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Archive for June, 2012

About 30 miles south-west of Aberdeen there is a small village called Fettercairn.

I’ve passed through Fettercairn on quite a number of occasions, and each time I’ve thought that I must stop and have a look round one of these days. That day came earlier this week, when my delightful assistant and I deliberately went there for a look-see.

Fettercairn is perhaps best known for its rather splendid arch, which narrows the main street so that only one car can pass through at a time. It was built in honour of Queen Victoria and her husband Albert, who stayed overnight in Fettercairn en route to Balmoral in September 1861, and I think it’s quite a magnificent structure:

If you walk under the arch you’ll see that it’s on a bridge with a river running under the road. The view over both sides is rather attractive:

On the north side of the arch there is that most wonderful of businesses: a nice cafe. If you’re needing a little refreshment while wandering around in this area, you might do as we do and dive in there post haste.

It being the middle of the afternoon when we rolled up, I wasn’t holding out much hope for a scone, but I’m delighted to say that not only did they have scones, they had three options available: plain, fruit and – irresistible, to my mind – walnut and apricot:

My delightful assistant was more in the market for an iced cake, and plumped for a slice of the generously three-tiered coffee and walnut sponge cake:

Both the scone and the cake were excellent, the scone being a most interesting texture with chewy apricot and crunchy walnuts, and the cake being intensely coffee flavoured. My scone was fairly studded with small apricot and walnut lumps:

We both washed our eats down with decaf lattes, which were also extremely good.

Great success so far, but what of the facilities? I had a feeling they might be interesting and so I trotted off to investigate. I wasn’t disappointed:

One area of the cafe had been given over to young visitors, and was very well equipped, with a large assortment of reading material as well as toys and games:

A sign on the wall read “We’re here for you to play! While mummy drinks coffee and chats away!”

Near the counter there was a small sofa with some attractive cushions on it. This was my favourite one:

Enlivened by our refreshments, we trotted outside to have a look at the village square, which contained some nice stone buildings:

The Fettery Shoppe was selling luscious looking plump red strawberries, and we bought a punnet. I would have included a photo of them here but they sadly disappeared before I thought of it.

If you’re ever driving up or down the country to or from Aberdeen and have a little time to spare, I would highly recommend a little detour into the pretty village of Fettercairn, and a good old gaze at the arch.

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“If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something.” Federico Fellini

I’m quoting the above by way of the most recent challenge from Robin at Bringing Europe Home.

In her post, she asks: “Do you have a story or a lesson that was learned in silence? Do you have a photo or poem that inspired quiet reflection?” 

In 1969, Queen Elizabeth II offically opened Backwater Reservoir in Angus, Scotland.  It provides Angus, Dundee and parts of Perthshire with drinking water and, together with the nearby Loch of Lintrathen, supplies about 300,000 people.

Its location, up in the Angus hills not all that far from where I live, is incredibly peaceful. You can walk round the reservoir on a small tarmac road, and hear absolutely nothing other than the gentle sounds of nature.

This photo of the reservoir reminds me of the silence, and makes me feel calm and reflective.

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Yesterday, I do believe I had the best Danish pastry I’ve ever tasted (I’ve had them in Denmark, where they were pretty good, but this one may have topped even those).

My delightful assistant and I were heading north, in order to rummage around the astonishing second hand complex that is Steptoe’s Yard (I posted about it on my Teacups Press blog here, if you’re interested), and we needed something to sustain us during our exertions.

Slightly off our main route to the second hand shop, in a tiny village or indeed hamlet, is a tearoom I have been trying – and failing – to visit for some time now, ever since fellow blogger and ceramicist, Anne, recommended it to me. I have made various attempts to take lunch there, which have been sadly thwarted for different reasons, but yesterday I finally struck lucky and succeeded in enjoying morning refreshments.

It wasn’t the sunniest of days but, even so, I thought the outside of the tearoom looked very welcoming:

The entrance was pretty marvellous too, with a little porch:

The porch had attractive windows on either side:

The tearoom is run by Danes, who sell Danish designed homewares in the adjoining shop. The tearoom chairs reminded me of Ikea (which, admittedly, is Swedish, not Danish) and I found them very comfortable:

I should perhaps have expected Danish pastries in a tearoom run by Danes, but I might not have anticipated the options. There were cinnamon, berry and custard pastries, and I chose custard. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a fancy napkin in a tearoom:

The pastry had been freshly baked and was still slightly warm. The whole thing was incredibly light and the custard slipped down almost before I knew it. The pastry was tasty, light and utterly delicious. It was a decent size but I wouldn’t have been at all upset if it had been bigger.

My delightful assistant had a berry pastry, with coffee, while I had English Breakfast tea:

Inside the bathroom, there was a commendable supply of loo rolls, and a stack of small hand towels, including three hung up next to the toilet rolls:

There was also a choice of five different coloured liquid soaps, sitting in a wire holder, with instructions to “just squeeze the middle and soap will come out”. I squeezed the light green one in the middle and, right enough, soap came out, straight through a hole in the wire netting:

After enjoying our comestibles, we had a quick look in the shop, which appeared to be doing excellent business with a queue forming at the counter. The displays had been done beautifully, and I especially liked one featuring a small day bed full of teddies relaxing (not perhaps terribly clear in the picture, but the middle of the picture shows a metal bed or sofa lined with fabric and housing a number of stuffed creatures):

I’m delighted that I have finally managed to visit this tearoom, particularly as we took advantage of the special morning deal offering a pastry and a tea/coffee for £3. Unfortunately, this place is not included in my tearoom guidebook, because I didn’t manage to visit it in time, but I will be going back to have lunch there one day, and when I come to run a second edition of the book I hope to add it in.

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Scotland has a lot of lochs (‘loch’ is Gaelic for ‘lake’).  I’m not sure what the most famous one would be, perhaps Loch Lomond, or Loch Ness, but there are lots of others worth a peep, and one of those is Loch Earn in Perthshire.

As is the case with many of Scotland’s lochs, Loch Earn is long and narrow, and jolly nice for bobbing about on in a kayak, or just gazing at from the shore.

At the eastern end of Loch Earn lies the pretty village of St Fillans. That’s it over there, on the other side from where I was standing taking this photo:

One day not so long ago, my delightful assistant and I trotted off to St Fillans for a lochside stroll, followed by luncheon in the wonderfully relaxing Four Seasons Hotel.

It was getting on for 2.30pm by the time we rolled up for lunch (I’m relieved to report that we had stopped for tea and scones en route) and they’d stopped serving their full menu in the restaurant. They were pleased, however, to offer us sandwiches in the bar area instead, which suited us very well, especially as we had it all to ourselves:

I chose a cheese and chutney sandwich, which came with crisps and a few interesting little leaves. I forget now what my glamorous assistant had, and appear not to have any photographic evidence, but she also had a sandwich of some sort.

Usually, in a hotel in a small place like this, I might expect there to be one or two types of black tea, and maybe a selection of fruit teas, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the Four Seasons menu:

My assistant opted for the Mysore rich coffee (which came in a large cafetiere containing five cupfuls), and I had Lapsang Souchong tea (which came with enough hot water for five cupfuls – 10 hot beverages between the two of us!), with a couple of pieces of home-made shortbread on the side. We sat there, very contentedly, enjoying the restful calm of the hotel bar and delighting in the splendid view from our window seats:

On our way out of the hotel, we passed the hotel’s interesting lounge:

While driving through the village to the hotel, we had noticed an attractive looking church. I wasn’t really expecting it to be open, but fancied a closer look all the same:

I don’t seem to have a record of the name of this church, I did a quick Google search but couldn’t find it.

To make up for this lack of information, I’ll relate an interesting bit of recent history about the village of St Fillans.

In November 2005, a builder began creating a housing development at the east end of the village. His plans meant disturbing a big lump of rock that, according to legend, was home to fairies. The locals did not want him upsetting their fairy community, and persuaded the builder to change his plans in order to leave the rock alone. The rock now forms the centrepiece of a little park in the middle of the building development, and the fairies are – so I’m told – happily still in situ.

As it happens, the church was, to my great delight, open for viewing. It was quite plain inside, but very restful:

There were a number of bibles on the pews and I flicked open the cover of this one, perhaps because it was unusually imprinted with the name of a well-known Scottish regiment:

Inside the front cover there was a letter, dated 11 February 1946, to a Major Stewart. The first couple of paragraphs read: ” I hope you will not mind my taking the liberty of sending you the 6th BW Bible for custody.  For security reasons I was advised to leave it at home when we sailed for North Africa! Many a time its larger print would have been useful for lesson-reading in the odd and sometimes dark places in which we worshipped.”

After an enjoyable time soaking up the ecclesiastical atmosphere, we stepped out into the sunshine again, and the view of knobbly hills across the loch from the church steps:

If you happen to be passing through this bit of the country (and it is quite a popular tourist area being near The Trossachs National Park) I can recommend a detour through St Fillans.

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tearoomdelights:

Working for yourself has its challenging points…

Originally posted on Teacups Press:

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re only just keeping your head above water?

Photo courtesy of Corbis Images (corbisimages.com)

I feel like that with technology sometimes, and with the business of creating a publishing company and writing a book. Actually writing the book isn’t the difficult part, it’s all the other stuff that comes with it that I struggle with.

For example, today I’ve been trying to figure out how to give customers the option of buying my book using PayPal.  I added a page to this blog called ‘Buy the book’ that I hoped would address the problem. However, I then discovered I had no control over postage rates to different countries. PayPal can seemingly only calculate one postage rate, so I would either have to overcharge to UK addresses or undercharge to overseas addresses.

I spent ages on PayPal’s website and on discussion forums trying to…

View original 330 more words

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Yesterday dawned wet and misty in Perthshire, and it put me in the mood for a trip to the remote area of Eskdalemuir, in Dumfries and Galloway.

Eskdalemuir is the name given to both an area and a small village, and is famous for its meteorological observatory and its Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

It was the monastery that interested me on this occasion, because I had been wanting to take my delightful assistants there for some time. They visited it in the 1960s when it was only just being established, but they hadn’t seen it as the working monastery and retreat centre it is today.

Since it’s a fair distance from Perthshire, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms and took tea/coffee and freshly baked fruit scones:

I think the scones had just come out of the oven when we arrived, because I saw them sitting on a baking tray and they were still warm when they came to the table. They had also been sprinkled with flour, something I find very appealing:

Our snacks kept us going until we got down to the Tibetan monastery, which has its own tearoom, where we took our lunch:

The tearoom menu is vegetarian and,  surprisingly to me, doesn’t serve any of the monastery’s own produce. The food on offer consists of pasties, pastries, cakes and toasties, although they grow all sorts of vegetables and herbs in their garden on site.  Every time I visit I wonder why they don’t serve lovely fresh salads from their garden in the tearoom. We chose pasties, and the spinach and ricotta one was particularly good:

The tearoom is very brightly decorated with an exotic feel to it:

The delightful assistants appear to have been cock-a-hoop with the place:

After tea/juice and pasties, we went to visit the temple, where the Mahakala Prayers were underway. Visitors are free to enter and leave the temple during this time and it makes for an interesting experience, as the monks chant and play various instruments, including drums, cymbals and some sort of trumpet.

I didn’t take any photos inside the temple, but this is what it looks like from the outside:

We left our shoes outside on racks outside very elaborate doors:

All round the monastery grounds there were little shrines with candles, coins and odd items left as offerings:

This one had a few quite surprising items, including an onion and some wrapped sweets:

There’s a lot to look at in the monastery grounds, including an impressive stupa with flags, and a corridor of prayer wheels behind it:

It wasn’t perhaps the best of weathers for visiting, but the Peace Garden is always a tranquil and beautiful place:

Apart from the occasional squawk of a peacock:

Toodleoo Buddhas – until next time!

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“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?).

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