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Posts Tagged ‘countryside’

This time last year there was an interesting piece in the Scottish news about the small village of Dull in Perthshire.

The story concerned the village of Dull forging a link with the equally uninspiringly named town of Boring in Oregon, USA.

Along with everyone else, I thought this a splendid idea. When I heard that signs had been erected outside Dull to highlight this pairing I was keen to see them.

It took me a while to get round to doing this, but a few days ago I bundled the delightful assistants into my car and we sped off towards Dull, which lies in a quiet and pretty part of rural Perthshire.

It was about an hour’s drive away, which would have been achieveable in a oner if it weren’t for the fact that it was late morning before we left. In need of sustenance, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms, Legends of Grandtully:

I’ve written about this place before (here) and have already gone on about the exquisite hot chocolate available, but I can’t resist giving it another mention.

As you might have noticed from the sign, Legends is attached to a chocolate centre. If you are remotely interested in chocolate, this is a most appealing prospect.

When we visited the other day I ordered one of their chocolate beverages – the very potent espresso sized hot chocolate ganache, which came topped with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa that I found to be a highly satisfactory addition:

If you read my previous post about Mallorca you might recall that it featured another rather spectacular hot chocolate. This one at Legends was similar, and Legends is the only place I’ve found in Scotland that serves up this style of hot chocolate.

I know I mustn’t bang on about it too much because this post is supposed to be about Dull and Boring, but before I leave the subject here’s a close-up of the chocolate’s surface, wrinkled by a teaspoon to demonstrate how thick and glossy it was:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had coffee, delightful assistant no.2 had peppermint tea (the first time he had ever ordered such a herbal beverage in a tearoom), and we all shared a large fruit scone. That might sound a bit feeble, sharing a fruit scone between three, but it was very substantial and to be honest I was rather preoccupied with my hot chocolate; I ate a bit just to be sociable.

From Legends, we drove on, feeling replete and excited about Dull.

When we reached the outer limits of the village, lo and behold, there was the promised sign:

The village of Dull is bypassed by the main road, but if you turn off at the next right after this sign, you can drive along the narrow crescent-shaped loop that takes you through the village itself.

Despite having driven along the main road plenty of times before, to our knowledge none of us had ever taken the little detour through the village, so it was a new experience.

It was very quiet and I thought it had a pleasant atmosphere.

There was an old stone church that I fancied having a closer look at, so we parked next to it and delightful assistant no.2 and myself took a wander through the graveyard. Delightful assistant no.1 has been having a bit of bother with her hip and so she stayed in the car, enjoying the warmth of the sun coming in through the windows.

As with most little churches I try to get into on weekdays, this one was locked, and I’ve since discovered that it hasn’t been used as a church since the 1970s.

It was built on the site of an early Christian monastery and slabs dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries were found in the graveyard during grave-digging in the 19th century. One particularly fine example displaying horsemen is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

I don’t know if this particular bit of stone (below) has any significance, but someone has gone to a bit of trouble to secure it to the bottom of an outside wall of the building:

There was also a large font sitting next to the front door, which I neglected to photograph, but it’s also thought to be a relic from Pictish times. If that’s the case, it could be 1200 (or more) years old and it’s just sitting there full of water in a disused churchyard, slowly being weathered away by the elements.

Not far from the churchyard, sitting unobtrusively next to a holly tree just outside someone’s garden, there was a big stone cross penned in by a metal fence.

Having read a bit about Dull since visiting it, I wonder if this is one of the Pictish relics that was found in the churchyard. Strangely, although it’s been deliberately protected by the fence, there’s no indication of what it is or why it’s sitting there. I can’t help thinking a sign should be put up to explain its presence.

Another curious sight in Dull was a brightly painted church building just up the hill a bit from the old stone church. I walked up to have a look at it and felt very much as if I were in Iceland or Norway.

Far from being used for public worship, it appeared to be a private residence with a locked gate at the end of its driveway:

The rain was coming on by the time I took the above photo, and our third-of-a-scone each had worn off, so we hot-footed it to nearby eatery, the House of Menzies, which is housed in a refurbished mid-19th century farm building:

I’m worried that this post is going to become ferociously long, because I still have some other places to add to our day out, so I’ll call a brief halt here and take up the tale in my next post.

Tune in next time for a tasty luncheon!

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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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To celebrate the new year, I thought I’d start a series on Intriguing Sights – things that, for some reason or other, have grabbed my attention when out and about.

Intriguing Sight No.1 is a postbox, and I expect other postboxes will pop up in due course because they often take my fancy.

Intriguing Postbox No.1

One of the strange things about this postbox is that it has a little door next to it. I opened the door to see if it led to the inside of the postbox, but no, behind the door lies a small enclosed cubby hole – dark, dank and littered with feathers, rubbish and the like. As you can see, it has a somewhat elaborate hinge and closing mechanism, but I couldn’t get it to shut tight.

I can only imagine that the cubby hole is there to accommodate parcels or letters too big for the postbox mouth, although the fact that the door doesn’t close properly makes me wonder if anyone would dare to leave a parcel in there. If parcels or large letters are seldom left in the cubby hole, does the postie collecting the mail from this box always check it? I think the only way to find out would be to conceal myself in nearby undergrowth around the time of collection and observe what goes on.

Another curious thing about this postbox is its location, down at ground level next to a quiet junction in the peaceful Angus countryside:

Junction next to Intriguing Postbox No.1

In the above picture a signpost points to Balintore.

If you go up that road you’ll find what could certainly be described as another Intriguing Sight, and which should probably have its own post. I feel sure I’ve taken photographs of it before but I can’t find them, so I’ve found a splendid one online instead (below).

This spooky pile is called Balintore Castle and it was built as a sporting lodge in the mid 1800s. It was abandoned by its then owners in the 1960s, with dry rot and a crumbling structure, and lay empty for about 40 years, until Angus Council bought it. It is currently under restoration by a chap called David, who’s doing it up in a long and no doubt exceptionally trying effort to get it back into use as a dwelling place. (If you click on his name you’ll be taken to the blog he’s writing about his progress.)

image by ClanUrbex on Flickr

image by ClanUrbex on Flickr

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The small Perthshire town of Blairgowrie sits among rolling hills and farmland in the Vale of Strathmore.

The streets of the town slope upwards towards the north-west, and if you continue walking in this direction beyond the limit of houses, you soon reach the top of a small grassy hill called The Knockie.

The Knockie, being only a few minutes’ trot from where I live, provides an easily accesible bit of fresh air and exercise for someone who spends far too much time sitting at a desk. I try to get out for a little walk most days of the week and yesterday, thinking it was too long since I last did it, I felt inspired to go and look at the views from The Knockie.

The track up the hill is often very muddy, but is apparently being upgraded and will soon be covered in stones. I think it has a nicely old-fashioned look, bounded by lovely dry stone walls covered in moss:

When you reach the top of the hill, you can read a ghost story on a board:

The story concerns a Lady Jean Drummond, who lived at nearby Newton Castle around the 13th century. She fell in love with a chap from a neighbouring castle, but the two families were at war with one another over land rights, and any sort of romance was out of the question. Heartbroken, Lady Jean is said to have wandered out into the marshes, never to return. Her ghost, dressed in green silk, currently divides her time betwen the two castles, ever pining for her lost love.

A wooden seat has been thoughtfully provided so that you can sit and contemplate this tragic tale:

Yesterday was not the brightest of days, but on the other side of the hill from Blairgowrie there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and the distant Grampian mountains:

The track on the other side of the hill has a much better surface, being covered in tarmac for some of the way, and there are more mossy walls:

We’ve had a fair bit of stormy weather here lately, and I passed some trees that had not only been uprooted, but had taken the ground with them. I thought it looked as if a giant had come along and lifted up the carpet:

As I rounded The Knockie, the setting sun broke through the clouds casting a warm glow on the hillside to the east:

Over towards the west, the sky seemed to be on fire:

The atmosphere was hazy, but the lighting created this silhouette of a horse on the horizon:

By the time I got home, I felt I’d earned a small snackerel:

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“Happy is the man who has broken the chains which hurt the mind, and has given up worrying once and for all.”

Ovid

The above quote forms this week’s Quotes from the Masters challenge from Robin at Bringing Europe Home. Her photos of the sunny Californian coast are spectacular and make me want to go and drive along Highway 1.

Closer to home for me, there is a wonderful place where I like to go to clear the cobwebs. When I’m a bit tense or in need of revitalisation, a visit to Drumderg windfarm soothes me and gets me back on the right track with a clear mind.

I find the turning of these enormous turbines (each one is 107 metres tall) mesmerising and very relaxing. I visited them a few days ago on quite a windy day, and was so taken with them that I sat down in the road and just enjoyed their revolutions. The road is a very quiet one and there was no traffic at all while I was there.

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“If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something.” Federico Fellini

I’m quoting the above by way of the most recent challenge from Robin at Bringing Europe Home.

In her post, she asks: “Do you have a story or a lesson that was learned in silence? Do you have a photo or poem that inspired quiet reflection?” 

In 1969, Queen Elizabeth II offically opened Backwater Reservoir in Angus, Scotland.  It provides Angus, Dundee and parts of Perthshire with drinking water and, together with the nearby Loch of Lintrathen, supplies about 300,000 people.

Its location, up in the Angus hills not all that far from where I live, is incredibly peaceful. You can walk round the reservoir on a small tarmac road, and hear absolutely nothing other than the gentle sounds of nature.

This photo of the reservoir reminds me of the silence, and makes me feel calm and reflective.

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“Tearoom of the Week” has been a bit neglected lately, so I thought it was high time I slipped another one in. This tearoom comes to you from the county of Angus.

Angus sits on Scotland’s east coast, with Dundee to the south, Perthshire to the west and Aberdeenshire to the north. If you kept going east out of Angus you’d end up in the North Sea.

This picture was taken bobbing about somewhere in the North Sea last year. I was astonished by the number of gulls sitting on the water so far from land, I don’t know what they were doing there but there were hundreds of them (you might need to click on the picture to enlarge it and see them properly):

This isn’t particularly relevant to the tearoom in question, since it’s not on the coast, I just fancied putting a cool watery picture in because I’m sitting here typing this on a very warm day.

One of the wonderful things about this tearoom is the setting, which is quiet and attractive, surrounded by rolling green hills. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have a photo of the views from the tearoom windows, but this is what it looks like when you arrive. It’s inside an old forge on the right where the window is, and the building on the far left houses a stable (with horse):

Inside, it’s light and airy and has a farmhouse feel, with exposed stone walls, wooden beams, and wooden furniture around the room:

My delightful assistant and I popped in here yesterday for a light luncheon, having just had enormous pancakes at another tearoom not far away. Since we weren’t terribly hungry, we shared egg salad sandwiches:

I think the eggs may have come from some of the free range hens that we saw wandering around the car park. There were some lovely grey stripy ones, which I think were Scots Greys, that were wisely sitting in the shade of a fence:

And there was a very attractive little black one. Its feathers had a greenish sheen that caught the light. It’s not demonstrated brilliantly in this photo, but it had the sort of silky iridescence you see in oil slicks:

After our sandwiches and some cool drinks, we left the car at the tearoom and went for a walk nearby to enjoy the glorious weather and work up an appetite for some spice cake. I had spotted the cake under a glass cloche and was keen to sample it, but I needed to make room by burning up some calories first.

We found a grassy path through some deciduous trees, and the dappled light made it look refreshingly appealing in the heat:

It was indeed very pleasant and peaceful, and by the time we arrived back at the tearoom I found I had a cake-shaped hole inside me.

We ordered a big pot of tea for two, and the spice cake:

I don’t think I’ve ever had this cake before, but as far as I could gather it was a basic sponge with cinnamon and other spices in it. The icing was very nice and spicy too, and I got a jelly sweet into the bargain.

All of the chairs in this tearoom are wooden, but some of them are of delicate design, with prettily frilled cushions on them. These were perhaps my favourites:

As we were leaving the tearoom, a little chap popped up from behind a dry stone wall and thanked us for coming. We thanked him for having us, and I look forward to renewing his acquaintance in the near future:

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After what feels like ages (actually about 4 months), I’m now nearly ready to publish my first guidebook to splendid tearooms, part of the forthcoming Tearoom Delights series.

I’m aiming to get it to the printer in the next week or so and then, hopefully, receive the finished article in mid-June. Between now and then, however, I have a few reviews to complete and some odds and ends to tidy up.

Yesterday, to refresh my memory before finishing the review, I revisited one of the featured tearooms.  I had never had a scone in this place and I was very keen to remedy this situation, particularly as on a previous visit they had looked very good indeed. Yesterday the options were fruit, plain or banana and brown sugar. The banana and brown sugar looked so good I couldn’t resist:

The photo really doesn’t do it justice, it was an outstandingly good scone. I had thought that it was a piece of dried banana on top, but it turned out to be fresh banana which just melted in my mouth, all soft and delicious. I washed it down with beautifully fragrant Lady Grey tea (a vague glimpse of a fruit scone can be seen behind the milk jug, the choice of my delightful assistant):

The weather in Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK, has been unseasonably warm over the past couple of days, and after our refreshments we headed to a very quiet country road for a stroll amongst the livestock and wildflowers. I made chums with this very curious cow, the only one of the herd who seemed remotely interested in having her picture taken:

I also found some attentive sheeps with lovely black-faced lambs. Whenever I see sheep, I say ‘sheeps!’ just because it amuses me:

One of my favourite trees is the hawthorn, and the roadside verges were filled with hawthorns in beautiful bloom:

It was a very hazy start to the day, but it was in the mid-20s (very warm for Scotland) and by late afternoon the haze had burnt off.  This picture was taken while the haze was still very much in evidence, and the temperature was rising:

I don’t know if this is a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s not all that unusual to find an old bath plonked in a field in the Scottish countryside. What is more unusual, however, is finding one that still has the taps on:

Back to the subject of the book, one of the things I had to do was come up with a name for my publishing house (in reality, more of a publishing corner of a room). I was amazed to find that many of the names I came up with were already in use, but eventually I settled on one that would appear to be fairly unique: Teacups Press. It now has its own little website (WordPress blog) although there’s not much on it yet.

In due course, I’ll be posting more information about the wee book, how you can get a copy if you want one, and all that sort of thing. At the moment it’s coming out in an A6 paperback format, but if it does well I’d like to try and make the series available as e-books.

In the meantime, this is what’s going to be on the front cover:

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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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Today I took my small mother to the largest town in Angus, Arbroath, home to quite a few tearooms (at least one of which is particularly good and will be featuring in my guide book).

To work up an appetite for lunch we took a cold, windswept turn about a park near the sea. This park had some strange-looking trees in it, strange because they had no branches low down, only up near the canopy:

Another day when I’m back in Arbroath I’ll take a stroll along the promenade, which stretches off into the distance. I didn’t even know it existed until today.

The lunch was good, but I didn’t take any pictures for fear of causing distress. As usual when I visit tearooms, I whipped out my notebook in this tearoom and began scribbling in it as I perused the menu. While I was doing this, the waitress came over and asked me to desist from this activity because it was upsetting the management. They thought I was a rival tearoom owner stealing their prices, or perhaps planning to undercut them, so I had to assure them I was only writing a book about tearooms and was thinking of including theirs. After that they were much happer. I will be revisiting that tearoom again soon, and perhaps then I’ll be able to snap a sneaky shot, but only if it’s not going to upset anybody. One doesn’t want to cause anguish to people who are supplying one’s lunch, after all.

After lunch we drove on, intending to visit a tearoom not far from home that needs another visit, but instead got waylaid by a large wooden rooster outside a farm shop and cafe along a little quiet road in the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed to me):

Inside the shop there was a host of food and gift items creatively displayed:

The tearoom was warm and welcoming with pretty spotted tablecloths and orange teacups on the tables. An entire wall at one end of the room was painted with a jolly rural scene:

And at the other end of the tearoom, in a separate section, there was a fine figure of a kilted Scotsman outside his wee hoose:


The art wasn’t confined to the walls either. Behold the delicious cakes consumed – mandarin cream sponge and malteser tiffin:

After our delicious and relaxing afternoon tea, it was time for home, under the watchful gaze of the rooster, who kept his beady eye on my mum as she left the premises.

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