Meikleour Beech Hedge

Earlier this year I did a post about the tallest hedge in the world, which happens to be a few miles away from where I live, next to the village of Meikleour in Perthshire. This is how it looked in the spring with its fresh greenery on show.


Being a beech hedge, the colours change quite spectacularly in the autumn. I’ve often wished I had photographed it in is fiery clothing, but every autumn I failed to do it. I was determined to do it this year and had been waiting for a sunny day, but it’s been dark and damp pretty much every day for weeks. With storms forecast, I took my chances one wet afternoon before all the leaves were blown off.


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


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.


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.


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

Milk chocolate tasting

After last week’s chocolate tasting, I thought it was only fair to delightful assistant no.1 (who is not a particular fan of dark chocolate) to provide her with a milk chocolate experience.

She has often said that Cadbury is her favourite brand, so I was interested to find out if any of the common alternatives might rival Cadbury’s chocolate in a blind taste test. To this end, I stalked along the confectionery aisle in Tesco and collected up a few options.

I chose a standard selection of bars, the sort you’d find in any British supermarket or newsagent’s shop (with the possible exception of the first one, which is a relative newcomer to the market, and Tesco’s own brand which, naturally enough, is only found in Tesco stores).

I bought six in all, as follows.

1. Mackie’s Traditionl Milk


2. Nestle Animal Bar

animal bar

3. Tesco Milk Chocolate


4. Galaxy Smooth Milk


5. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Giant Buttons


6. Milka Alpine Milk


Unlike the dark chocolate of our last tasting, the design, shape and general look of most of these chocolates would have been a bit of a giveaway if tasted in their original chunks. I, therefore, cut up each bar into small bits so that it wasn’t easy to tell by eye what any of them might be.


Each cut up chocolate bar was placed in a dish with a numbered number paper over it, hiding the chocolate from view.

numbered dishes

During tasting, we slipped our fingers under the papers and withdrew the bits without looking at them, to make doubly sure there could be no visual recognition.

We tasted each in turn, making notes as we went along about our taste experiences. When we’d been through all six, we tasted them again. This time we gave each one a score out of 10 and then ranked them from first to last in terms of preference.

DAs with wee dishes

For delightful assistant no.2 the top spot went to two joint winners: no.4 (Galaxy) and no.6 (Milka), both of which he gave 7/10. Third place went to no.2 (Animal Bar) with 6/10.

For me the winner was no.5 (Cadbury), which I gave 8/10, with my dad’s joint winners occupying my second (7/10) and third (7/10) places, respectively.

The real surprise of the day was the tally sheet of delightful assistant no.1, acclaimed fan of Cadbury’s chocolate. Not only did she give her top spot to the Mackies bar (5/10), but she awarded no.5 (Cadbury) with a shockingly low 1/10.

Where does this leave us, I wonder? Will delightful assistant no.1 wipe this tasting event from her memory and continue to choose Cadbury’s chocolate as before, or will she now turn her back on Cadbury and seek out pastures new?

I can’t predict the outcome, but I will watch her chocolate purchases with great interest from here on in.

* * * * *

In other news, I still have some calendars for sale on ebay.


My previous post, giving more photos and information about the calendar can be found here or by clicking on the ‘Calendar for 2016’ page at the top of the blog.

Each calendar costs £10 plus p&p, and can be purchased on ebay, through PayPal or, if you have money in a British bank, by Sterling cheque. (Please email lornaATsentDOTcom for more information about sending a cheque. This is the same email address to use for PayPal payments.)

Thank you to everyone who’s bought a calendar already, much appreciated.

Cumberland Pencil Museum

During our holiday in Cumbria last month, one of the places the delightful assistants and I were most looking forward to visiting was the Cumberland Pencil Museum.

One dark and drizzly morning we set off for the town of Keswick to achieve this ambition. It was mid-morning when we reached the museum and we headed straight for its aptly named coffee shop, Sketchers.


Part of Sketchers coffee shop, adjoining the Cumberland Pencil Museum gift shop.

We chose a table in a ‘drawing room’ next to the main body of the coffee shop.


I was delighted by the tablecloth, decorated with coloured pencils.

Sketchers table cloth


Alongside the usual tub of sugar packets there was a pencil holder full of coloured pencils.

sugar and pencils

Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t very hungry so we ordered two scones between the three of us: one fruit


and one plain, each accompanied by a cheerful pink napkin.

plain scone

After buttering and jamming the scones I cut them into bits for sharing. They were crumbly but tasty and the jam was first rate.

To sloosh ’em down we chose an Americano (delightful assistant no.1), a cappuccino (delightful assistant no.2) and a hot chocolate (me). I liked the stripy mugs. Had they been on sale in the gift shop, I might well have taken one home with me.

3 drinks and scones

Replete and ready for the exhibition, we toddled off with our tickets. Rather splendidly, instead of individual bits of printed paper or card, each ‘ticket’ came in the form of a plain wooden pencil with the name of the museum printed on it.

cumberland pencil

The entrance to the museum had been designed to look like a cave, and we had to duck our heads as we went through.


We passed a miner hammering rock to obtain graphite for pencils,


and on into a brightly lit area where there was plenty to read. I educated myself with some interesting facts, such as the following:

  • Pencils can write in zero gravity and underwater.
  • Pencils don’t contain lead, but are made from a mixture of graphite and clay.
  • An average pencil can write around 45,000 words.
  • The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space. The Russians took a pencil.


My favourite bit of the museum was the display dedicated to Charles Fraser Smith. The name may or may not mean anything to you, but if you’ve ever seen a James Bond film you’ll no doubt be familiar with the character ‘Q’.

Ian Fleming, author of the original Bond novels, met Charles Fraser Smith during the Second World War and based the idea of Q, or more specifically Q Branch (the outfit responsible for the development of ingenious gadgets), on his remarkable work. In real life, Charles Fraser Smith created precisely the sorts of gadgets that feature in many a Bond movie. This was what he had to say about his unusual job:

“My piece of the war had been, I suppose, more unorthodox than that of almost anyone alive. I supplied equipment and gadgets to secret agents in the field or to prisoners of war trying to escape… I worked completely underground using as a cover the ‘Ministry of Supply Clothing and Textile Department’. My methods were certainly individual. In most cases I was forced to go well outside the normal channels to get anything done at all. Knowing when something of mine went well – a gadget really worked and out-foxed the enemy, perhaps helping to save a valuable life – was all I needed by way of inspiration.”

His connection with the Cumberland pencil factory in Keswick came about when he had the idea of hiding a miniature compass and a map inside a pencil. The project was so top secret that the pencils were made at night after the factory had closed, and only the managers had wind of the scheme. Each pencil contained a tiny compass and one of a series of maps of Germany. The maps were printed on silk so that they could be unravelled silently, and each pencil was marked with a number relating to the map it contained. The pencils were issued to Royal Air Force pilots, for use in the event of them being shot down over enemy territory.

Other similar pencils were made for British prisoners of war, the maps inside being marked with escape routes and safe houses. These pencils were passed to prisoners by the Red Cross, who smuggled them in unwittingly, having no idea that the pencils were anything other than ordinary writing tools. The pencil designs were such a closely guarded secret that no official records of them exist, and it’s not known how many were made or exactly how they were constructed.

After the war had ended, gadgets such as these were recalled by the British government and destroyed. Very few are known to still exist, but one of them can be seen in the pencil museum, and I must say it’s an admirably dull looking implement. So dull, in fact, that although I inspected it in its glass case, I neglected to photograph it.

I did attempt to take a photograph of another pencil in the museum but I couldn’t get it all into the picture. You can see the pointy end of it at the top of the picture below. It’s suspended on brackets near the ceiling, which makes it a bit difficult to see in its entirety, but I suppose the sheer size of it made displaying it something of a challenge.

big pencil

It is, in fact, the world’s longest coloured pencil (it’s yellow) and, according to the Guinness World Records Certificate on the wall nearby it measures 7.91 metres (25ft 11.5 in) long and weighs 446.36 kg (984.05 lb). It was made by the Cumberland pencil factory in 2001, and 28 men were needed to carry it from the factory to the museum. Not having a pencil sharpener big enough to accommodate it, they had to sharpen the tip with a chainsaw.

Also on display, neatly arranged in glass cases, were various packets of Cumberland pencils produced over the decades since the factory opened in 1832. Some were housed in long, thin cardboard boxes,


while others were presented in tins or boxes decorated with attractive Lakeland scenes.


After enjoying the display about Charles Fraser Smith I had been hoping (and, I admit, assuming) I would be able to buy a book about him in the gift shop. However, virtually all of the books on sale were concerned with drawing techniques. I think the shop missed a trick there because I’m sure the wartime pencils fascinate many visitors.

Our minds well filled with pencil-related information, we skipped through the rain and got into the car to head for our planned lunch stop. Before we left I took a picture of a little old truck sitting in a corner of the car park.

pencil bus

The knits of Ettrickbridge

Last month there was an item on the Scottish news about a yarn bombing episode that had occurred in the village of Ettrickbridge in the Scottish Borders.

Intrigued to witness it first hand, I whisked the delightful assistants off for a day out.

As we approached Ettrickbridge, we got our first indication of what lay ahead as we passed the entrance to Bowhill country estate.


Knitteds hanging from the sign outside Bowhill.

Ettrickbridge is a small, quiet village with one main street running through the middle of it.


As soon as we got there we started spotting odd bits of colour by the roadside, in the form of knitted collars on poles, signs and lamp posts.




The more we looked, the more remarkable were the sights we saw.




Lion water fountain keeping cosy.

A First World War memorial gate outside the parish church had been decorated very nicely with knitted poppies attached to pieces of gauze.


Close to the gate, sitting on the grass by the roadside, was a replica of one of the houses in the village with its tiny owners outside.


On the other side of the road, a bench seat was thick with interesting little knitted items.



The detail was astonishing.



One of my favourite features of the bench was a little lady on a small horse,


although I was also delighted by a wee biddy holding a teapot with fancy teacosy.


Further along the main street we were most impressed by the public telephone box.



Despite being engulfed in knitting it was apparently fully operational.


Along at the far end of the village we spotted a local sitting quietly outside the village hall with her knitting. Perhaps it was she who had been responsible for the yarn bombing.


Delightful assistant no.2 attempted to engage her in conversation but she wasn’t giving anything away.


Delightful assistant no.1 had a go, but she didn’t have any luck either.


The knitting lady was content to allow others the opportunity to unburden themselves, staying resolutely mute herself. She made for very easy company.


Having exhausted ourselves ambling through the village, we made our way back to the car to take ourselves off to our lunch spot.

The tearoom we ate in had an unexpected connection to the knittings of Ettrickbridge – soon to be revealed in another post.


Wildlife-friendly sign in Ettrickbridge. (I did stop, but unfortunately there were no hedgehogs crossing at the time.)

Chocolate tasting Tuesday

The other day, while sauntering along the confectionery aisle of my local supermarket, I came upon three products labelled ‘reduced to clear’. They had each been marked down to half price – reason enough to whip some into my trolley before heading to the checkout.

three chocolate bargains

Three dark chocolate bars, all from different chocolate growing areas of the world.

This is the sort of chocolate I like to use in baking, so rather than just buy one of each I splashed out a bit.

7 bars

I bought two of each, with an extra Sao Tome, since I liked the sound of the tasting notes on the wrapping.


“Rich with warm fruity notes”

Mind you, the other two didn’t sound half bad either.

“Rich and roasted with subtle notes of honey”

“Floral and spicy with subtle notes of green tea”

Today was damp and dreich where I live: ideal weather for a chocolate tasting event.

I opened up one of each of the bars and inspected the contents. They all looked pretty much identical, which was handy from a blind tasting point of view. I broke up some bits and put them onto plates, marked A, B and C.

Tea is, of course, an excellent beverage for washing chocolate down with, but I had a fancy for coffee on this occasion. I made a pot, poured it out into three mugs and gathered up the assistants for a tasting.

coffees and chocs

As ever, they approached the event with admirable gravitas. We tasted each chocolate bar in order, making notes and sipping coffee between bites.

I hadn’t told them which chocolate was which, and I didn’t remember myself which order I had put them out in (although I had made a note so that I would have something to refer to after the tasting).

After we had tasted all three, delightful assistant no.2 had the bright idea of a ‘mystery tasting’. We would each be given the same chocolates again but without knowing if we’d had A, B or C. We would then try to match up the mystery tastings with the original ones to see if we could identify which was which.

I felt quite confident about this as I had noted distinct differences between the three during the original tasting.

three chocolates

Both of the assistants managed to guess one of the three correctly. Much to my chagrin, I got every single one of them wrong.

To complete the tasting we each declared our favourite bar. Both of the delightful assistants chose the Ecuadorian (74%) bar,DSC03209

while I opted for the Madagascan (71%).


So much for buying three of the Sao Tome, which I had thought might be the overall winner.

After all that dark chocolate delightful assistant no.1 admitted that although she’d chosen a favourite she hadn’t particularly liked any of the three, being more of a milk chocolate hand. These were our final thoughts:

Delightful assistant no.1: “Up with Cadbury’s!”

Delightful assistant no.2: “All three bars were in the upper echelons of chocolate satisfaction.”

Yours truly: “I can’t believe I got them all wrong.”


Scones and autumn colours

This morning, after meeting my sister in northern Perthshire to lend her delightful assistant no.1 for the day, delightful assistant no.2 and I made our way southwards in a leisurely manner.

As we drove along admiring the scenery our thoughts turned to snacks. We pulled in at the Watermill Tearoom in Blair Atholl, pleased to find that it was still open for the season (it closes for the year at the end of October).


Dating back to the 16th Century, Blair Atholl Watermill is one of the few remaining working watermills in Scotland. A notice in the tearoom explained that the wheel wasn’t turning today due to low water levels in the mill lade that feeds it.

The bread and cakes sold in the tearoom are baked using the mill’s own wholemeal stoneground flour, and the fare on display always looks deliciously wholesome.

My delightful assistant fancied something savoury rather than sweet and opted for a rectangular cheese scone.


I went for a fruit scone with raspberry jam and we both had cappuccinos. The scones were fresh and tasty, and revived us for the next leg of the journey.


Hopping back into the car, we headed south towards Pitlochry. After reading Jo’s post about Killiecrankie on The Hazel Tree blog yesterday, I felt inspired to have a look at the colours lining the River Garry.

The Garry cuts through a deep gorge called the Pass of Killiecrankie and, as Jo noted in her post, the valley is often partly in shade, particularly at this time of year when the sun is low in the sky.

It was an unusually windy day and there was a haziness in the air, no doubt produced by dust particles being blown about all over the place. Despite these inconveniences there were a number of visitors happily snapping away with their cameras from the Garry Bridge, which gives an excellent view both north and south along the river’s course. Adding a nice bit of drama and lighting to the scene, a rainbow appeared above the trees to the north.


Looking north from the Garry Bridge towards Killiecrankie.

From the other side of the bridge, looking south, it was evident that the river level was quite low. This reminded us of the notice we’d seen in the Watermill explaining why the mill wheel wasn’t turning.


There was more shingle bank than river just below the Garry Bridge.


River Garry with a big white bank of shingle and not much water.

The weather forecasters have been warning that high winds will be stripping some of the autumn leaves from the trees this week. There certainly have been a lot of leaves blowing about today, but since many of the trees have yet to swap their green for fiery hues I’m hoping for more magnificent colours in the weeks ahead.


A few twigs and leaves on the road but plenty of greenery still around near Blairgowrie in sunny Perthshire.