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Posts Tagged ‘Sunshine’

Not only is the title of this post a Scottish expression meaning ‘the small talkative one’, it’s also the name of a tearoom that sits in a little village along a dead end road on the north bank of Loch Ard near Aberfoyle in Scotland.

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A side wall of the Wee Blether tearoom and post office, Kinlochard.

The tearoom is a most interesting place, with plenty both outside and inside to draw the attention.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALots of teapots hang outside the tearoom, a situation that apparently came about by a happy mistake.

Hoping to make a sculpture from broken bits of pottery, the owner asked people for donations of their old teapots, but was given such a plethora of fine pots in good condition that she abandoned the idea of smashing them up, and instead slung them onto hooks around the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s seating inside and out, and on a warm sunny day you might imagine you were somewhere a little more exotic than bonnie Scotland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside, the tearoom has a friendly, welcoming feel and, naturally enough, more teapots.

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After consuming jacket potatoes with very generous salads, my delightful assistant and I tottered out into the sunshine for a short walk to work up our appetites for sweet treats.

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Loch Ard, near Aberfoyle.

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Carved owls in a garden in the village of Kinlochard.

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Burgeoning foliage, Kinlochard.

Back in the Wee Blether, we turned to the ‘Ye Shouldnaes’ [things you shouldn’t indulge in] section of the menu:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy delightful assistant was particularly attracted by a three-layer Victoria sponge filled with raspberries and cream.

It was served freshly stabbed, giving the fork little chance of sliding off the plate onto the floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was very taken with this arrangement, and can imagine how satisfying it must be for the waitress to plunge a fork into each slice of cake ordered. If I worked at the Wee Blether I would go out of my way to recommend sponge cakes to customers.

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Scones, on the other hand, don’t come with forks but at the Wee Blether they come in a very decent size (£10 note for scale):

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My scone was so large that I initially cut it in two intending to take half of it away in the napkin, but, what do you know, when it was time to leave the whole thing had mysteriously vamooshed.

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A large scone – now you see it, now you don’t.

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A couple of weeks ago the delightful assistants and I went off on an excursion to a foreign land.

Not all that different from Scotland, it must be said, the land in question being the first stop south over the border: England.

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Our destination was the island of Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island), off the Northumberland coast.

One of the exciting things about going to Lindisfarne is that you have to drive through the sea to get there:

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Having consulted the tide tables before setting off, I’m happy to report that we avoided the above predicament.

We drove along an exposed strip of tarmac that wound its way across the sand and mud flats to the island. It felt quite exciting, knowing that a few hours later the road would be under the sea.

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It having been quite a long drive from sunny Perthshire, we were ready for a spot of luncheon and opted for al fresco paninis in the garden of the Pilgrim’s Coffee House:

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The sign outside very helpfully informed canine patrons of the facilities:

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To digress for a moment, this reminds me of a sign that was stuck up outside my local Catholic church. It said something like ‘No dog fouling’ and had been attached to a railing, not at eye height for humans, but a few inches off the ground at a position I can only assume was aimed at the dog rather than the owner.

Back at the Pilgrim’s Coffee House a dog sat quietly, not checking his email but gratefully accepting pieces of scone laden with jam and cream. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of the treats, but here he is sitting nicely:

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The island measures 2.25 miles from east to west and 1.5 miles north to south.

We concentrated our wanderings on the village area, which has a surprising amount to offer visitors.

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One of the streets in Lindisfarne.

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Entrance to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

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Inside the church: six wooden monks carrying a coffin.

The sculpture above depicts St Cuthbert’s body being removed from the island during Viking raids in 793 AD.

St Cuthbert is the patron saint of the north of England and was at one time the Bishop of Lindisfarne. He’s a particularly interesting saint, one of the curious things about him being that when his sarcophagus was opened some years after his death, his body was found to be in tip-top condition.

Right next to the parish church are the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, seen below with the church on the left and Lindisfarne Castle in the distance on the right.

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From left to right: church, priory and castle.

We didn’t have time to visit the castle, but I would like to pop down and look round it on another occasion. It was built in the 16th century and sits on the highest point in the island.

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Lindisfarne Castle seen from the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin.

The weather was lovely, with hazy sunshine all day.

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Delightful assistants soaking up the sun in a public garden.

Once we had wearied ourselves of walking, and despite the temptations of staying on the island….

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…we scooted back across the sea and, not far over the border into Scotland, happened upon a delightful refreshment stop in the small town of Coldstream.

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Stanwins Coffee Lounge, on the High Street in Coldstream.

We were gasping for beverages and I was delighted to find that Stanwins offered Lady Grey leaf tea, something I don’t see as often as I’d like to.

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Delightful assistants happily awaiting treats.

The cafe had a Scandinavian feel, with a Danish poster on the wall and fresh, neutral decor.  The lovely lady who served us said her husband was Danish and instead of the usual toasties for lunch, they offered open sandwiches and other Scandinavian-inspired fare.

I don’t think any of the things we had were particularly Scandinavian, but they were jolly tasty.

I had an enormous toasted teacake with Lady Grey tea, delightful assistant no.2 had shortbread and a cappuccino, and delightful assistant no.1 went for a slice of Swiss roll and a pot of breakfast tea. This was the Swiss roll, which was apparently delicious:

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We all enjoyed our trip to Lindisfarne, and hope to go again one of these days.

Perhaps, if the next visit is post-referendum*, I might get an English stamp in my passport.

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Grassy path, Lindisfarne, with water tower on the left.

*In less than four months, on 18 September, Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the issue of Scottish independence. The question we’re being asked is ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’ If the majority of voters tick the ‘yes’ box, Scotland will cease to be part of the UK and become an independent country within the European Union.

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Just outside the village of Stanley in Perthshire there’s a small car park that’s often filled with vehicles sporting colourful roof rack items.

The colourful items, which are generally canoes and kayaks, are brought here by their owners and carried along a narrow pathway across the road. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know where to look (right of centre in this picture, to the left of the red car):

After a short walk on the flat you come to a long set of steps going downhill:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reason for carrying canoes along this path is to reach the River Tay at the bottom, where there is apparently some challenging paddling to be had.

Here’s the river, looking quite benign:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the occasion of these photographs there were no canoeists in sight, but Delightful Assistant no.2 and I enjoyed a pleasant riverside stroll, ducking underneath low-hanging trees:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd being impressed by twisting branches:

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On the other side of the river we spotted a small beach, where a lady and her dog were enjoying the sunshine:

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The path we were walking along was built up a bit from the water, but there were one or two opportunities to get down to the waterside.

I opted for a route which was made of a sort of stone ladder, just visible in the next photo on the left, but more clearly shown in the picture after that, taken from down below looking up to the higher path:

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Although it was lovely down by the river, we were on the shady side and I thought it would be nice to hop into a small boat and row across into the sunshine.

Some time soon, on a similarly sunny day, I’ll take the delightful assistants to the path on the other side of the river, and perhaps we can have a little seat on the beach and pretend we’re on our holidays.

It’s a bit too snowy for that today though.

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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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Recently, with the very slow start of spring in Scotland (when I began typing this it was pouring with rain and about 10ºC), my thoughts have been straying towards happy memories of warm sunshine.

I used to have a terrible problem with itchy feet (I refer to wanderlust, as opposed to athlete’s foot-type afflictions which I have thankfully never suffered from).

All through my 20s and early 30s, I had daily dreams about dashing off hither and thither. Every now and then my dreams translated into reality, but before long I’d be back home again cogitating where to go next. I got so used to this state of affairs that I doubted I would ever grow out of it.

Then, when I started working offshore and was miraculously paid to go abroad, I thought my itchy feet problem had been cured. When I was at work I was usually on a boat bobbing about at sea, which satisfied my need for adventure, and when I wasn’t at work I was relaxing at home and perfectly happy not to be popping off anywhere else.

However, it’s now about 18 months since I more or less decided to stop working offshore, and just lately I’ve been aware of an irritation in the soles of my feet. It’s very slight, barely perceptible most of the time, but it’s on the edge of my consciousness.

And so, to the point of this post, which is to relive sunny days of travels past.

Mallorca (aka Majorca) is one of the places I have some sunny pictures of and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the small Spanish island twice, first with my friend Sheila, and then with my dear mama.

On both visits I stayed in the lovely seaside resort of Puerto Pollensa:

Pier at Puerto Pollensa

Me at the end of the pier looking into the lovely, clear (and surprisingly cold) water at Puerto Pollensa

Lorna at Port de Pollensa

Finding shade is my usual habit when faced with glorious sunshine, even when I’ve gone somewhere deliberately to soak up the rays.

I stayed in the same hotel both times, too; it was pleasantly situated close to the beach with a quiet road and some hills at the back.

View from Mum's room

As always, food was of the utmost importance, and I ate well in Mallorca. The salads were particularly welcome in the hot weather.

A big tomato salad

My delightful assistant with a massive plate of tomato and mozzarella salad with olives

Even in the heat, however, one doesn’t want to forego the option of sweet treats.

Mum's chocolate cake at Sispins

My delightful assistant’s highly understandable choice of chocolate cake for pudding

I couldn’t get enough of the hot chocolate that was on offer at a cafe near the hotel; it was thick, silky and intensely chocolatey:

The chocolate was so thick!

If I was able to leave it for long enough (extremely difficult), a little skin formed on top, which pleased me more than I can say.

Just look at the way it coated this little biscuit:

Thick chocolate coating a biscuit at Gran Cafe in Port de Pollensa

This chocolate was so good that a version of it appears in my novel. I wanted to let my main character experience it, because I know how much she likes her little treats.

In addition to delicious food there were some beautiful buildings, particularly in the old town of Pollensa, a short bus journey inland from the port.

Interesting architecture at Pollensa

Lovely wooden shutters in Pollensa old town

Attractive house in Pollensa

A hot slog up a long flight of steps in the old town was worth it for the view from the top.

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Only 365 steps till you reach the top…

View from hilltop at Pollensa

Why isn’t there a tearoom up here?

There were houses all the way up the sides of the steps, many of which had nicely tiled roofs and flourishing pot plants:

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One of the things that makes Puerto Pollensa such an attractive spot is the line of pine trees bowing out over the water:

Mum looking out to sea at Port de Pollensa

My delightful assistant alone with her thoughts, gazing out over the blue sea.

In Scotland, evenings on which one can stroll outside without a jacket or cardigan are few and far between. In fact, even on the warmest of summer evenings in this fair country I can’t imagine ever leaving the house to go for a walk without a sleeved covering of some sort.

Balmy summer evenings are one of the things we Brits prize when holidaying abroad in warmer climes.

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As the sun sets over Puerto Pollensa the warmth of the air is sufficient to allow pleasant cardigan-less wandering along the beach. A treat for all the Brits on their hols.

As I finish this post,  I am delighted to report that not only is the sun shining but the forecast for the weekend isn’t too bad at all.

Perhaps this is indeed the proper start of spring, from which we will move seamlessly into summer.

If this jolly weather keeps up, I can possibly even shelve any thoughts of absconding and content myself with the delights of living in this lovely country.

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I recently received an email from a company offering to send me some free Twinings tea of my choice to review.

Looking in the kitchen tea cupboard, I observed that there were already 7 boxes of different Twinings teas lurking there, 5 black teas, 1 herbal and 1 green tea:

Taken in the context of the 115 varieties on offer from Twinings, this is a very small sample.

A quick squiz at their website suggested a few others I’d like to try, so I wrote back requesting some teas and a couple of days later a substantial box arrived.

The box contained not the handful of individual selected teabags I had been expecting, but no less than four full boxes of Twinings tea. Also enclosed was a high quality ‘with compliments’ card, adorned with a gold lion:

It felt a bit like Christmas.

Of all of the teas enclosed, the Yunnan tea was perhaps the one I was most excited to try, simply because I had no idea what to expect and it sounded intriguing.

According to the blurb on the box, “Yunnan, in South West China is well known for it’s* magically fertile land and spectacular fields of beautiful flowers. It may be no surprise then to learn that Yunnan is where tea was born over 2000 years ago, and many of the ancient tea trees are still nurtured and picked from today.”

(*A superfluous apostrophe; when I saw this mistake I was reminded of just how difficult it is to achieve perfection. When I was writing my tearoom guidebook I read and re-read the text numerous times, checking for errors. I also had two other proofreaders, and yet when it was published several mistakes were discovered. Frustrating, but part of life!)

The front of the box showed a golden land and an appealing description of the tea inside:

The tea came in teabags:
The first time I brewed this tea, I made it for myself and my two most delightful assistants. I should have taken photographs at the time but I’m afraid I was too intent on the tea consumption.

Brewing it again for myself this morning, I had a second bash at the tasting.

The instructions on the box say that you should “drink it black, or with a drop of milk”. When tasting with the delightful assistants, we all started off trying it black. The thing that struck me most about it was a smokiness that reminded me of Lapsang Souchong.

It reminded me of Lapsang Souchong again today, although the smoke was less prominent than I’ve found it to be in Lapsang Souchong. The other thing that struck me was a silkiness, which was perhaps my interpretation of the “mellow” alluded to on the packet.

When I first tasted it black I found it a little too bitter, but tasting it today I wasn’t put off by the slight bitterness.

In my mind, I was whisked off to the lounge of some quiet country house hotel. The room contained good quality, but comfortably worn, soft furnishings and a log fire producing sweet smelling wood smoke. A grandfather clock ticked soothingly in the corner, there was the gentle murmur of background chatter from other guests, and time slowed to a pleasantly relaxed pace.

I had been fully intending to add milk after the first couple of sips, but looking into my teacup I found that I had polished off the whole cupful before getting round to it.

Luckily I still had some in the teapot for another cup:

During our first tasting, both assistants declared that the flavour was improved by the addition of milk. It then improved for both of them again with the addition of sugar. I didn’t go that far myself, having tasted a sip of a sugared tea, and stuck to the addition to milk only.

Although I would have been completely happy to drink another cup black this morning, there was something nice about it milked up.

The taste became smoother, and the little bitterness present when black disappeared.

Drinking it with milk transported me to the grounds of the aforementioned country house hotel, where I sat in an elegant outdoor chair on a patio, looking out over beautiful gardens under a bright blue sky and blissful sunshine. The twittering of small birds and the buzzing of bees filled the air.

Being ever ready for a small snack, I didn’t drink the tea without a little comestible. A piece of fruit cake slipped down just as well with milky tea as it did with the unmilked version.

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What I deduce from these tea tastings is:

a) I initially enjoyed Yunnan with a splash of milk
b) On second tasting, I found I enjoyed it just as much black
c) I am utterly delighted to have been given a free box of this delightful beverage

I still have another three teas to taste, but I’ll keep them for other posts. In the meantime, I raise my teacup to you, dear bloggers, and say a hearty thank you to Twinings for introducing me to the joy of Yunnan tea.

If you’ve never tried Twinings teas, or even if you have, you might like to know about the free samples you can obtain from their website. I don’t know if this is restricted to the UK or not, but I took advantage of it myself some time ago and it led to me buying a box of tea I might not otherwise have tried.

Incidentally, I wasn’t the only one taking an interest in the tea tasting this morning:

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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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