During a country walk a few days ago I happened upon a peculiarly shaped ash tree.
It reminded me of a giraffe.
During a country walk a few days ago I happened upon a peculiarly shaped ash tree.
It reminded me of a giraffe.
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:
The autumn colours in Perthshire are particularly good this year and, thinking that the Scottish Borders would be putting on a similarly spectacular show, I took the delightful assistants down there for a gawp at the weekend.
We were most surprised to find that, despite being further south, it felt like winter rather than autumn in the Borders. Many of the trees were completely bare and most of the leaves that were left on the trees were well past their flame-grilled best.
However, I’m happy to say that at our destination of Dawyck Botanic Gardens, nature’s loveliness was abounding:
A couple of beech trees had curious wrappings round their trunks:
There was a poem, entitled The Bandaged Trees, attached to one of the trunks, but I found it a tad depressing so I won’t burden you with it.
Looking up into the trees was beautiful with the sunlight on the leaves:
Dawyck (more or less pronounced Daw-ik) is a beautiful place to walk around, and even though there were a lot of cars in the car park, we met very few people as we strolled through the gardens.
Here are a couple of tiny assistants perched atop a lovely bridge:
The air smelled very fresh and I took lots of deep breaths. The amount of lichen on the trees was perhaps a good indicator of just how pollution-free the atmosphere was. Some of the birches looked as if they were dressed in furs and feather boas:
Bits of the garden were in the shade and quite frosty, an ideal hiding place for ice nymphs and frost elves. Apparently, if you run backwards making chirpy little whistling noises they sometimes pop out. I tried this, but I didn’t see any. Mind you, I find that trying to stay upright while running backwards takes up most of my concentration.
My camera battery died just past this bench,
which was a pity as I had been hoping to take photos of the lunch we had after our walk.
However, I wouldn’t like to sign off without a small morsel to share with you, so here’s a Christmas pudding scone* I made yesterday instead:
*so called because it was inspired by Christmas pudding, and contains sultanas, mixed peel, slivered almonds, cherries, dates, mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and treacle, as well as the standard scone ingredients
It used to be that even if everything else was closed, you could always get into a church. I tried to get into three different churches on Thursday and was spectacularly unsuccessful in my endeavours.
These days, it seems, you have to save up all your church-going for a Sunday, which could make it a jolly busy, not to say organisationally complex, day. I’m not sure how early churches open their doors on a Sunday, but I don’t imagine it’s much before the start of the service, and once you’re in there and other people start arriving, it could be rather awkward to get up and leave in order to get to the next one before its service starts. The courteous thing would be to sit through an entire service in each church, but since they tend to have their services around the same time it could be extremely difficult to visit three in one day.
I can get into my local Buddhist temple any time I like, 7 days a week. Come on Christians, rally round and let the heathens in!
Anyway, before I knew I was going to be stumped at every turn, I set out with a happy heart and my delightful assistant by my side, for one of my favourite local tearooms. I was going to need energy for all this church visiting and how better to stoke up the boiler than with a big pot of leaf tea and an exemplary fruit scone.
Crisp on the outside:
Soft and fluffy on the inside:
Quite superb. And so, very satisfyingly fuelled up, off we popped to church number 1.
Our first church of the day was Trinity Gask Parish Church, “a simple rectangular structure dating from around 1770″ (quote from the website you find if you click on the church name). There was a nice stained glass window at one end of the building and I tried peering in the windows along the sides but I couldn’t see it from that angle. It did seem to have some fine old wooden church pews, but it was too dark for me to take a photo of them.
Nice yew tree, very menacing in the dark if you happened to be creeping amongst the gravestones on a stormy night. (Branch cracks, owl hoots, muscles tense, heart rate quickens….is there someone behind you?)
Having failed to get into church number 1, we had a bash at church number 2, which seemed a much more likely candidate. This was St Serf’s Parish Church at Dunning. It dates back to the 13th Century and is looked after by Historic Scotland, who apparently open it to visitors during the week in the summer months.
St Serf’s is home to the Dupplin Cross, a piece of carved stonework from 800 AD and one of only a few surviving complete free-standing early Medieval crosses in Scotland. I would like to take a peep at it some time, but on this occasion I had to make do with a view of the outside of the church. Workmen warned us that the building was unsafe and so we weren’t to go in, even though the door was invitingly open.
Church number 3 was, I think, my favourite (it’s got crow-stepped gabling).
Here we have Tullibardine Chapel, another one under the care of Historic Scotland, only I’m not sure you can ever get into this one. I have a feeling I visited years ago and just walked straight in on a week day, but I may be imagining things. Tullibardine Chapel dates from 1446, when it was built by the family who inhabited Tullibardine Castle a couple of miles away, but sadly the castle is no longer in existence.
The windows were very small, but the stonework was beautiful.
There were a number of gravestones dotted about around the chapel, some of which were lying on the ground and being cosied up to by moss:
There were some delightful carvings too:
Having failed dismally to get inside three churches, it was high time for a spot of luncheon. Off we tootled to nearby Auchterarder and, instead of a tearoom, went to a restaurant.
We ordered salads, which I’m sorry to say were a bit woebegone, but the tea was excellent. There was a whole tea menu which included some interesting green teas and I plumped for one called Sencha, described in the menu thus: “steamed green tea steeps a pale and delicate liquor with just a hint of dew covered meadows and roasted chestnuts” I think it was the dew covered meadows that reeled me in.
It was nicely presented on a wooden tray containing the teapot, a teacup and a little dish for the teabag, which also had the teabag’s empty packaging on it. Note the leaf sticking out of a hole in the teapot lid:
The teabag itself was pyramidal and was attached to a small cardboard leaf on a wire.
After lunch I did wonder about trying another church nearby, but decided I’d had enough of organised religion for one day.
My dad has come up with a brilliant idea. All these churches are sitting idle 6 days a week, not allowing anyone in to see their glorious interiors and only raking in the shekels on a Sunday. In the excellent tradition of perfect partners it seems these churches have missed a trick. If they had tearooms attached to them, they could make a bit of money from selling tea and cakes during the week and also keep their doors open for visitors to wander round. I assume that the reason most of them remain closed is to avoid vandalism when there’s no-one about. A tearoom next-door would surely solve this problem, while at the same time producing a bit of profit for church upkeep, providing employment and raising the profile of the church itself.
There is in fact a Tibetan Tearoom next to the Buddhist temple I mentioned earlier and so, rather surprisingly, the Buddhists are already a step ahead of the Christians when it comes to getting money out of tourists in Scotland. I think it’s high time we made more of our beautiful country churches, and a church with a tearoom would be a match made in heaven.
Yesterday morning I felt rebellious.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been limiting my tearoom visits to the areas round where I live, because of the guide book I’m writing (luckily for me, this area has a wide variety of interesting tearooms). Yesterday, I don’t know what it was, maybe the sunshine and the hope of spring in the air, but the urge to venture beyond the confines of Perthshire, Angus and Dundee was too strong to resist.
Thanks to a staunch puritanical upbringing, however, morning refreshments were taken in Perthshire, so that I could at least compromise with my inner dissident (it doesn’t do for one to become entirely nonconformist, after all).
I had a yearning, as I often do, for chocolate, and so my glamorous assistant and I stopped in the small town of Auchterarder at a chocolaterie and cafe. Last time I was here I had a decadent hot chocolate in a little earthenware cup (see Chocolate post) but this time I fancied biting into some chocolate rather than drinking it. There were many tempting foodstuffs, but in order to get the right mix of chocolate and cakiness I was craving, I opted for this rather delicious looking morsel:
You may be surprised to learn that this is a chocolate and beetroot cake. Being both intrigued and delighted by such a combination, but not wishing to fill up too much, we ordered one slice between us. It was moist, dense and, oddly enough, tasted more of ginger than anything else. It was, altogether, quite a surprise of a cake, but being partial to gingery things I found it very pleasant and decidedly edible.
I wanted to sloosh it down with a cappuccino but at the last minute ordered a decaf latte. I don’t know why I keep doing this, but although I often like the idea of a cappuccino, I somehow feel more secure with a latte. I think it’s all that milk, it makes me feel loved and protected. Perhaps I was a cow in a previous life.
The weather forecast promised better weather towards the west of Scotland, so we drove off in a westerly direction and ended up in Stirlingshire at the lovely Flanders Moss, a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wildlife reserve. In the words of SNH: “Flanders Moss is a vast expanse of all things damp and wonderful”. Quite true, it is damp, and it is wonderful. Near the entrance to the reserve is a very solidly built viewing platform (tiny mother in pink for scale):
There are a lot of steps to get up to the top (I counted them, and then promptly forgot how many there were):
The reserve is largely peat bog and is apparently the largest raised bog in the UK to remain in a predominantly near-natural state. A series of boardwalks enables visitors to get out on the bog:
The area is a haven for sphagnum moss. It’s everywhere, loads of it, and yesterday quite a bit of it was under ice:
There aren’t many trees here because SNH are trying to preserve the boggy habitat. Trees take up a lot of moisture, drying out the bog, but this birch had somehow survived the cull:
Wandering round the bog worked up an appetite for lunch, and after a short drive (not having a clue where we were going to eat but hoping for something magical to pop up out of the heather) we stumbled across this promising looking place:
It was a bit nippy for dining al fresco, but I would imagine on a sunny summer’s day it would be lovely to sit outside:
We had to wait for a table inside because it was very busy, but after a few minutes we were seated in the conservatory and both went for soup of the day, which was carrot and coriander, and came with either crusty brown bread or sandwiches. My delightful assistant stuck with the bread, while I opted for the sandwiches, choosing egg and cress on granary bread, with their special carrot chutney as an added extra. I must say, I was jolly glad I’d added the carrot chutney because it transformed the egg and cress sandwiches into something spectacular!
Having filled up on sandwiches, I didn’t have room for a sweet treat, but my assistant had a slice of coffee cake, which I’m assured was very good:
Replete and happy we wended our way back north and east, but on the journey I felt very thirsty and extremely keen for a cup of tea, so we stopped in a road-side cafe not far from Auchterarder. By this time a small space had appeared in my stomach, just about the size of a melting moment:
All in all, a grand day out, and a nice change of scenery and location. I’m looking forward to more food forays in Stirlingshire, and I have the excellent carrot chutney cafe at the top of my list.