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Two days ago, hoping for a spot of sunshine, I checked the BBC weather website and discovered that the town of Callander was going to be bathed in sunshine all afternoon.

The forecast promised me a high of 5 degrees C, soaring above the 3s and 4s of further north.

Somehow I got it into my head that this equated to a fine summer’s day, and I scooped up delightful assistant no.1 and sped off towards the Trossachs*.

On the way we stopped at the splendid Gloagburn Farm Shop and Cafe for a little sustenance.

Gloagburn is home to some of the finest scones to be found anywhere on Earth (I admit I haven’t tested this terribly extensively in global terms, but all the same I feel quite confident about my assertion).

We both chose fruit scones (the delightful assistant requesting one with a ‘shiny top’), I had tea and the delightful assistant had coffee:

I could not have been more pleased with my scone’s stretch marks:

Or, indeed, the frolicsome crockery:

Refreshed and completely satisfied by our repast we tootled off Trossachswards, arriving in Callander in time for a health giving stroll before luncheon.

The sun, which had shone for a while on the journey just before Callander, had retreated behind cloud when we arrived, but nonetheless there were plenty of people out and about taking the air and enjoying riverside walks:

My glamorous assistant and I wrapped up in our woolly hats and scarves, and loped off in a westerly direction along the banks of the River Teith.

A short way along the path, a signpost indicated that if we were considering taking a dip, this would be the ideal spot in which to do it:

Despite the encouragement, there were no bathers present.

A little further on there were no pipers either:

Although most of the trees along the riverside were deciduous, and therefore bare of leaves at this time of year, there was some nice fluffy lichen to be seen:
The delightful assistant likes to say that although lacking greenery in the winter, when trees are leafless it allows you to see their beautiful shapes:
There were signs of spring in the form of a few clumps of cheerful snowdrops:
Our walk took us over a metal bridge and along a level path with snowy Ben Ledi in the background:
Given the amount of time I’ve spent in Scotland, i.e. practically my whole life, you would think I’d have a handle on the weather by now. I even had it spelled out to me in black and white by the BBC, and yet I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t a warm, balmy summer’s day in Callander. I confess I was fooled by the robust-looking number ’5′ on the weather chart and I allowed it to give me false hopes.

I must remind myself that unless the temperature gets into the double figures, and preferably above 20 degrees C, it is not going to feel like summer.

When we’d walked our appetites up, we returned to the town for lunch in a tearoom I’d never been to before. I’ll save the details for another post, but here’s a wee taster:
*The Trossachs is the name given to the area of countryside in which Callander nestles so prettily.

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The weather of late in my part of the world has been somewhat damp, cold and a bit on the miserable side.

My view may be coloured by being laid low by a winter bug (which, I must admit,  isn’t too bad, just a little tiresome on the sore throat front), but on the up side, it’s the perfect sort of weather for wrapping up warmly and mooching around graveyards.

As it happens, the graveyard I mooched around the other day was, for a few moments, bathed in late afternoon sunshine.

This is the entrance to the church and graveyard of Bendochy Parish Church, just outside the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie. The bell apparently dates to 1608:

Bendochy Parish Church

The eagle-eyed might have spotted a curious stone lump to the left of the entrance arch. This is, I believe, a cheese press, although what it’s doing outside the church gates I have no idea:

Bendochy cheese press

Inside the churchyard there are quite a few headstones dating back to the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Some of them have fallen over and a few others, that are in the process of falling over, have yellow and black tape on them to warn visitors that they might fall over at any minute. Most of them, however are hanging in there even if looking slightly unstable, as in the case of this one on legs:

Gravestone on legs

One that particularly interested me had a carving of what looked to me at first glance like a robot. On closer inspection I saw that it was a skeleton with some sort of yoke across its shoulders, possibly with buckets hanging down on either side (they seem too long to be the arms).

I don’t know if there’s any religious significance to this, something to do with taking water into the afterlife in order to dowse the flames of hell perhaps? Seems a bit of an assumption on the part of the person commissioning the stone, if that’s the case.

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Another stone that caught my eye had rather an unusual shape and what looked to me like a jolly sort of skull wearing a bowler hat:

Jolly bowler-hatted skull

Headstones these days seem to me to lack the variety of shapes of those from past centuries. You do get some interesting design features, such as the ones I wrote about here, but on the whole the headstone nowadays is almost always a basic slab of stone, sticking up from a flat base.

I was quite taken by this one at Bendochy, made to look like a pile of stones with a scroll at the front. I think it shows a bit of artistry on the part of the designer, not to say skill on the part of the carver:

Artistry in stonemasonry

A combination of textures in a headstone

The forecast for the next couple of days here is for colder weather and snow showers. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this winter so far, with very little snow, which is just the way I like it.

Thankfully, I’m stocked up for cossetting myself indoors, with what remains of kind donations of chocolate received from wellwishers at Christmas:

Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This week’s Tearoom of the Week involved a day out built around visiting this tearoom. There’s so much to relate that I’m splitting it into two posts: Part One – Savoury, and Part Two – Sweet. Like a good girl, I’m having my savouries first.

Last week I took my two most delightful assistants down to the seaside village of Pittenweem in Fife, in search of a chocolaterie cafe I’d heard tell of but never been to.

Inside, the cafe had a slightly run down, studenty feel to it, which reminded me of cafes I used to frequent during my student days in Edinburgh:

Not quite shabby chic but kind of grungy

As tempted as I was to dive right into some of the chocolate options, I was pretty hungry and decided on a bowl of hearty vegan bean soup to start with. All three of us had soup (different types) which was served in vintage china, with a little tower of lightly toasted Ciabatta slices on a side plate. This was my bean soup:

A meal in a vintage china bowl

There was a lot to look at in the room, from chocolate-themed pictures:

Framed chocolate adverts Lyon and Delespaul-Havez

To a colourful metal sculpture:

Metalwork as art

The deep windowsills were filled with numerous wooden puzzles, books and games that had been provided to keep the customers entertained:

Entertainments for the punters

There was a wooden puzzle on our table when we arrived, which we tried in vain to solve. The waitress, seeing our strife, took pity on us and exchanged it for an easier one, which we managed to fit together nicely:

A solution found, to the satisfaction of all concerned

Our soup had been quite filling, so rather than pile in some sweets straight away, we left the cafe for a stroll through the town with the intention of returning once we’d worked up an appetite.

Pittenweem is an interesting little place, with some unusual and attractive architecture, as well as a way-marked coastal path.

There were some beautiful sandstone buildings leading down quite steeply sloping streets to the sea:

Steeply sloping streets in Pittenweem

And buildings with doors below street level (in front of the yellow door is a stone step up to the street, although I admit it’s not all that obvious in the picture). The yellow paintwork against a whitewashed wall looked almost Mediterranean in the sunshine:

Yellow paint with white walls looks Mediterranean on a sunny day in Pittenweem

The Fife coastline is dotted with small harbours like the one in Pittenweem, and in fact this one is the most active of those around this section of the coast, known as the East Neuk of Fife.

Fishing is still quite a big thing in Pittenweem

When we visited it was all very quiet, apart from a couple of rowing boats full of enthusiastic and energetic sailors. We had seen them out at sea, battling against the waves and no doubt getting very wet in the process.  I wondered if they had picnics with them. If I’d been foolhardy enough to get into one of those boats I would at least have stashed lots of comforting supplies in my pockets first.

All quiet in the harbour but outside that the wind was blowing fairly ferociously

There were lots of interesting little bits of architecture near the harbour, including this very fancily shaped corner piece of wall:

Beautifully shaped bit of architecture

And this lovely building looking out to the harbour, with a stained glass window set next to the doorway, and the house name carved into the back of a bench seat outside:

Lovely building near the harbour with a stained glass window

On a street leading up from the harbour there was a wonderful wall which had apparently been built around a big lump of rock that was already there:

Lovely sandstone in Pittenweem

For a bit of exercise and in order to enjoy the sunshine and fire ourselves up for our sweets, we took a bracing stroll along the coastal path:

A shed sign marks the way

A breezy bracing walk along the coast

As we reached the shoreline we passed through the edge of a links golf course. This type of golf course is very typical in Scotland and no doubt extremely challenging for the golfers concerned, what with gusting winds off the sea:

The coastal path goes through the golf course at Pittenweem

On the shore there was a large chunk of concrete emblazoned with a patriotic message. These sorts of messages appear all over Scotland and I’m not entirely sure why, but I daresay they’re written by Scots who want to be released from the tyranny of their English neighbours. Personally speaking, I’m very fond of the English, not to mention the Welsh and the Irish, and I like being a part of Britain. If I took tea with Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party and staunch campaigner for Scottish independence) I think I’d keep him off that topic and stick to safe subjects such as the weather, where he was going for his holidays and whatnot.

Patriotic message to remind us of our neighbours

If you still have the stomach for a bit more of Pittenweem, and some photos of sweet stuff, you might like to have a look at Part Two of this long post, but I need to toddle off and write it first…

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