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Posts Tagged ‘Rain’

If you live in the northern hemisphere, as I do, you might be longing for a bit of summer sunshine round about now.

The UK has been exceptionally wet in recent days, with numerous flood warnings and TV pictures of dramatic rescues by the Fire Brigade of people in cars stranded in deep water. It’s also been very dark, with constant heavy cloud, and all of this has made my thoughts wander back to happy summer days of sunshine and warmth.

Scotland is prone to a lot of cloud, but that doesn’t always mean it’s wet and cold to boot. One particular day in early August was quite cloudy, but it was one of those still, jacket-free days where the sun, when it does break through the cloud, feels gloriously warm on the skin.

My dear mama had told me about a tearoom in the little town of Thornhill, in Dumfries and Galloway, in which she and the pater had taken a very pleasant luncheon while on holiday in those parts.

Thornhill is a fair distance from where I live, and a bit further than I would normally venture on a day out, but since the weather was fine and we got an early start, I whisked the small assistant (said maternal parent) off south-westwards towards the Dumfriesshire hills.

This picture was taken on a different occasion, but as it happens to be en route to Thornhill, I’m bunging it in to give an idea of some of the scenery we passed through:

The Borders hills

We arrived there around lunchtime, but since we’d stopped for a snack on the way we took a stroll around the town to work up our appetites. I don’t appear to have taken any photographs of the main street in Thornhill and so I’ve borrowed this one from the excellent website, Undiscovered Scotland:

The main street, Thornhill

We ambled along the backstreets, which were quiet and had lovely views of distant hills, as well as some strange-looking trees:

Thornhill

Along one little street I was surprised to see a fairly impressive memorial, remembering one Joseph Thomson (Explorer):

Joseph Thomson, Explorer, Memorial

According to Wikipedia, this Thomson  (1858-1895) was “a Scottish geologist and explorer”, who not only has an African beast named after him (Thomson’s Gazelle) but avoided confrontations among his porters or with indigenous peoples, neither killing any native nor losing any of his men to violence.”

The same article claims that he is the originator of this apparently oft-quoted motto: “He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.”

I can’t say I’m familiar with the quote, but at least now if I ever come across it I’ll know who said it.

Thomson was born in the village of Penpont, a couple of miles from Thornhill, and some time I would like to have a mosey round there to see if there are any references to him. I seem to remember that Penpont, despite its small size, also hosts an interesting looking tearoom, which gives me an added reason to investigate it.

The memorial has rather a nice bas-relief (if that’s the term I want) on one side, showing a lady holding an unfurled scroll displaying a map of Africa:

Bas-relief on Joseph Thomson memorial

Just beyond this memorial a sign caught our attention:

Coo Lane sign

The lane in question enticed us to walk down it:

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I’m assuming that the lane was named after the Scottish word for ‘cow’ because at the end of this lane there was a field, and perhaps in days gone by this was a busy highway for travelling cattle. There were no coos there when we visited, but there were some sheep, many of which were flopped out on the grass soaking up the rays:

Relaxing sheep

The delightful assistant and I were both very warm by this time, after plodding all over the place in the unusually balmy weather, and luncheon was calling.

The tearoom we were bound for was called “Thomas Tosh”, which I think has a splendid ring to it. I particularly like the idea of using the shortened version of Thomas and ending up with the name “Thos Tosh”. Unfortunately, I don’t know who Mr Tosh is, or was, but he’s given his name to rather a nice eatery.

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The building housed not only a tearoom, but an art gallery and a shop selling gifts, crafts and food.  I believe it used to be some sort of church hall:

Thos Tosh indoors

Each table had a little stack of blue serviettes packed into a rack made from two sets of crossed teaspooons. From a distance they looked quite like the Scottish flag. You can see them at the nearest table in the picture above, and close-up below:

Teaspoon racks

We both chose to have salads, which were large and packed with interesting ingredients. The delightful assistant had a chicken salad:

Chicken salad at Thos ToshAnd I had a tuna salad:

Tuna salad at Thos Tosh

We were so full after our salads that we didn’t have room for pudding (a tragedy, since there were delicious looking cakes and hot puddings on offer), and so we tootled off back to the car and headed north for home.

About half an hour after leaving Thornhill we felt the need of a cup of tea, and ventured into Starbucks, which is handily just off the road in a service station at Abington. I don’t often admit to going to places like Starbucks, but I must say they do a very lovely chai tea.

Not being a very frequent visitor to Starbucks, I forget each time that I need to lie to the baristas. When I ask for a chai tea, they ask if I take milk. Being a reasonably honest sort of cove, I say ‘yes’, which results in them giving me what I consider to be a measly half cup. The problem with this is that a) I love their chai tea enough to drink a large quantity of it, and b) I only take a dash of milk.

My delightful assistant prefers the chai tea latte, which comes sweetened and puffed up with hot fluffy milk and the cup filled, as a good beverage should be, absolutely to the brim.

Here, for comparison is the difference between our two drinks, my black chai tea with a dash of milk on the right, and her chai tea latte on the left. I hadn’t drunk any of mine when this was taken:

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I’m hoping that by reminding myself of this recurring misdemeanour, I will have imprinted the nightmare of it on my brain, so that the next time I visit Starbucks I go in fully prepared for their misleading and devious questions.

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Mimi’s Bakehouse is a tearoom I’ve been wanting to visit for some time. It’s situated in the Leith area of Edinburgh, a part of the city I know reasonably well, having inhabited three different flats in the vicinity.

Edinburgh, and Leith in particular, has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read two Ian Rankin books set in Edinburgh, and the main character in my own novel (still under construction, currently at 25,000 words) lives in Leith.

All of this, combined with my desire to meet up with a chum who lives in the great metropolis, led to me nipping down there last week.

The day was dreich (wet, damp, dull and – some might say – a bit miserable) but, arriving a bit early, I wandered round some of my old haunts.

One never knows, on revisiting a place, quite what one’s feelings will be. I was half expecting to be irritated by the noise and traffic, put off by the general busyness of the city, which has sometimes been the case when I’ve been back to Edinburgh after my quiet life in leafy Perthshire. However, I was surprised to find that I felt happy, exhuberant and delighted to be back. Quite a few of Leith’s streets are cobbled, rather than covered with tarmac (is this known in the US as asphalt? I’ve never been too sure): I was glad to see this old chap again, a fellow I often used to walk past and bid good day to: Although some of the shops, pubs, cafes, etc. have changed since I was last here, it was reassuring to see that some looked exactly as I’d left them. This wee pub has probably looked much the same for the past 200 years, dating back as it does to 1785: Inside, Mimi’s provided a bright and welcoming contrast to the weather. Indeed, far from feeling the chill outside, the ladies on the wallpaper appeared to be feeling the heat: We opted to sit in one of the sofa areas, which was decorated with some stylish cushions: The main point of interest to my mind, however, was the cake counter. I opted for the coffee and walnut: If I’d been in a chocolate mood I would have found this creation hard to resist: And if I’d been craving the malty crunchiness of Maltesers, this little gem would have been top of my list: To go with my cake, I ordered Teapigs Chai tea, which came in a little teapot with a slice of orange on the side: The cake was heavily iced (a bit too much for me on this occasion, although if I’d been desperate for a sugar rush I’d have scoofed it back readily enough), but the sponge itself was extremely light and fluffy:

Just as coffee and walnut is one of the cakes I frequently like to try, my chum is very partial to a caramel, or millionaire, shortbread. Mimi’s had large slabs of the stuff on offer, and he jumped at the opportunity, pairing it with a cappuccino: I wasn’t too fussed about trying it, since it looked a bit heavy and solid to me, but when I tasted a little corner I was astonished by its melt-in-the-mouth texture. The biscuit, toffee and chocolate disappeared together in a most pleasant manner. It was, surely, one of the best of its kind.

Mimi’s is, altogether, rather a stylish establishment. The ladies toilet can be located by this attractive notice on the door: The black and white theme evident throughout the tearoom itself, is continued in the bathrooms: After our delicious repast, my comrade had to get back to work and I thought I’d get a little exercise by way of trotting round the Botanic Gardens, which were on my route out of the city. The colours were beautiful but it was raining quite heavily. One good thing about going to the Botanics on such a wet day was that I virtually had the place to myself, including the magnificent hot houses: While I was pounding the pavements in Leith and driving through the city, I noticed that there are lots of new tearooms that weren’t there in my day.

The trouble, if you can call it that, is that there are far more tearooms to sample than I have the capacity for. Just as I don’t expect to die with an empty in-tray, neither do I anticipate managing to consume all the cakes I would like to gorge on in this one short lifetime. If ever there were a reason for reincarnation, that must be it.

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Having published my first tearoom guidebook a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been feeling a bit lost.

It was great to get the book published after writing it, but there was a feeling of deflation once it had rolled off the presses. I’ve spent the past two weeks distributing and selling it (which I don’t find easy, or particularly pleasant) and now I want to get back to writing again.

I fully intend to continue my series of Tearoom Delights, but after spending 6 months on the first one, I feel I’d like to do something a bit different before the next one.

I’d been puzzling over this, wondering what to write next, when I had the idea of writing a travel book.

The book, as it’s shaping up so far (I’ve only written the introduction and the first chapter) is a bit about tearooms and a bit about other things that interest me on my little outings hither and thither. It’s rather like this blog I suppose, but without the supporting photographs, so I’ll be relying on descriptive text more than I do with my blog.

I’m a big fan of armchair travelling, letting someone else go and see places and report back through the pages of a book, although admittedly such books are usually full of thrills and spills, hardship and endurance, and a dearth of reliable cups of tea.

The sort of travel book I’m writing is slightly different from that, considerably less alarming and eventful, and quite possibly more dull.

Is there a market for this sort of book? I have no idea, but then I had no idea if there was much of a market for a guidebook to tearooms and I wrote it anyway. Sometimes, when something grabs you, you feel compelled to run with it, whether or not it looks like a good idea to anyone else. This has, admittedly, been my downfall on many occasions, but my thinking is that if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Chapter 1 is all about Aberdour, a village in the Kingdom of Fife that boasts many interesting attractions, including one of the oldest castles in Scotland, one of the oldest churches in Scotland, and a prize-winning railway station. Here are a few pictures to give a taste of the place.

St Fillan’s Church, dating back to 1123:

Inside the church:

The lovely lane leading to the church from the street:

An exquisite bit of stone carving on one of the many interesting headstones in St Fillan’s graveyard:

An impessive beehive-shaped dovecot in the garden of Aberdour Castle:

What’s left of Aberdour Castle, the oldest parts dating back to the 12th Century. The big chunk in the foreground fell off at some point:

The most complete part of the castle:

One of the beautifully kept platforms at Aberdour railway station:

A street leading down to the beach:

Stormy clouds over the Black Sands of Aberdour (the more well-known Silver Sands are just around the coast from here):

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Yesterday dawned wet and misty in Perthshire, and it put me in the mood for a trip to the remote area of Eskdalemuir, in Dumfries and Galloway.

Eskdalemuir is the name given to both an area and a small village, and is famous for its meteorological observatory and its Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

It was the monastery that interested me on this occasion, because I had been wanting to take my delightful assistants there for some time. They visited it in the 1960s when it was only just being established, but they hadn’t seen it as the working monastery and retreat centre it is today.

Since it’s a fair distance from Perthshire, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms and took tea/coffee and freshly baked fruit scones:

I think the scones had just come out of the oven when we arrived, because I saw them sitting on a baking tray and they were still warm when they came to the table. They had also been sprinkled with flour, something I find very appealing:

Our snacks kept us going until we got down to the Tibetan monastery, which has its own tearoom, where we took our lunch:

The tearoom menu is vegetarian and,  surprisingly to me, doesn’t serve any of the monastery’s own produce. The food on offer consists of pasties, pastries, cakes and toasties, although they grow all sorts of vegetables and herbs in their garden on site.  Every time I visit I wonder why they don’t serve lovely fresh salads from their garden in the tearoom. We chose pasties, and the spinach and ricotta one was particularly good:

The tearoom is very brightly decorated with an exotic feel to it:

The delightful assistants appear to have been cock-a-hoop with the place:

After tea/juice and pasties, we went to visit the temple, where the Mahakala Prayers were underway. Visitors are free to enter and leave the temple during this time and it makes for an interesting experience, as the monks chant and play various instruments, including drums, cymbals and some sort of trumpet.

I didn’t take any photos inside the temple, but this is what it looks like from the outside:

We left our shoes outside on racks outside very elaborate doors:

All round the monastery grounds there were little shrines with candles, coins and odd items left as offerings:

This one had a few quite surprising items, including an onion and some wrapped sweets:

There’s a lot to look at in the monastery grounds, including an impressive stupa with flags, and a corridor of prayer wheels behind it:

It wasn’t perhaps the best of weathers for visiting, but the Peace Garden is always a tranquil and beautiful place:

Apart from the occasional squawk of a peacock:

Toodleoo Buddhas – until next time!

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