Tag Archives: Fife

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!

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?

Stuart’s of Buckhaven Café

Buckhaven, on the East Neuk of Fife, is a town that has had a hard life .. and it shows. It was involved with the weaving but then, in the 19th century, became Scotland’s second biggest fishing port  with about 200 boats operating from the harbour. The demise of the fishing industry was hastened by the advent of coal mining but now that too has gone and as a result the town looks a bit dilapidated and uncared for. We were here because we were trying to find a Polynesian princess … ‘eh?’, I hear you say. We had been reading a short story by R. B. Cunninghame Graham called ‘The Princess’, a story written c1920 and based around a granite slab set into a church wall overlooking the harbour in Buckhaven. On it was carved “Here lies Sinakalula, Princess of Raratonga, the beloved wife of Andrew Brodie, Mariner.” The story continues; “What were the circumstances of their meeting the stone did not declare, only that the deceased had been a princess in her native land, and had died in this obscure east-country haven, and had been “beloved.” Nothing — but all — at least all that life has to give”. We thought it would be good to find the church and photograph the slab for posterity since there was no sign of it on any internet searches. Oh, if only we had known! We scoured Buckhaven in the rain and could not even find the harbour .. how can you not find a harbour in a wee town like this? Buckhaven 01In need of sustenance we dropped into what appeared to be the only café in town, Stuart’s of Buckhaven .. and guess what, no scones .. talk about a bad day! In a previous post we reported on scones becoming extinct in Galashiels and here within a few days is another town with no scones .. what’s is happening?

a Buckhaven scone
a Buckhaven scone

We know that you would worry about us in such dire circumstance, so to ease your troubled minds we are showing you a picture of my apple tart, which was very good, as was Pat’s meringue .. but they were definitely not scones. Stuart’s of Buckhaven has been around since 1857 and must have witnessed a lot of changes. It’s a baker and butcher combined and all the produce looked excellent but the café area was pretty soulless .. could do better, and could certainly do some scones .. you’re a bakery for goodness sake! We asked a passerby if they could point us in the direction of the harbour .. “there’s nae harbour here son” .. but they did tell us where it used to be. How can a town just lose a harbour? What we found was just a large patch of grass with a vestige of harbour wall running down one side. Turns out, it had been filled in in the 1960s ..  but, worst of all, the entire old town had been demolished and used as infill .. church and all. Perhaps, as we gazed around at the council houses, we were standing on top of our princess’s granite headstone .. lost forever!

the harbour as Sinakalula would have known it
the harbour as Sinakalula would have known it

This was a miserable wet day in Buckhaven and it made you wonder what a young polynesian woman would have made of it. The story goes: “dressed in a coloured and diaphanous sacque, a wreath of red hibiscus round her head, her jet black hair loose on her shoulders, bare arms and feet, and redolent of oil of cocoa-nut, she must have seemed a being from another world to the rough mariner.” in 1857, was she disappointed by the lack of scones in Stuart’s of Buckhaven? The story speculates that ” the mariner brought home his island bride, perhaps to droop in the cold north, and he laid her in the drear churchyard to wait the time when they should be united again in some Elysian field, not unlike Polynesia, with the Tree of Life for palms, the self same opal-tinted sea, angels for tropic birds, and the same air of calm pervading all the air”. Let’s hope they are together again, just like that!

KY15 4BY    tel: 01592 260831      Stuart’s of Buckhaven FB


The Biscuit Café

Culross 11On a nice day there are fewer nicer places to be than Culross in Fife. Maybe the only even nicer place would be The Biscuit Café in the centre of Culross. It is part of the Culross Pottery and Gallery whose resident potter Camilla Garrett-Jones makes lots of lovely stuff and runs pottery classes here and in the South of France.

A piece by Camilla Garrett-Jones
A piece by Camilla Garrett-Jones

The café is upstairs above the shop and its interior is very homely and welcoming. At the back there is also a small but lovely sheltered garden area set out with tables and chairs. The Caffia coffee was the best we had had in a long time; we even got the very obliging staff to grind some beans for us to take home. The scones were also very good though Pat’s cheese scone could have done with a touch more cheese and the fruit in my fruit scone was also a wee bit sparse .. so no ‘topscone’ award here but these are tiny criticisms in the overall scheme of things.Culross 09  All in all Culross is a great wee place and well worth a visit. It was founded by St Serf in the  6th century and legend states that when the British princess (and future saint) Teneu, daughter of the king of Lothian, became pregnant before marriage, her family threw her from a cliff. She survived the fall unharmed, and was soon met by an unmanned boat. Knowing she had no home to go to, she got into the boat which sailed her across the Firth of Forth to land at Culross where she was cared for by St Serf who became a kind of father of her son. He ultimately became St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. As a rank outsider, Jeremy Corbyn must have felt a bit like Teneu in the Labour party leadership race but, like her, he has triumphed beyond all expectation. Doubtful that he will ever be sainted but perhaps we will now see a more humane side to British politics. If nothing else, at least we can now see some daylight between Labour and the Conservatives, so hooray for that. A cheer also for this café with its combination of arts and crafts, shop and cafe .. in fact you could say it ‘takes the biscuit’ .. sorry!

Fruit and veg are also on offer
Fruit and veg is also on offer

 KY12 8JG            tel: 01383 882176            The Biscuit