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Archive for March, 2012

Following consumption of a delicious star in Braemar, my delightful assistant and I skipped merrily through the pine forests of Royal Deeside to the Old Brig O’ Dee:

The Old Brig O’ Dee, or the Invercauld Bridge as it’s also known, is a splendid piece of granite architecture.

According to J R Hume, a chap who knows a thing or two about bridges, it is “a handsome rustic ashlar bridge, with three main segmental arches and a smaller arch at each end. There are rounded cutwaters, and occuli in the spandrels between the main spans.”  I don’t know about you, but when I come across occuli in spandrels, I stop to observe.

Walking across this bridge, which is no longer used as a crossing for traffic, I felt I’d gone back in time. The dusty surface with grass growing at the edges seemed to me just as it might have looked when it was being used for carts and horses in the 1800s (construction began in the late 1700s):

There was a fine view of the River Dee from the top of the bridge:

On the other side, I found signs of spring in a quiet pool next to the river:

Through one of the arches I spied the road bridge now used in place of the Old Brig O’ Dee:

On the south side of the Dee sits a forest regeneration project, kept behind gates that the public are welcome to pass through, as long as they come in small groups and stay very quiet, so as not to disturb the sensitive wildlife within the reserve: 

In 1878 Queen Victoria purchased Ballochbuie forest, in which the regeneration project is housed. She didn’t want the old Caledonian pine trees to be sold off to an Aberdeen timber merchant, and her intervention is apparently one of the earliest recorded acts of forestry conservation.

The forest contines to be preserved by the current royal family, as it nestles in the grounds of their holiday home, Balmoral Castle, and it now contains some of the oldest Scots pines in the UK.

We heard capercaillie in here as we tip-toed quietly along the path, but none of them popped up and showed themselves (I have yet to see one in the wild and am ever hopeful of fulfilling this long-held ambition). The trees were very nice though, and it was such an astonishingly warm and cloudless day that we felt we were in the Canary Islands:

For anyone not familiar with capercaillie, here’s a picture of one I snaffled from the Birdlife website:

A fine fellow.

After all that frolicking in the pine forest, we were ready for a bit of refreshment and, since it happened to be lunchtime, we scooted off to the Victorian town of Ballater a few miles along the road for a light luncheon.

Ballater was founded in the early 1800s to accommodate visitors flocking to the nearby Pannanich Wells Spa. At first it was just a small village, but it expanded rapidly when Queen Victoria bought nearby Balmoral Castle, and the railway arrived (in 1861).

Despite still being quite small, Ballater now boasts four decent looking tearooms (I haven’t checked them all out yet), and we went to one I’d been to years ago that I wanted to revisit. My lovely assistant had ham and tomato sandwiches:

And I had sandwiches with tuna salad:

The sandwiches were fresh and tasty, but quite filling, so rather than take tea and cake afterwards we selected a chocolate each from the excellent selection in the chocolate cabinet at the counter.

Regrettably, I was so busy admiring and choosing chocolates, that I completely forgot to photograph the display. I did, however, photograph the two that my assistant and I chose as our small sweet snacks.

My splendid assistant’s choice was a rum truffle, which was prettily decorated with a treble clef:

I found it very difficult to choose, but eventually plumped for a pear ganache:

I had no idea from looking at the outside that the inside would turn out to be so superbly constructed. There was an outer layer of dark chocolate, with the pear motif on top, and inside that there was a milk chocolate layer. Inside the milk chocolate was the beautifully smooth and silky pear ganache:

Before leaving Ballater I was keen to buy some of the famous Balmoral bread, recently brought to my attention by fellow blogger Christine.

Ballater is a very royal town, everywhere you look there are signs of royal patronage.  There doesn’t appear to be a candlestick maker in Ballater, but both the butcher and the baker have gained the royal seal of approval.

I was delighted to find, on entering the bakery, that they still had four unsold loaves of Balmoral bread. I very happily purchased one:

I wish I could show you a slice of the loaf to give an idea of just how marvellous this bread was (it deserves to be famous, in my opinion), but unfortunately it had all disappeared before I thought of taking a picture of it.

On the up side, this gives me an excellent reason to return to Ballater in the near future, and I can combine my bread buying with a visit to one of the other, as yet unsampled, tearooms.

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At this time of year in my part of the world we don’t expect the weather to be up to much, and we certainly don’t expect clear blue skies with no clouds. However, to the delight of many, this is what we’ve had lately, along with record breaking temperatures.

With such amazing weather yesterday, I thought it only right to take my delightful assistant out for a jolly jaunt, and to give my poor pained wrists a rest from typing.

It’s not only typing that aggravates them, it seems that whatever I do, or don’t do, the pain persists. While having a moan to a friend about this the other day, I suggested rather sarcastically that perhaps I should stay at home and twiddle my thumbs, but, as he quite rightly pointed out, twiddling my thumbs is one thing I probably shouldn’t do. So, even thumb twiddling is off the menu at the moment. Am I tugging at your heartstrings yet? Cue sad violin music:

Thank you to Musicasa2ndlanguage for that beautiful little interlude.

We chose to go north, to the village of Braemar (featured in a previous post) for our first refreshment stop. Next to the tearoom there was a wee hoose with window surrounds that matched the daffodils in the garden.

I wonder if the owners change the paintwork with the seasons, to match whatever’s in the garden. Unlikely, but you never know.

Braemar is blessed with three tearooms, which is impressive for such a small place, and this is probably my favourite one.

The main body of the kirk, so to speak:

There was also a little side area boasting a superfluity of paper lampshades:

Up at the counter there was an extremely tempting vanilla sponge on display, but because we were already looking forward to lunch we resisted it and instead shared an attractive plain scone, which came with some very nice plum jam:

The tearoom had done a little Easter decorating, with lights and tiny fluffy yellow chicks perched amongst a pile of logs in an old fireplace:

I thought the chicks were delightful:

In the main room the tearoom was quite plainly decorated, with solid cream or dark brown walls and not many pictures. This provided the perfect backdrop for the table decorations: a single beautiful yellow daffodil in a vase on each table:

We sat in window seats, partly to look out and partly, I think, because we were drawn by the cushion covers:

There aren’t many days in the year when I’d choose to sit outside a tearoom in Scotland, but while we were taking tea indoors the staff put seats outside in the sunshine, which looked very inviting:

Before we left I made use of the facilities and was amused by a glass framed photograph (I couldn’t altogether avoid reflections, unfortunately) on the wall outside the toilets.

I don’t wish to be unpatriotic, but when it comes to bagpipes this is a child after my own heart:

From Braemar we drove east towards the Royal town of Ballater, stopping en route to admire the wonderful Invercauld Bridge or, to give it it’s quainter name, the Old Brig O’ Dee, but I’ll keep the details of that for another post.

In the meantime, here’s a shot of the lovely old bridge to whet your appetite:

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Inspired by Jennifer Thomson’s card in my last post, I whisked my delightful assistant down to Glasgow a couple of days ago, to take tea in the famous Willow Tearooms.

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Willow Tearooms opened for business, at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, in October 1903.

The name ‘Sauchiehall’ is derived from two Scots words: ‘saugh’ being a willow tree and ‘haugh’ meaning meadow, so presumably at some point in the distant past Sauchiehall Street was a willow meadow. It doesn’t look much like a willow meadow these days:

No willows to be seen

The Willow Tearooms consisted of two areas: the tea gallery and the Room de Luxe. We were seated in the gallery, which had a spacious, airy feel to it, overlooking the jewellery and gift shop below:

By the time we reached the tearoom it was after 2.30pm and we hadn’t had any lunch. We had, I’m relieved to say, had large and exquisite scones earlier in the day, but by this time I was ready for a good scoff of some tasty treats.

Afternoon tea, despite the name, was being served all day and we both decided it was just the thing for us.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a traditional afternoon tea generally consists of small sandwiches, small scones, small biscuits and small cakes served on a tiered stand. There can be any combination of these delicacies, and this was what we got at the Willow Tearooms:

On the ground floor, so to speak, were the sandwiches. We were each supplied with 4 of these dainty little nibbles. I asked for a vegetarian selection and my favourite sandwich consisted of strong cheddar cheese with tomato on soft seeded brown bread:

Being ravenous at the time, I fairly wolfed my sandwiches, washed down with a truly superb pot of tea. There was an excellent selection of teas to choose from and we both had the Willow Tea Room special, a lovely blend of Ceylon and Assam teas. It was a beautiful dark golden colour and had a wonderfully rich, full flavour.

Back at the tiered stand, the first floor provided scones with jam and cream, but it was what was on the top floor that took my attention after the sandwiches.

When we had initially placed our order, we had been asked to each pick a cake of our choice from the chiller cabinet:

I was quite tempted by a pecan covered item, but I thought it might be a bit too solid after the sandwiches:

After some deliberation, I opted for meringues sandwiched together with cream while my lovely assistant chose an individual lemon meringue pie. Two little pieces of shortbread accompanied the cakes:

I got into a right old mess with my meringue:

But fortunately I had been thoughtfully provided with an attractive Art Deco napkin:

After the meringue I really had no interest in my scone. I took a nibble of it but I’m afraid I’d been spoiled with a superior scone earlier in the day, so I left it at that and instead slooshed down another cup of marvellous tea.

On the way back to the car (driving in the centre of Glasgow and trying to find somewhere to park is much like attempting this madness in any other city) we walked down the very busy Buchanan Street.

I was born and brought up in the city of Edinburgh, but having lived out of a city for some years now I found being back amongst thronging crowds a little overwhelming. I was surprised by the number of people walking around the city centre on a Thursday afternoon in March:

Buchanan Street has some interesting architecture, and the entrance to the Princes Square shopping mall is particularly eye-catching. This 19th Century building has been covered with flowing decorative metalwork, which includes a quite spectacular peacock with his tail feathers fanned out, elegantly surveying the street below from his lofty perch:

Near the car park I saw these two fellows, somewhat burdened by a terrific weight on their shoulders. I don’t know what the building is but walking past it made my neck ache:

Before going to the Willow Tearooms my delightful assistant and I had enjoyed a stroll around Glasgow Botanic Gardens. After seeing those poor chaps above I feel the need of something restful to end this post with, so here are a few snaps from the Botanics. I was especially interested in this notice:

The botanic gardens were free to get into and, quite unusually, there was no charge for the glasshouses either. My lovely assistant was very taken with this flower, from the Shrimp Plant, which does indeed bear some resemblance to a shrimp:

There was a pond in the glasshouse that had some fish in it:

I liked the little succulents floating on top of the pond. They looked so perky and healthy:

As did this beautiful vibrant pink plant:

So that was our jaunt to Glasgow, a mixture of plants, crowds, interesting buildings, tea and tasty morsels.

When I lived in Edinburgh I enjoyed the bustle, the wide variety of human life swarming the streets, the noise, the buzz and the excitement. These days, although I quite like visiting cities, I always feel a huge surge of relief to escape back into the countryside.

Thank you Glasgow, for an interesting visit, but hello beautiful Perthshire, I’m glad to be back:

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If you use Facebook you might be vaguely interested to know that I’ve revamped my Facebook page for Lorna’s Tearoom Delights. It can be found by clicking here.

If, however, that’s of absolutely no interest to you, perhaps I could offer you this nice painting of a tearoom instead. It’s a photo of a card I bought recently. The painting is by Jennifer Thomson and is entitled “Meringue Trio, The Willow Tearoom”.

Jennifer Thomson painting

Jennifer has painted lots of lovely Scottish scenes, so if you like this one why not have a look at some of her others at www.jenniferthomson.com.

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Following on from my previous post, after our bracing coastal walk, we wound our way back through the village of Pittenweem to get to the chocolaterie cafe for sweet treats.

There are several narrow streets running uphill from the harbour to the centre of the village, and I liked the look of Cove Wynd* and the lure of St Fillan’s Cave. The name ‘Pittenweem’ means ‘The Place of the Caves’, and St Fillan lived here in the 8th Century.

St Fillan had a very handy gift that must have made him a popular choice of companion for night-time jaunts. Apparently he could make his left arm give off a luminous glow, which he used for reading and writing sacred scriptures in the dark.

Near the harbour in Pittenweem

As soon as I turned into the narrow Cove Wynd I spied the cave further up the hill:

Narrow streets in Pittenweem

The cave goes down into the rock behind a locked metal gate. I managed to peer through the gate to get a look at the cave entrance:

Deep into the ground goes St Fillan

There was a notice saying the gate key could be obtained from the cafe we’d had lunch at, so one day soon I must go back, ask for the key and have a look inside. On this occasion, however, I contented myself with admiring it from the outside. There was a mosaic made of stones stuck onto the side of the little porch at the cave’s entrance:

Lovely sandstone cave on a steep street in Pittenweem

And I made friends with the cheerful sentry standing guard outside the cave, who smiled nicely for the camera:

Sentry at St Fillan's Cave

At the top of the wynd was St Fillan’s Parish Church. It was originally built in the 12th Century, although most of what remains today dates back only to the 16th Century.  The church is connected to the Tolbooth Tower which once housed the council chambers. Witches were kept here awaiting trial, the last trial having been held in 1704.

16th Century buildings in Pittenweem

I believe the location of the pillar on the wall marks the separation between the tolbooth on the left and the church on the right. I liked the old door and window of the tolbooth:

Old door, window and pillar

I also liked the beautiful round stained glass window further up the building, which glinted prettily in the sunlight. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it really was very shiny and sparkly:

Pittenweem parish church

After admiring all these architectural wonders it was time to go back to the cafe and indulge in some delights.

With some difficulty this is what we chose. Beautiful assitant no.1 had the speciality chocolate cake and a chai latte. I tasted both and they were excellent. The chai latte was perfect and the cake was very chocolatey and surprisingly light:

rich cocoa filled dessert in Pittenweem

Lovely assistant no.2 went for warm ginger sponge cake with fresh cream and a mug of Belgian white hot chocolate:

ginger dessert in Pittenweem

And, after much deliberation, I chose Oolong tea with a mini bar of dark chocolate. The teacup was very pretty, as was the little bar of chocolate:

The chocolate chunks were so small that I couldn’t resist popping some on my teaspoon and dunking them in my tea. They held their shape and didn’t seem to be melting but when I sooked them off the spoon they just disappeared.

When I was paying at the till in the chocolate shop, I enjoyed looking at some of the chocolates on display and bought some Belgian seashells to take away.

I can’t resist one more picture of my pretty teacup and chocolate bar. It really was a very nice bar of chocolate, very dark, smooth and tangy. Next time I’d like to try one of their dark hot chocolates, but this time I was very glad I’d had the Oolong tea in such beautiful china.

*‘wynd’ is a Scottish word describing an open passageway between buildings. As stated on Wikipedia: “In many places wynds link streets at different heights and thus are mostly thought of as being ways up or down hills. It is possible the term derives from lanes winding their way up hills to provide easier passage, but wynds can be dead straight.”

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This week’s Tearoom of the Week involved a day out built around visiting this tearoom. There’s so much to relate that I’m splitting it into two posts: Part One – Savoury, and Part Two – Sweet. Like a good girl, I’m having my savouries first.

Last week I took my two most delightful assistants down to the seaside village of Pittenweem in Fife, in search of a chocolaterie cafe I’d heard tell of but never been to.

Inside, the cafe had a slightly run down, studenty feel to it, which reminded me of cafes I used to frequent during my student days in Edinburgh:

Not quite shabby chic but kind of grungy

As tempted as I was to dive right into some of the chocolate options, I was pretty hungry and decided on a bowl of hearty vegan bean soup to start with. All three of us had soup (different types) which was served in vintage china, with a little tower of lightly toasted Ciabatta slices on a side plate. This was my bean soup:

A meal in a vintage china bowl

There was a lot to look at in the room, from chocolate-themed pictures:

Framed chocolate adverts Lyon and Delespaul-Havez

To a colourful metal sculpture:

Metalwork as art

The deep windowsills were filled with numerous wooden puzzles, books and games that had been provided to keep the customers entertained:

Entertainments for the punters

There was a wooden puzzle on our table when we arrived, which we tried in vain to solve. The waitress, seeing our strife, took pity on us and exchanged it for an easier one, which we managed to fit together nicely:

A solution found, to the satisfaction of all concerned

Our soup had been quite filling, so rather than pile in some sweets straight away, we left the cafe for a stroll through the town with the intention of returning once we’d worked up an appetite.

Pittenweem is an interesting little place, with some unusual and attractive architecture, as well as a way-marked coastal path.

There were some beautiful sandstone buildings leading down quite steeply sloping streets to the sea:

Steeply sloping streets in Pittenweem

And buildings with doors below street level (in front of the yellow door is a stone step up to the street, although I admit it’s not all that obvious in the picture). The yellow paintwork against a whitewashed wall looked almost Mediterranean in the sunshine:

Yellow paint with white walls looks Mediterranean on a sunny day in Pittenweem

The Fife coastline is dotted with small harbours like the one in Pittenweem, and in fact this one is the most active of those around this section of the coast, known as the East Neuk of Fife.

Fishing is still quite a big thing in Pittenweem

When we visited it was all very quiet, apart from a couple of rowing boats full of enthusiastic and energetic sailors. We had seen them out at sea, battling against the waves and no doubt getting very wet in the process.  I wondered if they had picnics with them. If I’d been foolhardy enough to get into one of those boats I would at least have stashed lots of comforting supplies in my pockets first.

All quiet in the harbour but outside that the wind was blowing fairly ferociously

There were lots of interesting little bits of architecture near the harbour, including this very fancily shaped corner piece of wall:

Beautifully shaped bit of architecture

And this lovely building looking out to the harbour, with a stained glass window set next to the doorway, and the house name carved into the back of a bench seat outside:

Lovely building near the harbour with a stained glass window

On a street leading up from the harbour there was a wonderful wall which had apparently been built around a big lump of rock that was already there:

Lovely sandstone in Pittenweem

For a bit of exercise and in order to enjoy the sunshine and fire ourselves up for our sweets, we took a bracing stroll along the coastal path:

A shed sign marks the way

A breezy bracing walk along the coast

As we reached the shoreline we passed through the edge of a links golf course. This type of golf course is very typical in Scotland and no doubt extremely challenging for the golfers concerned, what with gusting winds off the sea:

The coastal path goes through the golf course at Pittenweem

On the shore there was a large chunk of concrete emblazoned with a patriotic message. These sorts of messages appear all over Scotland and I’m not entirely sure why, but I daresay they’re written by Scots who want to be released from the tyranny of their English neighbours. Personally speaking, I’m very fond of the English, not to mention the Welsh and the Irish, and I like being a part of Britain. If I took tea with Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party and staunch campaigner for Scottish independence) I think I’d keep him off that topic and stick to safe subjects such as the weather, where he was going for his holidays and whatnot.

Patriotic message to remind us of our neighbours

If you still have the stomach for a bit more of Pittenweem, and some photos of sweet stuff, you might like to have a look at Part Two of this long post, but I need to toddle off and write it first…

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After our visit to Perth museum the other day, my lovely assistant and I made our way to a lunch place in Perth that we’d never been to before. We had initially thought of going to Breizh, a creperie nearby, but on viewing the menu of this other place, plumped for that instead. Our choice led to a jolly tasty luncheon with a twist of foreignness about it.

This place only opened in 2010 but has become very popular and was fairly hotching when we rolled up. Thankfully, someone had just vacated a nice corner table by the window, so we nabbed it in a timely manner.

There was an old-fashioned dark wooden bar near the entrance, with cloched cake stands gleaming temptingly. We both thought that the mirrored bar and style of wooden chairs made it feel a bit French. I took my chance for a quick photo when there was no-one sitting directly in my line of vision:

Cafe with a French feel

What we chose to have wasn’t very French, but it was a bit exotic. I went for falafel (Middle Eastern in origin, I believe), which was served very simply with a tub of Greek yoghurt and a beetroot side salad:

Tasty Middle Eastern fare

My assistant opted for a Greek salad, which was fairly swimming in olive oil but was declared most acceptable. She ordered some of the cafe’s own superbly crusty homemade bread to go with it, which could also be bought in loaf form to take away.

We didn’t have room for a pudding but on the way out I spotted these marvellous large meringues. They must have been about 5 inches in diameter:

An excellent use of egg white
On another occasion I may have to pop back and sample one.

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