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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the streets in Lindisfarne.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Entrance to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

The weather was lovely, with hazy sunshine all day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Advertisements

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fat seals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bright colours to cheer a dull day in West Wemyss.

Gardenstown and Crovie

Following on from my last post, after luncheon at Duff House my delightful assistant and I tootled up to have a look at one or two of the small villages that are strung out along the Moray coast.

Our first stop was the attractively named Gardenstown, which was reached via a steep narrow road full of hairpin bends.

We parked in a quiet street just above the harbour and got out to amble through the village and gaze out to sea:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t realise at first that this smart little building at the harbour was a toilet block. We didn’t make use of the facilities but they looked very well kept from the outside.

Attached to the railing I was leaning on to take the above photos, and at various other points in the town, there were curious little signs:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For those not in the know, there is a department store chain in the UK called BHS, which stands for British Home Stores; I assume it inspired the name of this Gardenstown emporium.

The delightful assistant and I were keen to take a look, and found said shop lurking inside this green wooden building:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside, it had the feel of a thrift shop, being largely stocked with second-hand oddments such as handbags, puzzles, books, clothes, photo frames and ornaments.

There were also a few brand new items, some of which had presumably been made locally, and amongst them were what I can only assume were gnomes. They were unlike any gnomes I’ve ever seen before, however, and I wish I had a photograph to show you. Alas, I didn’t feel able to take pictures under the watchful eyes of the assistants, who sat silent and motionless behind an old wooden counter observing our every move (we were the only customers).

The thing that impressed me most about this peculiar little shop was the high prices. In this tiny out of the way place, haphazardly dangling from the walls and strewn about dusty shelves, everything seemed to be surprisingly expensive. I remember there were a few very small notebooks filled with cheap lined paper that I would expect to cost a maximum of 30p, but which were priced at £1 each. I don’t wish to criticise the owners of this store or to pass judgement on their efforts to run a retail business, but I find it hard to imagine them ever selling anything.

On the plus side, visiting it was certainly an experience.

Back outside the store, I was attracted by this somewhat unusual pair of bollards outside someone’s front door:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On closer inspection they reminded me of chess pieces:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I confess, their purpose wasn’t entirely clear to me but – thanks to the heads on top – I drew the conclusion that they must be for tying your horse up to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By this time the afternoon was drawing on and I wanted to have a peek at the interesting village of Crovie, just along the coast, before we turned round and headed towards home, so we got back into the car and set off up the steep winding streets of Gardenstown to rejoin the main road.

Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the arrival of a convoy of funeral attendees coming down the hill and looking for places to park on the roadside. We were forced to sit with the handbrake pulled up as far as it would go, on a steep slope next to a sharp bend with another car right behind us, constantly attempting to pull away but being thwarted by ever more vehicles appearing round the bend.

In this country, there is an understanding (it may even be mentioned in the Highway Code, I can’t remember) that traffic coming downhill gives way to that going uphill, but there was none of that in Gardenstown. Mind you, due to hairpin bends and buildings obscuring the view, I expect the downhill drivers didn’t know that there were uphill drivers waiting round the bend, and by the time they swung into view there was no room for them to give way to anyone.

It was not the most comfortable part of our day out, but at least it was summer time and the roads were dry. I shuddered to think what it would be like on ice in the winter, and made a mental note never to relocate to Gardenstown.

A few miles along the main road we saw the sign we were looking for, next to an attractive bus shelter with a not so attractive bin in front of it. The little blue and white anchor on the signpost denotes that Crovie is on the scenic route along the Moray coast:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The single track road leading down to Crovie from the main road:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crovie, like Gardenstown, lies by the sea at the end of a steep road with a few sharp bends in it.

We passed a sign at a car park by the roadside before the village suggesting that any non-locals might like to stop there rather than continue down, but after surviving Gardenstown I wasn’t too put off by that. We did in fact find another place to park a bit further down the road, which was possibly just as well because there wasn’t a lot of land to park on down in the village.

The cars in the distance on the left of this picture were the only ones I saw there:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The west end of Crovie village.

Looking in the other direction there didn’t seem to be enough space for cars, and according to the Undiscovered Scotland website this is in fact the case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The east end of Crovie village: no room for cars.

It surprised me that people actually chose to live here with it being so close to the sea, although I’ve since found out that quite a few of the houses are now holiday lets occupied only in the summer. On a stormy day at high tide I imagine it could be quite invigorating to stick your head out of the window of one of these houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For a more professional photograph of Crovie, you might like to have a look at Scott Marshall’s blog, here.

When we’d finished gawping at Crovie, we buzzed off south again and stopped in a most curious place for cream teas.

The location was a castle and apparently photography was forbidden indoors ‘for insurance reasons’ and so, despite having taken a lot of pictures before I was aware of this rule, I’ve decided not to publish them here. This is a pity, particularly as many of them were taken in the tearoom where we enjoyed truly excellent cream teas. I even went to the trouble of conducting an experiment involving a cherry scone, some raspberry jam and a large pot of whipped cream.

The ‘cream tea’ (i.e. a pot of tea served with a scone, jam and cream – traditionally clotted cream, but often whipped double cream is used instead, as it was on this occasion), is said to have originated in the English county of Devon in the 11th Century, but the county nextdoor, Cornwall, also claims the cream tea as its own. I’ve only ever had a cream tea in Cornwall, not having spent any time in Devon, but I have heard that the difference between a Devonshire cream tea and a Cornish cream tea is in the ordering of the jam and cream on the scone.

In Devon they put the cream on first (butter isn’t usually part of a cream tea, unless my delightful assistants happen to be in charge) with the jam on top, and in Cornwall it’s the other way round: jam first, then cream. Here’s an example of what I’m on about (admittedly, this is one of the forbidden pictures, but you’d never know the location from this photo), with Devon on the right and Cornwall on the left:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve observed that in Scotland people tend to follow the Cornish method, with jam first and cream on top, and I think I understand the reason for this.

Whenever I’ve tried it the other way round, with the cream on first, I’ve found it difficult to apply the jam on top of the cream in such a way as to make it look appetising. Usually what happens is the heavier jam sinks into the cream and when an attempt is made to spread the jam, it combines with the cream to create a bit of a delicious mess. Applying the jam first means you lay a good solid foundation for the lighter cream, which when spread atop the jam layer manages to hold its own without mixing in with the jam too much.

When I take a cream tea (which I fear I do far too frequently for the good of my health), I tend to use the Cornish method, simply for neatness. What is a little unfortunate is that when I tested it on the occasion pictured above, I discovered (as I had already known, deep down) that I slightly preferred the taste sensation of the Devonshire method, with the cream underneath the jam.

I say it’s unfortunate but that’s like saying that a good solid 10 hour sleep is better than a sleep of 9 hours 55 minutes, i.e. there’s not much in it and I really can’t complain about the minimal difference in the end result.

Sunny Mallorca by the sea

Recently, with the very slow start of spring in Scotland (when I began typing this it was pouring with rain and about 10ºC), my thoughts have been straying towards happy memories of warm sunshine.

I used to have a terrible problem with itchy feet (I refer to wanderlust, as opposed to athlete’s foot-type afflictions which I have thankfully never suffered from).

All through my 20s and early 30s, I had daily dreams about dashing off hither and thither. Every now and then my dreams translated into reality, but before long I’d be back home again cogitating where to go next. I got so used to this state of affairs that I doubted I would ever grow out of it.

Then, when I started working offshore and was miraculously paid to go abroad, I thought my itchy feet problem had been cured. When I was at work I was usually on a boat bobbing about at sea, which satisfied my need for adventure, and when I wasn’t at work I was relaxing at home and perfectly happy not to be popping off anywhere else.

However, it’s now about 18 months since I more or less decided to stop working offshore, and just lately I’ve been aware of an irritation in the soles of my feet. It’s very slight, barely perceptible most of the time, but it’s on the edge of my consciousness.

And so, to the point of this post, which is to relive sunny days of travels past.

Mallorca (aka Majorca) is one of the places I have some sunny pictures of and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the small Spanish island twice, first with my friend Sheila, and then with my dear mama.

On both visits I stayed in the lovely seaside resort of Puerto Pollensa:

Pier at Puerto Pollensa

Me at the end of the pier looking into the lovely, clear (and surprisingly cold) water at Puerto Pollensa

Lorna at Port de Pollensa

Finding shade is my usual habit when faced with glorious sunshine, even when I’ve gone somewhere deliberately to soak up the rays.

I stayed in the same hotel both times, too; it was pleasantly situated close to the beach with a quiet road and some hills at the back.

View from Mum's room

As always, food was of the utmost importance, and I ate well in Mallorca. The salads were particularly welcome in the hot weather.

A big tomato salad

My delightful assistant with a massive plate of tomato and mozzarella salad with olives

Even in the heat, however, one doesn’t want to forego the option of sweet treats.

Mum's chocolate cake at Sispins

My delightful assistant’s highly understandable choice of chocolate cake for pudding

I couldn’t get enough of the hot chocolate that was on offer at a cafe near the hotel; it was thick, silky and intensely chocolatey:

The chocolate was so thick!

If I was able to leave it for long enough (extremely difficult), a little skin formed on top, which pleased me more than I can say.

Just look at the way it coated this little biscuit:

Thick chocolate coating a biscuit at Gran Cafe in Port de Pollensa

This chocolate was so good that a version of it appears in my novel. I wanted to let my main character experience it, because I know how much she likes her little treats.

In addition to delicious food there were some beautiful buildings, particularly in the old town of Pollensa, a short bus journey inland from the port.

Interesting architecture at Pollensa

Lovely wooden shutters in Pollensa old town

Attractive house in Pollensa

A hot slog up a long flight of steps in the old town was worth it for the view from the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Only 365 steps till you reach the top…

View from hilltop at Pollensa

Why isn’t there a tearoom up here?

There were houses all the way up the sides of the steps, many of which had nicely tiled roofs and flourishing pot plants:

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the things that makes Puerto Pollensa such an attractive spot is the line of pine trees bowing out over the water:

Mum looking out to sea at Port de Pollensa

My delightful assistant alone with her thoughts, gazing out over the blue sea.

In Scotland, evenings on which one can stroll outside without a jacket or cardigan are few and far between. In fact, even on the warmest of summer evenings in this fair country I can’t imagine ever leaving the house to go for a walk without a sleeved covering of some sort.

Balmy summer evenings are one of the things we Brits prize when holidaying abroad in warmer climes.

Port de Pollensa sunset_2

As the sun sets over Puerto Pollensa the warmth of the air is sufficient to allow pleasant cardigan-less wandering along the beach. A treat for all the Brits on their hols.

As I finish this post,  I am delighted to report that not only is the sun shining but the forecast for the weekend isn’t too bad at all.

Perhaps this is indeed the proper start of spring, from which we will move seamlessly into summer.

If this jolly weather keeps up, I can possibly even shelve any thoughts of absconding and content myself with the delights of living in this lovely country.

Quotes from the Masters: Grahame

“There is nothing– absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Kenneth Grahame, from The Wind in the Willows

Delightful blogger, Robin, author of the splendid Bringing Europe Home blog is setting a blogging challenge each week, based on her chosen topic “Quotes from the Masters”.

She would like people to come up with a photo, a story, a poem or whatever else they feel inspired to post, with reference to the quote she posts on her blog. This week’s challenge is based on the above quote from The Wind in the Willows. I’ve read the book several times, and boats have been quite a big part of my life for the past few years, so I thought it an appropriate time for me to jump in.

A couple of years ago I attended a boat handling course in the beautiful town of Grimstad in Norway. I learned how to drive a little FRC (fast rescue craft) and a larger workboat. I found the big one a bit stressful because there was a lot to remember when I was at the helm, but the wee one was a lot of fun (it went pretty fast).

There were usually five of us on the boat at a time, four trainees and an instructor. My other three crewmates were also my workmates (the course was paid for by our employer), and two of them in particular were very competitive. They were always wanting to do the driving and be in charge and, quite frankly, I was happy to let them. I did quite enjoy my turns at the wheel, but on the whole I prefer to let someone else look after a boat while I’m on it, so that I can sit back and admire the scenery.

This photo shows one of the competitive crewmates taking his preferred place in the driving seat, while I happily mooch about at the back enjoying the lack of responsibility. This was just before we left the pontoon, all dressed up in our big orange survival suits (it matches my hair, don’t you think?).