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Archive for the ‘Aberdeenshire’ Category

Following on from my last post, after luncheon at Duff House my delightful assistant and I tootled up to have a look at one or two of the small villages that are strung out along the Moray coast.

Our first stop was the attractively named Gardenstown, which was reached via a steep narrow road full of hairpin bends.

We parked in a quiet street just above the harbour and got out to amble through the village and gaze out to sea:

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I didn’t realise at first that this smart little building at the harbour was a toilet block. We didn’t make use of the facilities but they looked very well kept from the outside.

Attached to the railing I was leaning on to take the above photos, and at various other points in the town, there were curious little signs:

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For those not in the know, there is a department store chain in the UK called BHS, which stands for British Home Stores; I assume it inspired the name of this Gardenstown emporium.

The delightful assistant and I were keen to take a look, and found said shop lurking inside this green wooden building:

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Inside, it had the feel of a thrift shop, being largely stocked with second-hand oddments such as handbags, puzzles, books, clothes, photo frames and ornaments.

There were also a few brand new items, some of which had presumably been made locally, and amongst them were what I can only assume were gnomes. They were unlike any gnomes I’ve ever seen before, however, and I wish I had a photograph to show you. Alas, I didn’t feel able to take pictures under the watchful eyes of the assistants, who sat silent and motionless behind an old wooden counter observing our every move (we were the only customers).

The thing that impressed me most about this peculiar little shop was the high prices. In this tiny out of the way place, haphazardly dangling from the walls and strewn about dusty shelves, everything seemed to be surprisingly expensive. I remember there were a few very small notebooks filled with cheap lined paper that I would expect to cost a maximum of 30p, but which were priced at £1 each. I don’t wish to criticise the owners of this store or to pass judgement on their efforts to run a retail business, but I find it hard to imagine them ever selling anything.

On the plus side, visiting it was certainly an experience.

Back outside the store, I was attracted by this somewhat unusual pair of bollards outside someone’s front door:

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On closer inspection they reminded me of chess pieces:

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I confess, their purpose wasn’t entirely clear to me but – thanks to the heads on top – I drew the conclusion that they must be for tying your horse up to.

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By this time the afternoon was drawing on and I wanted to have a peek at the interesting village of Crovie, just along the coast, before we turned round and headed towards home, so we got back into the car and set off up the steep winding streets of Gardenstown to rejoin the main road.

Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the arrival of a convoy of funeral attendees coming down the hill and looking for places to park on the roadside. We were forced to sit with the handbrake pulled up as far as it would go, on a steep slope next to a sharp bend with another car right behind us, constantly attempting to pull away but being thwarted by ever more vehicles appearing round the bend.

In this country, there is an understanding (it may even be mentioned in the Highway Code, I can’t remember) that traffic coming downhill gives way to that going uphill, but there was none of that in Gardenstown. Mind you, due to hairpin bends and buildings obscuring the view, I expect the downhill drivers didn’t know that there were uphill drivers waiting round the bend, and by the time they swung into view there was no room for them to give way to anyone.

It was not the most comfortable part of our day out, but at least it was summer time and the roads were dry. I shuddered to think what it would be like on ice in the winter, and made a mental note never to relocate to Gardenstown.

A few miles along the main road we saw the sign we were looking for, next to an attractive bus shelter with a not so attractive bin in front of it. The little blue and white anchor on the signpost denotes that Crovie is on the scenic route along the Moray coast:

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The single track road leading down to Crovie from the main road:

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Crovie, like Gardenstown, lies by the sea at the end of a steep road with a few sharp bends in it.

We passed a sign at a car park by the roadside before the village suggesting that any non-locals might like to stop there rather than continue down, but after surviving Gardenstown I wasn’t too put off by that. We did in fact find another place to park a bit further down the road, which was possibly just as well because there wasn’t a lot of land to park on down in the village.

The cars in the distance on the left of this picture were the only ones I saw there:

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The west end of Crovie village.

Looking in the other direction there didn’t seem to be enough space for cars, and according to the Undiscovered Scotland website this is in fact the case.

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The east end of Crovie village: no room for cars.

It surprised me that people actually chose to live here with it being so close to the sea, although I’ve since found out that quite a few of the houses are now holiday lets occupied only in the summer. On a stormy day at high tide I imagine it could be quite invigorating to stick your head out of the window of one of these houses.

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For a more professional photograph of Crovie, you might like to have a look at Scott Marshall’s blog, here.

When we’d finished gawping at Crovie, we buzzed off south again and stopped in a most curious place for cream teas.

The location was a castle and apparently photography was forbidden indoors ‘for insurance reasons’ and so, despite having taken a lot of pictures before I was aware of this rule, I’ve decided not to publish them here. This is a pity, particularly as many of them were taken in the tearoom where we enjoyed truly excellent cream teas. I even went to the trouble of conducting an experiment involving a cherry scone, some raspberry jam and a large pot of whipped cream.

The ‘cream tea’ (i.e. a pot of tea served with a scone, jam and cream – traditionally clotted cream, but often whipped double cream is used instead, as it was on this occasion), is said to have originated in the English county of Devon in the 11th Century, but the county nextdoor, Cornwall, also claims the cream tea as its own. I’ve only ever had a cream tea in Cornwall, not having spent any time in Devon, but I have heard that the difference between a Devonshire cream tea and a Cornish cream tea is in the ordering of the jam and cream on the scone.

In Devon they put the cream on first (butter isn’t usually part of a cream tea, unless my delightful assistants happen to be in charge) with the jam on top, and in Cornwall it’s the other way round: jam first, then cream. Here’s an example of what I’m on about (admittedly, this is one of the forbidden pictures, but you’d never know the location from this photo), with Devon on the right and Cornwall on the left:

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I’ve observed that in Scotland people tend to follow the Cornish method, with jam first and cream on top, and I think I understand the reason for this.

Whenever I’ve tried it the other way round, with the cream on first, I’ve found it difficult to apply the jam on top of the cream in such a way as to make it look appetising. Usually what happens is the heavier jam sinks into the cream and when an attempt is made to spread the jam, it combines with the cream to create a bit of a delicious mess. Applying the jam first means you lay a good solid foundation for the lighter cream, which when spread atop the jam layer manages to hold its own without mixing in with the jam too much.

When I take a cream tea (which I fear I do far too frequently for the good of my health), I tend to use the Cornish method, simply for neatness. What is a little unfortunate is that when I tested it on the occasion pictured above, I discovered (as I had already known, deep down) that I slightly preferred the taste sensation of the Devonshire method, with the cream underneath the jam.

I say it’s unfortunate but that’s like saying that a good solid 10 hour sleep is better than a sleep of 9 hours 55 minutes, i.e. there’s not much in it and I really can’t complain about the minimal difference in the end result.

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One day last week the weather forecast showed the whole of Scotland under cloud apart from one little triangle in the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire area on the east coast.

Chasing forecasts often proves a futile business in this country, but as it happens on this occasion the forecasters got it bang on.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I hopped into the motor and sped off in the right direction, stopping en route at the splendid Balmakewan, where we partook of light refreshments.

A flat white with coffee and walnut cake for my delightful assistant:

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Imagine sinking your teeth into an extremely light, soft and delicious coffee sponge cake with unbelievably fluffy icing that melts as soon as it hits the tongue, and you’re part of the way to having the Balmakewan coffee walnut cake experience.

I had a very hard time choosing what to have, as Balmakewan always has a painfully extensive selection of delectable goodies on offer, but in the end I plumped for this coconut affair with blueberries and raspberries through it, accompanied by a first class decaf flat white:

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We decided to share these two items and while the coconut cakey thing was certainly very palatable, we agreed that the coffee walnut cake was outstandingly good.  I’m sure I’ve never had fluffier butter icing in any cake.

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A delicious duo with first class flat whites to wash them down with.

We left Balmakewan feeling that our day had got off to an excellent start. The weather was not particularly good but we had high hopes for our destination.

Around about lunchtime we reached the twin towns of Banff and Macduff, which lie on the Moray coast, and headed for Duff House.

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Duff House is a rather magnificent Georgian building designed by William Adam in the 1730s:

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Today it’s used by the National Galleries of Scotland to house some of their artworks, with the building being maintained by Historic Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, but it was originally built by a chap called William Duff (aka Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife).

William Duff had a large family, and even though the side wings Adam designed were never built, I expect the 50 rooms they ended up with were quite sufficient.

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Room for a small one?

I thought the building had many lovely features, but the curving staircases at the front were a particular favourite:

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Due to a broken pelvis that continues to heal slowly, going round the inside of the house with all its floors and stairs wasn’t really possible for my delightful assistant, but there was one area of the building she was very capabale of reaching.

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A sign to gladden the heart – tasty morsels this way!

Inside, the tearoom had the same sort of feel I’ve noticed in other National Gallery tearooms, being light, airy and tastefully decorated. The history of Duff House was written up on the wall in a timeline with photographs, which made for interesting reading.

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The menu was not extensive, nor did it cater particularly well for vegetarians, but there were various sandwiches to be had and I opted for egg while my delightful assistant went for tuna. I’m pleased to say that the sandwich far exceeded my expectations, being freshly made on very tasty brown bread and served with a delightful little carrot salad.

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One very nice surprise was that there was ‘proper’ tea, by way of leaf tea popped into long teabags of the sort that appear to be getting more popular in Scotland’s tearooms.

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We ordered a pot of Assam and a pot of Darjeeling and they were both tip-top. I often find I’m squeezing out the last cup from a teapot when I take tea, but in this case I had to leave some as there was so much to begin with (I managed three cupfuls):

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I don’t take sugar, but I liked the way it was served at Duff House, in a little kilner jar with lid (no flies landing on these lumps) and tongs on the side (hygenically encouraging people not to dive in with their dirty great mitts):

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The facilities at Duff House were another fine feature of the building, being nicely tiled in green and white with pull chain cisterns above the loos:

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After lunch we waved goodbye to Duff House and made our way along the coast to have a look at the two little villages of Gardenstown and Crovie, but I’ll save those for another post.

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If you happen to be in Scotland driving along the A90, the main road between Dundee and Aberdeen, you might be surprised by the dearth of good eateries along this busy route.

However, about halfway between the two cities, near the little town of Laurencekirk and about half a mile off the main road, there lurks a gem of a place called Balmakewan:

According to the website, Balmakewan is not only a farm shop and tearoom (housed in the old coach house building pictured above), but also a small family run mansion house, with holiday cottages to rent and a large selection of rhododendrons and azaleas for sale.

When you go through the doors of the old coach house, you find a very spacious and nicely laid out shop area:

Beyond this there is a big table surrounded by tins, jars, packets and bottles of food and drink for sale:

The big table is one of the places you can sit if you want to make use of the splendid tearoom facilities, but there are smaller options too:

Much of the seating appears to have been acquired from a church, many of the chairs having storage areas on their backs (see picture above) for a Bible/hymnbook. Old wooden church pews are also provided:

The tables are remarkably shiny, as can be seen in the picture below. The only other place I’ve seen wooden tables gleaming like this was in a small farm tearoom not far from Balmakewan. Perhaps it’s all the rage in rural Aberdeenshire.

The menu is more of a restauranty affair than you’d expect to find in the average tearoom, but helpfully they offer small portions as well as full size versions.

My delightful assistants and I all went for small portions in order to leave room for pudding.

Delightful assistant no.1 had smoked haddock with boiled new potatoes and spring greens:

Delightful assistant no.2 and I both opted for pea risotto, which came with creamy cheese fritters and was artistically finished with watercress and pea shoots. I thought it was one of the most beautiful meals I’d ever eaten:

I was particularly delighted by the curling pea shoots:

The main courses were very good, but what of the desserts?

Choosing a sweet was a fairly painful business. I’m often torn in situations where there’s a number of pleasing pudding options, and I had a sort of pleasurable nightmare at Balmakewan.

I almost plumped for St Clement’s Log, one of the day’s specials and the choice of delightful assistant no.1. I tasted a bit of hers and, although you might not get all this from the photograph, it was a creamy, moussey, extremely citrussy slab of near perfection:

Delightful assistant no.2 also went down the creamy pudding route, with Bailey’s and white chocolate cheesecake. Texturewise, it struck me as cheesecake perfection, melting in the mouth like a snowflake on the tongue:

Faced with such decadent delights, what do you suppose I went for?

Regular readers might not be too surprised by my choice of a very decent sized (enormous) fruit scone:

It was served with a little dish of swirling butter and a small cup of excellent strawberry jam:

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Due to its great girth I struggled to finish it, but the accompaniment of a pot of Lady Grey tea helped it down nicely. The assistants both went for coffee.

Prior to hot beverages, with our main courses we had a carafe of water between us. In addition to that, delightful assistant no.2 had a bottle of Thistly Cross cider, an alcoholic beverage crafted in the Scottish seaside town of Dunbar.

He enjoyed it very much, but it left him ready for a nice nap, so when our luncheon was concluded he headed off to the car for a sleep while delightful assistant no.1 and I went for a little walk up a quiet road.

On the way we passed the garden of Balmakewan House, which had an unusual stone fence (or perhaps, being made of stone, it would be considered a wall):

There was also a curious old tower in a field that caught our attention. I have no idea what it was doing there, but I thought it looked rather nice sitting alongside some pylons (I like a nice pylon):

When we got back to the car, delightful assistant no.2 was awake and ready for a new experience, so we all whisked off to the nearby Steptoe’s Yard. I wrote about this amazing place on my Teacups Press blog last year but on that occasion it was only delightful assistant no.1 and I who visited.

As anticipated, delightful assistant no.2 was fascinated by the garden implements:

Despite the profusion of items on offer, we left empty handed.

It’s several days since we had this little outing, but while I’ve been writing this post the memory of that Balmakewan scone has been looming large in my mind. It exceeded expectations and days later I’m craving another. This, in my view, is an indication of scone greatness.

 

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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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A few photos in recognition of HM The Queen’s diamond jubilee:

Plant on a Jubilee napkin in Glenmuick Church, Ballater. I looked inside the box labelled ‘Favourite Hymns’ but there was nothing in it.

I was curious to know which mask was the most popular. All I can say is that there appeared to be no Queens and there was a spare pile of Prince Phillips.

Her Majesty getting her locks in order under the dryer for the big day.

Supermarket Tesco’s  festive bunting:

A craft shop in Blairgowrie called The Workbasket has my favourite Jubilee window display. A collection of knitted Royals and all the letters of ‘Congratulations’ knitted. It’s a knitted marvel.

Where else can you see a knitted Archbishop of Canterbury?

Not to mention a knitted corgi

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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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