The Walled Garden

You know how you can drive past something on a regular basis without giving it a second thought, you see the signs but never venture. So it was with Devilla Forest, just a ten minute drive from where we live. Turns out that within the bounds of this relatively small piece of pine forest all sorts have happened. There is the ‘Standard Stone’, its carved square holes are said to have held the standards of King Duncan and his lieutenants, Macbeth and Banquo in a battle with the Danes at Bordie Moor in 1038. There is ‘Maggie Duncan’s stone’. Maggie was a 17th century witch who tried to carry the boulder in her apron to the top of a nearby hill but it slipped and her apron strings cut strange deep grooves into the stone. You can also find the graves of children who died of plaque over three hundred years ago. There’s the remains of a WW II explosives research establishment .. oh, and lots of sightings of big black cats!! Goodness, we didn’t know the half of it … and virtually on our doorstep. As well as all that, and on a slightly lighter note, you can find red squirrels, otters … and scones. Walled Garden 09The scones can be located at The Walled Garden, brainchild of the farmers at Righead Farm … who just wanted their own walled garden … so they built one about four years ago.

Inside the Walled Garden
Inside the Walled Garden

They started selling teas and coffees in the Potting Shed but it proved so popular that they have now built a large purpose built café and the Potting Shed is now a well stocked shop selling plants and knick-knacks.  Walled Garden 05We were offered plain, fruit or date and apricot scones. Pat opted for the fruit, while I, living on the edge as usual, went for the date and apricot, a new and and untried sconological combination! Sitting out in the sunshine it did not take long before they arrived, nicely presented with little pots of jam and whipped cream. The scones themselves were delicious and we didn’t have too much trouble giving them a topscone award. By the way, the date and apricot combo works a treat!Walled Garden 07If you view tales of large black cats with a slightly raised eyebrow, then both eyebrows will go into to some sort of earth orbit looking at the current machinations of the Labour party. Unbelievable … when will they realise that Corbyn is not only their best bet at gaining power but probably their only one? Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish Labour party continues its policy of self harming, abandoning everything … Corbyn, a chance at autonomy, and no doubt, all hope, if they side with the Tories again on Indyref2.

View to the north from the Walled Garden
View to the north from the Walled Garden

Besides all that, hats off to people who build walled gardens these days … it is open Wednesday to Sunday but, perplexingly in these modern times, does not take cards – cash only.

FK10 4AT    tel: 07951 530571    The Walled Garden FB

Kinlochard Gathering

First it was Gibraltar, then it was Vilnius … guess where our globe-trotting Trossachs correspondents are now? Would you believe it … the Trossachs!! They have filed a report on the annual Kinlochard Gathering which was held a couple of weeks back. Although the weather was on the dreich side everyone seems to have had a good time. It begins with the Grand Parade from the Forest Hills hotel to the Village field. “Clan Chief and storyteller Paraig McNeill bearing the Saltire led the Parade followed by the inspiring sound of the Callander Pipe Band and many villagers and guests bearing an impressive array of international flags . It sent a powerful message to the world that Scotland and its people value and welcome our international residents and visitors“. The programme contained all the usual heavy events but there was also a duck race; a giant sack race; a crown making competition; a teddy bear’s picnic … in short, something for everyone.  As if all this was not enough, amidst great excitement, there was a genuine verified sighting of Nessie  … presumably on her holidays? If the weather deteriorated, revelers were able to retreat to the Village Hall where everyone was protected , as Ivor Cutler would have said, “from the worst of the effects of the fresh air“. Kinlochard 01In the hall, our correspondents were duly impressed with what was on offer, “We could only sample the cream scones which were crisp on the outside, with a delicious interior supplemented by an excellent filling of cream and jam. Sorry you could not add the cream and jam yourself but this option was available with the butter and jam variety.  At the price of £2.00 for a tea or coffee plus a cream scone … this must be a contender for the Scottish bargain of the year”. Scone consumption was accompanied by traditional music from the Feis Point Ceilidh Band and the Loch Lomond Ukulele Orchestra. International visitors from France, Belgium, Canada, Japan and USA thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish hospitality and the message from the French and Belgians was very clear … “whatever the outcome of the Brexit fiasco they see Scotland as an integral part of the EU … c’mon Nicola“. Thanks are due, yet again, to our correspondents who, at last, have decided to do some sconology nearer to home. Delicious as these scones undoubtedly were, unfortunately we cannot categorise them without a personal tasting so we will have to make a note (as you should) in next year’s diary – Sunday 16th July 2017 … will Nessie make another appearance?

FK8 3TL      tel: 01877 387 264       Kinlochard Gathering

Shieldbank Coffee Shop

You know how it is … sometimes you set out with a certain destination in mind and then end up somewhere completely different  … no … maybe it’s just us then, we do it quite a lot? A wrong turn meant we found ourselves in the pretty, former weaving village of Saline, in the Kingdom of Fife. Been here many times before, so we weren’t lost … just not where we thought we would be. Complete change of plan  and seeing a sign for the Shieldbank Coffee Shop, ‘third left then follow road for one mile’, we thought we would cut our losses and head for there. Shieldbank 04 The road goes from Saline to Blairingone and, were it not for that sign, we would never ever have been on it but as it turns out it was the first ‘walking and cycling friendly’ road we have ever come across. A speed limit of 40mph along this lovely country road is all it takes. Can’t really see the police mounting speed traps but everyone seemed to be abiding by the rules anyway … great idea. The good folks at Shieldbank don’t exactly go big on publicity and it certainly doesn’t jump out at you, tucked away amongst the trees. Shieldbank 06The weather has been very hot and this morning saw some very severe thunderstorms and torrential rain so when we arrived they were still mopping out the café after their worst flash flood in over twenty years. The last thing they wanted was us arriving … they told us so! In spite of everything however we could not have been made more welcome. Shieldbank is actually a riding club where they specialise in horseback gymnastics. People like us have difficulty just sitting on a stationary horse so we view the whole concept as just plain ridiculous but for those who relish somersaults and handstands on the back of a galloping horse .. this is definitely the place for you. Shieldbank 03For the less adventurous (us) there is the coffee shop. Vic Beasley is the man in charge and responsible for handcrafting everything from the café itself three years ago, to today’s jam, cakes and scones. There wasn’t a great selection on offer but since he had been totally preoccupied with mopping duties and was on his fourth change of clothing we thought we should maybe cut him some slack. Nothing was too much trouble however, he provided a scone while we waited for him to prepare us a brand new carrot cake. Vic is one of these guys who proclaims to hate people and would dearly love to be left alone on a mountain top but we don’t think he would last five minutes without a good blether. Shieldbank 01Everything he gave us was excellent, including the scones … not quite topscones but pretty close. A nice touch in the cafe is the ability to look through a window directly into a stable, complete with horses .. great for kids. Interesting place, particularly if you are the horsey type. Although hard to find, it was definitely worth it.Talking of things ‘hard to find’ … after the botched military coup in Turkey, fourteen warships, including a frigate, have been reported ‘missing’! What is it with disappearing warships? Before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, fourteen warships were promised to be built on the Clyde if we voted ‘no’ … they have disappeared as well. No doubt they will  reappear just before Indyref2 … and then disappear again along with all the other promises. Because they are trying to fill the bottomless Trident pit and keep the US in the manner to which it has become accustomed, perhaps the government cannot afford anything other than weapons of mass destruction? Apparently, HSBC, Barclays and RBS (the bank that we own) all help fund both the British and Russian nuclear deterrents … what’s that all about? With only one Scottish MP voting to renew Trident … Scotland really really really wishes it is one thing that would disappear.Shieldbank 02Anyway, we wish Vic and his venture every good fortune and now that we have found it we might even go back .. hopefully when it is not flooded.
KY12 9LN       tel: 01383 852621        Shieldbank Coffee Shop

Scones of America

US sconesHooray,  our North American correspondents have been in touch … a photo of some American scones. Now we have to admit that we thought scones were a measure of a civilized, cultured society … so what on earth were they doing in America? The photo concentrates on Wegmans products (based in Rochester NY) which seems to be the Greggs of the US. You would imagine that American scones would be slightly vulgar … at least three times the size of a good scone but these ones look fairly normal … though it’s quite hard to tell. If they haven’t gone ‘large’ then Wegmans, in typical American, ‘land of plenty’ style, certainly make up for it in variety – maple walnut scones; organic cranberry scones; cinnamon scones; caramel toffee scones; chocolate chip scones; pumpkin scones; lemon poppy scones; coconut mac choc dip scones; orange cranberry scones; vanilla bean scones .. to name but a few … phew! At this point we would have liked to have launched into a diatribe about what a mess the US is in  and what a mess it makes of the world, but we find the moral high ground at the moment, on this side of the pond, is not as nearly as high as it used to be. The UK cannot exactly stand up as a shining example of anything at the moment .. scones excepted. We have just got a new prime minister who absolutely nobody voted for and she has just announced her cabinet … “what could possible go right?” This morning we hear that Nice, where a large and much loved part of our family live, is in trouble. Unbelievably, that confection called the Hotel Negresco, where we once spent a wonderful night of pampered luxury, has been converted into a makeshift hospital to cater for the numerous casualties of a terrorist atrocity. Can this be laid at the door of the US? We don’t know but the long awaited, detailed and forensic Chilcot Report, has exposed the US, with the able assistance of the UK, as the bully boys of the world, so perhaps it can. When the US describes itself as the ‘land of plenty’, it’s just a pity it’s usually somebody else’s plenty. Many thanks to R&K for the photo, keep up the good work.

NY 14603-0844      Wegmans Food Market

Trakai Island Castle

What are our Trossachs correspondents like?? A couple of weeks ago it was Gibraltar … then Stronachlachar and now, Vilnius, (we are prepared to bet that that is the first time these three places have ever been mentioned in a single sentence). We thought our own scone efforts were pretty good but this is definitely above and beyond. It all depends on the scones of course. Lithuania 05Well, .. in spite of their best endeavours, scouring Vilnius from top to bottom, not a single scone was found … zilch. At one point they excitedly crossed the street because they had seen these in a café window but they turned out to be some sort of crème brûlée thingys … easy mistake to make. Lithuania 04They did however come across signs of support for our own Nicola Sturgeon. Did they give up .. not a bit of it. Undaunted, and taking inspiration from our Aussie correspondents who recently reported from Eilean Donan Castle, they elected to try and find an equivalent .. and they did, about 20km west of Vilnius.  Trakai Island Castle on Lake Galvė, like Eilean Donan, is situated on an island and joined to the mainland by a bridge. It dates from the 14th century and after falling into serious disrepair underwent a major reconstruction program which was only completed in the 1960s. Unfortunately, yet again there were no scones. There were, however, reminders of home.Lithuania 02b The Lithuanians have a haggis equivalent, vedarai, and seem happy to compare it to the genuine article. What of Lithuania itself and its people? We can do no better than quote directly from our correspondents report: “the very clear message here (Lithuania) is that all generations cannot understand how or why the UK voted for Brexit. They also know quite clearly that Scotland voted to Remain. This is a small country of just under 3 million, reveling in it’s independence and EU membership. Is everything perfect.? – NO – many of their young people are working in Scotland and sending money home. However, they are confident about their future, have an education system where children are educated in Lithuanian and English and are generally very positive about being members of the enlarged European family. Lithuania 03We have experienced none of the xenophobic rhetoric of Farage, Gove and Co. We note that Gove has got his just deserts and that the UK will now have a woman as Prime Minister. Lithuania already has one and of course we have Nicola. Let’s hope that the UK does not repeat the last occasion we had a female Prime Minister – a model of whom we saw in a street market in Trakai today“. Once again we are indebted to our Trossachs correspondents in spite of the dearth of scones. It seems that Lithuania has much in common with Scotland – a high degree of national pride and a philosophy that foreigners are welcome and considered an asset. Of course Scotland has a vast array of riches compared with Lithuania, not just scones! Unbelievably though, Scotland, still has all it’s major decisions made by another country with very different interests?? You can almost see the open-mouthed incredulous look on Lithuanian faces … they must think we are mad … or stupid!

Lithuania       tel: +370 528 53946      Trakai Island Castle

BREAKING NEWS: Our correspondents, still in Lithuania, have decided that they are not going to find any Lithuanian scones comparable to our own. Lithuania 12However, they have managed to find a sort of scone equivalent in a café called Kmyninė just east of Vilnius city centre. Lithuania 10They were served by a lovely man and woman who have had the café for just over a year and made them feel very welcome. Once again quoting directly, “it is one of many great initiatives, we have experienced, where hard working young people are making a real fist of it in challenging circumstances. It is hard for us to comprehend how the poisonous narrative of the Brexit campaign managed to persuade the UK electorate that these fine young Europeans are a threat to our society and values. At least they know that they are welcome in Scotland”. Lithuania 11But what about the Lithuanian scones? Lithuania 08“There was no jam,cream or butter but these offerings were delicious. crisp on the outside, soft and tasty inside with a lovely nutty flavour. A bit like Ma Broon’s rock cakes”. So there you have it, another first for … if in Vilnius and crave a scone, your best bet is to head to Kmyninė.

Vilnius        tel: +370 640 49042          Kmyninė Food & Groceries FB


London Wetlands

Most of you will know by now that we are not just one-trick ponies … simply obsessed with scones to the exclusion of everything else. No, no, no we have many other wide ranging interests which might be considered more ‘normal’ … photographing sheds for instance! By comparison, bird-watching may seem fairly mainstream but that is another interest and it is perhaps more than a little ironic that most of our bird-watching, these days, occurs in the centre of London, here at the London Wetlands Centre, just a few minutes from Hammersmith. Opened in 2000 it provides an oasis for wildlife and a place of tranquility for people in the heart of London’s suburbs. It is a follow-on from Sir Peter Scott’s (son of Antartic explorer Captain Scott) original wildfowl centre at Slimbridge which opened in 1946. Considering the immense pressure on city centre land it is nothing short of miraculous that this huge area has survived intact and is preserved for all to enjoy its wildlife. It has many bird-hides but, with everything being bigger and better in the capital, of course, it has a three story hide .. with a lift!! It is also the closest we will probably ever get to a bittern, an elusive wading bird with a strange booming mating call, without actually seeing one … they are there, just very secretive. Of the people we speak to, most have never seen one either .. or they saw one yesterday … arrrgghh!! Wetlands 01Wetlands 05Anyway the Wetland scone is not nearly so difficult to find. With it having so many attractions for youngsters this is a favourite spot for many families trying to amuse and educate their children … so a large cafe facility is an absolute must. Wetlands 04It’s a no-frills, self-service kind of place and as is often the way when there is nowhere else to go, relatively expensive for what you get. Wetlands 07Actually the scones are quite good. No cream but a little jar of jam and a decent scone for £2.35 is not too bad.

London, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU and now faces being hauled out against it’s will … there is much consternation and gnashing of teeth! A couple of weeks have now elapsed since the vote and we seem no closer to having any idea of where the UK is heading. Scotland will almost certainly go for another referendum on independence and here, it seems, many wish they could join us. Next time will be different for Indyref2 because almost everyone has now had experience of what Scotland was subjected to in 2014 when the entire political establishment (except the SNP and the Greens), the entire print and broadcast media as well as the Civil Service all joined together to peddle anti-independence lies and deceptions (one cracker was that the only way for Scotland to remain in the EU was to vote NO) .. and still only managed to win a narrow majority. Voters, not just in Scotland, have witnessed just how low politicians and the media can stoop. Convincing the elderly, however, who rely on newspapers and TV for information and who lost the independence vote last time, may still be an uphill task.

After the EU vote, Ratty sets off to destinations unknown on HMS Great Britain
After the EU vote, Ratty sets off to destinations unknown on HMS Great Britain

If you get the chance take a stroll through the London Wetlands, you will not believe that you are anywhere near the heart of the city. The only giveaway is the overhead jetliners every 90 seconds but even they don’t detract from the overall sense of peace and quiet.

SW13 9WT          tel: 020 8409 4400         London Wetlands

Eilean Donan Castle

It’s a funny old world! The UK is trying to leave the EU, Scotland is trying to leave the UK, and all the politicians who said ‘vote for my side of the argument because it will provide stability and prosperity‘… have already left … and the official opposition is in such a state of organisational turmoil that it is useless. The UK is rudderless, adrift in a hostile sea, a bit like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner but instead of an albatross tied round his neck he has the results of the EU referendum. As messes go this has to be the mother of them all … finally we get to know what a ‘Eton mess’ really is? Others will have to clear it up but , at the moment, we have no idea who, and given that the UK can’t even agree on how to pronounce the word ‘scone’, what hope is there for matters of actual substance? In such an upside-down world who better to make sense of it all than our antipodean correspondents … they being used to looking at things upside down. Lo and behold, they’re not down-under but touring Scotland surveying toilet brushes … don’t ask! However, even with their distinctly advantageous perspective, they could not make head nor tail of it either .. perhaps they have been here for so long they are starting the see things right way up? Eilean Donan 02By way of compensation, or maybe just to distract us from such weighty considerations they sent us this illustrated report of a scone they found at Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie. Readers will understand that our Aussie correspondents  are comparative novices, not yet fully versed in the intricacies of sconology … so they filed a fairly sketchy report, “having a lovely time and the cheese scone was very tasty“. Don’t know why we were asking them to sort out the UK which, seven hours after voting closed, knew it was leaving a continent, whereas Australia held it’s elections on 2 July and still doesn’t know the results more than four days later … maybe they’re all on the beach? Anyway, many thanks to M&J, hope you continue to have a great time and that all your scones are just as tasty.

IV40 8DX       tel: 01599 555202      Eilean Donan Castle