The Elgin Hotel

Today we were back at the Hippodrome picture palace to see Journey’s End,  an excellent ‘must see’ for all those who think of war as a worthwhile endeavour … we were both a bit emotional at the end. Afterwards we decided to extend our homeward journey via one of our favourite scenic routes. Also, having had a wee nostalgia trip in our previous post we thought we might as well persist with the theme … but this time the images are coming from the gents toilet at the Elgin Hotel … too much information??Nostalgic posters at the Elgin Hotel, Charlestown, Fife Admittedly, even at the time, these images would have been deemed ‘romanticised’ but once again we think it would be interesting to see if the artist could portray life today with such a degree of misty eyed innocence. Talking of things not being quite what they seem, we are not actually in Elgin, that fine highland town where you might reasonably expect to find such a hotel … our scenic route did not stretch that far! We are actually in Charlestown on the northern shore of the river Forth, only a few miles from Edinburgh. The Earls of Elgin have owned everything within sight of this place for centuries so the hotel takes it’s name from them. They even had Charlestown built in the shape of the letter E … but hey, when you are an over privileged toff with more money than sense you can do that sort of thing!  The 7th Earl, Lord Elgin, was perhaps the most well known in that it was he who, in 1803, stripped the Parthenon of its marble sculptures  because he wanted them to decorate Broomhall House, his home on the outskirts of the village. They, of course, became known as the Elgin Marbles and they continue to cause as much controversy today as they did back then. Such was the fury at the time, Lord Byron carved ‘Quod non fecerunt Gothi, fecerunt Scoti‘ in the rock at the Acropolis, meaning ‘What the Goths spared, the Scots destroyed’ … not sure who was the worst vandal though? For what it’s worth, we think that Britain should do the decent thing and return the Marbles to their rightful place … but then again, when was the last time Britain did the decent thing?

Snowdrops at the Elgin Hotel, Charlestown, Fife
snowdrops … signs of spring at The Elgin Hotel

Anyway, Charlestown itself is a lovely village which kind of belies the fact that it was once a shipbuilding port and even functioned as the ship-breaking centre for the boats of the German Imperial Fleet brought down from Scapa Flow at the end of World War I. Internal view of the Elgin Hotel, Charlestown, FifeBefore we move on to the important business of scones, perhaps there is just time for a teansy bit of tittle tattle. Controversy obviously follows the Elgins, because In 1990, the current Lord Elgin’s son, Lord Bruce married one Amanda Movius, a 23 year old Alaskan with reportedly ‘pop star’ looks. She had been in Scotland on holiday but, after a whirlwind romance, ended up as Lady Bruce with a vast baronial estate and a 30,00 square foot mansion. Having embarked on several extramarital affairs however and setting up a failed clothes shop in Edinburgh she fled Scotland leaving behind a mountain of debt. Back in America she continued with a life of deceit and dishonesty until last year she was eventually jailed in Texas for credit card fraud, drink driving, possession of marijuana and obstructing the highway. We tell you this simply to illustrate that, heaven forbid, aristocrats are just the same as the rest of us, just a lot more privileged … not to gossip you understand! Enough of all that, what about the scones? Scones at the Elgin Hotel, Charlestown, FifeUnfortunately, mid-afternoon, we seemed to be the only people around. Nevertheless we were very well looked after by a couple of ladies who soon had us sitting in front of the fire and supplying us with tea, coffee and a couple of fruit scones. ‘Disappointing’ is the word that best described them. They were presented with a basket of prepackaged jams and butter … and the cream was scooshie … arrgghh!

A whisky timer at the Elgin Hotel, Charlestown, Fife
whisky timer

We enjoyed them however because after walking in the icy Siberian blast of the Beast from the East it was nice to be sitting here in front of a nice fire with hot drinks and some scones .. even these scones! On the bar they had two whisky bottles made up like a giant egg timer. No one seems to know why it’s there or where it had came from. Apparently it has got slower over the years and currently, the time for one bottle to empty into the other, stands at 67 minutes … fine if you like your eggs really hard boiled!

KY11 3EE      tel: 01383 872257       The Elgin Hotel

ps: a photo has been sent in from our Emirates correspondents. It is taken from a menu in Abu Dhabi and among the items in their ‘Arabic High Tea’ is a scone. An Arab sconeWe had no idea that Arabs ate scones but you learn something every day … many thanks to our correspondents for that.  They did not furnish any information on what it was like, we will have to have a word … though at 113 dirhams (£22) it’s not exactly cheap. Labneh, by the way, is a kind of Greek style yoghurt … think we’ll stick with strawberry jam!

The Ivy Tearoom

One of the marvelous things about being of a certain vintage is that you can visit the cinema in the middle of the week, see a film and still be out in time for lunch. You also get a cup of tea and a biscuit on the way in … what’s not to like? So it was that we ended up in the Hippodrome in Bo’ness to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The town’s name, Bo’ness, is an abbreviated version of Barrowstounness meaning Burgh Town on the Point referring to the promontory on which it’s located. Once one of Scotland’s main ports, second only to Leith, nowadays, in common with many such towns, it has that rather sad post-industrial look about it.

External view of the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo'ness
Opened in 1911,the Hippodrome is Scotland’s oldest purpose built cinema    and its dome

Our film, Three Billboards, was much feted at the BAFTAs and we certainly enjoyed it. We won’t explain why (we review scones not films) but suffice to say that when we came along the street to The Ivy Tea Room we overheard people at the next table talking about the film. One of them said ” oooo .. she was like a dog with a bone!” and that pretty well sums it up … but go see for yourselves! The Ivy is one of these places that cannot quite make up its mind what it wants to be. Internal view of the Ivy Tea Room in Bo'nessMostly it’s a tearoom, of course, but there is also an area dedicated to selling books and knick-knacks and another selling antiques, or what might more accurately be described as bric-a-brac. We think it should stick to being a tearoom and try and get rid of the slightly cluttered appearance of the place. However, a very smiley lady took our order and soon had us sorted with some lunch as well as a scone to share. Among some of the aforesaid clutter there were a few illustrations reminiscent of a more gracious world when things were not so frenetic.Pictures at the Ivy Tea Room in Bo'ness Okay, we hear you cry “they’ve been sitting in a cinema all morning with tea and biscuits, what are they going on about … frenetic??” You’re right, of course, we are fortunate indeed but nevertheless these images seemed almost ‘other worldly’ when set against a modern backdrop of school shootings, misogyny, paedophilia and generally failing services. All right, that rather misty eyed world probably never actually existed but we still think you would have to use mightily rose tinted glasses to illustrate today’s world in a similar vein. Will this time be looked back on as the golden age of anything? A scone at the Ivy Tea Room in Bo'nessUnfortunately, unlike Three Billboards, our fruit scone was very forgettable … not much fruit, no cream and the scone itself was just soft with no real texture at all! We won’t be rushing back here the next time we have to spend a morning in the Hippodrome cinema … or … while we are in nostalgic mood lets call it the Hippodrome picture palace. That may not be too far away, they have an interesting list of upcoming films. They also have an annual silent movie week in March called Hippfest … but we’re not old enough to remember any of that sort of stuff … no we’re not!

EH51 9HA       tel: 01506 823389      The Ivy Tea Room FB

Café Belgica

Admittedly, this is not the first place that comes to mind when seeking out a good scone a) it’s a huge furniture warehouse b) it’s situated in a pretty uninviting industrial estate … but, like us, you might be surprised. We used to come here quite often looking for the odd quirky piece of furniture but, hallelujah, since our last visit they have reorganised everything and added Café Belgica … and it seemed like the busiest part of the store. Internal view of Café BelgicaIt is well set up and there is a good range of food and drinks on offer … including scones. Ours fruit scones were good and served with a generous tub of clotted cream. The friendly lady who was looking after us, however, was having to work very hard negotiating a rather odd table layout – definitely something they need to look at in future. A scone at Café BelgicaNot topscones unfortunately but enjoyable nevertheless. Café Belgica is providing something of an oasis in what is really a huge refreshment desert … a place to chillax away from the cares of the outside world and, perhaps more importantly, away from the Winter Olympics. Never mind the brouhaha about Kim Jong-un’s sister making Mike Pence look like a bit of a plonker, or the fact that banned Russia is competing … but not as Russia? Even more ridiculous is the sight of commentators working themselves up into a lather over whether Team GB might beat Team Nigeria by 1/1000th of a second … at sledging! Does anyone seriously care? Maybe we just don’t understand. In common with 99.999% of the population we don’t know anyone involved in ‘skeleton’ (head first on a sledge) or ‘luge’ (feet first on a sledge) so are not in a position to discuss the finer points. As youths we used to take part in our own Tin Tray Championships which consisted of a group of idiots sliding down the Ochil hills on beer trays totally out of control … a bit like Brexit negotiations! Could Brexit become an Olympic event … a gold medal to anyone who can find a way to keep us in the EU.

EH51 0PU     tel: 01506 243954     Café Belgica

Fenwicks of Linlithgow

The car had to go for a service at our garage in Bo’ness and when we dropped it off they kindly gave us a lift the mile or so into Linlithgow so that we could go for a walk round the loch. Although the loch was partially frozen it was a nice day … ideal for a wee walk.

View across Linlithgow loch to the Palace
Looking towards Linlithgow Palace and the spire of St Michael’s church

The path, of course, is circular so it wasn’t too long before we found ourselves back in the town and feeling more than a little peckish. We’ve had several scones in Linlithgow in the past however this one, Fenwicks of Linlithgow was new to us … it had to be done. As soon as we walked in we were aware of a lively bustling atmosphere .. always a good sign!Internal view of Fenwicks of LinlithgowWe weren’t disappointed, everything was excellent. After a delicious light lunch we decided to share one of the fairly large home made fruit scones.  A scone at Fenwicks of LinlithgowIt came with lots of butter, and jam  … and cream with a fresh raspberry on top .. totally unnecessary but a nice touch. Suffice to say that we liked everything about this place and we would not hesitate to go back next time we are in town … probably the next time our car needs some attention. All too soon however it was time to venture out into the cold once more. If Donald Trump needs any further proof of global warming he need look no further than Linlithgow … this polar bear has obviously been left stranded by the receding ice cap … obviously! Polar bear stuck up a tree in LinlithgowEven more evidence was provided in the form of a painting in the Black Bitch pub where we were waiting to be picked up again.  In 1848 the loch must have been seriously frozen to allow so many people onto the ice for this bonspeil. It was obviously much colder back then … obviously! What more proof do you need Donald?? Do you think he reads ‘the scones’?

The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch 1849 by Charles Lees
The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch 1848 by Charles Lees

The garage duly picked us up from the Black Bitch and we were reunited with our car which they had restored to peak condition … an all round good day.

EH49 7EJ     tel: 01506 238580      Fenwicks of Linlithgow FB

The Larder

Just when you think you have done all the tearooms and coffee shops in your home town, lo and behold, another one pops up. Mind you the Larder has been open quite a few months now … we just hadn’t noticed it. Getting noticed is crucially important for all new businesses yet unbelievably this place has neither wifi or a contact telephone number … and, to make matters even worse, it has a big glossy Costa directly across the road. The Larder, therefore, has the dubious distinction of being the only establishment we have ever reviewed for which we cannot find a phone number.  It also ‘borrows’ its wifi from another business nearby and it doesn’t have a website. We fear for the Larder’s future … no matter how good the scones are.  Internal view of the Larder, Falkirk It’s a shame that we were the only customers because the two young girls who appeared to be running the place were trying hard. Maybe some home baking would set us on the right track? No, they simply buy their scones from Costco, a huge wholesale warehouse in Glasgow.  However, any preconceptions we may have harboured about warehouse scones were quickly dashed when they actually turned out to be quite good .. on the large side but quite light and fluffy on the inside.  A scone at the Larder, FalkirkNo hope of a topscone here but service, tea and coffee were all good … we wish the Larder well and hope they get themselves sorted out before long. This week it was hard to miss stories about suffragettes and the amazing things they had to do to get noticed. It was, of course, the  centenary of women getting the vote in 1918.  Strictly speaking only 40% of women got the vote then  as opposed to 58 % of men – the rest had to wait another ten years. Nowadays most people find it totally incredible that all this was happening only 100 years ago. It’s a bit like the internet – young people think it has always been there … they think the ‘right to vote’ has always been there too and are surprised to learn that it is in fact a relatively recent innovation. Back in 1707, at the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, ‘the people’ would have loved a vote. According to accounts at the time, 99 out of 100 ordinary people were against the Union but of the 175 eligible voters 106 voted in favour and the rest, as they say, is history. We would like to think that, when Scotland becomes an independent country again, people will look back 100 years from now with the same incredulity afforded to the suffragettes at the fact that we were once ruled by another country. We will let you know how the Larder gets on.

FK1 1LZ            The Larder TA

Sundial Café

Kidnapped by Robert Louis StevensonWhen Robert Louis Stevenson was writing Kidnapped he chose Limekilns as the final point of escape for David Balfour and Alan Breck as they fled the redcoats in 1752 . An odd choice when you look at the sleepy little village today, however, it wasn’t always like this. Its sheltered natural harbour meant that it once had a thriving fishing industry and, as its name suggests, burning lime was another. However, in the 18th century, the harbour also served as the northern terminus for a ferry service from Bo’ness on the opposite shore … maybe that’s why Stevenson chose this place? Anyway, Alison Hastie, the local innkeeper’s daughter rowed them across and the two young fugitives successfully escaped … hurrah! Nowadays, of course, they could just have walked across the river using any one of three bridges … okay, you are not supposed to walk on the rail bridge but if you were fleeing for your life?? We got here by using the new Queensferry Crossing … without expansion joints it is a very smooth drive … but how have they done that, where does the expansion go? Having arrived in Fife we decided to take the more more indirect but more picturesque coastal route back home on the north side of the Forth and Limekilns is one of the first villages you come across. It is home to the Sundial Café.

The sundial at the Sundial Cafe in Limekilns
Sundial dated 1689

Unsurprisingly it gets its name from the sundial high up on the corner of the building. In Scotland, these things are only of use on the rare occasions when the sun actually shines but presumably when this one was installed there were not that many alternatives. Inside, on the ground floor, it is small and cosy with a large log burning stove but there is also a fairly large seating area upstairs. It has only been open a few years but it is pretty obvious that the renovation of the 400 year old building has been done very sympathetically. When we arrived mid afternoon they only had two scones left, one fruit and the other cheese and bacon. We decide to have them both and share, half each … what are we like?

Internal view of the Sundial Café in Limekilns
Upstairs and downstairs in the Sundial

They were very good – the fruit one came with plenty of jam but they didn’t have any cream … boo! No topscone but a lovely place with friendly people … highly recommended. A scone at the Sundial Café in LimekilnsIn 1362 King David II, as kings do, gave Limekilns harbour to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey  to encourage trade with europe … oh, with the shambles that is Brexit, for that sort of initiative these days!  Shock horror,  as we sit gazing out towards the North Sea, BP has announced that it is to double its North Sea oil production and keep extracting for the next forty years. In 2014 it was explained, in no uncertain terms, what a liability the dribble of oil that was left was for Scotland … so now the liability has just got a whole lot bigger … thanks Westminster, what would we do without you? If Scotland ever gets its independence the maritime border with England, surreptitiously redrawn in 1999 to run just off Aberdeen will have to be extended yet again to take in all the oilfields around Shetland … what fun!

KY11 3HN     tel: 01383 873370      Sundial Café TA

ps something for all our telephone box enthusiasts, not a K2 or a K6 or even made of iron. A wooden Post Office telephone box from the 1930sOne of our wonderful correspondents has just sent this picture of a wooden telephone box taken at the National Museum of Scotland. According to the information it is dated 1930s and is from the Hope Street Post Office in Edinburgh. Apparently a lot of post offices provided these payphones for customers when few people had telephones at home. Things have changed since then. Thank goodness for social media, otherwise how else would we know that Scotland’s thirteen Tory MPs had voted to remove powers from the Scottish Parliament?