Callendar House (revisited)

A billboard at Callendar House tearoom, FalkirkIn our original post, almost two years ago, we gave Callendar House a bit of a hard time and appealed to Falkirk Community Council to pull their socks up and provide something a little better. Well … we got a tip off in the form of this photo from our Trossachs correspondents, remember them? They are mostly dormant in winter but the fresh spring air has obviously stirred them and they sent this picture from a recent visit … they also reported an improvement in the scones! Philosophically the blackboard message gets right to the heart of everything … perhaps another visit was required.  As a slight aside, because my dad worked for Callendar Estate, when the contents of the house were been auctioned off in 1963, I, as a mere youth, was given the task of patrolling one of the floors, which included Mary Queen of Scots bedroom, to ensure that nothing was stolen. Didn’t someone pinch a full set of crystal decanters and glasses from her room … arrgghh! As far as I can remember I still got paid! The marriage agreement between Mary and the French Dauphin, Francis, which provided that Scotland and France should eventually be united as one kingdom, was signed here. Mary was fifteen and Francis fourteen when they were married in the cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris … the rest, as they say, is history. Interesting to speculate though on what things would be like now if Scotland had united with France rather than England.Internal view of Callendar House tearoom, FalkirkThe tearoom is housed in a beautiful old wood paneled room with ornate gilded cornicing. The publicity says “the newly refurbished Callendar House Tearoom offers a bright and airy café experience” … and it does, with nice views from the tall windows onto the expansive lawns and gardens.  The refurbishment however has involved replacing all the tables and chairs we complained about last time with equally modern featureless items which although better are still slightly incongruous. For such a grand setting, more appropriate Victoriana could easily have been purchase from auctions at a fraction of the cost … a lost opportunity! We have got to hand it to the staff however who have to work one of the most inefficient systems known to man … the kitchen is miles away, the cakes and pastries are at the furthest away point from the kitchen and the till is half way in between … they have to walk many unnecessary miles every day … but they seem to do so happily, well done them! A scone at Callendar House tearoom, FalkirkWhat’s with all this moaning we hear you say? Exactly, let’s get on to the scones. Our correspondents turned out to be absolutely correct,  they were much improved, very good even … not quite topscone but close. Again no local produce, the jam was the ubiquitous Tiptree variety and the butter was completely anonymous but heyho the overall experience was much better than last time … small steps. Thanks to our Trossachs correspondents for the heads-up! Just started getting our Council Election bumf through the door. Our sitting Tory counciller has a large fancy pamphlet completely devoid of policies except ” SNP bad” … probably all you can say if you can’t think of anything good to say about your own party! Logo of Callendar House tearoom, FalkirkFK1 1YR         tel: 01324 503770          Callendar House

Rankin’s Café

Today we are in North Queensferry gazing up at the world famous Forth Rail Bridge. We don’t usually start with a quiz however this is an exception. The bridge was opened in 1890 but how many rivets do you think were used in its construction a) 6.5 million b) the same number as the number of grains in a handful of sand c) the same number as the number of currants in a Rankin’s fruit scone. Forth Rail BridgeThe answer of course is (a) but if you said (c) then you would not have been too far out either … but more of that later! In 1068, King Malcolm III of Scotland’s wife Margaret, decreed that a crossing should be established here for the benefit of pilgrims traveling to St Andrews. She used it herself for the last time when her body was carried from Edinburgh to Dunfermline, Scotland’s capital at the time, for burial … thenceforth it became known as the Queen’s Ferry. The last ferry landing here was in 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge was opened. Today North Queensferry is very much the poor relation of its more glamorous sister, South Queensferry, on the other side of the river. Architecturally it is a peculiar mix of quite pretty historic buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and incredible monstrosities from the 1960s … town planners have much to answer for here. This is the first time we have ever visited and the only reason we are here at all is to see the progress on the new Queensferry Crossing  which should be completed later this year. There’s not a lot in the town apart from a Deep Sea World which we were keen to avoid. We never found a shop of any kind though there must be one somewhere, and Rankin’s seems to be the only café … Hobson’s choice for the weary traveler … not a bad wee place though.

Exterior view of Rankine's Café, North Queensferry
The Rail Bridge on the left and Rankin’s on the right.

The owner, Derek Rankin, prides himself on his coffee and even produces barista classes for the uninitiated … but what about his scones? Well, rivets come to mind again because he puts a lot of fruit in his fruit scones. A scone at Rankine's Café, North QueensferryNow, call us old fusspots if you like but we think that the fruit should be mixed into the scone mixture so that it is evenly distributed and held in suspension throughout the scone. Presumably Derek doesn’t bother with all that stirring business because there is so much fruit it is literally falling out of the scone onto the plate. The scones themselves were just the right size and actually pretty good …. just too much fruit … it kind of got in the way of the scone. A scone at Rankine's Café, North QueensferryThe coffee was great though and all in all we enjoyed our visit. This town is also home to the former labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, or Big Gordie as he is often referred to.  Since hardly anyone in Scotland believes anything the Tories say, Big Gordie is usually wheeled out on their behalf as the believable side of unionism … a kind of glove puppet. With the threat of another Scottish independence referendum looming, we can reasonably expect him to stir again from his North Queensferry lair and go lumbering round the country delivering all sorts of impossible inducements to preserve the Union. Considering that everything he promised in 2014 independence referendum has been shown to have had no substance whatsoever it will be interesting to see if people will be taken in again by whatever he dreams up this time.Interior view of Rankine's Café, North QueensferryLastly, in what we thought was a great idea, the town in 2000, made a Millenium Resolution preserved for posterity in the form of a bronze plaque looking out onto the river. It reads: Millennium Resolution plaque at North Queensferry

Let there be respect for the earth
Peace for its people
Love in our lives
Delight in the good
Forgiveness for past wrongs
And from now on, a new start

Nice one North Queensferry … but what are the chances?

KY11 1JG     tel: 01383 616313     Rankin’s Café

The Beatson

This scone is from the The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre which, thankfully, is renowned for things other than baking! If you just happen to be here however and a scone confronts you, what are you supposed to do? Obviously no one ever wants to contract this disease but if you have managed to get through life without being touched by cancer in some way, then you are a very fortunate person indeed. The Beatson used to be part of our working lives but this particular state-of-the-art building was just opening as we retired and, of course, we never expected to be back.

Bust of Sir George Beatson
Sir George Beatson

Someone near and dear to us is going to need the services of this place for the foreseeable future however, so suddenly it has become more familiar than ever. Suffice to say it is a fabulous facility  which works like a well oiled machine, belying all the scaremongering headlines about NHS Scotland, … but best of all, it is a happy place. It is named in memory of Sir George Beatson who, although born in Sri Lanka in 1848, was brought up in Campbeltown and ended up specialising in the treatment of cancer in Glasgow until his death in 1933. As well as being a highly skilled physician we think Sir George must have been an optimist. Someone once described an optimist as “someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster; it’s more like a cha-cha” and that sentiment pretty well sums up the feeling you get when you visit the building that now bears his name. Not the sort of place you would necessarily seek out for a scone however and we are certainly not advocating that you do … but since we are here!

Reception area at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre
Reception area

There is a franchise café in the reception area but we tend to use another one on a lower floor which is run by volunteers. It is self service but no young whippersnappers here asking if you want to ‘go large’? You get the impression that the staff have either had cancer themselves or have known someone who has … and, of course, they were all smiling and can’t do enough to help. A scone at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer CentreThere are probably more staff than would be required by a profit seeking enterprise but you just know that any profits generated here are not going very far. There is a good range of food on offer but, predictable as always, our eyes were on the scones. We got them all wrapped up in individual cellophane packets on paper plates together with the usual little packs of butter and jam. Coffee came in paper cups and the knives and forks were plastic but who cares in a place like this? It was all good and we will certainly be supporting them on our return visits over the coming years.Café area at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre What cynical carping political comment are they going to make in a place like this, we hear you ask? Only that the doctor we met was fabulous … she oozed positivity and optimism from ever pore of her being and was an absolute joy to speak to … she had been working at the Beatson for four years … she made us feel very happy … she was from Seville. We asked her what would happen to her in the brave new world of Brexit … “I have no idea” she replied cheerily. If only there had been some words of comfort we could have offered in return!

G12 0YN      tel: 0141 301 7000           The Beatson Cancer Centre