A tale of two caddies

For as long as I can remember, this tea caddy has been in my family. For some time now I’ve been using it to store my breakfast Darjeeling in.

old caddy

Neither of my parents know exactly where it came from, although my mum thinks it may have belonged to her grandfather. She believes she’s had it for at least 55 years, during which time it’s been well used. This goes some way to explaining its worn and shabby appearance.

caddy with lid open

The design on the caddy is known as ‘Black Jap’, and features three different scenes in black, gold, red and silver.

The lid, which has become very scratched over the years, is decorated with no fewer than six cranes, two inside a central circle and one in each of the four corners. Cranes are popular symbols in a range of different cultures and religions, and in Japanese mythology they’re said to live for 1000 years. As well as being symbols of longevity they’re thought to bring good fortune.

cranes lid

There are two more scenes on the sides of the caddy, each depicted twice. One of these features two young ladies holding fans, with what looks like a pomegranate tree behind them.

ladies with fans

The other scene shows a well dressed oriental gentleman sitting beside what I think might be a cherry tree planted in a decorative urn. A small boy boy approaches him bearing a bowl of food with chopsticks in it. The old tin is so scratched that the picture is hard to make out.

old gent under cherry tree

In the picture below, however, you can see what the original caddy would have looked like when it was brand new and clean as a whistle.

old and new caddies

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The lid featuring six cranes.

This morning’s post brought me two items of mail from D C Thomson & Co Ltd, producers of numerous well known Scottish publications such as The Beano comic, Oor Wullie and The Broons, The Courier newspaper and The People’s Friend magazine.

Set up in 1869, The People’s Friend is the oldest weekly women’s magazine in the world. A few weeks ago I sent a letter to them, which seems to have been to their liking.

letter

The prize was a double delight for me. Not only did it include a packet of excellent leaf tea (which I opened this afternoon to make a deliciously flavoursome post-lunch beverage), but the tea came inside a brand new ‘Black Jap’ caddy, exactly like the old scratched one.

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Oddly enough, only a week or so ago I had been looking at the old caddy and wondering if it could do with being replaced.

Now that I’ve received the new one, however, I have a new appreciation of the old one. Seeing them sitting side by side in the kitchen brings a pleasing sense of continuity.

the old and the new

I’m not really a collector of anything, but I suppose if I were going to collect something Black Jap tea caddies would be a useful sort of thing to have. Do two caddies constitute a collection, I wonder? A small one, perhaps.

two black japs

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Darjeeling – teabag or leaf?

For several years now my breakfast brew of choice has been Darjeeling tea. I take it black, brewed for three or four minutes.

I started out with Twinings leaf tea, before noticing that my local supermarket (Tesco) produced their own teabag version. After recently winning a packet of Whittard’s Darjeeling teabags on Twitter (courtesy of @hashtagteaclub – thank you kindly, chaps) my tea cupboard is now graced with all three brands. Here they are, side by side:

three Darjeelings

Left to right: Tesco teabags, Whittard teabags and Twinings leaf tea.

Yesterday, and again this morning, I had a bash at the newest arrival, the Whittard teabags.

Whittard box with teabags

One of the plus points about the packaging, to my mind, is this quote from a British entertainment legend on the back of the pack.

Noel Coward quote

I brewed the tea as usual, adding a little cold water so that I could drink it straight away.

mug with tea box

My first sip was very pleasant, but hardly distinguishable from the Tesco teabags. It was smooth, light and just the thing I want first thing in the morning. If I hadn’t known it was a different brand I don’t think I’d have guessed it was anything other than Tesco’s own.

On most mornings, my main objective is to get those all important first sips of tea down the parched gullet asap, and for that reason I usually fall back on a teabag. After this taste test, I would rate Whittard alongside Tesco for flavour, smoothness and ease of preparation. To my mind, there’s really nothing to choose between them, except that the Whittard tea is about four times the price of the Tesco version.

When it comes to overall flavour and full-bodiedness, however, the Twinings leaf tea leaves the teabags behind. Not being constrained within a bag, and possibly being of higher quality, the leaf tea seems to me to have a livelier and more rounded taste, is more satisfying on the palate and I suspect puts a slightly jauntier spring in my post-breakfast step.

By mid-morning I’m fully prepared to put in the extra effort required for leaf tea production, but I will happily use up the remainder of my Whittard Darjeeling teabags to wash down my breakfast bagel over the next couple of weeks.

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What to do on a cold day in January

At the end of January last year the delightful assistants and I took ourselves off to one of the surprising number of large parks surrounding the city of Glasgow. We opted for one of the smaller ones, Calderglen Country Park, in the town of East Kilbride about 8 miles southeast of Glasgow.

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One of Calderglen’s many attractions: a play park with impressive wooden structures.

The ‘glen’ in the name refers to a wooded river valley which extends for over 3 miles. The waterway that cuts through the glen is a tributary of the River Clyde that flows through Glasgow. As it passes through the park it goes by the unfortunate name of Rotten Calder River. Undeterred by the somewhat offputting name, we toddled along the riverside paths taking in the glen’s natural wonders.

We crossed bridges,

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Delightful assistant no.2 descending the steps towards South Bridge in Calderglen Country Park.

watched water dribbling down rockfaces,

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admired clusters of snowdrops,

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and bark patterns on trees,

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and marvelled at the glen’s interesting geological structures.

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Delightful assistants drawn towards big lumps of rock.

It was such a bitterly cold day that we didn’t want to stop moving for fear of freezing to the spot. I did, however, manage to get the delightful assistants to pose in front of a small weir, a place at which delightful assistant no.1 was particularly pleased to find herself feeling taller than usual.

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An illusion, dear readers.

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Thankfully, there was a cafe close to where our riverside walk ended and we retreated there out of the cold.

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We ordered tea and toasted sandwiches.

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One particularly joyous aspect of the toasties was that they were triple decker.

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I should imagine that in the warmer weather Calderglen Country Park would be a popular place with families. As well as the riverside walks and play area, the park contains ornamental gardens, a small zoo, glasshouses, a golf course and a gift shop.

If it weren’t for the fact that there are so many other parks to be explored I might well go back to Calderglen for another visit. It was certainly a pleasant surprise and an excellent resource for the community of East Kilbride.

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A foreign land

A couple of weeks ago the delightful assistants and I went off on an excursion to a foreign land.

Not all that different from Scotland, it must be said, the land in question being the first stop south over the border: England.

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Our destination was the island of Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island), off the Northumberland coast.

One of the exciting things about going to Lindisfarne is that you have to drive through the sea to get there:

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Having consulted the tide tables before setting off, I’m happy to report that we avoided the above predicament.

We drove along an exposed strip of tarmac that wound its way across the sand and mud flats to the island. It felt quite exciting, knowing that a few hours later the road would be under the sea.

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It having been quite a long drive from sunny Perthshire, we were ready for a spot of luncheon and opted for al fresco paninis in the garden of the Pilgrim’s Coffee House:

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The sign outside very helpfully informed canine patrons of the facilities:

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To digress for a moment, this reminds me of a sign that was stuck up outside my local Catholic church. It said something like ‘No dog fouling’ and had been attached to a railing, not at eye height for humans, but a few inches off the ground at a position I can only assume was aimed at the dog rather than the owner.

Back at the Pilgrim’s Coffee House a dog sat quietly, not checking his email but gratefully accepting pieces of scone laden with jam and cream. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of the treats, but here he is sitting nicely:

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The island measures 2.25 miles from east to west and 1.5 miles north to south.

We concentrated our wanderings on the village area, which has a surprising amount to offer visitors.

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One of the streets in Lindisfarne.

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Entrance to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

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Inside the church: six wooden monks carrying a coffin.

The sculpture above depicts St Cuthbert’s body being removed from the island during Viking raids in 793 AD.

St Cuthbert is the patron saint of the north of England and was at one time the Bishop of Lindisfarne. He’s a particularly interesting saint, one of the curious things about him being that when his sarcophagus was opened some years after his death, his body was found to be in tip-top condition.

Right next to the parish church are the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, seen below with the church on the left and Lindisfarne Castle in the distance on the right.

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From left to right: church, priory and castle.

We didn’t have time to visit the castle, but I would like to pop down and look round it on another occasion. It was built in the 16th century and sits on the highest point in the island.

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Lindisfarne Castle seen from the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin.

The weather was lovely, with hazy sunshine all day.

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Delightful assistants soaking up the sun in a public garden.

Once we had wearied ourselves of walking, and despite the temptations of staying on the island….

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…we scooted back across the sea and, not far over the border into Scotland, happened upon a delightful refreshment stop in the small town of Coldstream.

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Stanwins Coffee Lounge, on the High Street in Coldstream.

We were gasping for beverages and I was delighted to find that Stanwins offered Lady Grey leaf tea, something I don’t see as often as I’d like to.

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Delightful assistants happily awaiting treats.

The cafe had a Scandinavian feel, with a Danish poster on the wall and fresh, neutral decor.  The lovely lady who served us said her husband was Danish and instead of the usual toasties for lunch, they offered open sandwiches and other Scandinavian-inspired fare.

I don’t think any of the things we had were particularly Scandinavian, but they were jolly tasty.

I had an enormous toasted teacake with Lady Grey tea, delightful assistant no.2 had shortbread and a cappuccino, and delightful assistant no.1 went for a slice of Swiss roll and a pot of breakfast tea. This was the Swiss roll, which was apparently delicious:

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We all enjoyed our trip to Lindisfarne, and hope to go again one of these days.

Perhaps, if the next visit is post-referendum*, I might get an English stamp in my passport.

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Grassy path, Lindisfarne, with water tower on the left.

*In less than four months, on 18 September, Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the issue of Scottish independence. The question we’re being asked is ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’ If the majority of voters tick the ‘yes’ box, Scotland will cease to be part of the UK and become an independent country within the European Union.

Bicycles in bloom

The pretty seaside town of Pittenweem sits on Scotland’s east coast, in the Kingdom of Fife.

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With its red-roofed, white-washed buildings and quiet streets, it’s a delightful place to take a stroll and relax on a sunny day.

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Last year, as part of Pittenweem in Bloom, a curious selection of old bicycles appeared throughout the town.

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Fisherman’s bike near the harbour.

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A cheery chap with a sack of potatoes outside the church.

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A bike selling eggs, although they’d all been snapped up when I walked past it.

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Little red bike that had apparently just come in from a swim.

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An artist’s bike with paintbrushes sticking out of paint pots attached to the frame.

Not all of the bikes were the right way up.

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Upside down bike harnessed to a tree in the main street.

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A question many bicycle owners consider at some point in their lives.

And at least one little bike had jumped up above street level.

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A surprisingly musical bicycle down a side street.

Pittenweem’s attractive ice cream shop had a bike secured outside the front door (you can only see the back wheel of it in the picture, I’m afraid).

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This next one had been fixed up with an unusual (if not terribly practical) set of square wheels:

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“The Flintstone Flyer”, a square wheeled oddity.

It was such a gloriously sunny day when I was snapping away at all these bikes that I felt I was somewhere considerably more exotic than the east coast of Scotland.

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A moment of disorientation – have I been transported to a Spanish island?

All of this bicycle business was pretty exhausting, but luckily revitalising victuals weren’t far away.

At the excellent Cocoa Tree Cafe, I fuelled up on an exquisite chocolate cake and a pot of cardamom tea:

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My treat came with a jug of single cream and I was very pleased with the little slug that formed when I poured the cream over the cake:

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My delightful assistant sated her hunger with a cream scone:

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*   *   *   *   *

If you’re ever mooching around in the Fife area wondering how to fill your time, I heartily recommend a trip to Pittenweem.

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A walk along the sea front makes for a pleasant bit of exercise, and while you’re dondering along be sure to keep an eye out for this appealing local resident.

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Scones of the week

The past week has been a very good one for scones.

(I confess, most weeks are good for scones, the scone being pretty much a daily occurrence in my life.)

The first one I have a picture of was devoured in the wonderful Loch Leven’s Larder, after this delicious chickpea salad:

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Following the chickpeas was a truly first class, decent sized blueberry and vanilla taste sensation:

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The chum I was having lunch with also had a scone, opting for the dried fruit sort, served not only with jam and butter, but cream to boot (all of which disappeared very swiftly):

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A couple of days later I had another decent sized, tip-top scone while working in the A K Bell Library cafe. It was of the treacle variety:

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Yesterday I had a golden raisin scone (home produced):

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And today, in honour of my sister coming for lunch, a batch of cheese and poppy seed scones appeared:

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This is not the full complement of scones devoured in the past week, but unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of the pear and walnut or the sultana scones. They are, nonetheless, happy memories.

The wee village of West Wemyss

One of the things that repeatedly surprises me about Scotland is the number of fascinating little out of the way villages there are, sitting quietly waiting to be discovered.

The county of Fife is full of such places, and yesterday I took the delightful assistants out for a seaside adventure in search of one.

Anyone who knows the Fife coast well might already be familiar with the village of West Wemyss (pronounced Weems), but it’s the sort of place you could easily miss, being at the end of a road that leads to West Wemyss and nowhere else.

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The village of West Wemyss, nestling on the Fife coast at the end of the road.

We parked in a free car park by the harbour, overlooked by some commanding buildings complete with pantiled roofs very typical of Fife coastal villages.

The cream coloured building is called the Belvedere, and was built in 1927 to serve as a miner’s institute and reading room. I would have liked to have gone inside and had a look for the books, but alas it was all closed up.

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The village of West Wemyss was a planned community, built by the landed gentry of the Wemyss Estate to house their workers.

Despite still having a few grand buildings the current village has a popluation of around 240 and I don’t imagine that these days many of them have work within West Wemyss itself.

The Wemyss family have lived in this area since around the 12th Century and in 1421 Sir John Wemyss built Wemyss Castle, which is now in a state of some disrepair.

The castle lies a short distance along the bay from the main part of the village.

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Wemyss Castle hiding behind trees and a most curious wall which, viewed from afar, I thought was a long arched bridge.

I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting history attached to Wemyss Castle, far more than I’ve been able to find with a quick online search, but I did learn that much of the Wemyss family wealth was built on coal mining. I also discovered that in 1565 Mary Queen of Scots first met Lord Darnley (the chap who was to become her second husband) at Wemyss Castle.

As we walked past the castle we noticed that close to shore in the bay, stretched out on rocks, were a few fat seals.

I believe that both grey and common (or harbour) seals are found in the Firth of Forth and I really don’t know which these were, but they were satisfyingly plump and shiny.

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Fat seals.

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Is a shiny seal a healthy seal? I like to think so.

Just inland from the seals was a row of large concrete blocks: tank defences put there during the second world war to stop the Jerries from climbing aboard our shores.

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Between the castle and the village, stuck onto an old bit of wall, were some mosaics, including one depicting two swans:

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Swan mosaics stuck onto an old bit of wall by the coast.

There was a snazzy mosaic door, too, which didn’t seem to lead anywhere but looked very pretty.

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Lovely mosaic door stuck into an old wall.

A plaque informed us that this artwork had come about as a collaboration between three local artists and the nearby primary school at Coaltown of Wemyss (another village along the coast). The project was supported by Fife Council and included a little picnic area:

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A view that delightful assistant no.2 claims brings sorrow to his very soul – a picnic area with no picnic in sight.

Constructed in 1512, West Wemyss harbour lies at the west end of the village.

In the old days it was an important port for ships carrying coal and salt (and, somewhat unfortunately in 1590, the plague, which spread from here throughout Fife wiping out a good many of the inhabitants).

These days it provides shelter for a few fishing and pleasure craft:

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West Wemyss harbour.

Next to the harbour we spotted a beautifully weathered building with a few bricks set into the surrounding stonework. It looked to me like a work of art.

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Interesting textures created by wind and weather, nicely contrasting with a bit of brickwork.

Having enjoyed a bracing walk along the coast with a cold wind blowing rain into our faces, we were ready for sustenance and plunged into the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

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The West Wemyss Walk Inn – the cafe inside is run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers, and jolly good it is, too.

It was lovely to get inside out of the wind and rain, and settle down in the warm cafe to peruse the menu.

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Inside the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe – cosy and welcoming.

I opted for the soup of the day, which was cream of tomato and came with a roll and – delightfully – a cheese and chilli stick covered in sesame seeds:

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Outstandingly good soup with bready snacks on the side.

Not having been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but am delighted to report that it was exceptionally good soup and a very nice little stick and roll. The soup tasted of fresh tomatoes and cream, it was thick and delicious and, I’m quite sure, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for fish and chips, which came with a side order of bread and butter.

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Battered fish with chips, peas, bread and butter. Carbohydrates covered.

Delightful assistant no.2 chose one of his favourite toasted sandwiches, a brie and cranberry panini, which came with a fresh side salad and a few crisps:

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Brie and cranberry panini with salad and crisps.

We all had tea to drink, and a free refill of the teapot. Everything we had was just the job to warm us up and make us feel contented.

The cakes on offer were freshly baked in the kitchen upstairs and looked very tempting, but we all felt too full to have anything straight after our savouries, so we’ll save that treat for another occasion.

On the windowsill next to where I was sitting there was a small Christmas tree made from driftwood and decorated with fairy lights.

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Driftwood tree at West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

Behind the tree there was a framed certificate that made me happy; it declared that in 2013 West Wemyss had won a Silver award in Beautiful Scotland’s ‘Wee Village’ category.

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An award in the Wee Village category for the West Wemyss Bloomers, 2013.

I’m not surprised that West Wemyss has won such an award and I intend to revist later in the year when there are more blooms to be seen. Even on a dull, damp January day there were bright colours dotted about to cheer us up and make us glad we’d taken the little dead end road down to the coast.

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Bright colours to cheer a dull day in West Wemyss.