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Archive for the ‘Fife’ Category

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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One of the things that repeatedly surprises me about Scotland is the number of fascinating little out of the way villages there are, sitting quietly waiting to be discovered.

The county of Fife is full of such places, and yesterday I took the delightful assistants out for a seaside adventure in search of one.

Anyone who knows the Fife coast well might already be familiar with the village of West Wemyss (pronounced Weems), but it’s the sort of place you could easily miss, being at the end of a road that leads to West Wemyss and nowhere else.

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The village of West Wemyss, nestling on the Fife coast at the end of the road.

We parked in a free car park by the harbour, overlooked by some commanding buildings complete with pantiled roofs very typical of Fife coastal villages.

The cream coloured building is called the Belvedere, and was built in 1927 to serve as a miner’s institute and reading room. I would have liked to have gone inside and had a look for the books, but alas it was all closed up.

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The village of West Wemyss was a planned community, built by the landed gentry of the Wemyss Estate to house their workers.

Despite still having a few grand buildings the current village has a popluation of around 240 and I don’t imagine that these days many of them have work within West Wemyss itself.

The Wemyss family have lived in this area since around the 12th Century and in 1421 Sir John Wemyss built Wemyss Castle, which is now in a state of some disrepair.

The castle lies a short distance along the bay from the main part of the village.

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Wemyss Castle hiding behind trees and a most curious wall which, viewed from afar, I thought was a long arched bridge.

I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting history attached to Wemyss Castle, far more than I’ve been able to find with a quick online search, but I did learn that much of the Wemyss family wealth was built on coal mining. I also discovered that in 1565 Mary Queen of Scots first met Lord Darnley (the chap who was to become her second husband) at Wemyss Castle.

As we walked past the castle we noticed that close to shore in the bay, stretched out on rocks, were a few fat seals.

I believe that both grey and common (or harbour) seals are found in the Firth of Forth and I really don’t know which these were, but they were satisfyingly plump and shiny.

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Fat seals.

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Is a shiny seal a healthy seal? I like to think so.

Just inland from the seals was a row of large concrete blocks: tank defences put there during the second world war to stop the Jerries from climbing aboard our shores.

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Between the castle and the village, stuck onto an old bit of wall, were some mosaics, including one depicting two swans:

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Swan mosaics stuck onto an old bit of wall by the coast.

There was a snazzy mosaic door, too, which didn’t seem to lead anywhere but looked very pretty.

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Lovely mosaic door stuck into an old wall.

A plaque informed us that this artwork had come about as a collaboration between three local artists and the nearby primary school at Coaltown of Wemyss (another village along the coast). The project was supported by Fife Council and included a little picnic area:

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A view that delightful assistant no.2 claims brings sorrow to his very soul – a picnic area with no picnic in sight.

Constructed in 1512, West Wemyss harbour lies at the west end of the village.

In the old days it was an important port for ships carrying coal and salt (and, somewhat unfortunately in 1590, the plague, which spread from here throughout Fife wiping out a good many of the inhabitants).

These days it provides shelter for a few fishing and pleasure craft:

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West Wemyss harbour.

Next to the harbour we spotted a beautifully weathered building with a few bricks set into the surrounding stonework. It looked to me like a work of art.

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Interesting textures created by wind and weather, nicely contrasting with a bit of brickwork.

Having enjoyed a bracing walk along the coast with a cold wind blowing rain into our faces, we were ready for sustenance and plunged into the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

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The West Wemyss Walk Inn – the cafe inside is run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers, and jolly good it is, too.

It was lovely to get inside out of the wind and rain, and settle down in the warm cafe to peruse the menu.

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Inside the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe – cosy and welcoming.

I opted for the soup of the day, which was cream of tomato and came with a roll and – delightfully – a cheese and chilli stick covered in sesame seeds:

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Outstandingly good soup with bready snacks on the side.

Not having been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but am delighted to report that it was exceptionally good soup and a very nice little stick and roll. The soup tasted of fresh tomatoes and cream, it was thick and delicious and, I’m quite sure, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for fish and chips, which came with a side order of bread and butter.

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Battered fish with chips, peas, bread and butter. Carbohydrates covered.

Delightful assistant no.2 chose one of his favourite toasted sandwiches, a brie and cranberry panini, which came with a fresh side salad and a few crisps:

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Brie and cranberry panini with salad and crisps.

We all had tea to drink, and a free refill of the teapot. Everything we had was just the job to warm us up and make us feel contented.

The cakes on offer were freshly baked in the kitchen upstairs and looked very tempting, but we all felt too full to have anything straight after our savouries, so we’ll save that treat for another occasion.

On the windowsill next to where I was sitting there was a small Christmas tree made from driftwood and decorated with fairy lights.

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Driftwood tree at West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

Behind the tree there was a framed certificate that made me happy; it declared that in 2013 West Wemyss had won a Silver award in Beautiful Scotland’s ‘Wee Village’ category.

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An award in the Wee Village category for the West Wemyss Bloomers, 2013.

I’m not surprised that West Wemyss has won such an award and I intend to revist later in the year when there are more blooms to be seen. Even on a dull, damp January day there were bright colours dotted about to cheer us up and make us glad we’d taken the little dead end road down to the coast.

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Bright colours to cheer a dull day in West Wemyss.

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I started writing this post weeks ago, got waylaid with other things and forgot to complete it; today I found it again and thought it was high time I finished it off.

I began tapping it out just after I’d lunched with a chum near Kinross, in the delightful Loch Leven’s Larder.

On that occasion I didn’t take photographs of the main course, but I had a large bowl of minestrone soup (spelt ministrone on the menu, although there was nothing miniature about it), which was very tasty, and my chum had a Ploughman’s sandwich.

Loch Leven’s Larder is one of the many eateries in Perthshire that provides truly excellent scones. We each opted for a fruit scone, which was served with butter and raspberry jam.

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They also do very nice Teapigs tea, and we swished our scones down with several cupfuls.

After our repast, when we had gone our separate ways, I scooted off towards the Lomond Hills, with the intention of clocking up a bit of healthy exercise

The Lomond Hills, I can tell you (courtesy of my lunch chum, who’s a geologist by trade), were “formed by a series of igneous sills made of dolerite. Sills are igneous intrusions formed when magma forces its way between layers of sedimentary rock. Dolerite is an intrusive form of basalt and is hard and resistant to erosion, which is why it forms hills”.

Off I trotted up a marked path towards East Lomond.

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All the way up I met not a single soul, but plenty of birds of the lbj (little brown job) variety, as well as a few sheep that were grazing on the hill’s slope.

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I tried to engage the sheep in conversation, but they were having none of it. I could understand their concentration on their task, having not long surfaced from the nosebag myself.

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As is the way of things at the tops of hills, there was a bit of a view from the summit.

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There was also a direction indicator (a concrete block about 4ft high with a circular plate on top indicating the names of the hills in the distance). I approached it at the same time as two other people, who had come up from a path on the other side of the hill.

This was unfortunate timing, as we all wanted to lean on the concrete block after our climb up. I gave way to them as they were somewhat longer in the tooth than me and perhaps more in need of a leaning post. Instead, I walked around admiring the views in all directions, and appreciated the strong cooling gusts of wind that buffeted me.

Getting down was a much quicker affair than climbing up, partly because I ran most of the way, which was a most exhilarating business.

At the bottom of the slope I saw something I’d glanced at on my way up, and decided to take a closer look:

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The limekiln trail occupied a somewhat boggy area with an old limekiln and a pond in it, and a number of information boards dotted about:

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From the boards I learned some interesting things, including the fact that the high content of lime in the soil and water had led to great ecological diversity. Contained in this small area there was a surprising variety of plants and animals, including orchids, butterflies, dragonflies and birds.

One of the boards explained that the ecological value of this place was a product of its industrial history, which pleased me and reminded me of the machair, grassy plains that explode with wildflowers in the summer and support a lot of wildlife. The machair is typical of the Outer Hebrides and its success is apparently due to the way the land is managed by crofters, who farm on a small scale in an environmentally beneficial manner. This is a bit different from the limekilns situation, but another example of how man and nature can work well together.

When I’d been round all the boards, I went back out of the gate and ran along the grassy path towards the car park.  The hill in the distance is West Lomond, the other prominent peak in the Lomond Hills.

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After all that running around, climbing hills and whatnot, you might imagine I was in need of some refreshment, and you’d be quite right.

I made for a favourite tearoom of mine, Pillars of Hercules, just outside Falkland in Fife and only a few miles from the Lomond Hills.

Although in the hills it had been rather overcast, just a little lower down in Falkland it was gloriously sunny. It was so nice, in fact, that I opted to sit outside the toilet block, which was a much more pleasant arrangement than you might think from that description. The tables (and, rather luxuriously, footstools) were made out of bits of tree trunk:

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Given the surprisingly high temperature of the afternoon, I decided to forego my usual hot beverage and chose a deliciously sweet cloudy apple juice. The juice alone would probably have been quite sufficient, as I was more thirsty than hungry, but I accidentally ordered a seeded sort of granola type flapjack at the same time:

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It proved to be a happy accident, being very tasty and satisfying, and just the thing to sustain me on my drive home.

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Just out of curiosity, I’ve put four of my photographic greetings cards for sale on ebay (here).

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My sister’s having a stall at her local fayre in August and is kindly going to try flogging some of my creations (“Tearoom Delights” books, as well as cards).

When I was sticking a few cards together today (I make them from matt prints, sliced to size and glued to blank white square cards), I thought why not put a little pack of four different ones on ebay and see if anyone buys them?

These are the pictures I sliced up and stuck on:

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House with a thatched roof in Glamis, Angus (next to the excellent Strathmore Arms – well worth dropping in to for lunch if you happen to be in the area feeling peckish).

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A window into Aberdour Castle, Fife, with pretty plants around it. The castle and gardens are next to a beautiful little church, all of which makes for a grand day out.

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A colourful scene in Anstruther, Fife, home of award winning fish and chips and the Scottish Fisheries Museum. This was taken on a truly glorious day with bright blue skies and lots of people out and about enjoying the sunshine (although I chopped the people out of this picture for the card). Fife is full of buildings like this one in the background with charming pantiled roofs.

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Elie, another of the Fife coast’s little treasures, and one of the places my dad used to be taken on holiday by train from Edinburgh as a small boy. Elie has a number of old and interesting buildings on quiet streets, and some of the street names have been rather unusually hand painted onto stone buildings.

At the fayre the cards will be selling for £1.50 each, so that would be £6.00 for a pack of four, but I’ve put the above four on ebay in an auction starting at £1.99 to see what sort of price they fetch, if indeed they sell at all.

There are postage prices for the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA, although I’d happily send them anywhere.

The auction ends in 7 days…

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Glamis, Aberdour Castle, Anstruther and Elie waiting patiently to see if anyone bids for them.

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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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A few days ago, on a morning when the sun shone out of a blue sky for the first time in what seemed like ages, I whisked the two delighful assistants off to a big hut in Fife:

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St Andrew’s cheese farm and coffee shop

This fine establishment bills itself as “Fife’s only artisan farmhouse cheesemakers” and has been on the go for about 5 years.

I do like a bit of cheese, but what particularly attracted me to the St Andrew’s cheese farm was the fact that it had the Butterpat Coffee Shop attached to it and that, according to the website, cheese scones were likely to be on offer.

Although the sun was shining beautifully, the wind was the sort that laughs through layers of warm clothing, chilling one to the bone in seconds.

The dash from the car was astonishingly cold, but inside the cafe the sun was sweeping in through big windows warming the room like a greenhouse.

We nipped into a sunny seat and settled down to peruse the menu.

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Our table was next to one of the large windows, giving us an open view out across farmland to the sea a few miles away. There was a decking area with seating immediately outside, which I expect would be lovely to sit out on in the summer (I fully intend to return later in the year and try this out):

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The menu contained a lot of things that attracted me, including a vegetable ragu, which was the vegetarian dish of the day. However, I plumped for the vegetable soup, and could not have been more pleased about my choice. For one thing, it came with a cheese scone, made using the farm’s own Anster cheese (the farm is close to the coastal town of Anstruther, pronounced ‘Anster’ by the locals):

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I’ve eaten a fair number of cheese scones in my time, but rarely have I had one with a texture quite as magnificently fluffy as this one was. It was also, rather unusually, abounding in mustard seeds:

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The soup was a perfect partner to the scone, and was absolutely chock-full of lovely tasty chunky veggies.

Here’s a sample spoonful containing carrot, leek, celery, onion and turnip, and possibly other things I didn’t identify:

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Delightful assistant no.1 opted for the leek and potato soup, which also came with a delectable cheese scone:

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Delightful assistant no.2 bypassed the soup and went instead for a cheese and ham toastie, which came with spring onions inside, and more cheese and tomato on top:

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We were all exceptionally pleased with our food, as well as our drinks (water for me and delightful assistant no.1; apple juice for delightful assistant no.2):

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Above the cake counter were some words that I found inspiring. “….always striving to be the best we can be”:

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I look forward to seeing how things strike me on a second visit, but I can’t imagine that with any more striving they could have created a better cheese scone, or served it up with a more satisfyingly vegetable-filled hearty soup.

Following consumption of savouries, I unfortunately had no room for a sweet. I settled for a decaf cappuccino instead, which was jolly nice and had the right sort of chocolate on top (the sweet sort, as opposed to the unsweetened cocoa I’ve occasionally been shocked to receive):

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Delightful assistant no.1 had tea, and delightful assistant no.2 had the same as me but with a significant addition:

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That slab of brown cakey stuff is a slice of iced gingerbread, something that claims to be Scottish in origin. Such gingerbread is not always iced but it is often served with butter, although this seems to me a little superfluous when icing is present.

When butter is offered to either of my delightful assistants, however, it is never turned away:

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I tasted the gingerbread, with a little bit of the thick fondant icing. It was delicious and the icing melted in the mouth.

Through a door from the cafe there was a cheesemaking viewing gallery, allowing members of the public to pop in and see the cheese hard at work. You can only see this on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and, as luck would have it, we were there on a Wednesday.

Here’s the cheese vat we saw, filled with liquid in the process of becoming cheese:

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Before leaving the cheese farm, I stopped by the cheese counter in the cafe and selected a little wedge of Anster to take home and try. The assistant did it up very nicely in a sheet of paper with a sticker to seal it up:

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Before leaving the premises I popped in to the facilities, and was delighted by lovely hand painted tiles of Fife coastal scenes above the sinks:

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I was so full after all the noshing at the cheese farm that I could easily have lasted the 1.5 hour drive home without stopping for more refreshments, but the delightful assistants twisted my arm up my back and made me stop at Culdees tearoom in Abernethy, roughly halfway home.

Delightful assistant no.1 is very partial to a piece of tiffin (a chocolate-topped biscuity traybake, usually containing some dried fruit), and I like it too but am wary because I’ve had more than one bad experience with the stuff. To my mind, the tiffin on offer at Culdees didn’t look especially appetising, but this didn’t put my delightful assistant off and on tasting a little nibble I discovered that I had completely misjudged it.

The chocolate was of a high quality and the fudgy biscuit bit underneath was almost cakey in texture, rather than biscuity. It was a very fine tiffin, and she selected a coffee to sloosh it down with:

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Delightful assistant no.2 plumped for tea and a cherry and almond slice (also excellent):

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And I fell back on that old staple, the chocolate cake (complete with two giant chocolate buttons), and a lovely pot of lemon tea:

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By the time I’d finished my last mouthful I really was fit to burst and had no room for further food, that is until teatime a couple of hours later.

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After taking tea in Cupar the other day, my delightful assistant and I stumbled upon an attractive and interesting little hamlet, tucked away off a main road.

I was driving through it, slowly taking in its charm but not particularly intending to stop (the weather wasn’t terribly pleasant), when I saw something that isn’t very common in Scotland – a house with a thatched roof:

Thatched roof in Collessie

They do pop up here and there, but I think of this style of roofing as more of an English thing.

First I spotted the one above, and then I saw another:

Another thatched roof in Collessie

I don’t know if Collessie has ever been used as a location for films or TV dramas but I think it definitely has potential.

Collessie

It even has a little stream running under the road:

Collessie burn

There are some interesting old buildings, including this one which has tiny high up windows and a collection of pots, sticks and ornaments outside. It also has a thatched roof:

Interesting building in Collessie

The delightful assistant thought that Collessie could be listed on this blog as an Intriguing Sight, and we were certainly intrigued by the white dome-shaped structure below, which had logs stored in the lower part. I wondered if it might be an oven of some sort:

Curious domed structure

I don’t know quite why I find this next point so satisfying, but it gladdens my heart when I see buildings that can be accessed at different levels front and back:

Different levels in Collessie

We were walking up a little hill through Collessie, at the top of which stood a fine looking church. The churchyard dates back to the 12th century, although the present church was constructed in 1838. Apparently, this building was built because the previous one had started to sink into the graveyard, causing a dampness that was disagreeable to the congregation.

Collessie Kirk

Rather curiously, the churchyard wall had a yellow building stuck into it:

Sir James Melville's tomb

A plaque on the wall next to it declared the yellow building to be the tomb of Sir James Melville (1535-1617) and described him as “a distinguished soldier, courtier and diplomat during the 16th century”. At the age of 14 he was sent to France to attend a young Mary Queen of Scots, later serving both her and her son, James VI, in Scotland.

Sir James Melville plaque

I did try to enter the tomb but the door was locked. I know you can’t generally get inside graves and coffins, but somehow the idea of him being locked inside that building seemed a bit sinister to me.

The locked tomb

We didn’t spend much time in the graveyard, because it was rather chilly, but I did notice one particular gravestone. The white lichen on some of the petals and the yellow on the stamens seemed fittingly positioned:

Lichen on gravestone

If you ever happen to be driving along the A91 between Cupar and Auchtermuchty, I recommend the slight detour that takes you through the delightful hamlet of Collessie.

The detour also takes you past another church, Monimail Parish, just along the road from Collessie. Although, as with Collessie, we couldn’t get into the building itself, we walked all round the church at Monimail and noted that it was very well cared for. Every door was painted in black gloss and all the handles and lock plates were neatly touched up in gold paint.

Monimail Parish Church painted nicely

Monimail Parish Church

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