Inversnaid Hotel

When Gerard Manley Hopkins, approached this hotel by boat in 1918 he was struck by the Arklet Falls on it’s right. He duly walked up the bank of the burn until he reached the high open ground and was so inspired he wrote a poem, imaginatively called ‘Inversnaid’. It is a lovely poem, one of our favourites, and the reason for our visit today … retracing his steps, so to speak. The first verse starts at the waterfall as it drops into Loch Lomond then the following two verses illustrate the journey upwards to the high ground where he finishes with the fourth and wonderful final verse:The Arklet Falls at Inversnaid

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

He was a religious man and he is looking at a scene, as he sees it, created by God. It was the Duke of Montrose though that created Inversnaid in 1790 as a hunting lodge, and in September 1869, Queen Victoria, who had been staying at Invertrossachs Lodge on Loch Vennacher, arrived here by horse drawn coach from Stronachlachar for a trip around the loch on the Prince Consort steamship. Even today this is a fairly tricky road to negotiate by car so goodness knows what it was like back then? She was particularly taken with the northern part of the loch with its views to the west … and why wouldn’t she be impressed?

View from Inversnaid Hotel across Loch Lomand to Ben Ime
Ben Ime in the middle distance with Ben Vorlich and the Loch Sloy hydro scheme to the right

Nowadays, as the Inversnaid Hotel, it is almost exclusively used by bus parties and walkers on the West Highland Way.  As such it suffers in the same way as most hotels that specifically cater for this sort of custom … a bit soulless. Arriving, like Manley Hopkins by boat from Tarbert we were hoping to be inspired by scones as well as the scenery. View from Inversnaid Hotel across Loch Lomand to Ben ImeNo such luck! They didn’t look at all inspiring so we just shared one and our fears turned out to be totally justified … edible, but only just. At least we were able to sit out on a beautiful day and admire the scenery. Incidentally, the captain of our boat informed us that the huge pipes of the Loch Sloy hydro scheme were in fact the means of delivery to the packing hall below of a massive haggis factory buried deep in mountain. We have no way of verifying this but it doesn’t seem any more far fetched than the recent GERS (Government Expenditure Review Scotland) figures. On the face of it, it is bad news … we spend much more than we bring in. You have to bear in mind that GERS was set up back in the day by Ian Lang specifically to counter nationalism so it is hardly likely to deliver good news. View into the sunlight down Loch LomondGERS does however benchmark against other countries of similar size and again we do rather badly by comparison. The trouble is that no one seems to ask how we got to this situation  … under Westminster management? It is all supposed to be Scotland’s fault and proves that we could never ever ever be a viable independent nation. These benchmark countries would give their eye teeth for Scotland’s assets:

  • Norway is far more reliant on oil than Scotland, but is doing ok thank you very much.
  • Denmark would love to have whisky generating £120 of exports every second.
  • Belgium would love to have the Edinburgh Fringe, adding £261m to its economy.Interior of Inversnaid Hotel
  • Ireland would love to have Scotland’s online gaming industry, grown over 600% and potentially worth more than oil ever was.
  • Sweden would love to match Scotland educationally. According to the Office of National Statistics the adult population of Scotland is the most educated in the whole of Europe.
  • Finland would love to have Scotland’s tidal and wave energy potential, 25% of the entire EU.

So what’s the problem? Let’s guess … could it be the way we are governed, surely not? Entrance to Inversnaid HotelAn independent Scotland should be sporting an embarrassingly large fiscal surplus … and now they want to drag us out of the EU? Yet still people cling to the illusion that we are better together. As someone as  eloquent as Manley Hopkins would say …. aaarrgghhh!

FK8 3TU      tel: 01877 386223       Inversnaid Hotel TA

Boclair House Hotel

After a disappointing run of ‘poor’ or ‘no-show’ baking encounters at the Brenachoile then at Coffee on Wooer, we felt we had to do something to lift the air of despondency on planet scone. What better, to turn our fortunes around, than a visit to the offices of East Dunbartonshire Council … or so it was until it was recently transformed into the Boclair House Hotel. the terrace at Boclair House HotelThe red sandstone mansion was built in 1890 by the three sisters, Misses Buchanan, Margaret, Jane and Elizabeth. It was originallly known as the Buchanan Retreat for the exclusive use of the less well off members of the Buchanan clan. Nowadays, it is definitely for the more well to do Buchanans .. and everybody else of course! So called because it sits on Boclair hill, it was a very familiar architectural sight for Pat and I, in our courting days, when we used to whiz to and fro on the back road between Falkirk and Drumchapel. After all these years we were fascinated to, at long last, see inside. Here with one of Pat’s aunts, afternoon tea was what we were aiming for and the rather sumptuous surrounds in Annabel’s Bar, scene of the action, only served to heighten our expectations even further … surely we would not get a duff scone here? Interior of Annabel's bar at Boclair House HotelOf course, we had to have a glass of champs to kick things off because if you are going to do swank then you have to do it properly and we can do swank with the best of them! afternoon teaNormally on such occasions the scones appear on the lower or middle tier of the cake stand but this time they arrived majestically, in their proper place, suitably elevated above the sandwiches and cakes. It all looked scrummy … and it was! The scones were warm and slightly crunchy on the outside with a delightful soft interior … together with the jam and cream … topscone, no doubt! If you have ever harboured any lingering doubts about Nigel Farage maybe being one of the good guys’, though we cannot imagine why you would, his recent appearance as one of Trump’s henchmen must surely clinch it for you .. he’s an idiot! Probably a much richer idiot than he was before the event … but still an idiot! Having fled from the Brexit battlefield he now turns up in the US. Can we stop him returning to the UK? Apparently his wife is a foreigner so under our new regime that should be grounds enough?

G61 2TQ     tel: 0141 942 4278      Boclair House Hotel

Coffee on Wooer

Goodness knows, we really try to point out the positives whenever we can but it has been very difficult recently. Like our last post about the Brenachoile at Trossachs Pier, some places just leave you no choice but to report it as it is .. this is another. We were strolling idly through Falkirk, as we do, and when we came on this place we were intrigued. Situated on Wooer Street (a derivation of ‘weaver street’) it wasn’t too hard to see how they came up with the name. street sign for Wooer Street, FalkirkThese premises have undergone many incarnations over the years and this was obviously the latest. When we went in we stood and waited because we weren’t sure what to do. There were about four young lads doing headless chicken impersonations but none of them paid us any attention. Eventually we managed to capture one and asked if it was table service or self service .. no answer to the question, just “what do you want”. The answer was “two coffees” at which point our attendant fled … we didn’t know if they did scones or not. Pat sat at a table and I went over to the counter where, voila, there were some scones. I jokingly asked the young chap if he had baked them that morning? He lifted one, felt it, grimaced, then unsuccessfully tried to penetrate  it with a fork, at which point he said “I wouldn’t if I was you”! So we didn’t. This is the first post we have ever put up without a picture of a scone, apart from the famous Buckhaven scone, but we felt duty bound to report anyway. A piece of carrot cake was substituted and it was rather nice; the coffee was good as well, if a little bitter near the end. It’s a tremendous shame because these lads were all trying very hard but obviously lacked training and direction .. a bit like a rudderless ship.

section of COW menu
section of the menu but no indication of when ‘close’ was??

There were so many mixed messages amongst the jumble of stuff which only served to make the place look untidy and confused … and the menus chalked up behind the counter were all over the place! We guess the overall look was supposed to be ‘shabby chic’, but it wasn’t working … just ‘shabby’.Interior of Coffee on WooerWhere was the captain of this ship …  what was he/she thinking about?? Much the same could be said of the politicians who took us out of the EU. Where are they now and what were they thinking about? Still, nothing to worry about as Team GB comes in second only in the medals table to the USA … 67 in all. We are now officially a ‘sporting superpower’, whatever that means? Not all countries have money to burn like the UK so at a cost to the taxpayer of over £4m per medal that could easily be seen as cheating. Nothing against the individual athletes, they are just ‘doing what they want to do’, good luck to them, but now, as well as paying for their medals, we are doubtless going to shower them with honours too .. for just ‘doing what they want to do’! Promise that’s the last rant about the Olympics. According to the Coffee on Wooer’s rather glitzy but equally confusing website, they are setting out to challenge the big high street coffee shops. Maybe so, but they still have a huge amount to learn from them! Falkirk needs businesses like this so let’s hope they get it right eventually.

FK1 1NJ      tel: 01324 278026      Coffee on Wooer

Brenachoile Café

Here we are in the Trossachs … again! If you are going for a sail around Loch Katrine on the Sir Walter Scott steamship you will have to get on board here at Trossachs Pier. It’s a busy place because the smaller Lady of the Lake also does cruises and Katrinewheelz  will kit you out if you want to cycle round the loch to Stronachlachar … busy, busy!  The Brenachoile Café sits on the hill above the car park giving it a great view of the loch and all the activity below.

View from the café
View from the café

We were just passing the time while some our younger and fitter compadres climbed the nearby Ben A’an, a fantastic wee hill that, once upon a time, we used for practice rock climbs. It even has it’s own guide book … I distinctly remember ‘The Last Eighty‘ causing me some problems. It was a dull day so the prospect of a good cuppa and a scone was uppermost in our minds. Sadly it was not to be. The Brenachoile Café probably suffers in the same way as many such places that have a captive audience .. if you don’t come here there is nothing else for miles, so they, unfortunately, can get away with inferior food and inferior service. They don’t close until 6 but at 3.30 they were piling chairs onto tables as if they were closing … not a good look and more than a little unwelcoming. What a shame when the whole place is buzzing! Brenachoile 03Our coffee was okay but the scone was pretty dire and just as disappointing as the rest of the place. Almost as disappointing as Bloomberg’s 2016 report on the performance of world currencies. The great British pound languishes in last place as the worst in the world, just behind the Argentinian peso. Still, none of that matters a jot when we have wall to wall coverage of things totally meaningless in Rio … like a cosy anaesthetising blanket!  As long as Team GB is doing well … we don’t need to know about anything else … do we? The Brenachoile is run by the Winnock Hotel in Drymen. There is much room for improvement before they see any medals or awards from us!Brenachoile 04FK17 8JA         tel: 01877 376799            Brenachoile Café

The Tufted Duck Tearoom

Sometimes we go to the Scottish Antique & Arts Centre, either at Doune or Abernyte. Within a mile or so of Abernyte is the Rait Antiques Centre which we had not visited in a long time … and it’s all changed. It used to have a tiny café area at one end of the old cart shed but now the café seems to have taken over the entire place. There are still loads of antiques in this and the other studios but now you can sit anywhere and  the ambience is much more in keeping. It is no doubt down to the hard work and energy of Tim Hardie who has run the café since 2009. It was a nice surprise to see how it had developed … but how would the scones stack up? Tufted Duck 01Shock, horror, the people who were served before us had taken all but the last scone and we were fearful that the last specimen would also go before we had been served. No worries, Tim had reserved it specially for us … what a guy! The coffee was great and the scone was very good too. It wasn’t home baked but it was very light and somewhat cake-like in taste and texture. When we asked the somewhat frazzled Tim why he did not bake his own scones he just gave us a withering look and flew past at a hundred miles and hour. Tufted Duck 04Actually, even though he was extremely busy, he still manged to have a bit of friendly banter with everyone so well done him. Earlier in the day we had been in Perth and had had an interesting and lively encounter with a lovely lady who just happened to be a Tory. Now you might think that meeting a Tory in Perthshire is hardly something to write home about but this lady was especially lovely and especially lively. She, of course, declared that our Nicola was the devil incarnate and that everything to do with her and her party was indeed BAD … just as the media would have you believe. Now you would think, when the media never publish or broadcast anything about the SNP unless it is ‘SNPbad‘, that this is hardly surprising, however it is surprising that this attitude can prevail, even amongst ‘died in the wool’ unionists, when all the actual evidence points the other way. If they look at the facts, even hard nosed unionists should be prepared to admit that the SNP’s record in office is one of which they can be rightly proud. While Scotland’s democratic deficit starts to resemble the Grand Canyon, unionists seem to find it quite acceptable that  Scotland has absolutely no say whatsoever in what happens to it. The UK is clearly no longer fit for purpose, unionists, especially lovely lady ones, should be preparing for an amicable divorce rather than simply casting aspersions.

PH2 7RT       tel: 01821 670760      The Tufted Duck Tearoom TA

Forest Hills Hotel

This is a real dead-end kind of place .. but only because it is at the end of a dead-end road! To be precise it is not quite at the end of the road because you can go on a few miles to Stronachlachar and Inversnaid but you have no choice but to come back the same way. Having said that, Rob Roy, whose country this is, probably had a hundred ways in and out of Kinlochard … but he wasn’t driving a car. Staying in the village for a few days, courtesy of our intrepid and generous Trossachs correspondents, afforded us a chance to explore the local scone scene. Previously we have reported on one of our favourite places, the Wee Blether in the centre of the village, but there are scones everywhere in the Trossachs. Forest Hills 05The Forest Hills Hotel was just along the road and seemed like a good place to start. It holds a particularly fond memory for me from almost forty years ago. I was the official photographer at a family wedding and at one point I remember assembling the bride and groom and both sets of parents in front of a fireplace for a group shot. Forest Hills 01The hotel has undergone massive changes since then and I wondered if the fireplace had survived almost four decades of modernisation and change. It had, and still stands proud, pretty much as I remembered it. In fact the main part of the hotel was remarkably unchanged. Forty years ago we were sipping champagne which had been transported in suitcases all the way from France, but this time, of course, we were on scone safari. Pat just wanted a cup of tea so it was up to me to order a scone for myself. Turned out they came in twos (one plain, one fruit) but something was obviously lost in translation because when they arrived there was two for Pat as well! Heyho, she scoffed them anyway, no problem! Forest Hills 08Three different jams as well as a generous bowl of cream and the scones themselves were just the way we like them … warm, not too big, slightly crunchy on the outside and beautifully soft and light inside… mmmmm, topscone! Nowadays the hotel has all the necessary accoutrements to make it into a ‘spa’ resort. It is slightly ironic, however, to see lots of people pounding treadmills in a hot sweaty gym when they are surrounded by beautiful countryside and hills where they could be getting much better exercise whilst breathing pure clear Trossachs air … what is that all about?

View from the hotel towards Loch Ard with endless exercise opportunities
View from the hotel towards Loch Ard with endless exercise opportunities

Perhaps, more to the point at this particular time, what are the Olympics all about? Once a noble amateur sporting spectacle, in recent years it has succumbed to the powers of capitalism and lost it’s moral compass. Too much flag waving by multi-millionaires and pontificating by knights of the realm! The world would be a much better place if there was no professionalism in sport … can’t think of a single good thing to come from it. If Team GB does well there will be calls for vast amounts of money to be invested to maintain our place in the world as a great sporting powerhouse … if it does badly there will be calls for vast amounts of money to be invested to transform us into a great sporting powerhouse … as if it matters? Never mind Russia’s drug taking, financial and medical advantages over others are just another form of cheating! The fact that we might beat Team Vanuatu in the hop, skip and jump is supremely irrelevant to almost everything that really matters … it is all a grotesque nonsense and a waste of money.

not a cossetted Olympic event ... a proper swimming event at the loch
not a cossetted Olympic event … a proper swimming event at the loch

On top of all that we are expected to listen to endless banal drivel from multi-millionaire commentators and pundits. Olympic tennis turns out to be a rerun of Wimbledon? Olympic golf … we despair! The sooner they have ordinary dads building an IKEA Billy bookcase as an Olympic event the better. Rant over, must get back to the scones, they’re very good … gold medal even.

FK8 3TL         tel: 0344 879 9057          Forest Hills Hotel