very hard time choosing what to have, as Balmakewan always has a painfully extensive selection of delectable goodies on offer, but in the end I plumped for this coconut affair with blueberries and raspberries through it, accompanied by a first class decaf flat white:


We decided to share these two items and while the coconut cakey thing was certainly very palatable, we agreed that the coffee walnut cake was outstandingly good. Β I’m sure I’ve never had fluffier butter icing in any cake.


A delicious duo with first class flat whites to wash them down with.

We left Balmakewan feeling that our day had got off to an excellent start. The weather was not particularly good but we had high hopes for our destination.

Around about lunchtime we reached the twin towns of Banff and Macduff, which lie on the Moray coast, and headed for Duff House.


Duff House is a rather magnificent Georgian building designed by William Adam in the 1730s:


Today it’s used by the National Galleries of Scotland to house some of their artworks, with the building being maintained by Historic Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, but it was originally built by a chap called William Duff (aka Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife).

William Duff had a large family, and even though the side wings Adam designed were never built, I expect the 50 rooms they ended up with were quite sufficient.


Room for a small one?

I thought the building had many lovely features, but the curving staircases at the front were a particular favourite:


Due to a broken pelvis that continues to heal slowly, going round the inside of the house with all its floors and stairs wasn’t really possible for my delightful assistant, but there was one area of the building she was very capabale of reaching.


A sign to gladden the heart – tasty morsels this way!

Inside, the tearoom had the same sort of feel I’ve noticed in other National Gallery tearooms, being light, airy and tastefully decorated. The history of Duff House was written up on the wall in a timeline with photographs, which made for interesting reading.


The menu was not extensive, nor did it cater particularly well for vegetarians, but there were various sandwiches to be had and I opted for egg while my delightful assistant went for tuna. I’m pleased to say that the sandwich far exceeded my expectations, being freshly made on very tasty brown bread and served with a delightful little carrot salad.


One very nice surprise was that there was ‘proper’ tea, by way of leaf tea popped into long teabags of the sort that appear to be getting more popular in Scotland’s tearooms.


We ordered a pot of Assam and a pot of Darjeeling and they were both tip-top. I often find I’m squeezing out the last cup from a teapot when I take tea, but in this case I had to leave some as there was so much to begin with (I managed three cupfuls):


I don’t take sugar, but I liked the way it was served at Duff House, in a little kilner jar with lid (no flies landing on these lumps) and tongs on the side (hygenically encouraging people not to dive in with their dirty great mitts):


The facilities at Duff House were another fine feature of the building, being nicely tiled in green and white with pull chain cisterns above the loos:


After lunch we waved goodbye to Duff House and made our way along the coast to have a look at the two little villages of Gardenstown and Crovie, but I’ll save those for another post.



49 thoughts on “Duff House

  1. Delightful surrounds and a historic home by the great architect Adams to say the least. I love the well crafted stairs and better yet, a delightful tearoom no less! I daren’t say you’ve sampled each & every one in the UK by now! πŸ™‚

    • The stairs are great, aren’t they? A most majestic way to enter your house. I wish I could say that I have sampled every tearoom in the UK, but very far from it. I don’t know what percentage I’ve sampled, but even within Scotland it must be a tiny fraction of a percent. There are an awful lot of tearooms here and new ones are popping up all the time. It’s a life’s work I’ll never complete, but that’s quite reassuring in a way.

  2. Hi Lorna, haven’t been visiting your blog for a while…shame on me!!…but glad to be back! Delecious cakes (would definitely wat to take a bite in either one of them) and same for the sandwiches!! Yummy. And wow, what a beautiful building this Duff House. Fabulous. Thank you for taking me to your part of the world for a moment. Ciao, Letizia

    • Hi Letizia, lovely to hear from you and I’m afraid it’s the same for me with yours. I wish there were more hours in the day, I need more time for reading blogs. Thanks for dropping in, I’ll be over to yours very soon, I only wish I could bring you a cake or two while I’m at it. πŸ™‚

      • Hi Lorna, don’t worry I completely understand it. I’m missing a few hours a day as well 😦 Oh and I like your idea of bringing some cake while visiting my blog…for now I taste it only virtually πŸ˜‰

  3. Thank you for a lovely trip around the area and Duff House. I haven’t been there in many years, it seems it is long overdue another visit!
    I love your images and descriptions of the cakes at Balmakewan. Makes me feel I need to go out there this instant and try their goodies lol. Which might be a bit difficult since I don’t even know where exactly it is. Some Google research required I think, just on the remote chance it is within our reach πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks Sonja, I do hope you can call in at Balmakewan some time, it’s well worth a visit. It’s near Laurencekirk, if that’s any help, just off the A90. (www.balmakewan.co.uk) I think I need to revisit Duff House, I’d love to see round the inside (other than just the tearoom, although I’d be very happy to call in there again, too).

  4. What a beautiful place Duff House is! However, such was the impression of the coffee sponge, that it stayed with me throughout the post despite the temptations of history and architecture. The photo, combined with your description, is just dream-like. I really want to make a coffee sponge now!! πŸ™‚ I am very sorry to hear that your Mum is still in pain with her hip. That must be so frustrating for her. I’m glad that she enjoyed the tearoom, though! The sandwich looks very fresh and inviting, as does the tea – that’s a very generous sized teapot, too. And it’s always reassuring to find a nice, clean and inviting loo – I speak from the experience of more showgrounds than I care to remember!

    • I’m delighted that you were captivated by the coffee sponge, it was such an excellent example of its type. It makes me want to make one too, only I fear it won’t be up to the same standard. Perhaps I should go back to Balmakewan instead. Thank you for your kind concern for my mum, she is healing up but it’s slower than she was hoping and she does find her immobility a great frustration at times. I can just imagine the showground loos, having visited a few portaloos in my time. I completely agree with you, a clean and inviting loo is very reassuring.

  5. I love your method of deciding where to go. I suppose it’s very common-sensical, but it makes me smile! We may do that ourselves on our next rainy weekend.

    • I wouldn’t like to recommend that method too heartily to anyone in the UK, but perhaps your weather’s a bit more predictable? I certainly remember endless days of lovely sunshine in NZ. More often than not I’ve raced off to somewhere that claims to have the best weather of the day and found that it hasn’t quite lived up to its billing. It does work sometimes, though, and the visit to Duff House was one such happy occasion. I hope you enjoy your next rainy weekend.

  6. I too love your method of determining which direction you are heading off to for the day…I would LOVE both of those cakes but my favorites are savory items and that sandwich looks wonderful. What a great day and love the photos of Duff House. And yes, it is so nice that leaf teas are being served in so many places…a much better tea flavor than dust in a bag.

    • Chasing the sunshine must seem a bit odd for someone from California, although you’ve been to these islands and no doubt remember how dodgy our weather can be. You never can tell what it’ll be like from one hour to the next, or where you’ll get the best of conditions. Perhaps that’s part of the charm of Britain (I’m trying hard to be optimistic, here). The sandwich was great, and the tea was a very happy find. I definitely see a move towards leaf tea over here, a gradual one but certainly a move in the right direction. The choice of teas is increasing too, which is excellent.

  7. You’re an anti-storm chaser! Much wiser than chasing tornadoes :-). Wow, that walnut cake with the layer of goodness in the middle…already my brain is thinking of how to veganize it.

  8. Sometimes I wish I could reach through the screen and have a taste of one of these beautiful cakes! I hope the delightful assistant is better soon too πŸ™‚

    • I wish you could, too – roll on the day when technology allows that possibility! Thank you for your kind thoughts re: the delightful assistant, I think she’s getting better all the time, just rather more slowly than she’d like.

  9. I must be the only one who’s never seen brown lump sugar, and the tea bags sound interesting, too! I’ll have to check in with our area “Brits” store and see what they can find for me!

    • I’m delighted to have introduced you to brown sugar lumps, they look nice in a bowl with the white ones (and are a constant temptation to my delightful assistants, who like to eat them as small treats). Those teabags are a great invention, long wide envelopes open at one end so that you can shovel as much leaf tea in as you like and, hey presto, you’ve made your own teabag!

  10. I am a fairly regular visitor – but interestingly never around the house – I have eaten in the tearoom but such along time ago I couldn’t accurately comment on how good it was. I do remember standing for what seemed like ages waiting for the Saltire to fill with wind – ha ha – I think you have probably tempted me back.

    • I recommend a revisit to the tearoom, and although I can’t speak for the house I imagine it must be well worth a tour. I hope I can go back and do that one day. I’d love to see your photos of the place, I’m sure you’d produce something wonderful.

  11. Yes, those tea filters are wonderful. The kind I use are by Finum (I believe they’re made in Germany). They’re great because you can make a whole pot or just one cuppa with them. Aaaanyway, I degress…it’s my turn to learn a new term today: what does “flat white” mean? :0)

    • I haven’t seen those empty teabags for sale anywhere, only in tearooms, but I’ll have to look out for them. As you say, a wonderful idea. I see you’re not the only one I’ve confused with ‘flat white’; it’s a type of Italian-style coffee, the sort made with an espresso base, like a cappuccino or latte, but I think it’s the smoothest option when it’s well made. I’m not sure exactly how it’s achieved but it has an almost velvety texture and often a leaf or other design is made on top with the milk foam. Pretty as well as tasty! I first came across it in New Zealand and then I began seeing it a while later in the UK. Perhaps it’ll arrive on your shores soon, too.

  12. what a beautiful tearoom and to have the history tastefully decorating the walls, I am very much in favor of that. I will look forward to your post on Gardenstown and Crovie as I have a friend who is from that area.

    • Thanks Darlene and I do apologise for bandying about the term ‘flat white’. Please see my reply to Lucinda (Crazy for tea time), who was similarly puzzled. I think perhaps an Aussie or a Kiwi would be best placed to give a proper explanation.

  13. Ha ha ha! Well the one time I didn’t bother to leave a comment it posted! I’ve written to Askimet, on the advice of WordPress, but I think it’s just some glitch that comes and goes. Very frustrating indeed!

    I do hope the Delightful Assistant is continuing to heal up well. Duff House is a great place, rain or shine.

    • Hurrah! Well done, and thank you for your determination. I was hoping it would just sort itself and I’m delighted to see that it has, but how odd. Thank you for your kind concerns for the delightful assistant, she is definitely speeding up now and getting closer to normal.

  14. Must’ve missed this one? That swirling staircase is gorgeous. Trying hard to remember where it reminds me of but the memory banks are closed for the day. Must be a bank holiday. πŸ™‚

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