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Archive for the ‘Healthy eating’ Category

One February morning, under a blue sky with winter sunshine, I whisked delightful assistant no.1 off to the lovely Loch Earn.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to post about it but, alas, I’m not as well organised as I would like to be.

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Lovely Loch Earn, Perthshire.

Loch Earn is one of many long, narrow, freshwater lakes dotted about the Scottish highlands, and is known as a centre for watersports.

If you’re interested in statistics, the loch is about 10.5 km long, just over 1 km wide and, at its deepest point, goes down for 87 metres. Loch Ness, by contrast, dips down to about 227 metres, which is perhaps why Nessie chose to make her home there rather than in Loch Earn or any of the other numerous smaller lochs.

We were very struck by how still the water was, and how magnificent the reflections. Here are a few shots to demonstrate:

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Mountains reflected in Loch Earn with stony shoreline.
I think the snowy peak in the background might be Ben Vorlich.

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Reflections of individual trees on the far side of Loch Earn.

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Uprooted tree with reflections.

It was remarkably warm for the time of year, no doubt thanks to the lack of wind, and we enjoyed ambling along the shore soaking up the old Vitamin D.

Here’s the delightful assistant getting her daily dose:

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Coat- and hat-less in February at Loch Earn.

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Stony northern shore of Loch Earn bathed in warm February sunshine.

We had been hoping to have lunch at a nice hotel on the lochside but unfortunately it was closed, so we scooted off to the nearby small town of Comrie instead.

The delightful assistant recommended The Royal Hotel, an establishment in which she had enjoyed one or two satisfactory luncheons with her dear spouse.

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Reception area of The Royal Hotel, Comrie.

She opted for chicken chasseur, which came with mashed potatoes and green beans:

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I had a bowl of very interesting hummus which was packed with all sorts of things, including black olives, coriander and red peppers. It was served with thick slices of grilled toast and a side salad:

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Very interesting hummus at the Royal Hotel in Comrie.

Nicely filled with savouries, we moved on to the town of Crieff about 12 miles along the road and called in at a cafe and furniture shop called The Loft, for coffee.

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A deliciously foamy cappuccino at The Loft in Crieff.

The delightful assistant was too full for pudding but I managed to put away a slice of moist carrot cake:

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Carrot cake at The Loft.

Content with our lot, we tripped off home full of happy memories of our glorious day out in sunny Perthshire.

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Winter sunshine at Loch Earn.

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As you may be aware, there is a traditional Scottish dish called haggis.

In my meat eating days I used to enjoy a bit of haggis, with mashed neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes).

These days, thanks to the Scottish haggis manufacturing company, Macsween, I enjoy the veggie version just as much as I ever enjoyed the meat one.

The veggie version burst onto the scene in 1984, when John Macsween created it to celebrate the opening of the Scottish Poetry Library.

To digress a little, the Scottish Poetry Library has some interesting articles on its website, including a section for people who are new to poetry. Among other things, there’s a link to a document containing 10 points to consider when reading a poem. Worth a peek if the subject interests you.

Getting back to the haggis, here’s what a Macsween vegetarian haggis looks like:

A Macsween veggie haggis bulging beneath its tight vest.

I don’t know the proper name for the mathematical shape, but I think of it as a squat bulgous oval:

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The veggie haggis: cylindrical with rounded ends, bulging at the frontiers of its wrapping.

The outer sleeve is a vacuum sealed plastic casing:

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Outer packaging of the veggie haggis, vacuum sealed and decorated with a tartan design.

Cooking instructions, ingredients, etc. are helpfully provided on the back:

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However you choose to cook it – and you have the option of conventional or microwave oven – you need to take off the printed outer sleeve first.

This reveals a transparent sleeve beneath, sealed at the ends with metal clips:

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Transparent casing beneath the printed outer packaging of a veggie haggis.

If you’re cooking it in a microwave oven you need to take this casing off too, and then chop the haggis up and stick it in a bowl with a lid before zapping it with microwaves.

This is my usual method of cooking, since it’s quick, easy and energy efficient, but today it so happened that the oven was still hot from baking scones beforehand, so I cooked it in the oven instead. When heating it this way, you leave the inner sleeve on, wrap it all up in foil and stick it in a baking tray with some water in it:

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When it’s piping hot, after about 45 minutes, you find that the previously already bulgous parcel has puffed out even further:

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When I unwrapped the foil I discovered that the inner sleeve was stretched to its limits:

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Veggie haggis fit to burst.

The build up of pressure inside was such that when I went to slice it open, as soon as the knife’s tip had penetrated the casing, the haggis began making a break for freedom:

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Hello world!

One of the things I find a little stressful about preparing haggis, neeps and tatties, is that several things need to be done at the last minute: opening up and dishing out the haggis, and mashing and serving both neeps and tatties.

Each constituent part has the unfortunate tendency to lose heat quite rapidly, so it’s tricky to get it all dished out while everything’s still nice and hot. (If you have a little helper who can take care of the veggies while you deal with the haggis, or vice versa, I would recommend making use of them.)

Incidentally, I noticed today that my local supermarket identifies the turnip by its Scottish name, rather than the more usual English term:

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Packaging from the neep, a Scottish turnip.

These days, if you order haggis, neeps and tatties in a restaurant, it often appears as a stack like this:

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties - Picture of The Pipers' Tryst Hotel, Glasgow

Photo from The Pipers’ Tryst Hotel courtesy of TripAdvisor

But the traditional way of serving it is to make three little mounds, like this:

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Veggie haggis, neeps and tatties dolloped onto a plate in splodges.

As well as oats and lentils, which are the main ingredients of veggie haggis, Macsween’s haggis includes kidney beans, mushrooms, onions, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

According to their website, 1 in every 4 Macsween’s haggis sold is a vegetarian one. From what I can gather from various sources of information, between 2% and 6% of UK citizens are vegetarian, and yet 25% of the haggis sold by Macsween is of the non-meat variety.

What I know for a fact is that veggie haggis is enjoyed by veggies and carnivores alike, and it certainly makes for a filling and wholesome luncheon.

If you follow it with mince pies and cream you will almost certainly want to take yourself off for a little afternoon nap…zzzzzzzzzzz

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In global terms, Scotland is a small country. (In terms of size, it’s apparently smaller than Austria, Tasmania and the US state of Maine.)

Although I’ve spent virtually all of my life in Scotland, there are still many parts I haven’t yet visited and a number of long-held ambitions as yet unfulfilled.

I did manage to tick one off recently though, when the delightful assistants and I buzzed up north towards the Moray Coast, to visit the Findhorn Community.

One of the many nice things about the area of Moray is that the council provide cheerfully coloured bins, and these were in evidence in the community’s streets:

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The Findhorn Community is rather an unusual place, and has grown considerably since it began in 1962.

Findhorn Community Centre near the entrance to the community.

In its early days, the founders created a bit of a stir by growing enormous vegetables, herbs and flowers, the girth of which they said had been achieved by communicating with the spirits of the plants.

For example, an average sort of cabbage weighs about 3lbs, but some of the cabbages grown in Findhorn weighed in at a whopping 40lb! That’s about 18kg, or nearly 3 stone (or the weight of an average 4 year old child).

I wish I had a picture of one of these enormous cabbages, but we searched the grounds of the community during our visit and found not one single outsize vegetable.

These days the community is more concerned with hosting environmental and spiritual workshops and promoting environmentally friendly practises in its ecovillage, so perhaps their days of growing gigantic vegetables is past, I don’t know.

As interested as we were in having a wander round the place, luncheon was calling so we headed straight for the community’s Blue Angel Cafe, tucked in amongst burgeoning foliage with seating outside as well as indoors:

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Soup of the Day was green split pea, and delightful assistant no.2 and I both went for that.

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He had his with cheese and onion sandwiches on the side, and I had rice cakes. The soups came dished up in bowls made in the community pottery:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had cheese and tomato sandwiches, which came with a lovely fresh salad, but unfortunately my photo of it is a bit blurred.

When we’d finished our savouries we went for a trot round The Park, the area of the community containing ecohouses, various small enterprises and gardens.

Beneath the signpost at the entrance to The Park there was an encouraging message:

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As we walked around, I must say I didn’t feel in the least bit worried. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and there were lots of interesting things to look at.

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The Findhorn Pottery Shop, a place to purchase a souvenir or two.

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The weaving studio, where you can perhaps buy woven things to take home with you. I didn’t go in, but I did see some colourful woven items hanging in the window.

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The Boutique – a small building with all sorts of things in it. I believe it’s a kind of swap shop where you can bring something you no longer want and swap it for something someone else has left.

In addition to the businesses there were many ecohouses of interesting design, some leading directly off the quiet paths through the village and others popping up from amongst clusters of trees.

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A curious roof emerging from the canopy.

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An unusual little house nestling beneath its curious roof.

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One of several ‘barrel’ houses, made from massive recycled whisky vats. Very fitting, since Moray is home to the world’s only Malt Whisky Trail.

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The Shire: currently for sale, at offers over £159,000. The outside wood is Scottish spruce and internal wall partitions are filled with sheep’s wool, which no doubt keeps it nice and cosy in the winter. If you want to see the full specification, you can find it here: http://www.lightbringers.info/eco-house-sale.asp

Perhaps my favourite building was this one, the Park Maintenance office:

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A smiley whale, brightening up the ecovillage.

In the middle of The Park there was a wooded garden, designed for contemplation.

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In the middle of this wooded glade was something quite magical, a low stone built house with a grass roof and a small garden, where I daresay the forest folk come of an evening to sit and tell stories.

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Little fairy house in a wooded glade.

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The doorway into a magical kingdom.

Just outside the Peace Garden there was another garden, which was fenced off and had a most unusual gateway:

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No outsize vegetables to be seen here.

This garden contained several minibeast hotels (the little wooden boxes attached to posts in the picture below):

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A Mecca for minibeasts

Having exhausted ourselves strolling around in the sunshine, we headed back to the Blue Angel Cafe for a little refreshment.

Most unusually, delightful assistant no.1 didn’t want anything, not even a nice cup of tea, but delightful assistant no.2 had spied a lemon roulade on our previous visit and had been dreaming of it ever since:

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It wasn’t quite as lemony as he’d been hoping for but it seemed to slip down quite well with a cappuccino.

As is often the case, I was lured in by walnuts; on this occasion they came embedded in a toffee walnut tart. It was sweet, sticky and highly acceptable. In company with a cinnamon chai latte it disappeared without any trouble at all:

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All the way round The Park we had noticed little wooden houses a couple of feet off the ground, which I initially thought were mail boxes and then realised were in fact lights. Each one was wired up and had holes at the front with a light bulb inside. I suppose they must double as hidey-holes for wee beasties.

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Unobtrusive street lighting in Findhorn ecovillage.

Before leaving the Findhorn Community we called in at The Phoenix community store:

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I was amazed by the range of goods for sale, particularly in the food area which had the most extensive range of nut butters I think I’ve ever seen, as well as many other interesting goodies of the sort you find in a wholefoods shop.

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They also had a good variety of wines and locally produced real ales, apothecary items, cards, books and gifts. I was prepared for the prices being higher than you’d find in towns and cities, but in fact in some cases the opposite was true. They were even competing with supermarket prices, which I thought very commendable.

Another surprising thing about the Findhorn Community is that it has its own currency, the Eko (1 Eko = £1), although the pound sterling is equally accepted.

Ekos

Various Eko notes (courtesy of http://e-info.org.tw/node/70731).

According to an article in The Scotsman last year, several pubs in the Moray area accept the Eko.

In 2012 the Findhorn Community celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I wonder what it’ll be like in another 50 years’ time. Perhaps this sort of community living will have grown in popularity by then and there will be other similar places dotted around the country. I suppose it’s possible that I might just live long enough to find out.

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Welcome, regular readers and potluckers alike, to the 3rd Virtual Vegan Potluck.

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I eat soup probably 4 or 5 times a week in the normal run of things, and I like making it because it’s easy, quick and nourishing.

Although all the soup I make is vegetarian, most of it is also vegan. One of the many wonderful things about soup is that if you stick to a few simple ingredients it’s very hard to mess it up.

I first made this soup without the coconut milk and it was nice and tangy, but quite acidic. The addition of coconut milk balances out the acidity and adds a wonderfully creamy dimension.

Ingredients:

1 can of coconut milk

1 small brown onion, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon of grated root ginger

2 red peppers (capsicum), chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

3/4 of a pint (400 ml) of vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Throw the vegetables into a pan with the grated ginger, can of coconut milk and vegetable stock.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

3. Liquidise with a stick blender or in a liquidiser.

4. Add black pepper to taste.

For lots more vegan deliciousness, be sure to check out some of the other participants (there are more than 170 this time round!).

A full list of bloggers with the category of dish they’ve brought to the potluck (you might be tempted to go straight to puddings, and who can blame you?) can be found here.

To visit Veganishy, the blog before mine in the potluck chain and the last in the list of side dishes, please click on the button below:

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To visit Sweetveg, the next soup in the line-up, please click on the button below:

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H a p p y   N o s h i n g !

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After a trip into the local metropolis of Perth for a bit of shopping the other morning, delightful assistant no.1 and I popped into the estimable Loch Leven’s Larder for a little luncheon.

There were two soups on offer: cream of celery and courgette, and curried green lentil. The delightful assistant went for the former, while I chose the latter.

I didn’t have my camera on me but I did snap my soup with my phone. It was all jolly tasty:

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Following the soup, we both fancied a bit of fresh air and exercise, and took ourselves off to the Lomond Hills in Fife.

The air was bracing and we trotted along swiftly under a lowering sky:

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We stuck to walking along the road, and were surprised by the amount of snow on the hill tracks:

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The biting wind was so cold that we imagined ourselves in the Antarctic, and paused to think of poor Ranulph Fiennes, whose recent trip there was cut short due to a horrible case of frostbite.

He had been hoping to be the first man to ski across the continent in winter, while some chums accompanied him in vehicles. The chums are now completing their expedition sans Ranulph, while he sits frustrated at home supporting the expedition from the UK. As he remarks rather wryly in this press conference, now that he’s had to pull out of the challenge, the Norwegians will no doubt step in and do the job.

I don’t know what the temperature was when we were in the Lomond Hills, but puddles by the road showed that it was above freezing. It did feel considerably colder then 0ºC due to wind chill, but nothing like it must feel right now in the depths of the Antarctic winter.

Feeling virtuous after our stretch in the open air, we sped off to the Pillars of Hercules, a wonderful organic farm shop and cafe, about which I have written on previous occasions.

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One of the many things I like about Pillars of Hercules is the seat cushions:

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I had forgotten that this place was the first cafe in Scotland to be certified 100% organic, but was reminded when reading the menu:

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We ordered our drinks and cakes at the counter and were given a number on a stick to take to the table.

It used to be the case here that when you ordered, you got a little wooden block with a number on it, and it wasn’t until I was searching around on the table for some way of making the stick stand up, that I noticed a hole in the tabletop.

Lo and behold, when I tried putting the stick in the hole, it fitted perfectly. An excellent idea, I thought (sorry for the darkness of the second picture, I don’t know what happened there):

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The delightful assistant had ordered a black coffee with cold milk and a slice of lemon cake. My photo is poor but I can assure you that the comestibles were anything but. I’m reliably informed that the coffee was lovely and I know that the lemon cake was because I tasted it – very lemony.

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I opted for a chai tea and a vegan apricot slice:

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The apricot slice exceeded my expectations. It was made with a wholewheat pastry base smothered in thick apricot jam and liberally sprinkled with seeds: sunflower, pumpkin and hemp, to be precise. I was very pleased with it.

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These little trips out that I take very regularly, often in the company of a delightful assistant or two, are a nice break from sitting staring at a computer screen and, I feel, a vital part of a healthy balanced life.

To update anyone who’s interested, this is Day 73 of the year 2013 and, in keeping with my resolution to get rid of 365 items by the end of December, I have so far managed to release 69. This means I’m four items behind in my schedule, but I have high hopes for getting rid of more stuff with a spot of spring cleaning.

I have also now completed the second draft of my novel and am putting it aside to gestate for a bit.

Any agents/publishers with a gap in their lists and looking for an average length of novel of the general fiction variety, please enquire within.

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In a previous post about the tasty contents of my Christmas box, I missed out the fruit cake component because I hadn’t yet tried it.

I can now report that the cake has been consumed, and slipped down nicely with some Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea.

Here’s the cake as it was when whole: a round of fruit-filled cakiness decorated with a thick lid of fondant icing and a gold snowflake supporting a white star:

On cutting into it a layer of marzipan was revealed between icing and cake:

This piece of cake might look quite small, which it was, but it was also very rich:

It was stuffed with cherries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, brandy and other delicious ingredients:

As I was writing this post, I felt inspired to bake.

Initially I thought I’d make a fruit cake but, given the inordinately long time it takes to cook, I opted for the quick fix of fruit scones instead:

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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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