Scones I have known – no.9

I had quite a few scones on holiday in Cumbria last month, but the best was saved till last.

After leaving our holiday home at Red Hall Farm, on our way back north we took a detour to Lanercost Priory, about half a mile from Hadrian’s Wall.

We didn’t have time to visit the priory itself, but we did visit the award winning tearoom next to it.

Lanercost Priory tearoom

Lanercost Priory Tearoom, gift shop and information centre.

The delightful assistants opted for coffee and a slice of lemon cake between them.

lemon cake

Pleased to find there was leaf tea on offer, I chose a pot of Darjeeling accompanied by a fruit scone.

fruit scone with jam

The scone hadn’t been long out of the oven and was still slightly warm. With a little butter, it was absolute bliss. The poor old jam that came with it didn’t have a look in.

Lanercost scone

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Scones I have known – no.3

The scone in this post is featured, not because it was amongst the finest scones I’ve ever tasted, but because it came as part of a particularly pleasant package.

The weather in most of Scotland over the past week (with the exception of today) has been unusually summery. A few days ago I whisked the delightful assistants off on a magical mystery tour in search of sunshine and tasty fare. It was hard to tell where the best weather might be, but we headed south with hope in our hearts.

On the way we stopped at a service station, and while we were there I picked up a leaflet about East Lothian. Usually, when we go on little excursions of this sort, I check out beforehand the possible eateries in the area we’re heading to. However, on this occasion I hadn’t had time to do that and I hadn’t actually decided where to go until I started driving. I was relying on somehow finding somewhere nice by sheer chance. As it happened, the luncheon gods were smiling on me.

The leaflet mentioned, amongst many other attractions in East Lothian, a place called Smeaton Nursery Gardens and Tearoom. It sounded appealing and, hoping it would be open and dishing up nourishing treats, we scooted off there post haste.

What we met exceeded our expectations. The sun was beaming down gloriously from a blue sky and the tearoom was very peacefully located down a long driveway next to a walled garden.

What’s more they were serving cream teas at only £6 a head, which was remarkably good value. Both delightful assistant no.1 and I plumped for a cream tea, which consisted of a round of sandwiches of our choice (she chose tuna and cucumber and I went for cheese and tomato), a fruit scone with jam and cream and a large pot of tea (there was so much tea, in fact, that we failed to finish it despite me glugging back about four cupfuls).

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The scones, although satisfyingly large, were somewhat dry, but given the quantity of tea on offer and the toppings provided I didn’t find this to be a problem.

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Scones I have known – no.3: fruit, Smeaton Tearoom, 9 June 2015

Incidentally, thank you to everyone who took part in my Word association post. I’ve written over 2500 words of the story but I’m not even halfway through the list of words I need to incorporate yet. Either I’ll need to do a ruthless editing job or it’s not going to be quite as short a short story as I had anticipated. I hope to post the completed effort before too long.

Puddings

The delightful assistants and I lunched out today at the consistently excellent Gloagburn Coffee Shop near Perth.

Gloagburn coffee shop

Gloagburn Coffee Shop near Perth.

After enjoying fairly substantial main courses we all felt inclined to finish off with a pudding.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for a fresh fruit pavlova. Although it’s not shown in this picture, there was a little jug of pouring cream on the side. She slooshed the cream over the pavlova and polished it all off nicely.

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Fresh fruit pavlova (with hidden jug of pouring cream).

Delightful assistant no.2 chose an apple and almond cake, nobly refusing the offer of cream or ice cream to accompany it.

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Moist and almondy apple and almond cake (no cream).

I was the only one who had a good look at the cake counter, but I did what I always knew I would do and went for a scone. On this occasion it was a fruit scone, served with butter and raspberry jam.

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Fruit scone with butter and raspberry jam (I was offered cream in place of the butter, but I thought of my arteries and declined).

We chatted away companionably during our savoury courses but, as delightful assistant no.1 has often remarked, conversation tends to cease during pudding, and so it was today. I, for one, was lost in a sort of scone-filled paradise, concentrating solely on the delicious morsel on my plate.

When it comes to awarding points for things I usually like to leave a little room for improvement, so that a really good example of something might only get 8 or 9 out of 10. However, this scone was so utterly magnificent that, despite coming hot on the heels of a baked potato, I am unable to award it anything less than the full 10/10.

When I mentioned this to delightful assistant no.2 he suggested that I had been in ‘scone nirvana’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Sconirvana.

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.

Blair Atholl Watermill

Nestling quietly down a back street in the small town of Blair Atholl in Perthshire there sits an interesting old stone building.

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Blair Atholl Watermill: a building housing unexpected delights.

A watermill was first sited at this spot in the 1590s and more than 420 years later it’s being used for the same purpose -viz. the milling of cereals. The current building dates to around 1830:

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Blair Atholl Watermill: a robust construction looking tip-top at 180 years old.

Production stopped in the late 1920s, but after renovation work in the 1970s the mill was up and running again, and is now producing a range of flours and oatmeal, all stoneground in the traditional fashion.

Most wonderfully of all, Blair Atholl Watermill has a tearoom:

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The rustic interior of Blair Atholl Watermill’s tearoom, housed in what was once the kiln drying floor.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself there, along with various family members, for afternoon refreshments.

There were a number of tempting looking cakes on offer, and after some deliberation I dived headlong into a slice of chocolate cake:

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Chocolate cake with creamy looking icing.

I’m sometimes a bit wary of icing, since it can be very sweet and sickly, but to my utter delight, the icing on this cake was a sort of creamy fluffy chocolatey mousse, light and airy and almost like a pudding in itself.

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Two puddings rolled into one: cake with mousse on top.

Had I not gone for the chocolate cake, I would probably have plumped for a fruit scone, which was what my brother had:

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I have had a fruit scone here before, and what I particularly remember about it is the lustrous blackcurrant jam it came with.

Thankfully I have a visual record of it:

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Glossy blackcurrant jam glistening atop a fruit scone.

My mum had a slice of Victoria sponge, which appeared to have been made with some wholemeal flour or perhaps brown sugar, or both, and was devoid of decoration but pleasingly tall:

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Large and upright: a decent sized slice of Victoria sponge.

My dad chose the carrot cake which, like my chocolate cake, was topped with a creamy looking wodge of icing:

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Carrot cake topped with a thick layer of creamy icing.

My sister had a piece of tiffin (a chocolatey biscuity traybake) but I’m sorry to say the picture I took of it is rather out of focus. Instead, let me show you the magnificent latte with which I slooshed down my cake (the tiffin can be glimpsed peeking out in the background to the right, behind the latte):

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A fine latte filled beyond the brim.

One thing I like when it comes to a hot beverage is a decent full cup, and the Blair Atholl Watermill scored top marks in that department.

My latte had a noble bearing, knightly one might say. I imagined it having begun life on its knees, so to speak, when the coffee was put into the glass, and risen to stand proud when filled up with milk and capped with foam. The barista invested it with a flourish of chocolate sprinkles, the insignia of the Order of Coffee Toppings. I may be getting a bit carried away here, but it was a very fine beverage.

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Arise, Sir Latte.

Had the weather been different, it might have been nice to sit out in the tea garden, but alas it was a trifle dampish:

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The Tea Garden: a little too damp for al fresco dining.

A railway line runs through Blair Atholl, and to get to and from the Watermill you have to cross it. Although I always hope to see a train, I tend to be a bit nervous about driving across railway lines, in case there’s a fault with the lights and a train’s coming but you’re not alerted to the fact:

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Blair Atholl railway crossing.

Last time I was there, on the other side of the crossing, the lights came on and a train whizzed past.

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Barriers down and lights flashing at Blair Atholl railway crossing.

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A train whizzing through Blair Atholl, I was very glad the barriers had come down.

Yesterday, the nearby railway bridge was looking attractive with autumnal colours in the trees and mist rolling across the hillside:

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Autumn colours at Blair Atholl railway bridge.

If you’re thinking of visiting Blair Atholl this year, and hoping for tasty bites at the Watermill, you’ll need to be quick because it closes for the season at the end of this month.

Luncheon, Lomonds and Lime

I started writing this post weeks ago, got waylaid with other things and forgot to complete it; today I found it again and thought it was high time I finished it off.

I began tapping it out just after I’d lunched with a chum near Kinross, in the delightful Loch Leven’s Larder.

On that occasion I didn’t take photographs of the main course, but I had a large bowl of minestrone soup (spelt ministrone on the menu, although there was nothing miniature about it), which was very tasty, and my chum had a Ploughman’s sandwich.

Loch Leven’s Larder is one of the many eateries in Perthshire that provides truly excellent scones. We each opted for a fruit scone, which was served with butter and raspberry jam.

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They also do very nice Teapigs tea, and we swished our scones down with several cupfuls.

After our repast, when we had gone our separate ways, I scooted off towards the Lomond Hills, with the intention of clocking up a bit of healthy exercise

The Lomond Hills, I can tell you (courtesy of my lunch chum, who’s a geologist by trade), were “formed by a series of igneous sills made of dolerite. Sills are igneous intrusions formed when magma forces its way between layers of sedimentary rock. Dolerite is an intrusive form of basalt and is hard and resistant to erosion, which is why it forms hills”.

Off I trotted up a marked path towards East Lomond.

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All the way up I met not a single soul, but plenty of birds of the lbj (little brown job) variety, as well as a few sheep that were grazing on the hill’s slope.

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I tried to engage the sheep in conversation, but they were having none of it. I could understand their concentration on their task, having not long surfaced from the nosebag myself.

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As is the way of things at the tops of hills, there was a bit of a view from the summit.

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There was also a direction indicator (a concrete block about 4ft high with a circular plate on top indicating the names of the hills in the distance). I approached it at the same time as two other people, who had come up from a path on the other side of the hill.

This was unfortunate timing, as we all wanted to lean on the concrete block after our climb up. I gave way to them as they were somewhat longer in the tooth than me and perhaps more in need of a leaning post. Instead, I walked around admiring the views in all directions, and appreciated the strong cooling gusts of wind that buffeted me.

Getting down was a much quicker affair than climbing up, partly because I ran most of the way, which was a most exhilarating business.

At the bottom of the slope I saw something I’d glanced at on my way up, and decided to take a closer look:

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The limekiln trail occupied a somewhat boggy area with an old limekiln and a pond in it, and a number of information boards dotted about:

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From the boards I learned some interesting things, including the fact that the high content of lime in the soil and water had led to great ecological diversity. Contained in this small area there was a surprising variety of plants and animals, including orchids, butterflies, dragonflies and birds.

One of the boards explained that the ecological value of this place was a product of its industrial history, which pleased me and reminded me of the machair, grassy plains that explode with wildflowers in the summer and support a lot of wildlife. The machair is typical of the Outer Hebrides and its success is apparently due to the way the land is managed by crofters, who farm on a small scale in an environmentally beneficial manner. This is a bit different from the limekilns situation, but another example of how man and nature can work well together.

When I’d been round all the boards, I went back out of the gate and ran along the grassy path towards the car park.  The hill in the distance is West Lomond, the other prominent peak in the Lomond Hills.

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After all that running around, climbing hills and whatnot, you might imagine I was in need of some refreshment, and you’d be quite right.

I made for a favourite tearoom of mine, Pillars of Hercules, just outside Falkland in Fife and only a few miles from the Lomond Hills.

Although in the hills it had been rather overcast, just a little lower down in Falkland it was gloriously sunny. It was so nice, in fact, that I opted to sit outside the toilet block, which was a much more pleasant arrangement than you might think from that description. The tables (and, rather luxuriously, footstools) were made out of bits of tree trunk:

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Given the surprisingly high temperature of the afternoon, I decided to forego my usual hot beverage and chose a deliciously sweet cloudy apple juice. The juice alone would probably have been quite sufficient, as I was more thirsty than hungry, but I accidentally ordered a seeded sort of granola type flapjack at the same time:

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It proved to be a happy accident, being very tasty and satisfying, and just the thing to sustain me on my drive home.

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Dull and Boring

This time last year there was an interesting piece in the Scottish news about the small village of Dull in Perthshire.

The story concerned the village of Dull forging a link with the equally uninspiringly named town of Boring in Oregon, USA.

Along with everyone else, I thought this a splendid idea. When I heard that signs had been erected outside Dull to highlight this pairing I was keen to see them.

It took me a while to get round to doing this, but a few days ago I bundled the delightful assistants into my car and we sped off towards Dull, which lies in a quiet and pretty part of rural Perthshire.

It was about an hour’s drive away, which would have been achieveable in a oner if it weren’t for the fact that it was late morning before we left. In need of sustenance, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms, Legends of Grandtully:

I’ve written about this place before (here) and have already gone on about the exquisite hot chocolate available, but I can’t resist giving it another mention.

As you might have noticed from the sign, Legends is attached to a chocolate centre. If you are remotely interested in chocolate, this is a most appealing prospect.

When we visited the other day I ordered one of their chocolate beverages – the very potent espresso sized hot chocolate ganache, which came topped with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa that I found to be a highly satisfactory addition:

If you read my previous post about Mallorca you might recall that it featured another rather spectacular hot chocolate. This one at Legends was similar, and Legends is the only place I’ve found in Scotland that serves up this style of hot chocolate.

I know I mustn’t bang on about it too much because this post is supposed to be about Dull and Boring, but before I leave the subject here’s a close-up of the chocolate’s surface, wrinkled by a teaspoon to demonstrate how thick and glossy it was:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had coffee, delightful assistant no.2 had peppermint tea (the first time he had ever ordered such a herbal beverage in a tearoom), and we all shared a large fruit scone. That might sound a bit feeble, sharing a fruit scone between three, but it was very substantial and to be honest I was rather preoccupied with my hot chocolate; I ate a bit just to be sociable.

From Legends, we drove on, feeling replete and excited about Dull.

When we reached the outer limits of the village, lo and behold, there was the promised sign:

The village of Dull is bypassed by the main road, but if you turn off at the next right after this sign, you can drive along the narrow crescent-shaped loop that takes you through the village itself.

Despite having driven along the main road plenty of times before, to our knowledge none of us had ever taken the little detour through the village, so it was a new experience.

It was very quiet and I thought it had a pleasant atmosphere.

There was an old stone church that I fancied having a closer look at, so we parked next to it and delightful assistant no.2 and myself took a wander through the graveyard. Delightful assistant no.1 has been having a bit of bother with her hip and so she stayed in the car, enjoying the warmth of the sun coming in through the windows.

As with most little churches I try to get into on weekdays, this one was locked, and I’ve since discovered that it hasn’t been used as a church since the 1970s.

It was built on the site of an early Christian monastery and slabs dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries were found in the graveyard during grave-digging in the 19th century. One particularly fine example displaying horsemen is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

I don’t know if this particular bit of stone (below) has any significance, but someone has gone to a bit of trouble to secure it to the bottom of an outside wall of the building:

There was also a large font sitting next to the front door, which I neglected to photograph, but it’s also thought to be a relic from Pictish times. If that’s the case, it could be 1200 (or more) years old and it’s just sitting there full of water in a disused churchyard, slowly being weathered away by the elements.

Not far from the churchyard, sitting unobtrusively next to a holly tree just outside someone’s garden, there was a big stone cross penned in by a metal fence.

Having read a bit about Dull since visiting it, I wonder if this is one of the Pictish relics that was found in the churchyard. Strangely, although it’s been deliberately protected by the fence, there’s no indication of what it is or why it’s sitting there. I can’t help thinking a sign should be put up to explain its presence.

Another curious sight in Dull was a brightly painted church building just up the hill a bit from the old stone church. I walked up to have a look at it and felt very much as if I were in Iceland or Norway.

Far from being used for public worship, it appeared to be a private residence with a locked gate at the end of its driveway:

The rain was coming on by the time I took the above photo, and our third-of-a-scone each had worn off, so we hot-footed it to nearby eatery, the House of Menzies, which is housed in a refurbished mid-19th century farm building:

I’m worried that this post is going to become ferociously long, because I still have some other places to add to our day out, so I’ll call a brief halt here and take up the tale in my next post.

Tune in next time for a tasty luncheon!