This is becoming a habit … eating scones in orangeries that is! It’s not that long ago since we were at an orangery at Ham House in London and here we are at it again … life can be hard. Today we were actually trying to track down Shapes auction house which had notified us of a move to Port Edgar from Edinburgh, when we came on this place. It’s in an excellent garden centre which we have known for many years. It started life in the walled garden of nearby Hopetoun House but twenty years ago moved a mile or so to its present site and became known as the ‘New’ Hopetoun Garden Centre. On the way in you are greeted with this sign which makes you wish you had been here on Sept 5 1792, it must have been quite a day … it was a Wednesday! Not to be confused with Sept 5 forty years earlier in 1752 … not only did nothing happen, it didn’t even exist. That year, in order for Britain to catch up with the rest of the world which used the Gregorian calendar (we know, it is hard to imagine Britain being out of step .. but just try), it was decreed that the day following Sept 2 would be Sept 14 … just like that, eleven days just vanished! You thought time travel was just a figment of the imagination but the entire population of Britain was actually doing it centuries ago! We digress. The Orangery is everything you would expect from a garden centre tearoom … spacious, bright and with a good range of food and drink on offer. It is self service but, even though it was busy, we were quickly attended to by some very friendly staff. Pat decided on our traditional choice of a fruit scone but I opted for cherry … hey, why not? Both scones came with loads of jam, butter and cream. They had really crunchy exteriors with soft middles which made them delicious but a bit difficult to manage … they tended to crumble very easily. We thoroughly enjoyed them though … topscone. Because service is usually a factor we don’t normally give topscone awards to self service establishments but the self service here was great, the sun was shining and we were in a good mood … well done The Orangery! A little bit further along the road we came to Port Edgar near South Queensferry. The ‘Edgar’ bit comes from Edgar Aetheling, the brother of Queen Margaret of Scotland who set up the ferry crossing in the 11th century to help pilgrims on their way to St Andrews. It operated until 1964 when the road bridge was built.
Originally a naval base it is now a leisure marina. Visitors to Port Edgar are now treated to an excellent view of the new Queensferry Crossing … opened only a few months ago.
It is a magnificent feat of engineering and now, with Boris Johnston talking of a bridge across the English Channel, it is perhaps worth explaining some facts about this one. It was built by the SNP government on time and under budget … obviously Carillion was not involved. It was opposed by all other political parties who promptly fell over themselves to take credit when it was completed. There was no funding from Westminster … something to remember if the Channel Bridge ever gets the go ahead. Scotland, like the HS2 and Crossrail projects, will undoubtedly be saddled with 10% of the costs for little or no benefit. Anyway, we did find the new premises of the auction house which was massive but shut, not opening until the end of the month apparently … heyho, we had thoroughly enjoyed our day!
When we got the call to say that a tiny flower made of plaster (don’t ask), ordered well before Christmas, had arrived at the Wm Boyle shop in Glasgow we decided to pick it up rather than risk it in the post. We got the train to Pollockshields East and, lo and behold, right beside the station is this place …. the Glasgow Gurdwara … impressive or what? Religious we are not but we are curious about things we don’t understand and just the building alone looked worthy of investigation. We knew that Sikhs wore turbans but that was about that in terms of our knowledge of Sikhism … enlightenment beckoned.
We were welcomed with open arms and once we had given up our shoes, washed our hands and donned some headgear we were ushered in and given a complete tour of the entire building … even though there was only the two of us! It was fascinating. We are not going to attempt to explain Sikhism here but suffice to say we now have a much better understanding. Our lasting impression though was of the warmth shown to us by everyone we met, we even received a wonderful lunch … chapatis but no scones! Having collected the little flower and bade a fond farewell to our new Sikh friends we found ourselves back at Glasgow Central station and, just around the corner, is this place, the Riverhill Coffee House. We thought that it too might be worthy of investigation. At first we thought we were continuing our eastern theme because their signature dish is shawarma wraps, which we thought sounded rather Indian but turns out to be Arabic … our ignorance really knows no bounds! We quickly reverted to type though and opted to put the only scone they had left out of its miserable loneliness. Riverhill classes itself as “exotically Scottish” … an oxymoron if ever there was one but after our recent experience at Kilmahog, this place restored our sagging faith … lots of helpful smiling youngsters, eager to help and all Scottish, hurragh! It used to be a jewellery shop until the owners decided to forsake diamonds for coffee, cakes and scones – a bold but totally understandable decision. They make everything fresh daily so our scone was good and although they didn’t have cream there was certainly plenty of butter and jam. Not quite a topscone but good effort and great to see a place like this seriously taking on the multinationals at their own game. With Donald Trump cancelling his visit to London to open the new American embassy for fear of ugly protests we think he should come and visit the Glasgow Gurdwara instead. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to a) keep God in heart and mind at all times b) live honestly and work hard c) treat everyone equally d) be generous to the less fortunate e) serve others … turban for Mr Trump! On the way home on the train we had a fascinating conversation with ‘Colin’ who hailed from the Isle of Kerrera and was on his way to Germany to visit family. The little plaster flower eventually arrived back home, safe and sound, after an interesting day.
Firstly, let us wish you all a good new year, may it be a great one … in spite of all the dodgy politics.
Now, what you have all been waiting for … the first scone of 2018! It wasn’t the balmy -1°C temperature that drove us in here in search of woolly underpants, but simply that we were out and about on a beautiful sunny day enjoying the scenery and this is where we ended up … quite by accident. It was a bit nippy though! For those unfamiliar with Kilmahog (quite a few we suspect) it is just outside Callander at the junction of the Trossachs and Lochearnhead roads. It’s a tiny hamlet of just a few houses yet manages to sport two woollen mills … the Trossachs Woollen Mill and the Kilmahog Woollen Mill as well as a pub (The Lade Inn) with its own microbrewery. At one time the Oban railway ran through here but it is now a cycle track and popular as part of the Rob Roy Way. Still standing at the road junction is the 19th-century toll-house where Queen Victoria once had to cough up some money in order to continue her journey.
Best of all though, on the small hill opposite Kilmahog there is a massive rock, known locally as Samson’s Putting Stone. Legend has it that, Samson, one of the Fingalian giants threw it three miles, from his home on Ben Ledi during a competition with rival giants. Some say he actually threw it from Ben Lawers … a phenomenal twenty three miles. Yet others say it is a glacial erratic left by a receding glacier … but, to us, this explanation seems slightly far fetched. One thing is clear … these giants did not tidy up after their games! The woollen mill itself is pretty big and, of course, stuffed full of everything tartan you could imagine … yes, underpants! The café part is quite big as well and obviously is set up to deal with bus parties in the summer. When it’s busy you probably would not notice the rather utilitarian nature of the place but when it’s quiet it becomes rather obvious. The service was what we would normally describe as ‘surly‘ and far too Scottish for our liking. With Brexit on the horizon we had better get used to it … no more of our eastern european friends eager to work and giving excellent happy service … what an idiotic world we live in! On the upside, our somewhat low scone expectations were confounded when it turned out to be surprisingly good …. fresh and slightly crunchy on the outside. They charged a fortune for the jam but the cream was plentiful and good. On its own, this could have maybe squeezed into the topscone category but the overall experience let it down badly … shame! Expectations were further confused by a warning sign in the toilets. It seemed to suggest that you would only get hot water if the wind was blowing from a certain direction, or the moon was aligned with Mars … or, maybe it was simply down to Samson being in a good mood … who knows? It certainly heightened anticipation when using the cold tap. So our first scone adventure of the year had mixed outcomes … good to be on the hunt once more on such a lovely day but a frustratingly disappointing scone experience over all …. things can only get better! Or maybe not … as Theresa May gets on with rearranging the deckchairs we hope that at least she, unlike the local giants, will at least tidy up after herself because it is bound to end up in a mess no matter how much she shuffles them. In the USA, Oprah Winfrey is thinking of running against Donald Trump. We have no wish to take anything away from Ms Winfrey but how on earth did it get to this?