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Yesterday, the sun was shining gloriously in my part of the world.

Being keen to make the most of the fine weather, delightful assistant no.1 and I zipped off Kinross-wards, to the Loch Leven Heritage Trail.

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Loch Leven has quite a bit to offer the visitor.

Not only is it a nature reserve of particular interest to birders, but there’s a castle in the middle of the loch where Mary Queen of Scots was once held captive. You can visit the castle via a small boat trip.

There are over 12 miles of level paths round the loch which are ideal for walkers, cyclists, wheelchairs and motorised scooters.

Perhaps best of all, to my way of thinking, Loch Leven’s Larder – a tip top food stop – sits near the banks of the loch and provides the ideal place for a tasty luncheon.

In order to make the most of the facilities, we parked in the Larder’s car park and went for a brisk walk to work up our appetites.

Tall reeds were growing in the marshy land beside the loch:

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Their golden colour made me dream of summer.

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The delightful assistant spotted some silkily soft pussy willow catkins. We stopped and stroked them, in time honoured fashion.

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There were also some magnificent Scots pine trees, with their beautiful bark lit up by the sunlight:

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Our walk did the trick, giving us the appetites we needed. I was close to desperate for a bite of something by the time we were sitting in the cafe perusing the menu.

I opted for one of the soups of the day, kale and potato, which came with not one, but two, pieces of deliciously fluffy freshly baked bread:

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It was tasty, filling and no doubt very nutritious, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Delightful assistant no.1 also enjoyed her choice of toasted ciabatta with brie and chicken, which came with an interesting looking coleslaw and root vegetable crisps:

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Loch Leven’s Larder is one of those places that has rather a mindboggling selection of sweet treats, and on this occasion the desserts included a special pudding of plum and apple crumble with custard.

Despite the temptation of that, and many other delicious looking items, I couldn’t – as I rarely can – get past the idea of a scone.

The scone options were as follows: fruit, plain, cheese and….chocolate and marshmallow.

I’m pretty sure that before yesterday I had never seen a chocolate and marshmallow scone. Although I did waver for a moment between that and the fruit scone, I grasped the nettle and plunged into new territory.

I teamed it up with a decaf cappuccino, while the delightful assistant settled for a lovely pot of tea and a ‘little taste’ of my scone.

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I wasn’t at all sure how the marshmallow would manifest itself, but it appeared to be a sort of shiny hardened area that I’m afraid I haven’t photographed very well (it’s the slightly shiny bit beneath the pale bit to the left of the photo below):

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Was it a success, this teaming of chocolate and marshmallow in a scone?

Decidedly, yes.

I don’t know how many excellent dining experiences I’ve chalked up now at this fine establishment, but I can assure anyone looking for a decent scone near Kinross that they’re sure to find something highly satisfactory at Loch Leven’s Larder.

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As you may be aware, a British royal baby is due to see the light of day in the middle of July this year, first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing at being Canadian Rangers.

Coincidentally, Twinings have brought out a bit of inspiration for anyone wondering how to toast the new infant, in the form of three new caddies featuring their Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint teabags.

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Rather splendidly I’ve received one of each of these delightful caddies, along with a Twinings pinny. The pinny pocket can, at a squeeze, accommodate all three caddies.

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You may already know the origins and rituals of afternoon tea, but if you’d like a little education or instruction, Twinings have helpfully devoted a page to the subject, entitled English Afternoon Tea, on their website.

I don’t know what time of day the average aristocrat gets up in the morning these days, but I suspect that in the Victorian era they liked a lie-in. I deduce this from the fact that they took their dinner rather late in the evening, which was what prompted Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford to popularise the business of taking afternoon tea.

The Duchess was Queen Victoria’s personal assistant, and I daresay that meant she had to eat her main meals at times dictated by the monarch. However, she found the stretch between lunch and dinner too long to bear without sustenance, and so she came up with the idea of taking tea and a few snacks mid-afternoon to keep the wolf from the door.

I can understand the Duchess’s problem, for I myself begin to get hunger pangs at the traditional afternoon tea stage (between 4pm and 6pm). However, I deal with this by eating my evening meal shortly after 5pm, and getting tucked up in bed nice and early, around the time the Duchess would have been sitting down to her evening repast. Due to dining so early, I don’t often indulge in the tradition that is afternoon tea, but I have a cunning solution that makes sure I don’t miss out, viz. every now and then I take afternoon tea in place of luncheon.

What with getting these lovely tea caddies, and the sun blazing from a blue sky on Saturday, the delightful assistants and I plumped for an afternoon tea picnic in the garden.

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We drank our fill of Twinings English Breakfast tea and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that this tea is misnamed. English Breakfast seems to me to be much more an afternoon type beverage than a morning one, and it certainly slipped down a treat with our teatime fare.

It was the perfect opportunity to make use of my tea and toast sets (or, as I like to call them, teacuplates), saucers that merge into plates, providing an ideal afternoon-tea-size treat area.

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There are certain things one ought to produce for an afternoon tea, namely tea, dainty crustless sandwiches (I saved the crusts to make breadcrumbs), small scones and nibbles of cake. (Twinings have more afternoon tea ideas on their website.)

Here we have some finger sandwiches made from soya and linseed bread with spinach and roasted ‘chicken’ (actually meat-free Quorn):

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Fluffy white bread sandwiches with sliced Quorn cocktail sausages, and cheese scones:

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I enjoyed making butter curls for the scones with a clever little metal gadget.

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The cheese scones were available in two sizes – small:

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and tiny:

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My dad perched a blueberry on one half of his tiny scone to give an idea of scale (the cutter I used has a diameter of 3cm):

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The reason I made savoury, rather than sweet, scones was because afternoon tea tends to veer towards the sweet and I often find myself craving a bit more savoury to balance all the cakes out.

On the topic of cakes, we had mini raspberry buns (a vanilla cake mix with a blob of raspberry jam in the middle of the bun), topped with whipped cream and a raspberry:

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On a few of the buns the jam was visible from the outside, owing to me being somewhat heavy handed with the jam.

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There were also chocolate fruit and nut clusters (melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with as many currants and chopped nuts as I could squash into a petit fours case),

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small slices of Border tart (a rich fruit tart in a pastry-type base, which I discovered is very difficult to cut into thin slices), and my mum’s excellent seed and peel cake.

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I can’t remember how old I was when I first developed a taste for tea and small treats, but I feel fairly certain that this somewhat disgruntled photograph was taken when I had been put into my pram for a sleep while my parents were sitting down to afternoon tea without me:

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And this one was taken on a far happier occasion, when I was informed that I was to join them in their tea taking:

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I hope that the new royal baby will have many happy years ahead of him/her devouring a wide variety of afternoon tea treats, and that he/she will become an excellent ambassador for the institution that is a good British* afternoon tea.

*Great British traditions such as taking afternoon tea, obsessing about the weather, apologising when someone bumps into you in the street and supporting the underdog at Wimbledon are some of the things that might just tip the balance against Scotland becoming an independent country next year. I like being Scottish but equally I like being British and I don’t relish having to choose between the two.

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As mentioned in my last post, the delightful assistant and I took ourselves to a new tearoom in Callander the other day. (New to me, that is, although the delightful assistant was sure she’d been there before.)

I’m not sure why, but I had been anticipating something quite refined, possibly with starched white linen tablecloths.

The reality was quite different, with mismatched old chairs and something of a studenty feel about it.

It took me a few minutes to readjust my thinking, but when I had, I settled in very nicely.

This tearoom is part of a larger Mhor family, incluing Mhor Fish (a fish and chip shop in Callander) and Mhor Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel).

In 2007 the Lewis family, who own and run the Mhor businesses, took over the Scotch Oven bakery, which had been supplying bakery items to the good people of Callander for over 100 years.

In its current guise, the bakery offers artisan breads as well as traditional Scottish bakery goods. All of the bread is handmade using locally milled flour, and I was very much looking forward to sampling it.

Given the cold weather I opted for the Soup of the Day, which was chilli, sweet potato and honey, and came dished up with chunks of locally made bread.

The delightful assisant decided to have her bread toasted, with poached eggs on top:

Before our meals came, cutlery was delivered to the table, along with some upmarket butterpats.

I got two of these for my bread, and the delightful assistant was cock-a-hoop to get no less than three for her toast.

With my first mouthful of chilli soup, steam came out of my ears and I began to breathe fire. ‘Tingled’ hardly covers it, but that was what the roof of my mouth did, and I was very glad I’d ordered a glass of tap water. I quickly slooshed some of the water down to dowse the flames, and stuffed bread in to dampen the raging inferno.

At that point I really thought I wouldn’t get through more than perhaps 3 or 4 spoonfuls of soup, but as I slowly persevered, stuffing in bread and throwing back water, I gradually became adjusted to the heat and did, in fact, manage to finish the whole lot.

As a culinary experience it was somewhat alarming at first, but it most certainly warmed me up, and the bread was absolutely top notch.

To get to the tearoom you have to go through the bakery. We did this quickly on our way in, but on our way out we lingered and observed the wares. There were pies aplenty:

There were also cakes and puddingy things. A pear tartlet (bottom right, below) was selected as a souvenir for delightful assistant no.2:

Last but not least, the bakery had some fine looking loaves on display in the window. I was tempted, but resisted.

Nicely warmed up and filled by our luncheon, we took a stroll along Callander’s main street, calling in at the rather splendidly housed tourist information centre:

We passed some interesting buildings, including this one with its name painted onto the wall:

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We were bound for a place I had specifically wanted to visit:

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This little place has quite a reputation amongst bibliophiles. It’s a well stocked and very reasonably priced second hand bookshop whose owners not only sell, but also bind, books.

I’m sure the sign in the window is applicable to a fair number of Callander’s visitors:

Inside, I was delighted to find a copy of a book I had been considering buying full price at £9.99 recently. I got it at Kings for the bargain price of one shiny new pound:

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

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

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

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

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

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Following on from 83, which was the grand old age delightful assistant no.2 (my dad) reached on 29 April this year, today it’s delightful assistant no.1 (my mum)’s turn. She’s not quite an octogenarian yet but she’s more than halfway through her septuagenarian years.

The birthday girl wanted to pop into our local metropolis, Perth, to do a bit of shopping today, and so that’s what we did this morning. Having been very successful in the clothing department of Marks and Spencer, we toddled off to one of our favourite tearooms in Perth for luncheon.

The last time we were in this tearoom, along with delightful assistant no.2, it was very busy and we were asked if we minded sharing a table with someone else. We didn’t mind at all, especially when the someone else turned out to be a most interesting and entertaining fellow called Geoff.

Geoff introduced me to a website called blipfoto, which is a social networking photography site on which you can post one photo every day, taken on that day, and people can leave comments, much as they do on WordPress blogs. I joined up with blipfoto after speaking to Geoff, and if you’re at all interested you can find me there as ‘Weedoon‘.

Well, as I say, we went back to this tearoom today and who do you suppose we should bump into, but the very same Geoff! (This may seem like a great coincidence, but since he is an avid fan of the place and visits just about every day, I suppose it’s not all that surprising).

I had vegetable soup, and delightful assistant no.1 had egg and cress sandwiches (I took a photo of the soup but it’s not very good so I’ll just include the sandwiches or, as our waitress called them, “sangwidges” – very Scottish pronunciation, ‘sang’ being pronounced in the same way as the past tense of ‘sing’):

Geoff also chose the sandwiches, but he very wisely added a slice of coffee and walnut cake. I was extremely tempted to order a piece myself but I knew we were heading home for birthday cake afterwards so I nobly resisted. Very kindly, Geoff offered me his cake to photograph (being the fine fellow he is, he understands the importance of such things):

Back in sunny Blairgowrie (I like to call it “sunny Blairgowrie by the sea”, perversely because it’s nowhere near the sea) the birthday candles were lit and the four family members who were available gathered to sample it. My sister baked it and I decorated it:

Some stalactites formed on the edges (and a few spare chocolate buttons were wedged into the middle of the cake):

The cake was light and delicious and slipped down nicely with a cup of tea, served on my bargain tea and toast sets:

All of this was very nice, but it wasn’t the only exciting thing that happened today.

I think 76 is an age at which you might think about things you haven’t done but would like to do. Having survived for more than three quarters of a century, you might feel it’s high time you fulfilled some long-held ambitions.

Today, 76 years from when she first breathed air on planet Earth, delightful assistant no.1 fulfilled such an ambition. Her grandmother did this very thing at a much younger age, apparently to improve her eyesight, because she was trying to stave off the inevitable glasses (a common rhyme of the day didn’t help her to feel comfortable about the impending situation: “men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”). As far as I know, what she did made no impression at all upon her eyesight, although perhaps it helped her to feel a bit more glamorous.

I took my dear assistant to a jewellery shop in Perth, where she bravely sat in a chair while a be-gloved lady shot at her twice and this was the result (the ears are where the action was):

The earrings are tiny gold ones with small diamond-like sparkly stones in the middle, they’re very pretty when they catch the light. I was so proud of her doing this at her age, and I think she looks great with them in.

When I got my ears pierced (I think I was about 16 or 17) I was intending to have two piercings in one ear and none in the other. However, after getting the first one done I was so distressed that I couldn’t take a second hit. My sister accompanied me to the jeweller, sat on me, and let me squeeze her hand until it went white while I had it done. It was quite a bit later that I plucked up the courage to have the other ear done. Then, in 2004 while I was wandering aimlessly around New Zealand on my own, I took the fancy for another piercing up at the top of my left ear. I went to a piercing parlour and had it done sitting in a chair, but then I fainted and had to lie down on a couch in the shop. Various kind-hearted customers, displaying all manner of painful looking piercings, came in and talked to me for the next half hour, while I lay there with the room spinning and a wet cloth on my brow. You will gather from this that I am a champion woose and quite incredibly feeble when it comes to needles, pain, or anything remotely medical.

We had been keeping this little ear-piercing business a secret from delightful assistant no.2, and wondered how long it would take him to notice. On arrival at the house, he chatted a bit to his dear wife and then I suddenly heard him exclaim, in the manner of somone profoundly shocked, “What have you done to your ears?!” I ran through from the next-door room and asked him what he thought of it. Once he’d got over the initial shock he admitted that he thought they suited her and she looked rather lovely. I agree, and hope he feels the same about the tattoo she’s planning to celebrate with next year.

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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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Inspired by Jennifer Thomson’s card in my last post, I whisked my delightful assistant down to Glasgow a couple of days ago, to take tea in the famous Willow Tearooms.

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Willow Tearooms opened for business, at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, in October 1903.

The name ‘Sauchiehall’ is derived from two Scots words: ‘saugh’ being a willow tree and ‘haugh’ meaning meadow, so presumably at some point in the distant past Sauchiehall Street was a willow meadow. It doesn’t look much like a willow meadow these days:

No willows to be seen

The Willow Tearooms consisted of two areas: the tea gallery and the Room de Luxe. We were seated in the gallery, which had a spacious, airy feel to it, overlooking the jewellery and gift shop below:

By the time we reached the tearoom it was after 2.30pm and we hadn’t had any lunch. We had, I’m relieved to say, had large and exquisite scones earlier in the day, but by this time I was ready for a good scoff of some tasty treats.

Afternoon tea, despite the name, was being served all day and we both decided it was just the thing for us.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a traditional afternoon tea generally consists of small sandwiches, small scones, small biscuits and small cakes served on a tiered stand. There can be any combination of these delicacies, and this was what we got at the Willow Tearooms:

On the ground floor, so to speak, were the sandwiches. We were each supplied with 4 of these dainty little nibbles. I asked for a vegetarian selection and my favourite sandwich consisted of strong cheddar cheese with tomato on soft seeded brown bread:

Being ravenous at the time, I fairly wolfed my sandwiches, washed down with a truly superb pot of tea. There was an excellent selection of teas to choose from and we both had the Willow Tea Room special, a lovely blend of Ceylon and Assam teas. It was a beautiful dark golden colour and had a wonderfully rich, full flavour.

Back at the tiered stand, the first floor provided scones with jam and cream, but it was what was on the top floor that took my attention after the sandwiches.

When we had initially placed our order, we had been asked to each pick a cake of our choice from the chiller cabinet:

I was quite tempted by a pecan covered item, but I thought it might be a bit too solid after the sandwiches:

After some deliberation, I opted for meringues sandwiched together with cream while my lovely assistant chose an individual lemon meringue pie. Two little pieces of shortbread accompanied the cakes:

I got into a right old mess with my meringue:

But fortunately I had been thoughtfully provided with an attractive Art Deco napkin:

After the meringue I really had no interest in my scone. I took a nibble of it but I’m afraid I’d been spoiled with a superior scone earlier in the day, so I left it at that and instead slooshed down another cup of marvellous tea.

On the way back to the car (driving in the centre of Glasgow and trying to find somewhere to park is much like attempting this madness in any other city) we walked down the very busy Buchanan Street.

I was born and brought up in the city of Edinburgh, but having lived out of a city for some years now I found being back amongst thronging crowds a little overwhelming. I was surprised by the number of people walking around the city centre on a Thursday afternoon in March:

Buchanan Street has some interesting architecture, and the entrance to the Princes Square shopping mall is particularly eye-catching. This 19th Century building has been covered with flowing decorative metalwork, which includes a quite spectacular peacock with his tail feathers fanned out, elegantly surveying the street below from his lofty perch:

Near the car park I saw these two fellows, somewhat burdened by a terrific weight on their shoulders. I don’t know what the building is but walking past it made my neck ache:

Before going to the Willow Tearooms my delightful assistant and I had enjoyed a stroll around Glasgow Botanic Gardens. After seeing those poor chaps above I feel the need of something restful to end this post with, so here are a few snaps from the Botanics. I was especially interested in this notice:

The botanic gardens were free to get into and, quite unusually, there was no charge for the glasshouses either. My lovely assistant was very taken with this flower, from the Shrimp Plant, which does indeed bear some resemblance to a shrimp:

There was a pond in the glasshouse that had some fish in it:

I liked the little succulents floating on top of the pond. They looked so perky and healthy:

As did this beautiful vibrant pink plant:

So that was our jaunt to Glasgow, a mixture of plants, crowds, interesting buildings, tea and tasty morsels.

When I lived in Edinburgh I enjoyed the bustle, the wide variety of human life swarming the streets, the noise, the buzz and the excitement. These days, although I quite like visiting cities, I always feel a huge surge of relief to escape back into the countryside.

Thank you Glasgow, for an interesting visit, but hello beautiful Perthshire, I’m glad to be back:

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Tearoom of the Week this week comes to you from a small village in the fairly remote north-west of Perthshire, near one of the long narrow lochs typical of the Scottish highlands.

The nearest town is about 40 minutes’ drive away along twisting humpity roads. If you’re looking for a bit of wild scenery and some very fresh air, this might just be the place for you.

The tearoom is in the main street.

The interior is immediately welcoming and, I think, surprisingly modern for somewhere so rural.

In addition to dining chairs (nicely provided with comfy cushions on the seats) there are four very attractively striped easy chairs, which I have tried out in the past and found most comfortable.

On this occasion, I was with four other members of my family, celebrating my sister’s birthday.

The tearoom is divided into two rooms, with a large window or two in each, allowing lots of natural daylight in. We sat next to this window, looking out into the main street and the hills around the lochside. There’s a picnic table outside, which I imagine would be lovely to sit at on a sunny summer’s day. Although the tearoom is on the main street, it’s a quiet little place.

I was torn between one of their soups of the day and one of their seeded rolls with truckle cheese and their own beetroot chutney. I’ve had the latter before and it was extremely good, but remembering that last time I’d found it very filling, I went for the soup. It wasn’t exactly the small option, served in a substantial bowl with a large chunk of crusty wholemeal bread on the side. The bread was amazingly good, warm and crisp on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside. Excellent. My brother and I had the pea and asparagus soup and my dad had cream of mushroom:


My sister had a cheese and ham panini which came with a lovely looking side salad, and a specially requested portion of the tearoom’s chutney on the side because she likes it so much:

My mum had a seeded roll with Rannoch smoked chicken and chilli jam:

I must admit, I was pretty full after my soup, and had struggled to finish such a large bowlful (they’re not mean on portion sizes, that’s for sure!) but I was also very keen to have a cake and so I found a little room for a coconut slice – mostly coconut sponge, then a little jam underneath and a thin sliver of pastry on the bottom. Jolly nice it was too:

The birthday girl had one of her favourite chocolate brownies:

My brother had cranachan cake (cranachan being a Scottish dessert containing oatmeal, cream and raspberries):

My mum had a piece of tiffiin but the photo I took was very fuzzy so I’ll gloss over that and move swiftly on to my dad’s choice of a quite splendidly chocolatey chocolate cake:

I borrowed a forkful of this cake in order to take a photo of it up close, but mysteriously it just sort of vanished and at the same time I was aware of a supremely chocolatey taste in my mouth.

Hot beverages accompanied these cakes for most of us, and I chose Rooibos tea. The black tea my mum ordered came made up in a teapot but the Rooibos came with a teapot of hot water and the teabag on the side. Apparently this is how they serve herbal teas, and my sister prefers it like this for peppermint tea, which she often chooses. However, next time I’ll ask them to put the teabag into the teapot and make it up for me, because Rooibos is like black tea in that it needs boiling water on it to infuse properly. Nonetheless, the small teapot filled a generous big mug, and looked intriguingly black and unidentifiable due to the colour of the mug. I felt mesmerised gazing into the dark watery depths:

Like many other tearooms, this one has a gift shop selling a variety of items including candles, pictures, cards and crockery:

There are some framed photographs and paintings by local artists and I particularly liked this red squirrel stretching it’s little jaws with a big nut:

After lunch we took a stroll along the beautiful lochside, where the clouds were starting to look very menacing. I’m glad to say we got back to shelter for birthday cake just as it was starting to rain.

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This week’s Tearoom of the Week comes to you from the Kingdom of Fife. As my delightful assistant and I were driving through Fife the other day I wondered why Fife is known as the ‘Kingdom of Fife’. Apparently it goes back to Pictish times (about 2000 years ago) when Scotland was divided into 7 kingdoms. Fife was one of them and for some reason the name ‘Kingdom of Fife’ has stuck, although it’s the only one we still refer to in that way.

The tearoom in question is a favourite of mine that I’ve been using as a carrot to help me finish my self-imposed task of collecting tearooms in the areas of Perthshire, Angus and Dundee. It’s so close to Perthshire that I’ve often been tempted to sidle into it over the past few weeks, but somehow I’ve managed to keep away until now.

What could be better than a tearoom that grows its own food? That’s precisely what happens in this place, for it’s attached to an organic farm. The farm was established in 1983 and grows a wide variety of salad items and vegetables, and produces lots of free range eggs from its 150 hens. The tearoom is fully organic and vegetarian, with most of the menu items being available as vegan and gluten free options. Here’s what greets you when you’ve bumped down a rough pothole-filled track:

The outside decking area has been built around a tree:

It was a bit chilly for sitting outside, not to mention a tad damp and very windy, so we headed indoors and found a nice little table for two tucked in a corner with pretty cushions on the chairs:

As soon as you open the door to this place your senses are assaulted. It has the kind of earthy smell you often get in healthfood shops, a creative mixture of herbs and spices, and right inside the front door is a magnificent array of fresh and organic fruit and vegetables:

Once you’ve successfully negotiated the fresh produce you’re hit with lots of other exciting things on shelves, many of which are edible. In addition to freshly baked bread, packets of biscuits, interesting chocolate and the many other food and drink items, there are organic shampoos, soaps, brushes, detergents and all sorts of other environmentally friendly products:

The whole place has a rustic, healthy, wholesome feel about it and it always makes me (and other customers, by the look of the lady below)  happy to wander round the shop or sit in the cafe.

One of my favourite menu items here is the salad, and I’m sure there’s nowhere else I’ve been that serves a fresher salad with fewer food miles. My assistant and I both chose the salad, with oatcakes for me and seeded bread for her (rice cakes are another option):

I was particularly surprised by the broccoli, which is not normally one of my favourite vegetables, but was prepared to perfection in this salad bowl. I could very happily have eaten a whole bowl of this broccoli, which I find quite astonishing. Every time I’ve been the salads have been different, because the ingredients change with the seasons. This is the way we should eat food, I suppose.

After a most delicious lunch, which included some excellent Rooibos tea for me and a glass of sweet cloudy apple juice for my assistant, we had a look round the shop and I bought a toothbrush, and three replacement heads (for the toothbrush, that is):

One thing I was tempted to buy, but didn’t, was some of the beautiful earthenware they had on display. The glaze was sort of pearlescent and I thought some of the individual pieces were very attractive. I was particularly keen on the domed butter dish towards the bottom right of this picture, which I thought was a most pleasing shape:

Some of the bowls had a magnificent lustre:

Before tootling away from this organic haven of healthiness, I visited the facilities, which are situated in what is more or less a large garden shed:

The somewhat basic privy arrangements might not please everyone, but I quite like them because they remind me of happy childhood camping holidays.

I feel I’ve come to the end of this tale, but the only problem with finishing here is that when this post is put onto my Facebook page it displays the last photograph. I have a feeling that ‘Tearoom of the Week (5)’ and then a picture of a toilet might not inspire many people to read on, so here’s a salad I had at the same tearoom last year instead:

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The Queen (aka our dearly beloved Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle) (just in case you were mixing her up with some other monarch; there are still a few of them about, after all) has rather a nice gaff in Royal Deeside, known as Balmoral Castle.

In search of a nice cup of tea and some sunshine this morning, my charming assistant and I headed north to Royal Deeside, driving through the barren but lovely countryside of the Cairngorms national park:

We drove past the Glenshee ski centre, which was almost entirely devoid of snow, and were reacqauinted with a sculpture I always enjoy saying hello to:

The sculpture is by Malcolm Roberston and is entitled “Tommy and Wife”. They seem to me a very British sort of couple, the wife gazing up to the north:

While her husband looks longingly in the opposite direction:

Our first port of call was the sleepy village of Braemar, where we had a choice of tearooms and opted for one we’d never tried before.

It was very Scottish, if Scottish means tartan tablecloths at every turn:

Whenever I’m in a completely new place I’m tempted to try the scones, but I’m always a bit nervous about it. However, I’m delighted to say that I had one of the best scones I’ve had for ages (and I have had quite a few over the past weeks). My delightful assistant and I decided to share one as they were quite big and we wanted to leave space for luncheon in rather a nice place a bit later on. By the time I’d got my camera out, half of it had mysteriously vanished:

Some years ago, quite possibly as many as 23, my assistant and I had a weekend break in this area and it was quite an eventful little trip. On the way to Braemar the car’s radiator exploded (not strictly speaking true, but I thought it had at the time and I use the word now for dramatic effect) and we got a lift in a police Range Rover. At Braemar we had to get a new radiator cap and while the local garage was helpfully sourcing one for us, we took shelter (it was snowy) in the wonderful Fife Arms Hotel, where they were very kind to us and plied us with steaming hot cups of tea. Now, whenever I pass through Braemar and see the Fife Arms, I look upon it very fondly (my apologies for the squintness of this picture; all day I had problems taking photos because of the strong winds combined with my unprofessional camera technique (no tripod)):

After a few freezing minutes of being buffeted by an icy wind taking photos and wandering around like tourists, we took refuge in the car again and drove on to the village of Crathie, famous for Crathie Kirk and its proximity to Balmoral Castle. Crathie Kirk is where the Royal Family apparently attend church of a Sunday when holidaying up in Balmoral, and I can’t say I blame them as it’s presumably the cheapest day to get in.  If you go on any other day of the week they charge you £4.00 admission. At least, I assume you can get in for free on a Sunday, I’ve never tried it myself, although I imagine they expect you to cough up for the collection, so perhaps it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

On the up side, at this time of year you can park in Crathie car park for free, and we took advantage of this to have a walk around some of the perimeter of the Balmoral estate. You have to cross the river Dee to get to Balmoral from Crathie, and there’s rather a fine iron bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that takes you the short hop across the water:

When you get over the bridge there’s an impressive gateway, leading to Balmoral Castle, in one direction:

In the other direction is a small road, along which we walked in the sunshine, until we reached another bridge that took us back over the Dee. This bridge is very different in design from the first one, but beautifully elegant and pretty in its white paintwork:

On the way back to the car park I spotted a purse hanging on a tree. It was emtpy, so some honest soul had obviously handed any cash, etc. into the local police.

By this time I was becoming ravenously hungry, after only half a scone at morning tea time, but fortunately we already knew where we were going to have our lunch, and so I drove off with some gusto, and not a little impatience, to our next stop. It’s another of these matches made in heaven – a farm shop and a tearoom combined:

It was lovely and sunny inside the tearoom and we both ordered one of their soups of the day: carrot and leek. It was thick and delicious, served with both brown artisan bread and oatcakes, with little butter curls, and my only regret was that the bowl wasn’t bigger:

After our soups we found room for some tea and a cake each. I went for Victoria sponge, having missed out on one in a cafe recently (see Tearoom of the Week (4)) and my assistant chose a piece of tiffin:

The sponge was nice but the tiffin, in particular, was excellent. It had been made with dark chocolate, so it wasn’t too sweet but it was incredibly chocolately and delicious:

As you may have noticed in the Victoria sponge picture, there was some attractive hand-painted china in the shape of tea mugs and a milk jug. Both the mugs and the jug had two holes for holding them with, rather than the usual one. This made lifting and pouring/drinking a very stable experience:

When it comes to covering Aberdeenshire, as it appears I have already begun to do (maybe I should just soldier on and put everything in one guide book to tearooms in the whole of Scotland?), this farm shop and tearoom will definitely be one of my top picks.

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