Scotland

Puddings

The delightful assistants and I lunched out today at the consistently excellent Gloagburn Coffee Shop near Perth.

Gloagburn coffee shop

Gloagburn Coffee Shop near Perth.

After enjoying fairly substantial main courses we all felt inclined to finish off with a pudding.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for a fresh fruit pavlova. Although it’s not shown in this picture, there was a little jug of pouring cream on the side. She slooshed the cream over the pavlova and polished it all off nicely.

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Fresh fruit pavlova (with hidden jug of pouring cream).

Delightful assistant no.2 chose an apple and almond cake, nobly refusing the offer of cream or ice cream to accompany it.

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Moist and almondy apple and almond cake (no cream).

I was the only one who had a good look at the cake counter, but I did what I always knew I would do and went for a scone. On this occasion it was a fruit scone, served with butter and raspberry jam.

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Fruit scone with butter and raspberry jam (I was offered cream in place of the butter, but I thought of my arteries and declined).

We chatted away companionably during our savoury courses but, as delightful assistant no.1 has often remarked, conversation tends to cease during pudding, and so it was today. I, for one, was lost in a sort of scone-filled paradise, concentrating solely on the delicious morsel on my plate.

When it comes to awarding points for things I usually like to leave a little room for improvement, so that a really good example of something might only get 8 or 9 out of 10. However, this scone was so utterly magnificent that, despite coming hot on the heels of a baked potato, I am unable to award it anything less than the full 10/10.

When I mentioned this to delightful assistant no.2 he suggested that I had been in ‘scone nirvana’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Sconirvana.

Categories: Perthshire, Photography, Pudding, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Daffodils and chocolate

Last April I happened to pass a large patch of beautiful daffodils outside Strathtay Parish Church.

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Strathtay Parish Church with daffodils.

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A carpet of yellow beauties in front of Strathtay Parish Church.

Strathtay is a pretty little village situated in Highland Perthshire. I’ve often thought that if I had a spare million or two I wouldn’t mind taking a leaf out of J K Rowling’s book and splashing out on one of the local mansions.

The area is one of the destinations the delightful assistants and I often seek out, particularly in the warmer weather, and the fact that the neighbouring village of Grandtully contains an award winning chocolate shop and cafe is certainly an additional lure.

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A well filled cup of hot chocolate at Legends of Grandtully.

It’s not only daffs that Strathtay is good for either. Come May the roadside banks break out in a profusion of bluebells.

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Bank of bluebells in Strathtay.

One of my aims for the year is to visit Strathtay in both April and May and get some more snaps of spring flowers. As it happens I also have what could be considered a voucher for the chocolate shop. On a recent birthday I received a note from the delightful assistants. I’ve got it stuck on my pinboard to remind me of pleasures to come.

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The difficulty of how to spend this voucher has been bothering me for the past week (a pretty pleasant sort of bothering, I admit). I’ve considered several of my favourite chocolate treats, but I haven’t yet been able to make up my mind.

In any event, while I mull over this important decision I think a trip to Strathtay might be in order. It’ll be a while yet before the daffs appear, but thankfully the chocolatier and cafe are open all year round.

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Strathtay Parish Church hiding behind trees and daffs. Chocolate just out of sight.

Categories: Chocolate, Daffodils, J K Rowling, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , | 26 Comments

Intriguing sights no.7

There is a field near where I live that is surrounded by a wire fence, as pictured below.

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I don’t know if you noticed, but attached to a rope near the top of the fence is what looks to me like a snail hanging by its shell.

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I’ve walked past the fence innumerable times, and every time I pass this section of it I’m surprised anew to see the snail. It’s been there for years, the same snail in the same position.

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As intrigued as I am to think that a snail could a) hang onto a rope in this manner, and b) remain there for years on end, I’m even more intrigued to find that it isn’t in fact a snail at all.

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Categories: Blairgowrie, Intriguing Sights, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 Comments

What to do on a cold day in January

At the end of January last year the delightful assistants and I took ourselves off to one of the surprising number of large parks surrounding the city of Glasgow. We opted for one of the smaller ones, Calderglen Country Park, in the town of East Kilbride about 8 miles southeast of Glasgow.

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One of Calderglen’s many attractions: a play park with impressive wooden structures.

The ‘glen’ in the name refers to a wooded river valley which extends for over 3 miles. The waterway that cuts through the glen is a tributary of the River Clyde that flows through Glasgow. As it passes through the park it goes by the unfortunate name of Rotten Calder River. Undeterred by the somewhat offputting name, we toddled along the riverside paths taking in the glen’s natural wonders.

We crossed bridges,

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Delightful assistant no.2 descending the steps towards South Bridge in Calderglen Country Park.

watched water dribbling down rockfaces,

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admired clusters of snowdrops,

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and bark patterns on trees,

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and marvelled at the glen’s interesting geological structures.

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Delightful assistants drawn towards big lumps of rock.

It was such a bitterly cold day that we didn’t want to stop moving for fear of freezing to the spot. I did, however, manage to get the delightful assistants to pose in front of a small weir, a place at which delightful assistant no.1 was particularly pleased to find herself feeling taller than usual.

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An illusion, dear readers.

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Thankfully, there was a cafe close to where our riverside walk ended and we retreated there out of the cold.

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We ordered tea and toasted sandwiches.

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One particularly joyous aspect of the toasties was that they were triple decker.

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I should imagine that in the warmer weather Calderglen Country Park would be a popular place with families. As well as the riverside walks and play area, the park contains ornamental gardens, a small zoo, glasshouses, a golf course and a gift shop.

If it weren’t for the fact that there are so many other parks to be explored I might well go back to Calderglen for another visit. It was certainly a pleasant surprise and an excellent resource for the community of East Kilbride.

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Categories: Lanarkshire, Photography, Scotland, Snowdrop, Tea | Tags: , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

The world’s biggest hedge

About 5 miles along the main road south from where I live there stands a colossus of the botanical world.

The Meikleour (pronounced M’kloor) beech hedge is believed to be the tallest and longest hedge in the world.

Planted in 1745, this year it celebrates its 270th birthday.

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A bit of foliage, but not just any old bit of foliage.

The hedge is about a third of a mile long and has an average height of 100ft (varying from 80ft at one end to over 120ft at the other).

It’s looked after by the Meikleour Trust and, according to the information board nearby, “it is cut and remeasured every ten years utilizing a hydraulic platform and hand-held equipment, a complex operation which takes 4 men approximately 6 weeks”.

In the autumn the hedge can look spectacular, with leaves of red, orange and yellow. I’ve yet to get photos of that but at the end of May 2014, while it was all green and leafy, I toddled along there early one morning before there was much traffic about.

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Meikleour beech hedge looking south along the A93, Perthshire, Scotland.

 

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Meikleour beech hedge looking north.

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Meikleour beech hedge with a car for scale.

Close to the hedge is the small village of Meikleour where, as it happens, the delightful assistants once lived. I had parked there, and as I was walking back to the car several deer leapt out at me. After legging it across the road they ended up in a field. They were such delightful creatures that despite the poor quality of these photographs, I thought I’d pop them in anyway.

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Categories: Perthshire, Photography, Scotland, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Merry Christmas

This summer, when I took a break from blogging, I was expecting to spend a few months concentrating on writing fiction. When my brother Fergus went missing in September those plans went awry.

Having a member of your family suddenly disappear without trace has a range of unexpected repercussions. It’s now over three months since Fergus vanished in Switzerland and we still don’t know what happened to him, or indeed whether he’s alive or dead. It’s strange being in limbo, not knowing if he will ever come back, but sadly after this length of time I’ve come to the conclusion that he won’t.

For the past few weeks my dad and I have been going down to Edinburgh as often as we can to try and sort things out at Fergus’s flat. There is much to do and I imagine that this situation will dominate our lives well into the coming year.

Although I have been visiting tearooms during this process, I haven’t had the energy or inclination to photograph and review them. However, as a small distraction for myself I’ve set up a new blog called Any old excuse.

On this new blog I aim to review at least one item of chocolate-based confectionery a week. 

Tea and chocolate, two of the things that make life worth living.

Click on the picture above to find chocolate posts in 2015.

I appreciate that reading reviews of chocolate isn’t everyone’s idea of a good way to spend their time, especially if they don’t actually get any chocolate out of it. I’ve disabled comments to make it easier for me to manage, but if you ever feel like dropping by it would be lovely to have your company.

In the meantime, to all my wonderful fellow bloggers, readers and chums:

A very happy Christmas and new year,
and many good things to come in 2015.

Six wee dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Six little dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Categories: Blogging, Chocolate, Photography, Scotland, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Fergus McInnes

By brother, Fergus McInnes, went missing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday 9 September 2014.

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Fergus walking in the hills, one of his many hobbies.

He was due to attend a work conference in the Swiss town of Martigny the following day, and to meet his colleagues that evening for a meal.

He boarded the 09:35 EasyJet flight at Edinburgh airport and was seen on CCTV in Geneva airport around 13:00, where he bought a train ticket that we believe was a return to Martigny.

Nothing has been seen of him since.

He did not arrive at the meeting point that evening to go for a meal, he did not check into his hotel room and he did not appear at the conference. He also failed to catch his return flight to Edinburgh on 11 September.

His mobile phone has not been switched on since he switched it off for the flight, nor has he checked his emails since the morning of Tuesday 9 September. The last bank transaction he made was the purchase of a train ticket in Geneva airport when he used a debit card.

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CCTV picture of Fergus at Geneva Airport on 9 September 2014.

One of his colleagues who attended the conference in Martigny reported him missing to the Scottish Police, and they launched a missing person inquiry. Shortly after that it became a separate Swiss inquiry, and both inquiries are ongoing.

We are all utterly mystified about his disappearance and, with a lack of clues about where he might have gone or what might have happened to him, we fall back on endless and wide-ranging theories.

Friends of his have set up a blog called Missing Fergus McInnes, to keep people updated on the investigation into his disappearance. You can get to it by clicking on the blog name below:

 

Missing Fergus McInnes

 

They are monitoring all comments, and passing anything that might be relevant on to the police.

Fergus headshot 2009

It’s now been over three weeks since he disappeared and, despite media campaigns in Switzerland and France, as well as in the UK, there is no indication of where he might be.

The blog contains a list of unanswered questions, which we dearly wish we could get answers to.

The police in both Switzerland and Scotland are doing all they can to discover what happened to him after he was last seen in Geneva.

We remain hopeful of a good outcome.

Family lunch at Flora's July 09_1

Family gathering (Fergus top left).

 

Categories: Photography, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , , | 121 Comments

The Wee Blether

Not only is the title of this post a Scottish expression meaning ‘the small talkative one’, it’s also the name of a tearoom that sits in a little village along a dead end road on the north bank of Loch Ard near Aberfoyle in Scotland.

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A side wall of the Wee Blether tearoom and post office, Kinlochard.

The tearoom is a most interesting place, with plenty both outside and inside to draw the attention.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALots of teapots hang outside the tearoom, a situation that apparently came about by a happy mistake.

Hoping to make a sculpture from broken bits of pottery, the owner asked people for donations of their old teapots, but was given such a plethora of fine pots in good condition that she abandoned the idea of smashing them up, and instead slung them onto hooks around the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s seating inside and out, and on a warm sunny day you might imagine you were somewhere a little more exotic than bonnie Scotland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside, the tearoom has a friendly, welcoming feel and, naturally enough, more teapots.

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After consuming jacket potatoes with very generous salads, my delightful assistant and I tottered out into the sunshine for a short walk to work up our appetites for sweet treats.

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Loch Ard, near Aberfoyle.

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Carved owls in a garden in the village of Kinlochard.

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Burgeoning foliage, Kinlochard.

Back in the Wee Blether, we turned to the ‘Ye Shouldnaes’ [things you shouldn’t indulge in] section of the menu:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy delightful assistant was particularly attracted by a three-layer Victoria sponge filled with raspberries and cream.

It was served freshly stabbed, giving the fork little chance of sliding off the plate onto the floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was very taken with this arrangement, and can imagine how satisfying it must be for the waitress to plunge a fork into each slice of cake ordered. If I worked at the Wee Blether I would go out of my way to recommend sponge cakes to customers.

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Scones, on the other hand, don’t come with forks but at the Wee Blether they come in a very decent size (£10 note for scale):

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My scone was so large that I initially cut it in two intending to take half of it away in the napkin, but, what do you know, when it was time to leave the whole thing had mysteriously vamooshed.

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A large scone – now you see it, now you don’t.

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Categories: Cake, Gardens, Perthshire, Photography, Scone, Scotland, Stirlingshire, Teapot, Tearooms | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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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:

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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.

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One of the streets in Lindisfarne.

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Entrance to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

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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.

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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.

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

The weather was lovely, with hazy sunshine all day.

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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….

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…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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

Categories: Coffee, Earl Grey tea, England, Gardens, Photography, Scotland, Tea, Tearooms, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Bicycles in bloom

The pretty seaside town of Pittenweem sits on Scotland’s east coast, in the Kingdom of Fife.

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With its red-roofed, white-washed buildings and quiet streets, it’s a delightful place to take a stroll and relax on a sunny day.

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Last year, as part of Pittenweem in Bloom, a curious selection of old bicycles appeared throughout the town.

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Fisherman’s bike near the harbour.

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A cheery chap with a sack of potatoes outside the church.

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A bike selling eggs, although they’d all been snapped up when I walked past it.

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Little red bike that had apparently just come in from a swim.

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An artist’s bike with paintbrushes sticking out of paint pots attached to the frame.

Not all of the bikes were the right way up.

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Upside down bike harnessed to a tree in the main street.

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A question many bicycle owners consider at some point in their lives.

And at least one little bike had jumped up above street level.

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A surprisingly musical bicycle down a side street.

Pittenweem’s attractive ice cream shop had a bike secured outside the front door (you can only see the back wheel of it in the picture, I’m afraid).

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This next one had been fixed up with an unusual (if not terribly practical) set of square wheels:

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“The Flintstone Flyer”, a square wheeled oddity.

It was such a gloriously sunny day when I was snapping away at all these bikes that I felt I was somewhere considerably more exotic than the east coast of Scotland.

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A moment of disorientation – have I been transported to a Spanish island?

All of this bicycle business was pretty exhausting, but luckily revitalising victuals weren’t far away.

At the excellent Cocoa Tree Cafe, I fuelled up on an exquisite chocolate cake and a pot of cardamom tea:

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My treat came with a jug of single cream and I was very pleased with the little slug that formed when I poured the cream over the cake:

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My delightful assistant sated her hunger with a cream scone:

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*   *   *   *   *

If you’re ever mooching around in the Fife area wondering how to fill your time, I heartily recommend a trip to Pittenweem.

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A walk along the sea front makes for a pleasant bit of exercise, and while you’re dondering along be sure to keep an eye out for this appealing local resident.

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Categories: Architecture, Cake, Chocolate, Fife, Photography, Pittenweem, Scone, Scotland, Tea, Tearooms | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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