Now you all know that this is not a blog about politics, although a wee bit might creep in from time to time, but we could not resist putting this one up. She has been called a the most dangerous person in the UK by the media, a voracious weevil by London’s mayor, the most ruthless person in Britain (she cut her sister’s doll’s hair) and many other derogatory things besides. She has also been called the most accomplished politician in the UK and has managed to make the most tweeted enquiry ‘can I vote for the SNP in England’ .. quite extraordinary!
If all of this was not enough .. she makes scones. Okay it was a photo opportunity in Kilmarnock, but as dedicated sconeys she definitely gets our vote, along with 51% of other Scots according to the newspapers. Maybe that should be the test for who next occupies No 10 .. the best scone? Instead of leaders debates where they all stand in a line and talk over each other they could have a bake-off and whoever makes the best scone wins. To be honest, they might as well, rather than coming up with ever more promises they have not got a hope in hell of keeping. Scotland, along with it’s First Minister is being called all sorts of things, mostly uncomplimentary. Even this close to the election they don’t seem to realise that Scotland is not being difficult just for the hell of it but because they are utterly fed up with Westminster politics where Scotland’s voice is almost never heard. The SNP does not want to ‘break up’ the UK, they just want to leave it, in much the same way as the Unionists are saying they want to leave the EU. These scones look good, pity we did not get to test them.
Dornoch is a beautiful little town just north of Inverness and in her schooldays Pat used to come here on holiday. It is centred round the Cathedral which held its first service in 1239 but is more famous recently for being the venue in 2000 for the christening of Madonna’s son Rocco. There is also a world class golf course (voted 5th best course outside the USA) and a fantastic blue flag beach. In many ways Dornoch has it all but of course the question is can it produce a decent scone. Amongst all the antique shops and hotels there are lots of possibilities but we eventually chose Gordon House on the High Street close to the cathedral.
Lots going on here as well because Gordon House combines a gift shop, art gallery and café. Great selection of delicious looking home baking but of course it had to be the scones for us.
After a poor start to the day the weather had cleared up nicely so we sat outside and watched the good people of the town going about their business. The last witch to be burned to death in Scotland met her unfortunate end here in 1727 so we were hoping that the same fate had not been dished out to the scones. Talking of witches, we hear that the Home Secretary thinks that the UK will face its worst constitutional crisis since Edward VIII abdicated if Scots get involved in democracy … and London has banned bagpipes! The world truly has gone bonkers. This snippet from NewsBiscuit kind of sums it up. “Meanwhile along the north coast of France coastguards and emergency services have been working round the clock to cope with boat loads of Daily Mail readers crossing the Channel in dangerously overcrowded makeshift vessels. ‘They come here seeking a better life and to get away from persecution,’ said François Berthand, manager of the Calais Detention Centre known locally as ‘Little England’. ‘They come here telling tales of being forced to eat Tunnocks tea-cakes, ceilidh dancing and longer-term deficit reduction strategies. Some weep uncontrollably and hug and kiss us. When they start being nice to the French, you know something must have really spooked them’”. No worries about burnt scones though, when they arrived they looked like proper scones and tasted really good .. no cream but sometimes you just have to rough it. We also think that the artist exhibiting in the gallery was the self same artist who baked the scones, now that’s talent. It is always nice to come across a place which is making a big effort to cater to a wide range of customers, and succeeding, well done … but change that LED lighting, it may be efficient but it looks weird, you can get warmer ones!
The main purpose of this particular trip was to visit a part of the world that we do not actually know every well .. but felt that we did. This has come about through reading books by Neil Gunn, a local author, who wrote magnificently about the area in books like Highland River and in the Silver Darlings, about the once thriving herring fishing .. sadly now defunct. He was born and brought up in Dunbeath in Caithness and apart from occasionally passing through on our way round the north coast of Scotland we have never spent much time there. We decided to stay at Ackergill Tower just outside Wick about 15 miles south of John O’Groats, the most northeasterly tip of the UK. The area feels remote and definitely on a different planet from London and the south. Here the land and the weather can be hard but it has a real character and a charm all of its own. Ackergill Tower is a stunning castle built right on the water’s edge and at one time, probably round about the 15th century, its front door opened directly onto the sea so that the occupants could come and go without enduring attack from the landward side .. the Gunn and Keith clans fought over it for many years. Fascinating but dangerous times. Nowadays it has been taken over by AmaZing Venues who have spent a lot of money doing it up to five star standard. We arrived early for registration and were asked if we would like to have tea and scones in one of the sitting rooms while we waited .. no-brainer! A few moments later we were informed that there were no scones but they would bake us some if we cared to wait about 20-30 minutes .. no-brainer .. we went for a walk. The weather could best be described as bracing and there were certainly no cobwebs left by the time we got back to find our tea and freshly baked scones being served on what must be one of the biggest pouffs in the world .. was it worth the wait, absolutely. Everything was perfect, the scones were sublime, the jam was fab, the cream was delicious, the setting and presentation faultless. In these cosseted surroundings you could quite easily forget all about the outside world .. except, it is still there and what seems to be exercising some minds is our fondly held weapons of mass destruction. Farage seems so keen on them that you could be forgiven for thinking that he might actually use them just to solve his perceived immigration problem.
Should that ever come to pass, of course, there would be nowhere to emigrate to either .. think it through Nigel! The story goes that we need these weapons so that people will listen to us at the negotiating table. What if you just had the £100b (what would have spent on them) in your hip pocket .. would people listen then? What if you just put £100b in the bank … think of the interest and what you could do with it! Many years ago Ackergill Tower was designed to fend off unwelcome advances by men in kilts but nowadays it looks as if it could fend off a nuclear attack just as well. If we said there was to be such an attack do you think they would let us stay .. we want to stay!
This place is interesting. A young couple from the North of England have had it about 7 months and , through the winter, they have managed to transform it into a pleasant guest house and bar/café. Previously, it had become very run down and attracted some pretty poor reviews. Now, however, it is a fresh start and you cannot help but wish them all the luck in the world.
Inchbae Lodge is on the road to Ullapool out of Garve and it would not be unreasonable to describe it as being ‘in the middle of nowhere’. Far from being a disadvantage this could be exactly what many people are looking for so lets hope that their first summer season is a good one. Unfortunately, when we arrived we seemed to be the only people around. This may be due to the fact that we drove past it before we realised what we had done and had to stop and turn back, maybe a few more road signs notifying drivers in advance would help? Anyway we were made to feel very welcome as we were ushered into a very comfortable conservatory at the back of the Lodge to await our scones and coffee. Now here I have to say that I really really wish this review could be better but when our scone arrived it was of the bought-in variety and although it tasted ok the cream that came with it was aerosol ‘scooshie’ and as a result it fairly quickly turned to watery white liquid in the warmth of the conservatory. In spite of these things it was pleasant to relax in the coziness and catch up with the news. What oh what is happening in the election? It seems that the party with ‘Unionist’ in its title is determined to break the Union apart with their proposals for English only votes for England. If I was being kind I would say that they simply have not thought the scheme through .. if I was being unkind I would say that they are trying to undermine basic fundamental democracy and becoming more nationalist than the nationalists. Either way it can only end up in tears for the Union. Don’t they realise that according to Parliament’s own figures Scottish MPs traditionally only have a deciding effect on 0.06% of parliamentary business, in other words, in the past Scottish MPs may as well not have bothered. That figure will probably not hold true after this election but it will still remain that Scottish MPs are vastly outnumbered by English ones, as has always been the case, so what on earth are they on about? In the meantime it looks as if you will have to vote SNP to save the Union .. it is a mad world. We felt that our English friends at Inchbae Lodge need to find a way of tapping into the large visitor numbers at Rogie Falls, just down the road, where there was nothing in the way of cafe facilities, at least not when we were there. We wish them every good fortune .. but ditch the scooshie cream!
It is not that often we are in Inverness as usually we are just passing through. Today, however, although again on our way to somewhere else, we have stopped off to see what the city has to offer and as it happens, today, the capital of the Highlands is bathed in glorious spring sunshine. The Ness runs through the city centre and on the bank of the river we came across John MacNabs Bar & Bistro part of the Columba Hotel complex. It has an outside seating area which was very welcome on such a warm day. No time was wasted in getting some scones ordered and they duly arrived nice and warm, with lots of jam and cream. Normally we expect to get either strawberry or raspberry jam but at MacNabs it was .. apricot? Pat exchanged her’s for strawberry but I thought I would live adventurously and stuck with what I had been given .. I enjoyed it but not sure it will catch on as a substitute for the more traditional preserves. Lovely friendly service but our scones were of the bought-in variety and although they tasted fine they were nothing to write home about. The news today is of course about the upcoming, increasingly boring, election but also of hundreds of people losing their lives crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Sitting in the sunshine by the river in Inverness it is difficult to imagine what these people are going through in their desperate attempts to better their lives, it is another world entirely and , in the circumstances, it seems almost immoral to be writing about something as frivolous as scones. Most will have never heard of scones so perhaps it is to be hoped that some of the survivors may eventually be able to discover the pleasure of scones and in that respect alone their lives will have become better, maybe even in Inverness, who knows. MacNabs even gave you a biscuit with your coffee and a shortbread biscuit with your scone .. nice touch but maybe a little unnecessary. They also serve on slate .. call me old fashioned but for the life of me I cannot see what is wrong with a good old plate. It is very pleasant sitting in John MacNabs by the river but this is probably not the best scone in Inverness … nor the worst.
Blossom’s is situated within the ever popular Torwood Garden Centre at Larbert between Falkirk and Stirling. Like the Centre itself the bistro is big .. over 200 seats. Now you would not normally go to a garden centre specifically for a scone but at this time of year garden centres are going to be hard to avoid so you may as well try a scone at the same time. I have to say that Blossoms tries really hard and for the most part succeeds. There is a wide range of food on offer and they even do an afternoon tea with generous helpings of sandwiches, cakes, scones, tea or coffee for £15 … for two people, don’t think you can do much better than that! No surprise then that it is a busy place, I suspect that many folk just come to the Bistro without going out to the plant area. They also support Central Arts, an organisation of local artists, displaying and selling their artworks and giving some of the proceeds to various charities .. highly commendable. It’s a beautiful warm day but I gather that some folks are getting a bit overheated regarding the upcoming election. Let’s look at it sensibly! If Parliament was made up of scones there would be about 650 plain ones, some of them pretty half baked, and another 900 or so fruit ones in ‘the other place’ which are all half baked and which we really don’t need. At this point in time however all 650 of the plain scones have been discarded as being past their sell-by so we only have the 900 fruit ones. Now much as I like a fruit scone many of these are past their sell-by as well but there is no way of getting rid of them, even the pigeons won’t take them. No worries though, on May 7th, a new batch of plain scones will appear from all over the UK and normality should then be restored. However, the problem this time around seems to be with the Scottish scones .. seen by some, to be of inferior quality, hard to digest and best ignored if possible. Of course this in turn would be tricky for Scottish people to digest because they will have gone to a lot of trouble to make them and know that their scones are as good as any. The democratic process that produced all these scones used to see them all as equal but maybe not anymore .. but then us sconeys have known for a long time that scones are not all equal, far from it. The scones we had in Blossom’s Bistro were better than expected but maybe tasted a little bit floury and slightly more cakeish than we would have liked. Nevertheless we enjoyed them, the coffee was also good, the service was very helpful and friendly and, all in all, very good value for money.
What a day! Not only is the temperature about 22 degrees here in Richmond on the banks of the Thames the atmosphere is such that you could swear you were on Lake Como. Only cloud anywhere is that the Conservatives have just announced a ‘right to buy’ scheme for housing associations. Are they completely bonkers, have they lost the scone completely? The last scheme rolled out by Maggie was a disaster for the country and now they want to repeat the whole process presumably in the vain hope of getting a few votes from loads of prospective landlords. If I am not mistaken it is also illegal but I guess they will just change the law. Back to serious stuff! When you are in Richmond you could do a lot worse than visit the Bingham Hotel for afternoon tea. It is in a fantastic setting with gardens going down to the waters edge and beautiful interiors.
The champers thing just had to be done and it was not long before Francesco who took us under his wing delivered us two beautiful glasses while we struggled with trying to decide which tea to have .. eventually it was Rooibos for me and Jasmine Pearls for Pat .. lovely.
As you might expect everything was beautifully presented, fantastic linen napkins, delicate floral chinaware. There was four different types of sandwich, four plain and fruit scones, four assorted cakes and our scones came nicely wrapped in a napkin to keep them warm .. what more could you ask for. Well, unfortunately, the scones were a little bit disappointing. They were too sweet and the texture was too fine so that they seemed more like a cake than a scone. Also the Bingham is a little on the expensive side but then again you are not going to get this sort of afternoon tea experience on the cheap, far from it. Overall the whole experience was most enjoyable and we would definitely recommend it.
What a busy day, the Grand National and the Oxford and Cambridge boat race all happening today. Before all of that however we were invited to a fabulous afternoon tea at First Avenue with our daughters and their friends. We thought there would only be a few cupcakes (Carolyn’s speciality) but no, there was tons of sandwiches (fab Fiona), tarts, biscuits (scrummy Kirsty) and scones. Everything was delicious but, as self-confessed sconeys (scone enthusiasts) special mention must go to Danielle’s scones. Not only were they as good as anything we have tasted elsewhere but they were heart shaped .. lovely touch. All present have duly been awarded ‘honourable sconey’ status.
As the Thames buzzes with preparations for the boat race tomorrow the grounds of Chiswick House thrive with families out enjoying an early April day of 20 degrees .. just lovely. The original Chiswick House dates back to 1610 but the building we see today is early 18th century. It once belonged to the Cavendish and Devonshire families but now it is in public ownership and managed by English Heritage. The house was closed when we visited but the grounds are extensive and very well maintained with lots of statues and gateways leading to temples.
The conservatory was supposedly the scene of the first ever music video when the Beatles, fed up with touring, recorded Paperback Writer in 1966.
Most importantly, of course, there is a café.
It is necessarily big both inside and outside to cope with hundreds of visitors each day and as we stood at the self service counter I guess we harboured preconceived ideas of what the scones would be like. They looked a bit on the solid side and we have experienced many places like this that were disappointing to say the least .. however, such dismal expectations were to be completely confounded.
Sitting outside in beautiful warm sunshine we discovered they were really most enjoyable and on a par with some of the best. You get a wee jar of Triptree jam and a lidded pot of cream .. eminently sensible for a place like this where lots of people are sitting outside. This is the school holidays so lots of kiddies running around and generally having a great time playing frisbee, climbing trees etc. Fabulous to discover baby changing facilities … in the gents, a long overdue sign of the times! As you wander around London you cannot help but observe the general affluence (no potholes, everything works, public transport is great) and contrast with other parts of the country. In the run up to the election we hear a lot about what Scotland gets (Barnett and all that) compared to ‘England’ however we tend not to hear much about London getting £2.6k per capita more than ‘England’. That’s a lot more than Scotland and considering the population is about twice that of Scotland, that’s a lot of money .. and it shows! Are we witnessing the north south divide … maybe?
Anyway, like its scones, Chiswick House and its gardens are a delight, you will not be disappointed.
Another day another Barnes hot spot. Also the day after a supposedly sensible politician managed to bore a child half to death by reading her a story. Why do politicians insist on photo opportunities with kids? Can’t think of any where they have not looked completely outside their comfort zone, so why do it ? Anyway, like that poor child you are probably fed up to the back teeth with election stuff already and there is still a month to go. On to better and more important things. Tea is Orange Pekoe’s ‘thing’.
It derives its name from the very finest grade of broadleaf tea and it has won the Tea Guild ‘Award of Excellence’ seven years in a row so it seems to be quite good at the whole tea thing. Like Gail’s, which is not far away, it is busy all the time and also has seats outside but is more set up as a tearoom and is renowned for its afternoon teas.
Lovely day so we took a seat outside and then were attended to by a very welcoming and friendly staff. If we had had more time it would have been great to sample the afternoon tea but we didn’t so we just settled for some scones. They came accompanied by small dishes of jam and clotted cream and were beautifully warm, light and fluffy … utterly delicious. Only criticism, and it is a tiny one, was that they were maybe a tad on the small side, they certainly give you enough jam and cream for something much bigger. Accompanied by all the other stuff of an afternoon tea the size was ideal but on its own just a wee bit small. Also, Barnes is probably not the place to come for a cheap scone .. seen more Aston Martins and Porsche Cayennes than you could shake a stick at. So a little on the expensive side but having said that, we thoroughly enjoyed everything we had and would definitely recommend if you find yourself here for the boat race though your chances of getting in on Saturday are probably non-existent.
Had to explain ‘scone’ to a foreign lady and found it quite difficult .. there is really not much with which to compare it.