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Archive for December, 2012

If you live in the northern hemisphere, as I do, you might be longing for a bit of summer sunshine round about now.

The UK has been exceptionally wet in recent days, with numerous flood warnings and TV pictures of dramatic rescues by the Fire Brigade of people in cars stranded in deep water. It’s also been very dark, with constant heavy cloud, and all of this has made my thoughts wander back to happy summer days of sunshine and warmth.

Scotland is prone to a lot of cloud, but that doesn’t always mean it’s wet and cold to boot. One particular day in early August was quite cloudy, but it was one of those still, jacket-free days where the sun, when it does break through the cloud, feels gloriously warm on the skin.

My dear mama had told me about a tearoom in the little town of Thornhill, in Dumfries and Galloway, in which she and the pater had taken a very pleasant luncheon while on holiday in those parts.

Thornhill is a fair distance from where I live, and a bit further than I would normally venture on a day out, but since the weather was fine and we got an early start, I whisked the small assistant (said maternal parent) off south-westwards towards the Dumfriesshire hills.

This picture was taken on a different occasion, but as it happens to be en route to Thornhill, I’m bunging it in to give an idea of some of the scenery we passed through:

The Borders hills

We arrived there around lunchtime, but since we’d stopped for a snack on the way we took a stroll around the town to work up our appetites. I don’t appear to have taken any photographs of the main street in Thornhill and so I’ve borrowed this one from the excellent website, Undiscovered Scotland:

The main street, Thornhill

We ambled along the backstreets, which were quiet and had lovely views of distant hills, as well as some strange-looking trees:

Thornhill

Along one little street I was surprised to see a fairly impressive memorial, remembering one Joseph Thomson (Explorer):

Joseph Thomson, Explorer, Memorial

According to Wikipedia, this Thomson  (1858-1895) was “a Scottish geologist and explorer”, who not only has an African beast named after him (Thomson’s Gazelle) but avoided confrontations among his porters or with indigenous peoples, neither killing any native nor losing any of his men to violence.”

The same article claims that he is the originator of this apparently oft-quoted motto: “He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.”

I can’t say I’m familiar with the quote, but at least now if I ever come across it I’ll know who said it.

Thomson was born in the village of Penpont, a couple of miles from Thornhill, and some time I would like to have a mosey round there to see if there are any references to him. I seem to remember that Penpont, despite its small size, also hosts an interesting looking tearoom, which gives me an added reason to investigate it.

The memorial has rather a nice bas-relief (if that’s the term I want) on one side, showing a lady holding an unfurled scroll displaying a map of Africa:

Bas-relief on Joseph Thomson memorial

Just beyond this memorial a sign caught our attention:

Coo Lane sign

The lane in question enticed us to walk down it:

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I’m assuming that the lane was named after the Scottish word for ‘cow’ because at the end of this lane there was a field, and perhaps in days gone by this was a busy highway for travelling cattle. There were no coos there when we visited, but there were some sheep, many of which were flopped out on the grass soaking up the rays:

Relaxing sheep

The delightful assistant and I were both very warm by this time, after plodding all over the place in the unusually balmy weather, and luncheon was calling.

The tearoom we were bound for was called “Thomas Tosh”, which I think has a splendid ring to it. I particularly like the idea of using the shortened version of Thomas and ending up with the name “Thos Tosh”. Unfortunately, I don’t know who Mr Tosh is, or was, but he’s given his name to rather a nice eatery.

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The building housed not only a tearoom, but an art gallery and a shop selling gifts, crafts and food.  I believe it used to be some sort of church hall:

Thos Tosh indoors

Each table had a little stack of blue serviettes packed into a rack made from two sets of crossed teaspooons. From a distance they looked quite like the Scottish flag. You can see them at the nearest table in the picture above, and close-up below:

Teaspoon racks

We both chose to have salads, which were large and packed with interesting ingredients. The delightful assistant had a chicken salad:

Chicken salad at Thos ToshAnd I had a tuna salad:

Tuna salad at Thos Tosh

We were so full after our salads that we didn’t have room for pudding (a tragedy, since there were delicious looking cakes and hot puddings on offer), and so we tootled off back to the car and headed north for home.

About half an hour after leaving Thornhill we felt the need of a cup of tea, and ventured into Starbucks, which is handily just off the road in a service station at Abington. I don’t often admit to going to places like Starbucks, but I must say they do a very lovely chai tea.

Not being a very frequent visitor to Starbucks, I forget each time that I need to lie to the baristas. When I ask for a chai tea, they ask if I take milk. Being a reasonably honest sort of cove, I say ‘yes’, which results in them giving me what I consider to be a measly half cup. The problem with this is that a) I love their chai tea enough to drink a large quantity of it, and b) I only take a dash of milk.

My delightful assistant prefers the chai tea latte, which comes sweetened and puffed up with hot fluffy milk and the cup filled, as a good beverage should be, absolutely to the brim.

Here, for comparison is the difference between our two drinks, my black chai tea with a dash of milk on the right, and her chai tea latte on the left. I hadn’t drunk any of mine when this was taken:

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I’m hoping that by reminding myself of this recurring misdemeanour, I will have imprinted the nightmare of it on my brain, so that the next time I visit Starbucks I go in fully prepared for their misleading and devious questions.

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Here’s a little game for you.

A few years ago a small stowaway hopped onboard a ship with me in Shetland, and has been my travelling companion on a number of offshore trips since.

I haven’t been offshore for over a year now and my small companion has mysteriously vanished. I think she got tired of waiting for me to go anywhere exciting and has galloped off on her own little adventure.  I could probably lure her back by leaving a trail of Maltesers in the garden.

Agnieszka at the Maltesers

She’s in all of these photos. Can you spot her in each one?

(Some of them are quite tricky, but she’s there all right wearing her little horse blanket, knitted especially for her by a lovely Polish surveyor called Anna).

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I spent Christmas 2007 on a boat in Hammerfest, way up in the north of Norway, and my mischievous little chum got herself right in amongst the festivities.

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A very merry Christmas one and all, 

and many good things to come in 2013!

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Two of my fellow bloggers have been kind enough to bestow upon me the Blog of the Year Award 2012, which was jolly nice of them.

Both Meg Travels and All Things Boys saw fit to nominate my blog, and I would like to thank them for their good wishes and pass mine on to others.

(Incidentally, if you click on my links and they don’t open a new window, I don’t know why that is because I did tick the box asking it to do that – one of the peculiarities of WordPress, perhaps.)

Blog of the Year Award 2 star jpeg

As with all such awards there are various rules (which can be found here), one of which is that you can nominate as many or as few blogs as you like. I decided to choose three.

There are many blogs I subscribe to, more that I dip in and out of, and some that I’ve only read a post or two from over the year, and I’m grateful to all of them for supplying me with reading material. There truly is a treasure trove on offer in the blogosphere.

treasure chest

Image from Dorling Kindersley

I chose my three based on the education I feel I’ve received this year. Anyone who can teach me anything useful or interesting gets a big thumbs up from me, and these three have done just that.

teacher-tips

image from ministry-to-children.con

1. Cauldrons and Cupcakes – Nicole is the writer of this fine blog, and one of her outstanding attributes is her ability to communicate. You just need to look at the comments people leave on every post to see how she touches others and makes them feel she’s speaking directly to them. Before I began my blog I started writing a self-improvement book, which remains unfinished. When I began reading Cauldrons and Cupcakes I felt I was in the presence of a master, and where I had struggled to explain some concepts in my book, I found Nicole dealt with them with ease and grace. As if that weren’t enough she’s also a wonderful cook and baker and I’ve made some of her recipes with great success. All in all, the gal is a class act.

2. The Hazel Tree – Jo writes this blog, along with her other entertaining blog, Jo’s Journal. Writing one blog is a big enough job, but keeping two on the go at once is hugely impressive, and Jo does it beautifully, giving each its own flavour. With The Hazel Tree, Jo brings history to life for me. History was my worst subject at school, and since then I’ve struggled to embrace it. Things are changing now that I read Jo’s blog, because she has a real knack of presenting what I would previously have thought of as dull facts in an interesting and enlightening way. It’s not only history she writes about, but all sorts of other things (including her delightful cat, Purdey, and the amazing paintings of her husband, Colin), and I always look forward to settling down to read a new post on either of her blogs.

3. The Naturephile – Finn, who writes this blog, is the sort of scientist I can only dream about being. I toiled through a degree in Ecology and, although I enjoyed it, I did find it hard to get a good grasp on the business, and I still often feel all at sea with science. Finn’s enthusiasm, coupled with his fine attention to detail and academic nouse, is what makes The Naturephile one of my favourite blogs. Every time I read a post on his blog I learn something new and fascinating, something I probably always wanted to know, without knowing that I wanted to know it. He illustrates his posts with beautiful wildlife photography, which always leaves me feeling good about the world.

Thank you to all three blogs, and to all the many others I read and enjoy. I’m looking forward to blogging along with you in 2013.

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There’s nothing like a bit of comfort food on a cold day, and when I saw these on Alice’s delicious blog, girl in a food frenzy, I was keen to make them.

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They should, by rights, be sticky on top, but due to my impatience they didn’t get the icing they deserved and had to make do with melted butter sprinkled with brown sugar instead:

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I’ve been missing my blog a little lately, but have been attempting to concentrate on writing my novel (coming along nicely, thanks for asking).

This Christmas malarky is also taking up considerable time and effort, and I’m looking forward to the new year when everything’s settled down and we’re heading into spring again.

Incidentally, for fellow bloggers, I’ve noticed over the past day or two that when I try to comment on other blogs my comments aren’t showing up the way they used to. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, but if anyone has any bright ideas about how to fix it I’d be glad to hear them.

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