This is a bit of a nostalgia trip for us, or at least for me … and it’s only three miles from home! In spite of the short distance we hardly ever visit Grangemouth because it’s not the place it used to be … not that a town whose main feature is a petrochemical refinery was ever a must-see destination for anyone. Having said that, Grangemouth during the day unfortunately always looks like Grangemouth but at night, if you squidge your eyes a bit, with all its myriad of twinkly lights, it looks like Vegas. Back in the good old days, however, it did have a lot more going for it. I started my working life directly across from the Portonian Bakery and Tea Rooms in what was then Lumley Street. The architect Philip Cocker, in his offices next to the Bon Accord pub, was my lucky employer. I was head dogsbody … used and abused by all the staff but it was a great, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. At lunchtime we could wander down to the refinery, then owned by BP, and use their excellent canteen facilities … not sure we were supposed to be there but, in those days, no one seemed to mind. After work, on the way home, you could take a wee detour through the docks gazing up at the ships, wondering where they had come from and where they were going to next. Today, everything is very different and none of it for the better. Cocker’s and the Bon Accord no longer exist. In fact Lumley Street itself has disappeared, replaced by the awful concrete edifice that is the La Porte Precinct shopping centre. The refinery, now Ineos, is still there but owned by one man and there is no way he is going to allow you anywhere near the place never mind let you in for lunch. The docks are fenced off … Bin Laden saw to that. As Trump so eloquently puts it … sad! When I worked across the road, the 60s style building that now houses The Portonian Bakery & Tea Rooms was a Victorian tenement with shops on the ground floor and houses above accessed by open spiral stone stairs round the back. The tearoom gets its name from the fact that natives of Grangemouth are referred to as Portonians. Already depressed by the state of the shopping centre we came in here for a spot of lunch and, at first, it didn’t do much to lighten our mood. The multinational Costa coffee house across the road was strangely empty but this place was busy busy … what was going on? Eventually we worked out that it had to be down to price … we had a light lunch of sandwiches and a scone with coffee and a peppermint tea for the price of a couple of coffees in Costa. If it’s a price war that’s going on we know who is winning. That did lighten the mood considerably. With it being a bakery we had relatively high hopes that the scones would be topnotch. They were good but with an overall softness which is not to our own particular taste. Now, answer this question … why are packs of frozen butter so often served with soft scones?? Unless you put them in your trouser pocket our down your cleavage for a couple of minutes it is nigh on impossible to achieve any kind of satisfactory outcome. In the end they were okay but probably not as good as their strawberry tarts. We didn’t have any strawberry tarts but we thought the picture might stimulate your salivary glands.Since Westminster has been going about bullying other countries into agreeing with them about how utterly dastardly Russia is, there has been barely a mention of Brexit … as distraction politics goes it has worked perfectly … what next? In 2013, politics, or at least Labour politics, took a bit of a bashing here in Grangemouth in what became known in some quarters as the Battle of Grangemouth. It wasn’t a battle as such but more of an almighty industrial dispute but it did mark the moment when labour movement finally lost its way. It descended into factionalism and Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, rode off into the sunset with a grin like the proverbial Cheshire cat. Even with Corbyn in charge, the Labour party still has not found its way … the other day they voted with the Conservatives to oust the popularly elected SNP administration in our own Falkirk Council … unbelievable … poor old Keir Hardie, would be spinning in his grave. Nice as this trip down memory lane was we probably won’t be back anytime soon … too many memories.
London means many different things to many different people. From our point of view it has too many cars, too many people, not enough time … and not enough scones. Scones can be remarkably difficult to find in what is supposed to be one of the world’s leading cities. This is largely down to the same reason that Pat finds the capital so frustrating. Her remarkable ability to earwig other people’s conversations at one hundred paces is largely useless down here because they are almost all held in Swahili … or what might as well be Swahili. Scones suffer in the same way … unless you go to a particularly English restaurant or café, and they can be relatively few and far between, you are unlikely to find a good old-fashioned scone. Now all this diversity may be cause for celebration but for dedicated sconeys it can be a teensy bit frustrating. What happens though is that you sometimes find scones in unexpected places and that is always a pleasant surprise.
London has lots of theatres, a fact not all together surprising when you consider that this city absorbs more than 75% of the entire UK Arts and Culture budget. Suffice to say that we found ourselves here at the Lyric Hammersmith, not expecting it to be a scone adventure, but lo-and-behold there they were, plain and fruit, in the ground floor café … it had to be done. The Lyric was built in 1895 slightly further up the street from where it now stands. After it was scheduled for demolition in 1966, a campaign was launched to save it, resulting in it being moved brick by brick to its current location. The café is run by Peyton & Byrne, a company which holds the catering contracts for places like the Royal Academy, the National Gallery and the Orangery at Kew Gardens .. so you would imagine that it would be good. However, even though our scones came well presented with lots of jam and cream they were not exceptional … enjoyable enough but nothing more. Just in case you think we are getting a bit highfalutin, we were here to see a production of the Ugly Duckling in the middle of the afternoon … we will let you work it out. It was fab … we understood it all! Understanding, however, is much more difficult when it comes to the current government position on Brexit where our ‘unelected’ prime minister is invoking the ancient ‘royal prerogative’ in order to circumvent any consultation whatsoever with our ‘elected’ representatives in Parliament. Thank goodness Corbyn seems to be getting his act together at long last.
ps: a bulletin has just arrived from our ‘south coast’ correspondents regarding the scones they found on a weekend visit to Torquay. They thought these Devon beauties were great, but not quite up to our topscone benchmark. We have never been to Torquay but now we may have to go and test them ourselves. Many thanks for the report. It looks suspiciously like they have put the cream on first … what are these Devon folk like??
We often stop off in Bridge of Allan as we go to and from the north … for the size of the place it has a lot to offer. For me the reason for stopping is Woodwinters Wine & Whiskies, one of the best off-licences I know, or the excellent Allanwater Tinpot Brewery/Pub, whereas Pat likes several of the fashion shops. It was one of these fashion shops, Ruby Tuesday, that led us to this place, the Hideaway Café, tucked away at the end of a mews that runs down the side of the shop. We thought we knew Bridge of Allan quite well but had no idea this place existed. It is aptly named but well worth finding. It has a much more relaxed ‘coffee shop’ vibe than our usual Bridge of Allan haunts, Jamjar and Café 33. Everything on the menu , including the scones, is freshly prepared every morning. It also has an outside area with a playhouse for the kiddies, a surefire blessing for all the mums of Bridge of Allan. It was unfortunate that we arrived at the end of the day … there was only a single lonesome fruit scone left so we decided to share and put it out of it’s misery. Perhaps it was because it was the last that it caused us some difficulty. It was very very good, nice jam and cream, but we felt it lacked a certain freshness. Had we been earlier in the day it would definitely have achieved a topscone. Next time we will get there earlier and not spend so much time and money in Ruby Tuesday!! Bridge of Allan, like most spa towns is ‘nice’ … Robert Louis Stevenson visited every year in his youth … but it was not always so genteel. It got it’s name in 1520 when a narrow stone bridge was built to replace the old ford across the River Allan. Soon after that it became a sort of ‘klondyke’ town when copper, gold and silver mines were established nearby and by 1745 the bridge had been commandeered by a group of Jacobites who charged a toll to cross. Most famously of all, of course, in January 1963 the Beatles played the Museum Hall, now converted into luxury flats. At that time, even the Beatles themselves had little inkling of what lay in store for them … a bit like the Labour party at their recent annual conference in Liverpool. In spite of what seemed a reasonable, if not rousing, closing speech by Corbyn, the sight of a large part of the audience doggedly stuck to their seats and refusing to applaud does not bode well for the future of the party, or for that matter, the country, which desperately needs an effective opposition. With the Tories in almost as much disarray, the UK appears to be in some sort of free-fall. At home, Scottish Labour has shot itself in the foot so often there is nothing left below the knee except bloodied strands of gristle. What is wrong with the country?
Perhaps it was summed up this week by Sam Allardyce walking off with £1m for a couple of months work as England manager … instead of being booted out on his ear as he should have been. Yet another example, like the bankers, of the ‘success of failure’. As long as we continue to reward those who fail us the future will look decidedly unpredictable. Perhaps they should all hole up in that kiddies playhouse at the Hideaway Café for a while until they have sorted themselves out?
You know how you can drive past something on a regular basis without giving it a second thought, you see the signs but never venture. So it was with Devilla Forest, just a ten minute drive from where we live. Turns out that within the bounds of this relatively small piece of pine forest all sorts have happened. There is the ‘Standard Stone’, its carved square holes are said to have held the standards of King Duncan and his lieutenants, Macbeth and Banquo in a battle with the Danes at Bordie Moor in 1038. There is ‘Maggie Duncan’s stone’. Maggie was a 17th century witch who tried to carry the boulder in her apron to the top of a nearby hill but it slipped and her apron strings cut strange deep grooves into the stone. You can also find the graves of children who died of plaque over three hundred years ago. There’s the remains of a WW II explosives research establishment .. oh, and lots of sightings of big black cats!! Goodness, we didn’t know the half of it … and virtually on our doorstep. As well as all that, and on a slightly lighter note, you can find red squirrels, otters … and scones. The scones can be located at The Walled Garden, brainchild of the farmers at Righead Farm … who just wanted their own walled garden … so they built one about four years ago.
They started selling teas and coffees in the Potting Shed but it proved so popular that they have now built a large purpose built café and the Potting Shed is now a well stocked shop selling plants and knick-knacks. We were offered plain, fruit or date and apricot scones. Pat opted for the fruit, while I, living on the edge as usual, went for the date and apricot, a new and and untried sconological combination! Sitting out in the sunshine it did not take long before they arrived, nicely presented with little pots of jam and whipped cream. The scones themselves were delicious and we didn’t have too much trouble giving them a topscone award. By the way, the date and apricot combo works a treat!If you view tales of large black cats with a slightly raised eyebrow, then both eyebrows will go into to some sort of earth orbit looking at the current machinations of the Labour party. Unbelievable … when will they realise that Corbyn is not only their best bet at gaining power but probably their only one? Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish Labour party continues its policy of self harming, abandoning everything … Corbyn, a chance at autonomy, and no doubt, all hope, if they side with the Tories again on Indyref2.
Besides all that, hats off to people who build walled gardens these days … it is open Wednesday to Sunday but, perplexingly in these modern times, does not take cards – cash only.
The Corinthian Club is a large complex of highly decorative rooms dating back to it’s original incarnation as the Glasgow and Ship Bank in 1842. Since then it has seen several different uses but has been the rather swanky Corinthian since 2010. It consists of several function rooms, dining rooms, a casino and the Tellers Bar where we were ensconced. This is a big operation and they can probably do many things extremely well however our order for coffee and scones tested them to the absolute limit … they simply could not get their head round the fact that we did not want afternoon tea. Every time we asked for coffee and scones they offered us afternoon tea and when we explained that we just wanted coffee and scones they would say “absolutely no problem” .. but we had to go through this process at least six times with different people .. aarrgghh! Eventually the penny dropped and quite quickly the coffee arrived … but no scones; it gave us time to look around at the rather splendiferous surroundings. More than twenty minutes later however, having observed every nook and cranny, and just as we were about to get up and leave, they arrived. Apparently there was a technological problem in the kitchen?? Fresh coffee was brought along with profuse apologies. By this time, of course, our dander was well and truly up. We had already decided that this was the last place on earth to get anywhere near a topscone award .. but, damn it, the scones were extremely good! Two plain and two cinnamon and all of them just right; warm and crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, lovely jam and cream .. how utterly annoying? In normal circumstances we would have had no problem with a topscone award however there are only so many allowances you can make .. so, although we thoroughly enjoyed them, they were disqualified due to technological problems .. heyho. Technological problems cannot be blamed for us heading off to war in yet another country .. just sheer warmongering stupidity. Perhaps it makes no difference since 1968 has been the only year in the last fifty that Britain has not been at war with somebody. At the grand old age of 111, Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier of WW1 summed it up very well “I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.
Scones are a small test for a place like this but, for all its grandeur, we think the Corinthian Club needs to pay more attention to a few basics.
We thought it would be nice to try out the new Borders Railway and visit Galashiels, a town in which neither of us had previously spent any time. What we were totally unprepared for was the scale of its success and the effect it has had on the town.
There are not that many tearooms here but having tried several that had completely run out of scones, in desperation, we ended up here at Turnbull’s, a long established coffee house and probably the best. The girl in the ground floor deli said she thought there was a cheese scone available upstairs, so up we went and there it was … we could see it across the room, in splendid isolation under a glass dome .. the last scone. We ate it, so as of that moment, scones became an extinct species in Galashiels.
Don’t worry, some sort of reintroduction programme will probably be adopted but for this particular day, that was it .. fini, defunct, kaput, gone .. a town with no scones. Now the only explanation we can think of for this extraordinary state of affairs is the popularity of the new railway; the first domestic railway to be reintroduced in the UK for over 100 years. Loads of day-trippers descending on the town, hoovering up all the scones … flaming day-trippers … oh no, we’re day-trippers too! Ah well, good news for Gala but it really needs to think about upping its scone production to cope with the influx. Turnbull’s, is a lovely place. First established just down the road in Hawick, they describe themselves as a family business specialising in ‘artisan fine food and drink combined with first class service’ and we would not disagree with any of that. They also make a range of their own unique blended whisky but unfortunately we did not get to sample any .. but you can order it and other stuff online. Wonderful to be in place where good old fashioned principles of quality and service still seem to count for something. Jeremy Corbyn, visited Scotland this week but seemed to have forgotten to pack his principles, or maybe, after the party conference, he just didn’t have any left! Great toilets; always a good sign, and although there is no wifi at the moment, we have been promised that it’s coming very soon … and, in case you are wondering, the last scone in Galashiels was excellent; topscone award. Did not see any scenery on the way home because we fell in with a couple of mad women who just talked incessantly about scones .. just joking, whoever you were, we thoroughly enjoyed the craik!
On 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.
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. 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!
On the outskirts Grangemouth this is part of the MacDonald Hotel group and as such you have probably been in one not too far removed from this one. It has a Spa and swimming pool but was obviously a much smaller place at one time because all the external walls of the original building are now inside and the crisply carved sandstone lends a certain quality ambience to the dining room at least. Many places refuse to take afternoon tea bookings on the day “because it does not give chef enough time”?? We arrived at the Inchyra Grange Hotel mob handed having phoned ahead to ask for afternoon tea for eight adults and two children .. no problem .. what a delightful change to some of the other places we tried. Still no problem when we upset their seating plan by actually turning up with three children instead of two, great! We each got a couple of scones as well as loads of sandwiches and cakes. The scones were very good and almost made the topscone award. Awards are not exactly being thrown at Jeremy Corbyn who, although being extremely popular with the voters, is vilified by the rest of his party. He actually thinks that the Labour party should be slightly socialist .. perish the thought! All, except Corbyn, seem to have forgotten that at the last General Election there was virtually nothing to differentiate the two main parties and voters thought they might as well vote Tory .. or not at all. 30% chose ‘not at all’. Perhaps that 30% is stirring because they now see the possibility of a viable alternative. One of the biggest criticisms of Corbyn seems to be that he does not ‘look’ like a prime minister .. so we will just elect the prettiest one then, never mind the policies? He has certainly enlivened the debate and the other three (who are they?) should take note. Anyway, Labour party machinations aside, the Inchyra Grange coped extremely well with everything we threw at them and even boxed up all the leftovers for us to take home … well done.