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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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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At this time of year, when it’s cold and dark in Scotland, I find myself conjuring up memories of warm, sunny places.

A few years ago I spent part of the British winter in New Zealand, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting it in my mind recently.

I hope I can go back in person one of these days, see some of the many places I missed first time round, and squeeze in a return visit to the beautiful Bay of Islands, pictured below.

Thanks to everyone who’s popped in for a read of my blog over the past year, and a very Happy Christmas to you all – whether you’re spending it cosying up indoors or soaking up the summer sun.

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Peaceful Russell, in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. You can leave your hats, scarves and gloves at home over Christmas.

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A day or two ago I came across a photo competition on Restless Jo‘s blog.

The competition is sponsored by Rhino Carhire (clicking here will take you to the competition website) and features modes of transport.

In order to enter, you need to write a blog post including photographs of various modes of transport you’ve encountered. There are four categories: ROAD, AIR, RAIL and SEA and you can enter as many or as few categories as you wish, with as many photos for each category as you like.

I thought I’d struggle to find even one picture for each category, and that made me set myself the challenge.

These are not necessarily the best snaps I’ve ever taken but I quite enjoyed fishing around for one of each.

For the ROAD category, I thought of Iceland, where some of the roads are so rough and ready that not only are there no white lines or road markings of any kind, but you have to cross rivers to get from A to B.

My chum and I, who were on a field trip, had to drive across a number of rivers, and I was keen to photograph the experience.

On the occasion depicted below, I jumped out of the car and climbed over rocks till I found a place where I could cross on foot without getting too wet. My chum waited till I was ready to photograph him crossing, and then drove through the river while I snapped away.

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On the road in Iceland

For the AIR category the only photographs I could think of that I might use were shots taken from aeroplane windows. Many of these have bits of wing in them, but I took a few while flying over the Chilean capital of Santiago which were devoid of plane parts, and this is one of them. A mixture of fog and cloud produced this smoky scene:

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Flying across misty mountains into Santiago de Chile

The RAIL category was a bit trickier, because initially I was trying to remember if I had any pictures of beautiful old steam trains, but couldn’t remember taking any. I have a few views from modern train windows, but they didn’t seem quite sufficient. Then I remembered rather a nice railway viaduct in the Scottish Borders.

This is the Leaderfoot Viaduct and although no longer in use as a railway track, it has been very nicely renovated by Historic Scotland and is a charming piece of engineering history:

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The Leaderfoot Viaduct – an elegant way for trains to cross the River Tweed

I have quite a few pictures of boats, ships and life at sea, many of which were taken during my time working in the oil industry. I remember several rough trips in the North Sea, and thought I’d use one from such a trip for the SEA category.

This photograph was taken in the sort of weather in which, as the saying goes, you feel so seasick you worry you’re going to die, and then you worry you won’t.

During this storm I spent most of the time lying in my bunk feeling close to death, but for a brief moment I managed to leg it up to the bridge to take some pictures, before crawling back to my cabin and continuing to feel sorry for myself.

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Waves crashing over the bow during stormy weather in the North Sea

In order to enter the competition I need to nominate at least 5 fellow bloggers who might like to take part.

I feel bad about doing this so close to the deadline, which is 31 October 2013, but on the up side, if you can manage to squeeze an entry in you might just win yourself £1000.

I tried to choose bloggers I thought might be interested in entering at least one of the categories, but anyone can have a go, you don’t need to have been nominated in someone else’s post (I wasn’t!).

Dutch Goes Italian

Gippsland Granny

Rigmover

Meg Travels

Scott Marshall Photography

Even if you don’t win the overall winner’s prize of £1000 there’s always a chance you could win one of the category winners’ prizes of a Sony compact camera.

Best of luck to anyone who enters!

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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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By a sort of happy accident several years ago, I ended up in the Falkland Islands.

I’ve recently been revisiting the place in my mind, because it features in a book I’m writing, and although I unfortunately don’t have all the photos I took back then, I do still have a few and I thought I’d stick them on here in a post.

The Jhelum at Stanley

The wreck of the Jhelum in Stanley Harbour, the Falkland Islands, with geese in the foreground

In 2006 I was feeling a bit bored and needing some excitement, so I left my job, gave up my flat in Edinburgh and popped off to South America with the vague intention of learning Spanish.

En route, due to missing a connection in New York, I was put up in a New Jersey hotel for the night. This was the view from my bedroom window:

Hotel room view

The next day (or possibly the day after, it was a long journey and I got very confused about time zones) I landed at my destination: Buenos Aires in Argentina.

This next picture is a bit out of focus and not representative of the city as a whole, but it was the view from my hotel window and its depressing appearance pretty much summed up my mood at the time (I should say that the hotel itself was quite nice, but looking out at this didn’t exactly inspire me). It was quite a contrast from New Jersey:

Buenos Aires hotel room view

What with one thing and another (not just the view), I was rather miserable in Buenos Aires and didn’t seem to be able to shake it off. I got so down in the dumps that after a few days I walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to the Falkland Islands.

Due to the political shenanigans between Argentina and the Falklands, you can’t travel directly from one to the other. Although the Falklands are just off the Argentinian coast, I had to hop across the border into Chile and get to the Falklands from there instead.

I flew first to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and then on to Punta Arenas in the south, from where I could catch a flight to the Falklands. I enjoyed flying over the Andes:

Flying over the Andes Mountains

My mum is always saying I land on my feet, but what she doesn’t add is that I get there by way of inelegantly slithering over icy patches and slipping on endless banana skins.

I like to think of myself as quite well organised, but the truth is that I am never as well organised as I should be. On this occasion I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

I arrived in Punta Arenas in the dark, early evening I think it was, and only then discovered that there was no airport hotel. My flight to the Falklands was not until the following morning, and Punta Arenas airport was being locked up for the night. The small adventure I had as a result of that has provided me with a bit of the story I’m now writing.

I was also unprepared for my arrival in the Falklands. I had mistakenly assumed that since it was a British protectorate I could just turn up, waltz in and be welcomed with open arms.

Thanks purely to some kind Falkland Islanders who were on their way home after a holiday and took pity on me, I was smuggled into the country and deposited at a Bed & Breakfast in Stanley. (This is what my mum means by me landing on my feet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve lost a couple of years off my life as a result of the stress at the time.)

The B&B was run by a kindly lady who wasn’t expecting winter visitors, and certainly not those who turned up unannounced (you’re supposed to have proof of accommodation booked in advance before you can even be let into the islands). She looked after me wonderfully well and gave me a lovely big room in her house. My windows were at the top left, looking out in both directions:

Stanley B&B

Once I had settled in and got over the strain of the journey, being in Stanley was balm to the soul.

The weather was wintery, with bitingly cold winds and occasional snow flurries, but the sun shone and I had a jolly time ambling along Stanley’s quiet streets:

Windswept street in Stanley

One of Stanley’s long windswept streets sloping down to the sea

The landscape outside the town reminded me very much of Scotland’s western isles, low-lying moorland with occasional houses dotted about. It made me feel at home.

Falklands moorland

Despite being located off the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands felt very British. There were Union flags all over the place in Stanley, and traditional English pubs (sadly, without real ale on tap).

Like many people the world over, Falkland Islanders take a pride in their gardens, but I think Stanley is the only place where I’ve seen penguins standing like sentries round a well-clipped plant (up near the back of this garden):

Stanley garden

It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen Falkland steamer ducks, which is not too surprising since I believe the Falklands is the only place you find them. Like the other steamer ducks found in South America, these chaps can’t fly.

Falkland steamer ducks

The birds I encountered around Stanley all seemed quite tame, including these beautiful Dolphin Gulls and the many geese that were in attendance.

Dolphin Gulls in Stanley

The Falkland Islands are famed for their penguin colonies, but unfortunately I didn’t see any of these delightful inhabitants. I did, however, see the world’s most southerly cathedral with its whalebone arch nextdoor:

Stanley Cathedral and whalebone arch

I only spent a week in Stanley, and I had a bad cold for much of my visit, but those 7 days stick in my mind as a vivid and exceptionally positive experience.

On my way out of the Falklands I used the facilities in the airport and was amused by this wartime poster next to the sink. Wartime is within living memory of most Falkland Islanders, after the invasion of Argentinian forces in 1982.

 Wartime poster in Stanley airport

After leaving the Falklands, I made my way back to Santiago in Chile, where the smog was sitting heavily over the city, as I believe is quite common in the winter:

Santiago in the smog

I lodged in a hostel for a while, walking around Santiago during the day and trying to work up enthusaism for settling down and immersing myself into Chilean life, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did like Santiago though, and it would be nice to see it in the summer time.

I was a little sorry to leave after a short stay, but I had blown most of my funds on the Falklands trip and work was hard to come by with my poor Spanish, particularly in the winter time.

On my way home, the misty mountains around Santiago looked enchanting from the air:

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In the story I’m writing, my main character visits the Falkland Islands in winter too, but unlike me she makes her return journey to the UK by sea, during the course of which she has some adventures.

If I were to go to the Falklands again, I would like to jump aboard a cargo ship to get there, and I would especially like to go on one like this (below). It’s a new Japanese design using giant sails to harness wind power when the conditions allow:

cargo-ship-with-sails

image courtesy of the University of Tokyo

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

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

Thatched roof in Collessie

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

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

Another thatched roof in Collessie

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

Collessie

It even has a little stream running under the road:

Collessie burn

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

Interesting building in Collessie

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

Curious domed structure

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

Different levels in Collessie

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

Collessie Kirk

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

Sir James Melville's tomb

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

Sir James Melville plaque

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

The locked tomb

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

Lichen on gravestone

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

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

Monimail Parish Church painted nicely

Monimail Parish Church

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A few days ago, having not been to a new tearoom for some considerable time, I was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms.

There being only one sure fire way to fix that, I whisked a small delightful assistant south-eastwards to where the BBC promised us decent weather. (Well, I say decent, what I mean is it wasn’t raining.)

I had read a review of a certain tearoom in Cupar, Fife, which made a bold claim and I was eager to pop down there and have a look:

Cupar Tearoom sign, Cupar, Fife

There used to be an advert for Carlsberg that had the tagline “Probably the best lager in the world”, and I’m assuming that The Cupar Tearoom has borrowed this line for its tearoom, a little tongue in cheek.

When you approach this tearoom, you find it behind the main street in Cupar, in a paved area called Ferguson Square. On entering this area I felt I was walking into a 1960s council housing estate. Not the most promising of beginnings, and yet the outside of the tearoom looked surprisingly at odds with its surroundings:

The Cupar Tearoom exterior

Inside, it was busy, with only one free table. The counter at one side of the room was reassuringly piled with large and attractive looking scones, and there were books in bookcases dotted around the walls. There were also packets of Teapigs tea for sale in one bookcase, and these teas were also on the tearoom menu, which pleased me.

We opted to share a pot of Teapigs English Breakfast tea for two, which came in an unexpectedly decorative teapot:

Decorative teapot

To accompany her tea, my delightful assistant chose a slice of lemon drizzle cake, which was served on a rather worn, but nevertheless prettily floral, plate:

Lemon drizzle cake

I opted for a fruit scone, which I’m delighted to say was delicious.

The teacups were also patterned, and I was quite impressed that when the waitress saw that one of them had a piece of cake in it, she whipped it away and brought a clean one.

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One question I always ask myself when visiting a new tearoom is “Would I include this tearoom in a tearoom guidebook?” I like to visit a new place at least twice to make sure, but I’m confident that this one would be a contender.

Is it the best tearoom in the world? Well, that’s a matter of personal taste and I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been to many establishments I would rank above this one. I’ve also been to many that have been considerably lower in standard. On balance, I’d say it sits somewhere just above average.

Some of the things a really top tearoom has to have, in my opinion, is homemade jam for the scones, sugar cubes or granulated sugar in a bowl with a nice set of tongs or a teaspoon, salt and pepper you can grind yourself, elegant table settings and a beautifully presented menu. The Cupar Tearoom didn’t quite come up to scratch in these areas:

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On the other hand, I would also include excellent home baking, a good range of teas, nice china, quiet surroundings and cheerful, pleasant staff, all of which The Cupar Tearoom provided.

I apologise for my negative comments, I wouldn’t normally mention down sides in a review, but I felt I couldn’t include the first picture without addressing the claim in some way.

Despite all of that, I enjoyed my visit to The Cupar Tearoom, and would certainly visit again.

Although it was a dry day, it was overcast and quite cold. We had a short wander round the town centre after our tea, and I was reminded of how many narrow closes (‘close’ is a Scottish term for an alleyway) the town has.

I need to return on a warmer day and take pictures of some of the other closes there. I did photograph one close though, which had a sign above it saying “Tannage Close” which makes me wonder if leather was treated there in the past, but I really don’t know the history of it.

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Cupar on a dark, damp, January day is not perhaps the most inspiring of places, but one thing I must commend the town for is its parking charges – only 40p to park for up to 2 hours in the central car park. Very good value for money, I’d say.

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