On our way home now and, after a fond farewell to Arran, we  crossed from Tarbert to Portvadie on the ferry that had broken down on our outward journey. Portavadie is a remarkable, thriving marina in one of the most out of the way places imaginable. What is now the marina was originally created as a dry dock in the 70s to build oil platforms to exploit west coast oil reserves.

the ghost village of Polphail
the ghost village of Polphail

The MOD, however put the kibosh on the whole thing when they said it would interfere with their nuclear submarines going to and from Faslane, so the project was dropped, but not before a whole village had been built and equipped to accommodate 500 workers … but never occupied. What is now referred to as the ghost village of Polphail, stands like a monument to government ineptitude. The local people told us, perhaps in typical Highland fashion, that after it was abandoned, they were able to just go in and remove fridges, washing machines, televisions, tumble dryers … indeed, all the fixtures and fittings. When we were here last year we got a chance to explore and take some pictures … it is a sad, eerie place. Portavadie 02The marina on the other hand, just a few hundred yards away, is like another world; shops, swimming pools, restaurants and millions of pounds worth of yachts tied up to the pontoons .. the contrast could hardly be more stark. Another wonderful day but this time we decided to sit inside. The staff were extremely attentive but there were so many of them they got our order a bit muddled up … to many cooks. Eventually they got it right but without a shadow of doubt these were the worst scones we have ever had. Portavadie 07Pat’s, especially, was as hard as a brick … couldn’t even cut it with her knife. Mine was hard too but at least I could get into it. There were profuse apologies and Pat’s was taken away (presumably to be used as ballast on one of the boats) and exchanged for one which was much better but still pretty awful. We wondered if it was a case of style over substance i.e. the surroundings were so swanky and lavish that expectations were raised to an unrealistic level, but no, they were just terrible scones … and it’s not often we say that! It’s a shame because this really is a fabulous place, great for a holiday with the kids, so don’t let the scones put you off visiting. Don’t see it ever happening, but perhaps, if we could get rid of our weapons of mass destruction, the Clyde oil reserves may yet be exploited.  Portavadie 05Having said that, with the world being awash with oil at the moment, it hardly needs more of it. Good news though on the greener side of things with the world’s biggest floating offshore windfarm set to be commissioned next year off Peterhead. It is being built by Statoil the Norwegian state owned oil company .. great, but where is our own government when it comes to wind power … oh yes, reducing support for green energy in favour of nuclear, brilliant! Portavadie 06Okay, what you have all been dying to know … the final bird count for our Arran trip .. the grand total was 52. Not bad, but slightly surprising that, having been near the sea almost all the time, there were relatively few waders on the list, no redshanks, no sanderlings, no knot and relatively few ducks. Pat saw so many eiders though that she got a bit of a down on them … sorry. In spite of no eagles being spotted, and in spite of finishing on the worst scone ever, it was a great week. You will be happy to know that the recent blizzard of scone blogs will now be calmed down considerably … we are all sconed out. Many thanks to our traveling companions for their forbearance.

PA21 2DA    tel: 01700 811075      Portavadie Spa & Liesure Centre

The Wineport

This is a lovely spot, in Cladach on the outskirts of Brodick.  Cladach actually used to be the main village before modern Brodick was built on the south side of the bay but now most of the former houses are used for small businesses, the Wineport is just one example. It probably derives its name from a small harbour area, now disused, a short way along the coast which at one time would have been used by all ferries and imports to the island. Last year it came under new management and now provides a fantastic family friendly relaxed atmosphere with all the facilities you could think of. Unlike Brodick Castle they use lots of local food and drink suppliers such as; Arran Dairies, The Arran Butcher, Island Cheese Company, Creelers, Arran Brewery, Taste of Arran, Arran Ceramics, and Arran Aromatics .. that’s more like it, this place can show the NTS how to do it! Outside the front door is a large beer garden, perfect for our kind of birdwatching … right at the start of the path up Goatfell, maybe we would catch sight of an eagle? Wineport 03We sampled some of the local beer and then, because we had seen some scones on the bar, we thought we should give one a try. It came with lots of jam and the coffee came with a little piece of millionaires shortbread … nice touch. The scone was fine, lots of fruit but just a tad on the heavy side. So, by way of a recap … as we sadly prepare to leave Arran after a great trip, all the scones have been enjoyable enough but we are left with a total of one topscone – Machrie Bay Tearoom, well done them. Wineport 02Today, of course, is football day with the English and Scottish Cup Finals both being played. Arguably of more interest, however, is the Copa Del Ray cup final in Madrid between Barcelona and Sevilla. The Catalans are just as uppity as the Scots so the Spanish government, in their infinite wisdom, banned the use of the Estelada  (Catalan flag) at the game. The Barcelona supporters, however, said they would use the Scottish Saltire instead … and that was enough for the government to revoke it’s ban … the power of the Saltire!  Grey wagtail might be the last to be added to the list, but we still have a little time left on Arran, so our final bird count won’t be revealed until the next post. Will there be an eagle on it?

KA27 8DE      tel: 01770 302101         The Wineport

Brodick Castle

On the opposite side of Brodick Bay from our hotel stands the imposing Brodick Castle. We have been here before but having looked across the water at it for the past few days we thought another visit might be worthwhile. But first, so that you can get this scone in context, a little history. Some sort of fortification has been on this site since at least the fifth century. Brodick Castle 03By the tenth century Norse influence had grown, and Arran was controlled by King Hakon of Norway, but when some Scottish upstarts began to question his authority, he sent a large fighting fleet to sort things out, resulting in the Battle of Largs in 1263 … which he lost. He retreated to Brodick and then to Orkney where he died the following year. The ensuing Treaty of Perth in 1266 ceded Arran and other islands to the Kingdom of Scotland. Oliver Cromwell occupied the castle for a while and then it fell to the Hamilton family who occupied it for several centuries until 1957 when it was gifted to the nation by the Duchess of Montrose to avoid death duties. The National Trust for Scotland eventually took it over.. and now we are here! Brodick Castle 05The grounds are immaculately kept and there is a tearoom for visitors but of course today we’re sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Like most NTS places, it is self-service so we duly selected a mixture of cheese and fruit scones – sometimes, if we are feeling particularly daring, we mix things up and have half each. Everything was fine though we can sometimes get a little irritated by the presence of the ubiquitous tubs of Rodda’s cornish cream. Brodick Castle 07The Arran Creamery is just down the road, do we really have to bring it all the way from Cornwall? The jam was from Manchester … c’mon NTS, do you know what the ‘S’ in your name stands for … what must tourists think? The scones were very nice but not quite nice enough for a topscone. We got plenty exercise chasing fly away napkins but, all in all, it was a lovely scone-break in a beautiful setting. We have probably traveled on a couple of dozen ferries over the past year or so and, as a consequence, have become quite familiar with Caledonian MacBrayne. It was once said that “God gave us the earth and CalMac the Western Isles” .. a slight, inferring that the ferry company held the islands to ransom. There may have been an element of truth in that at one time but, with the introduction of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff), not any more. Our trip to Arran, involving four ferries, cost a grand total of just over £50 for a car and four passengers … not too bad. So, we are delighted with the news that the Scottish government, in the face of all the EU regulations, have managed to award the ongoing £900m contract to publicly owned CalMac over privately owned Serco .. and build their ships on the Clyde .. even King Hakon would have been proud.Brodick Castle 02

We had walked along the beach to the Castle from our hotel but decided to get the bus back. Brodick Castle 08The bus stop on the main road opposite the castle entrance makes waiting for the bus a real pleasure. There were seals sunning themselves on a rock and an oystercatcher’s nest on the seaward side of the wall … you are almost annoyed when the bus comes. Amongst other things, today we saw siskins, sedge warblers, guillemots and red-legged partridges … alas, still no eagles.

KA27 8HY       tel: 0844 493 2152           Brodick Castle

Machrie Bay Tearoom

We are still on our quest to see how many different species of bird we can see on Arran. Today we are in the SW of the island but the only place that seemed to be open in Blackwaterfoot was the Kinloch Hotel and we had already reviewed that last year. However, just a hop, skip and a jump along the coast we came to the Machrie Bay Tearoom .. and it was well and truly open!Machrie 03 Apparently in the middle of nowhere, it is part of the Machrie Golf Club and has tennis courts, play area for kiddies and everything else you could wish for … including a good range of scones, all baked by Granny Rae. They obviously don’t take themselves too seriously when their advertising is “best buns on the beach” … would it have the best scones though, that was the burning question? It was scorchio once again so we sat out on their decked area looking towards the Mull of Kintyre surrounded by a party of Americans over here tracing their family roots. Machrie 01 We were not sufficiently famished to tackle the Machrie Bay afternoon tea but one arrived at the next table so we asked the two lovely Shiskine ladies who were sharing it if we could take a photograph. Turned out they had won it in a raffle! It looked very good, particularly the scones, but they didn’t offer to share any of them so we eventually had to resort to buying our own. There were fruit scones and cherry scones but we opted to try the cheese and the apple and cinnamon. Machrie 05They arrived on lovely heart shaped plates  with lots of jam and were soon followed by a large plate of whipping cream.  Whoever Granny Rae is, she certainly knows how to rustle up a scone, they were excellent, and definitely the best scones we have had so far on Arran … easy topscone … well done Machrie Bay Tearoom!  Machrie 04aAfter our recent quest to find a Scottish tea plantation it was great to get some fab Scottish coffee. Okay, okay it’s not exactly Scottish coffee but it is roasted in Scotland and on a day like today they could probably roast it on our table. From where we were sitting in the tearoom it was only a thirty minute hike to the site of the famous Machrie Stones, which consist of numerous ancient standing stones mysteriously arranged in circles, sort of Arran’s answer to Palmyra … but unless there was a golden eagle perched on top of each one, it simply was not going to happen. Instead we continued practising the, ‘shades on, face towards the sun‘, approach to birdwatching. Actually we did think we had seen a golden eagle earlier in the day at Shannochie but on reflection it was probably too far south so it was more likely to have been a buzzard .. or a swallow. Still no eagles on our list. You can measure the level of poverty in the UK by the number of people, especially young women, whose jeans are all worn and ripped. The delightful young woman who served us was a particular example … badly torn at the knees. We left a healthy tip for her to put towards new ones.

KA27 8DZ       tel: 01770 840329      Machrie Bay Tearoom

Felicity’s at Eden Lodge

Kings Cross Point looking towards Brodick and Goatfell, Holy Isle on the right
Kings Cross Point looking towards Brodick and Goatfell, Holy Isle on the right

After a morning spent bird watching and exploring Viking forts at beautiful Kings Cross Point, just opposite the buddhist retreat of Holy Isle, we were well and truly in need of refreshment by the time we reached Whiting Bay. We have decided that all tourists to Arran should have to go on a course explaining when things are open on the island … some are closed on Mondays, some Tuesdays and others are closed on Wednesdays … confusing. Felicity's 01Having tried some places that were closed we ended up here at Felicity’s at Eden Lodge but, in a way, we were happy because this place was probably the nicest. The couple who run it have only had it a year and don’t have the hotel side of things operational yet but when they do it should be good, they did their training at Gleneagles. We were looked after by a young chap from Rockhampton in Northern Queensland who had been on Arran for about three months but was struggling with the heat!! We got ourselves a table beside the bowling green … and, away from the sea breeze, it was scorchio! Felicity's 04When our scones arrived, complete with jam and clotted cream, it was obvious we would have to scoff them pretty quickly before the cream melted. This we did, and they were very good, but once again not quite topscones … would we ever get an Arran topscone before we had to leave the island .. worrying! As dedicated bird watchers, we have discovered that when you are sitting there, replete with scones and coffee, the gentle sound of waves on the shore, shades on, faces pointing to the sun,  you can pretend you are earnestly looking for golden eagles .. though snoring does tend to give the game away. Cameron has also been caught out with his back-door dealings with big businesses, like Serco, to back his ‘Remain’ campaign. We are not backing ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ yet but we don’t like the tactics … just as we didn’t like them in the Scottish referendum. Oh, and joy of joys, the world’s largest oil field has been discovered off Shetland  … did you know that? Barely a word about it in the press or on TV. On the basis that nothing remotely good for Scotland can be reported it is hardly surprising .. it might make us more uppity than we already are. Anyway, besides all that .. is that a golden eagle or a swallow?

KA27 8QH     tel: 01770 700357      Felicity’s at Eden Lodge

The Douglas Hotel

We arrived a day early for our Scottish Wildlife Trust outing on Arran and stayed the first night at one of our favourite places, the Kilmichael Country House in Glen Cloy. There were peacocks all over the place and we thought that they would give us a sneaky head start over everyone else with our bird list, but they are a pernickety lot in the SWT and we were left in no doubt that peacocks were not allowed on the list .. verboten! The rest of our stay was to be here at the Douglas in Brodick, just a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal. Built from locally quarried red sandstone in 1782 it spent some time as the doctor’s house until eventually becoming a hotel in 1852.

the MacNab
the MacNab

A couple of years ago it underwent complete modernisation and now terms itself ’boutique’. If ’boutique’ means having vast beds then it definitely qualifies for that sobriquet … if there’s anyone in bed with you, you certainly had to go searching in order to find them! Not sure why they have a large portrait of ‘The MacNab’ in reception but maybe he liked the beds as well … he never married but had 35 illegitimate children. Anyway, there was no way we were going to be able to stay here for the best part of a week without sampling their scones so we thought we might as well get it over and done with. Douglas 01We decided to sit out on the patio area overlooking Brodick Bay while a young cheery chap from Kilmarnock buzzed to and fro bringing us tea, coffee, scones etc. The scones were good, full of fruit but hot, almost too hot to handle. Pat had a cheese scone but it had to be left to cool down as well. Not topscones but who cares when you get great service and all you have to do is sit and watch the ferries coming and going … if there is one in you wonder when it will leave and if there isn’t one in you wonder when one will arrive .. exciting!

View from our table
View from our table

The dust has now settled on the elections and, in Scotland, the media have hailed the results in rather peculiar ways. They have made much of Labour’s continuing failure to recognise that Scotland has changed. They have also trumpeted the Tory’s supposed rejuvenation?? When the Scottish Tory vote collapsed to 24% in 1987 under the much hated Margaret Thatcher, who would have thought that a trifling 30 years later it would have rebounded to 22% .. what are they on about? One thing the media has not made much of is the SNP success. Their achievement – increasing seats and votes after almost 10 years in power is truly astounding yet gets only grudging acknowledgment, if it gets any at all. Anyway, who cares when all you have to do is sit in the sunshine eating scones, watching ferries come and go … oh, and the red breasted mergansers swimming in the bay … lots of them, and they’re allowed!

KA27 8AW     tel: 01770 302968      Douglas Hotel

Out of the Blue Bistro

It’s not often we find ourselves in Strachur, and we had no intention of being here today either! We were taking the scenic four ferry route to Arran for a few days with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, (Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, Rhubodach to Colintraive, Portavadie to Tarbert, Cloanaig to Lochranza)  only to find, when we got to Portavadie, that the Tarbert ferry  had broken down. You can plainly see Tarbert from Portavadie, it is just over there across the water, but the breakdown left us with no alternative but to drive the 90 mile detour round Loch Fyne … arrrggh!

Not far from Strachur - looking down the Kyles of Bute
Not far from Strachur – looking down the Kyles of Bute

By way of compensation of course it meant driving through some wonderful countryside but, nice as it was, one cannot live on scenery alone, so Strachur  was as far as we got before we had to stop for sustenance and, as we drove round the corner, out of the blue, we came on the Out Of The Blue Bistro .. brill!

Looking from the bistro to the shop
Looking from the bistro to the shop

No idea why it has that name except that you do come on it quite suddenly. As well as a bistro it serves as the local Post Office and shop … in other words, it is the beating heart of Strachur. Although it was quiet when we were there it is a popular place with locals and, by all accounts, has a good reputation for delicious food. We were just here for a scone of course and before long the attentive staff had us all sorted. Out of the Blue 04Unfortunately the scones, although quite acceptable, were not top notch. There was a suspicion that they might have been microwaved and that sometimes makes them a bit flabby. Loads of jam and whipped cream though so ten out of ten for effort and hospitality. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on which side you are on, Ukraine has just won the Eurovision song contest, sparking major unrest in Russia who, along with almost everyone else, thought they should have won. It didn’t help that the Ukrainian song, ‘1944’, was about the year that Stalin deported all the Tatars from their native Crimea … ouch! Hope it does not come to it but who would have thought that Eurovision had the potential to start a war. The important thing to remember is that Australia came second, otherwise it would be difficult to take the European song contest seriously. We will be in holiday mode for the next week or so and that generally means more scones than usual, so prepare yourselves for a veritable avalanche of posts. We have also started a bird list of all the different species we see during the trip … if anyone wants to guess the final score you can put it in the comments and we will reveal the final tally when we get back … exciting!

PA27 8DD      tel: 01369 860221     Out of the Blue Bistro & Shop FB

The Butterfly Inn

This is just one of the restaurants servicing what is probably the biggest and busiest furniture store in the country. Sterling Furniture warehouse in Tillicoultry was set up in 2001 in what was originally a woollen mill, one of many lining the southern edge of the Ochil hills. In 1921 Samuel Jones Ltd converted it to a paper mill which specialised in coated papers that they marketed under their Butterfly trade mark. Butterfly 06They used the image to promote the idea that they could print more than one colour onto a single sheet of paper … ludicrous nowadays but, at the time, it was obviously a bit special. The butterfly in question was the Camberwell Beauty a rare visitor to the UK from Scandinavia and first seen in the London burgh in 1748. Anyway this is simply a long winded way of saying how this place gets its name, although the restaurant itself does not make it obvious .. we think they should. There is soooooo much furniture around in Sterling that, unless you are careful, ‘furniture blindness’ can set in, a common complaint in these parts, especially amongst men. Butterfly 03The symptoms (everything starts to look the same) can only be relieved by a cup of tea … and a scone. It was almost closing time when we arrived at the Butterfly Inn and at least one of us was in fairly desperate need of medication.   Although they were just closing, and probably could have seen us far enough, we were made very welcome and we soon had everything we needed. Butterfly 04The scones were okay but a tad on the firm side and jam was charged as an extra which always makes the overall deal expensive .. and there was no cream. All in all, not a great experience.  ‘Butterfly’ could be used to describe Cameron’s stance on Europe. One minute he is threatening to pull us out unless he gets his way on renegotiation; next minute, after a few totally inconsequential adjustments, he says leaving the EU would be an unmitigated disaster! Not so much a rare Camberwell Beauty as a common Westminster Plonker.

FK13 6NS        tel: 01259 751596           Butterfly Inn

Café Circa – Abernyte

It’s quite a while since we have been here.  The lovely hamlet of Abernyte lies in the Sidlaw Hills just west of Dundee. According to its own historical society, Abernyte has never been visited by anyone famous and nothing of interest has ever happened here … quite an achievement for a village that’s been around for at least 800 years! Just along the road however there is Dunsinane Hill made famous by Shakespeare; “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him.” At a tad over 1000ft many might think that the bard was prone to a bit of exaggeration but it does mean that Dunsinane Hill qualifies as a Marilyn (hill over 150m) … you probably are more aware of the hills over 3000 feet which are called Munros .. see the connection! Anyway some things happen in Abernyte, the Scottish Antique & Arts Centre was established a few years back on the outskirts of the village and 2016 sees the opening of Abernyte Brewery .. so, actually  it’s all happening here. Abernyte 03We used to be regular visitors to this SAAC and it’s sister establishment in Doune but, whilst we still like  rummaging around amongst antiques, other things have taken up our time lately and rummaging time has been sorely limited … but not today. We never know what we are looking for but when we see it we will want it and it will probably be something we absolutely don’t need … that’s how these places work. After some serious rummaging though you are slowly but surely drawn towards Cafe Circa, the restaurant at the centre of the Centre .. the smell of coffee becomes overpowering. The restaurant is a French/Scottish concern and has a reputation for good food but when we arrived Abernyte 07it was late in the day and there did not seem to be any staff around. I ended up having to go to the counter to find someone …  but after that we were looked after very well. Their head baker, Michelle Stewart, won an award last year for her efforts but  would her scones survive critical examination? No problem, nicely presented and excellent texture. The only slight blot on their copy book was the fact that we were not offered cream … like some other people who came after us .. boo! These scones were teetering on the brink of a topscone award but eventually just fell short .. shame.

restaurant set up for the next day
restaurant set up for the next day

If nothing has ever happened in Abernyte it would appear that nothing happens anywhere else either, at least according to the Auntie Beeb. With huge anti-austerity marches, taking place across Europe and now the Nuit Debout (Up All Night) movement coming to the UK, you wonder why there is no mention from our public broadcaster; maybe no time left after endless reporting of Wills and Kate’s jollies in former colonies; maybe it does not suit the government’s Remain stance on the EU. The BBC is akin to an anaesthetic for the masses … don’t be surprised if you get a fifteen minute news bulletin informing you that nothing has happened in Abernyte … they probably have a correspondent there just in case something does happen!

PH14 9SJ              tel: 01828 686044           Cafe Circa