October glory

We’ve had a smashing couple of days, weather-wise, in Perthshire.

Afternoon sunshine at Over Forneth, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire.

Afternoon sunshine at Over Forneth, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 13 October 2015.

Yesterday, after a bit of blackberrying with Delightful Assistant no.1 (the freezer is slowly filling up with frozen berries and plums – roll on winter crumbles), we called in at Loch of Clunie, a few miles to the west of Blairgowrie.

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The loch was blissfully still and the sunshine was gloriously warm for the time of year. The clouds were beautifully reflected in the water.

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The road runs slightly above the level of the loch, so we parked up and slithered down to the lochside where we stood on a small beach and gazed out across the water. It was very peaceful, and quite delightful to soak in the rays and admire the view.

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Although there’s still a lovely lot of green around, some autumn colours are starting to come out.

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Here’s hoping for more days like this throughout the autumn. When the weather’s like this I find Scotland hard to beat.

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Having said that, I’ve recently returned from a holiday in the north-west of England, which was pretty good in the scenery department. I hope to post about it before too long but in the meantime here’s a photo of Matterdale, near Keswick in the Lake District to whet your appetite.

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Scottish 2016 Calendars for sale

Roll up, roll up, get your 2016 Scottish calendars here (or, rather, on ebay).

Scotland 2016 calendar cover

A4 size, wire bound at the top with a hanging hook.

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13 bonnie Scottish scenes (one per month plus an extra one on the front) to brighten up your wall throughout the year.

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Big clear numbers for easy reading at a distance.

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£10* a pop (plus postage).

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*I’m sorry they’re so expensive for what is quite a small calendar. The larger the quantity I ordered from the printers the lower the price per item, but I was wary of making the same mistake I made with my tearoom book (ordering far too many), so I played it safe with a small order.

On the up side, each calendar is accompanied by a four page information document, giving a bit of background about the locations photographed.

calendar and notes

A free teabag is also included with every calendar. You can choose from Earl Grey (blended black tea flavoured with oil of bergamot and lemon) or Bold Kenyan (a bold and earthy black tea grown in Kenya), or leave it entirely up to chance and get a surprise when it arrives through the post.

teabags

Delivery worldwide by Royal Mail (1st or 2nd class within the UK; airmail or economy to the rest of the world).

The delights of Ninewells

I’ve been in and out of Ninewells hospital in Dundee a fair bit recently, not for my own health reasons, but in order to to visit delightful assistant no.1. She has unfortunately had to spend much of the past three weeks there.

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Delightful assistants in Ninewells. Sandy the donkey is attempting to get his teeth into a bag of freshly picked pea pods.

I’m pleased to say she’s currently recovering after treatment for gallstones and will hopefully get home for good tomorrow.

As hospitals go, I quite like Ninewells. The wards I’ve seen are bright and welcoming, and many of them have wonderful views out across treetops to the Firth of Tay and Fife beyond.

It wasn’t until last week that we discovered secret treasures lurking outside at the back of the buildings. One of these delights was a garden containing a labyrinth.

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Labyrinth sculpture at the back of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

Near this is a Maggie’s Centre (Maggie’s is an organisation that supports cancer sufferers and their families), designed by renowned Canadian architect, Frank Gehry.

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Maggie’s Centre, Dundee, with delightful assistants admiring the labyrinth.

The delightful assistants and I were able to wander around this area in the afternoon sunshine during visiting hours. We all appreciated a little time outside as a change from sitting in the ward.

Beyond the Maggie’s Centre lies a large arboretum containing beautiful big trees, some of which are 250 years old.

On the edge of the arboretum is a welcoming hospital community garden containing herbs, flowers, vegetables and various interesting features.

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One area of the garden has been set up specifically to appeal to wildlife and contained something that fairly gladdened my heart.

Small tearoom for visiting birds and beasties.

Small tearoom for visiting birds and beasties.

As you might almost be able to make out in the picture above, on a wooden block next to the tearoom there were a few tiny dinosaurs. Delightful assistant no.2 was very taken with them.

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His spouse attempted to draw his attention to other things, but he only had eyes for the dinosaurs.

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Delightful assistant no.1:

Delightful assistant no.1: “Shall we move on to another part of the garden now?”
Delightful assistant no.2: “I want to stay and play with the tiny dinosaurs.”

Getting from the hospital to the gardens wasn’t easy because the obvious route, signposted within the hospital, had been closed off. It took us over half an hour to find our way out to the back of the building by an alternative route, and almost as long to get back in again. On the plus side, we got to walk along a curious temporary metal road in the sunshine.

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If you happen to be in Dundee with a bit of time to spare I can recommend a mooch round the back of Ninewells Hospital. The paths beside the community garden and throughout the arboretum have been designed with wheelchairs in mind and there are well positioned seats so that visitors can rest their weary legs.

If you need a bit of refreshment the cafe inside the hospital serves drinks and snacks throughout the day, and between the hours of 14:30 and 18:00 they reduce the price of all hot beverages to £1 each. A bargain.

On Sunday 9 August the community garden is having an open day from 14:00-17:00. Admission is £3.00 (children get in free) and there will be various activities, a plant sale and tea and cakes on offer.

Scones I have known – no.5

Last week, on holiday in the south-west of Scotland, the delightful assistants and I revisited an eatery that has always come up trumps on the scone front: Woodlea Tearoom in Sandhead.

We arrived at the tearoom shortly after it had opened on Thursday morning, hoping to find that the scones were as good as they’d been in previous years.

As we walked past the counter, which was full of tempting cakes and traybakes, I scanned the shelves carefully and saw not a single scone on offer.

Gripped by anxiety, I accosted a waitress in order to enquire about this state of affairs.

‘We’ve got plain, fruit and cheese. They’re freshly baked, I just haven’t had time to put them out yet.’

This was music to my ears. Not only were there scones, but they were so hot off the presses that they were still resting in the kitchen after coming out of the oven.

We all ordered fruit scones and they were delivered to the table warm and delicious looking. Butter and jam came with them but I shunned these condiments for my first bite, desirous of enveloping myself in the raw pleasure of the unadorned treat.

It was a wise move. The scone was soft, fluffy, packed with sultanas and utterly delicious. My grateful thanks to Woodlea Tearoom for rounding off my holiday with such a top-rate scone.

Scones I have known - no.5: fruit, Woodlea Tearoom in Sandhead, 25 June 2015

Scones I have known – no.5: fruit, Woodlea Tearoom in Sandhead, 25 June 2015

Scones I have known – no.4

Scones are mysterious creatures. Because they don’t have the decoration or icing often associated with other baked treats, their generally plain appearance can hide the truth of what lies within.

I don’t know how many times I’ve approached a scone anticipating its probable taste and texture, sometimes not expecting it to be up to much, only to find that it takes me by surprise and often exceeds expectations.

One such scone I remember well was a treacle affair I had in the quiet environs of Whithorn.

Whithorn is a small town in the south-west of Scotland. It’s a former royal burgh and the location of the first recorded Christian church in Scotland (founded by St Ninian around the year 397). Among its modern day charms is the Pilgrim Tearoom, part of the Whithorn Story Visitor Centre. Since I’ll be in that neck of the woods again soon I’m wondering if I might try and relive the excellent experience I had on a previous visit there.

Gazing upon the scone again now it strikes me as a pretty attractive looking item, but at the time my hopes were far from high. I think I was imagining it might be a bit dried out and tasteless. In fact, it was soft, moist and deliciously treacly, and I would be very glad to have another one just like it.

Scones I have known no.4 - treacle, Pilgrim Tearoom in Whithorn, 13 August 2013

Scones I have known – no.4: treacle, Pilgrim Tearoom in Whithorn, 13 August 2013

5 day challenge: the ravell’d sleeve (5)

Today is the final day of the 5 day challenge and I’m rounding off with a much happier picture than I posted yesterday.

Some of my best childhood memories relate to family camping holidays. My parents had a succession of camper vans and every summer the van was packed up with a tent and our belongings, ready for the next adventure. Some of these trips took us to foreign countries but mostly we stayed in Scotland, frequently bound for the soothing and quiet countryside of the south-west.

Some years ago, in an attempt to relive these happy days, I got myself a small tent. One July morning I stuck it in the car along with a duvet (I find sleeping bags claustrophobic), a stove and various other required items, and drove off towards the south-west coast.

I didn’t go to the old campsite we had patronised when I was a child (which was pretty basic in our day) but instead found one not far away with a large area of flat grassy land and – most importantly for my comfort – a newly equipped shower and toilet block. (I’m not quite a glamper (glamorous camper) but admit I’d probably choose glamping over camping wild).

I arrived on a cloudy but warm and dry afternoon, pitched my tent, and lay down to admire the view from the open flap.

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Knitting up the ravell’d sleeve of care al fresco, Galloway, July 2010.

Throughout my life this quiet area of Scotland has been a refuge from the cares and worries of normal existence. I still take holidays there every year, although generally in a self-catering cottage rather than a tent. Tomorrow the delightful assistants and I will be scooting off there for a week’s repose and I’m already looking forward to the many tearoom treats awaiting us.

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.