Lead Mining Museum

Lochnell Mine sign at WanlockheadOkay, here’s the question – where would you go if you wanted to get your hands on some gold … you know, just you and your shovel … South Africa, Australia, North America? These are all good bets but where would you go if you wanted to get your hands on some of the purest gold in the world … none of that rubbish stuff? What about Wanlockhead, just south of Glasgow?

Inside the Lochnell Mine at Wanlockhead
inside the Lochnell mine
Old photo of miners at Wanlockhead
Hardy souls

Gold at 22.8 carats was mined here for years along with silver, copper and lead, in fact, people still come here to try their hand at panning for gold … if you find it, it’s yours.  The principle metal mined here was, of course, lead, and considering the village is located in the Leadhills perhaps that is not too surprising. On our visit they took us to the furthest extremity of the mine then switched the lights off and lit a candle to let us see what the working conditions were like back in the day … it’s dark, very dark! What’s more, the miners had to buy their own candles which, at that time, were very expensive, however, if you were holding a giant chisel all day while your colleague belted it with a sledge hammer we don’t think you would have thought twice about buying the brightest candle possible even if it cost a lot of money. They just placed the candle in the rim of their hats … doesn’t bear thinking about! Railway sign at WanlockheadWhat else is Wanlockhead famous for? Well it is the highest village in Scotland and maybe even the UK, a position hotly disputed by the village of Flash in Staffordshire which also claims the title but we think that they are just being a bit … flash! Whichever proves to be true we think the Museum of Lead Mining may well be the location of the highest scone in the land … or at least that is what we are claiming until someone proves otherwise. The village is so high that when we were there it was completely enveloped in cloud making it seem a wee bit spooky and sombre. The approach to the tearoom didn’t do anything to lift the spirits but once inside it was a different story … it was bright with cheery welcoming staff … and scones. Interior view of the visitor centre at WanlockheadWe’ve had soft scones, hard scones, fruit scones, cheese scones, treacle scones, woeful scones and topscones but this scone was going to be the highest. Was it going to be any good though?

Perhaps they thought the altitude might have weakened us

As it turned out they had all been baked earlier in the day by a lovely young lass called Leagh, one of the waitresses. It always pleases us when young folk just attempt making any kind of scone, never mind a fine collection of plain, fruit and cheese ones. Well Leagh’s scones were very good indeed.A scone at the visitor centre at Wanlockhead We briefly considered a topscone award but reluctantly decided that some presentational problems and a lack of local butter and jam just let it down … shame! An all too common problem where the management cannot be bothered to source local produce. In fact, in our opinion, the academics have had far to much say in the running of this entire museum … it has a very complicated pricing structure and the whole place seems to be held in a kind of straightjacket of rules and regulations. There’s the Miner’s Library, the second oldest subscription library in the world, where you can look at manikins reading books but you are not allowed to do the same … no one is allowed near the books. Exterior view of the miners library at WanlockheadAlso the place sounds more like a spaceship with all its air conditioning and dehumidifiers. These are not particularly rare books and, given its multifunctional past, it has survived centuries of village meetings, birthday parties and generally enlightening the minds of miner’s children, only now to be preserved in such a way as to render it completely useless … really stupid! Almost as stupid as the result of the general election in a few weeks time  which looks increasing like it will go to the Conservatives … miners will be having to buy their own candles again … sorry, of course that won’t be necessary, miners were done away with years ago … by the Tories.

Interior view of the miners library at Wanlockhead
The library set up in 1756 by miners to educate their children.

Don’t let our minor irritations with some aspects of this museum deter you from visiting, it is fascinating and very much worth a visit … and almost a topscone!

ML12 6UT           tel: 01659 74387          Museum of Lead Mining

Champagne Central

“Typical” we can hear you all say “spend their lives eating scones and sipping champagne!” Now hold on a minute … given that we travel the country looking for good scones on your behalf it is inevitable that from time to time we end up in places like this … admittedly though, when it comes to hedonism, we do it rather well, in fact we can’t get enough of it if truth be known.

View of stairwell chandelier at Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow
Stairwell chandelier over four floors

To be honest though, we just happened to be in Central Station catching a train and had some time to spare … and realising that we had not been in this hotel, which forms part of the station, for quite some time we thought we would pop in and see what the scones were like … on your behalf …okay? Opened in 1883 it is very much the grand dame of Glasgow hotels having played host to many many stars … Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Charlie Chaplin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to name but a few. Surely, best of all though was Trigger, Roy Roger’s horse who spent a night in the hotel’s most expensive room, the bridal suite, in 1954 … the suite had to be emptied of furniture and straw laid out on the floor. Trigger could not fit in any of the lifts and had to be walked up four flights of stairs … now that’s celebrity! Logo for Champagne Central at Grand Central Hotel, GlasgowAlso, the world’s first long-distance television pictures were transmitted to this hotel from London, in 1927 by John Logie Baird. Of course, you will all remember our report on the world’s first demonstration of the new TV technology by Baird a year earlier at Johstones Bar Bistro in Falkirk, albeit just between two rooms. We could go on but you are getting impatient for scone news.View of Champagne Central bar at Grand Central Hotel, GlasgowChandeliers, corinthian pillars and marble floors pander to our hedonistic tendencies so when we arrived at Champagne Central we felt quite at home. View of Champagne Central lounge at Grand Central Hotel, GlasgowMind you, the lighting is such that you could have difficulty finding your scones never mind eating them. We had not long had lunch and the scones come as a brace but they had no difficulty with us having one cream tea between us. View of scones at Grand Central Hotel, GlasgowPresentation was nice … crisp white napkins, generous pots of tea and two bits of shortbread protruding from the clotted cream?? Unfortunately the jam was one of the little Tiptree pots but hey, after a few glasses of champagne, who cares … just kidding about the champagne? Everything was lovely … apart from the scones. Difficult to describe what was wrong really but the word that comes to mind is ‘flabby’ … soft but not in a particularly nice way. We ate them however and enjoyed the atmosphere looking down onto the bustling concourse of Central Station. The rushing crowds reminding us that, only yesterday, at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester there must have been just such a scene before that horrific bomb was detonated. Sitting in such cossetted surroundings, even with flabby scones, we do feel extremely fortunate.

G1 3SF       tel: 0141 240 3700        Grand Central Hotel

Brodies of Moffat

Brodies is a restaurant, come wine bar, come gin bar, come coffee house and, for us, a greatInternal view of Brodies of Moffat discovery. It is situated in lovely Moffat, an old spa town with a huge main street and lots of elegant Victorian buildings. We’re not here to admire the architecture however, rather we are on a sort of pilgrimage … much like the one we did some time ago trying to track down a Polynesian Princess in Buckhaven. Again, the catalyst was one of our favourite authors, R B Cunninghame Graham, but this time it was his short story “Beattock for Moffat”. In it he tells the tale, set around 1920, of Andra, and his attempt to get back from London to his farm in Moffat, to die. His brother, Jock, had somewhat reluctantly left tending his turnips to go and collect his brother, and accompanied by Andra’s cockney wife Jean, the reader is treated to a trip through a moonlit sleeping England on the night train from Euston. Conversation between the three characters is sparse. Andra is very frail, his sole aim is to reach Moffat while he still has a breath in his body. Jean, in her English way, consoles her husband “Why yuss, in eight days at Moffat, you’ll be as ‘earty as you ever was. Yuss, you will,  you take my word.” whereas Jock, in the typically Scottish way, tells Andra “ye ken, we’ve got a brand new hearse outby, sort of Epescopalian lookin’ we gless a’ round, so’s ye can see the kist” … the dying man takes more comfort from Jock’s attempts than his wife’s. Eventually they arrive at Beattock, the nearest station to Moffat, where they carry Andra to the platform and when the train doors are banged shut the guard shouts “Beattock, Beatock for Moffat“. Andra smiled and whispered faintly in his brother’s ear “Aye, Beattock – for Moffat?” … and died. Today the trains don’t stop at Beattock but we had heard that there was a campaign underway to have it reopened so we thought we should go and have a look at where Andra spent his last mortal moments. We had not bargained on the fact that the station had long since been demolished and even the locals were unsure where it had once been located. It was a sorry sight when we eventually found it, tucked away down a narrow lane behind an old blacksmith’s smiddy, but walking around, we did feel closer to Andra and his struggle.

Site of Beattock railway station
Where Beattock station used to be on the left and the platform now completely overgrown.

Those of you who have spent time looking for non-existent railway stations will know that it is not long before a cuppa and a scone is required … we traced Andra’s last journey from Beattock over the couple of miles to Moffat and that’s how we ended up here at Brodies. Internal view of Brodies of MoffatIt really is a great venue for Moffat, where some of the other eateries can look a wee bit tired … a beautifully appointed  restaurant and a very comfortable lounge area. Before long we had the last two fruit scones resplendent in front of us with nice crockery and generous portions of jam and cream … the butter came in a butter dish, no prepackaged stuff here! Someone must have told them how we like our scones because they were just right … crunchy on the outside and beautifully soft in the middle … but you all know that by now! We ate them thinking of Andra’s hurl in the new hearse and wondering if Jock went straight back to his turnips. We are always impressed by Cunninghame Graham’s powers of observation … it was him, after all, who noted that “the enemies of Scottish Independence lie not with the English, a kind and generous people, but with those in Scotland without imagination”. Logo for Brodies of MoffatDG10 9EB     tel: 01683 222870      Brodies of Moffat

ps The man who enabled Amazon to deliver parcels on time and for the world in general to make appointments and produce reliable timetables, came from Moffat … we visited his grave. Oddly enough the church yard has a beautifully smooth tarmacadam path leading through the headstones but not to the one belonging to its inventor, John MacAdam … you have to tramp through a lot of long wet grass to get to it. He died here in 1836.Gravestone of John McAdam in Moffat church yard

The Riverside Café

In 1896 when the tall ship, Glenlee, seen here on the right of the title picture, was launched from the Bay Shipyard in Port Glasgow this part of the Clyde was buzzing with heavy industry … Glasgow was building railway engines and mighty ocean liners for the rest of the world. Hard to believe nowadays when the river banks are mostly lined with nothing more than elegant apartments … ‘riverside living’ they call it. Canada poster at Glasgow Riverside MuseumView of cafe at Glasgow Riverside MuseumThe racket of riveters at work has given way to relative peace and quiet, and rather than the skyline being dominated by huge cranes, today it is ultra modern buildings like the Armadillo, the SEC Hydro, the Glasgow Tower and this one … the Riverside, or to give it its full name, the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. For years we have been saying that we should visit but you know how it is … difficult to find the time. We wish we could say that this visit was caused by lofty cultural and educational reasons but it was actually much more prosaic … our car was being serviced at a nearby garage and they offered to drop us here while we waited. The spectacular design by Iraqui born architect Zaha Hadid, is supposed to symbolize  the dynamic relationship between Glasgow and the river Clyde – whatever! When it opened in 2011 the Glenlee, which had been a training ship for the Spanish navy, was moored here and is now part of the museum experience.Internal view of Glasgow Riverside MuseumInside the main building there is a dazzling array of transport memorabilia and even whole streets of the Victorian age have been recreated. Internal view of Launch of the Queen Mary exhibit at the Glasgow RiversideOne exhibit reminded us that the weather wasn’t any better in 1934 at the launch of the Queen Mary, not that we should  be complaining, we haven’t had a drop of rain for weeks. When the Glenlee was being launched in 1896 the Glasgow Subway was being opened …. the only earlier subways at that time were in London and Budapest. Subway poster at Glasgow Riverside MuseumView of cafe at Glasgow Riverside MuseumOkay, you are getting impatient … does the museum have scones? Well, enjoyable as all this nostalgic stuff was before long you do need a sit down and some sort of sustenance. We made our way to the Riverside Café which is at the front of the museum looking out onto the river and the Glenlee. It has a very high ceiling and the furnishings are pretty utilitarian but the slightly cavernous feel is more than made up for by the friendliness of the staff.View of cafe at Glasgow Riverside Museum Again, in true Glasgow style … by the time we were finished the serving staff knew more about us than we knew about ourselves. Again, we decided to have some lunch so decided to share the scone. Again, like the Butterchurn in our previous post, it did not look exactly mouth watering but heyho, our dedication to sconology knows no bounds. Sometimes in places like this where they say the scones are freshly baked we can tend to be a wee bit cynical … “surely not”, we hear you gasp, “those two could never be cynical”! A scone at Glasgow Riverside MuseumView of cafe at Glasgow Riverside MuseumWell, our cynicism was confounded once again, it had been freshly baked and it was really good, no cream but a selection of prepacked jams and plenty butter. Not a topscone, but good effort! The Riverside Museum is superb and we are not at all surprised  that many awards have come its way. It certainly gives you an insight into times gone by and makes you a bit nostalgic for the old days. It is perhaps worth remembering though that there were lots of things about that heavy industrial era that were not quite as rosy as we remember. None of the sparkling exhibits would actually have been like that in real life … they would all have been covered in a layer of soot for a start and it would probably not have been advisable to breathe the air in central Glasgow. Donald Trump wants to bring back the steel and coal mining industries to make America great again … really?External view of Glasgow Riverside Museum

G3 8RS          tel: 0141 287 2720              Riverside Museum

The Butterchurn

There are plenty of things that change as you get older but no one  ever mentioned to us that you start to run out of aunties. Between us we used to have loads of them but, sadly, now we only have two … and one of them lives here in Kirkintilloch and we are taking her out for lunch. Kirkie is a fair distance from our home town of Falkirk yet both towns are very much connected: a) the Forth & Clyde canal runs through both b) the Roman Antonine Wall runs through both and c) they both have an illustrious history in iron manufacturing. Aficianados of the world famous red telephone box know that almost all the K2 and K6 versions were made here in the Lion foundry and, of course, every single one of the limited edition K4s were made at Carron in Falkirk. For non-aficianados we have put together a handy guide which will hopefully help avoid any confusion. K2, K6 and K4 red telephone boxesAnyway, now that we have cleared that up, our aunt wanted to buy some plants for her garden so where better than Caulder’s Garden Centre right here in Kirkie which is also home to the Butterchurn Coffee House. Although we had been warned it was always busy we did not expect to be told that we would have to wait twenty minutes for a table .. and it’s not as if it is short of tables, it’s quite a big place. We were put on a waiting list.Internal view of the Butter Churn Coffee Shop, KirkintillochTrue to their word, however, we went back later and within a couple of minutes we had a table. The serving staff, although rushed off their feet, were very friendly and welcoming in that uniquely Glasgow kind of way … you find yourself talking about the weather, children and the price of tea in China in the act of giving your order. We had ordered a scone but decided, since we were having other things, to share it three ways. A scone at the Butter Churn Coffee Shop, KirkintillochUnfortunately it appeared with all the other food so we had to look at it all the way through lunch … and it did not look at all promising. Well, you would think, with our intensive studies in sconology, that we would be able to spot a good scone at some distance … you would be wrong, it was excellent, what do we know? We like our scones to be a little bit crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle but this one wasn’t, it was all soft but with a lovely texture … delicious! Nice jam and whipped cream as well. They also do lumpy bumpy cake … don’t ask!

View from the Butter Churn Coffee Shop, Kirkintilloch
View with the Campsie Fells in the distance

There have been other surprises recently! For us the biggest was how far the main stream media, including the ‘impartial’ BBC, went in distorting the facts about the local council elections. They managed to turn it, with just 20% of the vote, into a triumph for the Tories … apparently the SNP are going to have to rethink their entire strategy and drop all thoughts of independence … eh, the clue is in the name? What actually happened was that the SNP, after 10 years in power, increased their vote and took control of all the major cities whereas the unionist vote decreased … it takes real skill to twist that into a disaster for independence but par for the course really. The Tories did increase their vote but only because Labour voters could not bring themselves to vote Labour and switched, unbelievably in Scotland, to Tory. Table decoration at the Butter Churn Coffee Shop, KirkintillochIn France, Emmanuel Macron has become President! Perhaps not that surprising, but surprising in that no one seemed to like either candidate, they just voted for what they saw as the lesser of two evils. What has happened to world politics … everything is anti: anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-globilisation, anti-this, anti-that? Our Kirkintilloch aunty is a wee treasure however … we had a great lunch and a surprise topscone. Apologies for the homophonics.Graphic for the Butter Churn Coffee Shop, Kirkintilloch

G66 1QF        tel: 0141 776 2304          Butterchurn Coffee Shop

Glen Lyon Tearoom

In order to explain our whereabouts for this scone you will have to bear with us while we explain a bit about the origins of photography … it will only take a minute … honest! In 1837 Louis Daguerre produced a photograph using a piece of silver plated copper … it needed a half hour exposure  but that was much faster than anything that had gone before so it was tremendously exciting at the time. Within twenty years however the process was superceeded by the Wet Plate Collodion process which used glass plates coated in a mixture of bromide, iodide and chloride … offering exposures of just a few minutes. To take a picture you first had to coat the glass plate, expose it in the camera while still wet, then process it before it dried … about ten minutes or so for each shot and all using highly dangerous chemicals! Anyway, believe it or not, today we had our picture taken using this process, courtesy of our friends Dave and Gill Hunt at Wildgrass Studios.

Wildgrass Studios

Dave is experimenting with the Wet Plate Collodion process for his own fine art work and we had volunteered to be guinea pigs. I started my photography career using 5×4 large format cameras but never with wet plates so I was fascinated to see the process in action … talk about going back in time! Electricity wasn’t around when these processes were being used but thankfully, with modern electric lighting we did not have to sit still for long … just long enough for Dave to remove the lens cap, flash, then replace it. Unfortunately, we did not see the finished articles because they all had be carefully dried overnight.

Photography at Wildgrass Studios near Killin
Pat waits to be shot while Dave prepares the plate .. developed plates washing

Wildgrass Studio is near Killin so, after our photo session, we decided to hop over the lower slopes of Ben Lawers, on a great wee road that is only open in the summer, to Bridge of Balgie and the Glen Lyon tearoom … see, simple explanation … we were having our picture taken. Interior view of Glenlyon tearoom, Bridge of BalgieFor Bridge of Balgie, this place is the Post Office and the supermarket. Though not quite a Tesco it has all the staples needed if you find yourself snowed in for a month or two. It also has a good reputation as a tearoom and for its scones. A scone at Glenlyon tearoom, Bridge of BalgieThere was one big problem though. Straight away, from the photograph, those of you who are aware of our proclivities, can probably tell that they did not meet with our overwhelming approval … we tend to like to decide for ourselves how much jam and cream to put on our scones rather than leave it to someone else. Presumably it is done to be helpful but it would be soooo much better if everything was served separately. What made it even more annoying was that the scones themselves were excellent and might even have been topscones if Pat had not had to scrape off most of the topping … I, on the other hand, ate the lot! Glen Lyon Roasters coffee poster at the Glenlyon tearoom, Bridge of BalgieThe Glen Lyon tearoom is a great spot though and they even roast their own coffee … if they could just serve the scones correctly it would be perfect. Just west of Bridge of Balgie lies the magnificent sparkling white Meggernie Castle, former home to Captain Robert Campbell who led the government troops at the Massacre of Glencoe. The castle is said to be haunted by some really horrible ghosts and with both of us being of a McDonald persuasion, all we can say is, “bloody well serves them right”! We see that Theresa May has given away her EU negotiating strategy by promising to be “a bloody difficult woman”  … does she not realise that anyone with half a brain can be ‘bloody difficult’ and that her counterparts in the EU now know that they are dealing with someone with only half a brain … but they probably knew that anyway.

View from the Glenlyon tearoom, Bridge of Balgie
View from the tearoom

We won’t see the finished pictures from Wildgrass for some time yet but, by the wonders of Photoshop, we can give you sneaky peek of what we look like floating around in a dish of water. Wet Plate Collodion picture from Wildgrass StudiosPerhaps, if there is enough in the way of popular demand, we might let you see the finished article in a later post. Many thanks Dave for your endless patience and for what was an absolutely fascinating experience … think I will be sticking with digital though.

PH15 2PP        tel: 01887-866221       Glen Lyon Tearoom TA

St Paul’s Hotel

What is now the elegant red sandstone St Paul’s Hotel started life as St Paul’s School which was founded in 1509. Since then the school has occupied numerous locations and currently occupies a large site on the south side of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge. Between 1884 and 1968, however, it was housed here on the other side of the river.  Like Eton and Gordonstoun, St Paul’s was designed to populate the government, civil service, diplomatic service and the armed forces with men who could maintain the Empire and keep their parents in the manner to which they had become accustomed and, of course, keep the riffraff in their rightful place. Amongst its alumni are Samuel Pepys and George Osborne, though quite why they would admit to someone whose main achievement, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was to double the national debt to £1.7 trillion, is quite beyond us. Luckily this rather beautiful building has found a renewed sense of purpose serving scones to the riffraff … enter the riffraff. Poster for the film 'Melody', filmed at St Paul's Hotel, HammersmithThe hotel has lots of beautiful rooms and, in what used to be the lecture theatre, General Eisenhower presented the final invasion plan to General Montgomery, King George VI and Winston Churchill just three weeks before the D-Day landings took place in 1944.  For our cream tea, however, we were ushered into the very comfortable Melody Restaurant & Bar, so called because the school provided the backdrop for the 1971 cult film about ‘puppy love’. The film is sometimes known as S.W.A.L.K (some of you will know what these letters stand for) and if you click on the poster and have an hour and forty three minutes to spare you can watch it … though you would probably be better served just continuing to read this post. The service here would best be described as ‘efficient’ … absolutely nothing wrong with it but maybe lacking a certain friendly personal touch that would make all the difference … but then again they can probably spot riffraff a mile off and are trained not to be overly effusive in their welcomes. Scones at St Paul's Hotel, HammersmithThey offer a range of teas and we elected, in true adventurous style, for Indian breakfast rather than English … quite a good choice as it turned out. The presentation of the scones was as you would expect in such a place … nice bowls of jam and cream, crisp linen napkins etc … and here the scones come in threes. Okay they’re quite small, and although some of them could never be described as ‘beautifully formed’, they were delicious … nicely warmed, crunchy on the outside with super soft centres, topped off with a light dusting of icing sugar … fab … topscone!Interior view of St Paul's Hotel, HammersmithYou cannot turn your back for a second! While we’ve been away Theresa May has ‘done’ Scotland on her “strong and stable – I am the one” general election tour of what she doubtless regards as ‘the provinces’. Lets face it the Tories see Scotland simply as a place to shoot grouse and store nuclear missiles … oh, and a source of funding for all their fancy London projects. She really got down and dirty with the locals … not! Her only appearance was in a village hall in a forest near to that well known Labour stronghold of Crathes in Aberdeenshire. It had been surreptitiously booked for a children’s party … no shortage of balloons then? It is hard to imagine anything more pathetic …  okay, okay, George Osborne, but at least he has managed to get another job he knows nothing about as editor of the Evening Standard?

W14 0QL     tel: 020 8846 9119       St Paul’s Hotel