Can’t actually remember the last time we were in North Berwick but it was certainly some years ago. On this visit, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know better, we would say that everyone in town was more than a little devious, Machiavellian even … you know who you are! But that’s another story. North Berwick itself is a lovely little seaside town with lots of art galleries, craft shops, restaurants and cafes. It consists almost entirely of rather grand Victorian houses and is surrounded by golf courses … and, to top it all off, not content with one beach, North Berwick has two. It was called North Berwick to distinguish it from South Berwick (now Berwick-on-Tweed) which, at one time was in Scotland rather than England. In the 16th century the town was a hotbed of witchcraft with many more witches being tried here than anywhere else. One Agnes Sampson was accused of making a potion which made the seas rough for King James VI and his new wife, Anne of Denmark on their return voyage to Scotland. In 1591 she was tortured until a confession was obtained then burned at the stake. Thankfully there’s not so much of that sort of thing going on these days, or at least we did not see anything like that on our visit.The tiny Buttercup Cafe is in the centre of town and has just a four tables and a serving counter. The predominant decor is surf boards. Now although the waves just a few meters from the door were definitely big enough for surfing the temperature, at a smidgen above freezing, definitely was not … brrrr! The welcome here though was very warm and we were soon kitted out with a fruit and a plain scone and offered a wide range of jams to go with them. They were nicely presented and each scone came with a generous pot of clotted cream .. what’s not to like? Nothing as it happens but we eventually decided that, wonderful as they were, the scones were not quite topscones … shame. Isn’t it wonderful how, with no proof whatsoever, Putin has been branded public enemy number one because of the Sergei Skripal affair. We are not taking Putin’s side, far from it, but we do think he has good reason to be more than a little disgruntled at the actions of the West recently and May’s refusal to provide him with a sample of the deadly toxin is impolite if not Machiavellian. In fact, knickers have become so twisted that Brexit has barely got a mention recently … gosh, who would have thought it!
p.s. This K6, constructed in the Lion Foundry, Kirkintilloch was found at the west end of the High Street in North Berwick. It had been converted for use as a cash machine but retained an outside telephone … for very small people??
Call us boring, call us unadventurous if you like … our previous post on Sorochas was from Falkirk and here we are again posting from Falkirk. We can explain … we haven’t been anywhere else! So … continuing with our boring unadventurous lives we ventured once again into the nether regions of the town, this time to Riggs Coffee House, which until a month or so ago, was Forth Valley Butchers. It’s hard to keep up with our ever-changing high street as yet another coffee house replaces a traditional business. The burning question, of course, was … would this newcomer have scones? Riggs specialises in Italian coffee and makes quite a song and dance about it – the advertising appears everywhere. It is difficult to understand the thinking behind putting a picture of a young, presumably Italian, stud lying on a beach with a beautiful girl and a Vespa, in front of people in Falkirk on a wet windy Wednesday afternoon. A tad annoying … especially when you’ve always wanted a Vespa … got the beautiful girl already! Doubly annoying when there’s great local coffee, made and sold here in Falkirk, in the form of the Cat’s Pyjamas … why don’t they make a song and dance about that, it’s very good. There is a problem though – what sort of equivalent picture could be used to advertise Scottish coffee?? Tricky one … suggestions welcome. Anyway Riggs is on the corner of the High Street and Lint Riggs (fields of flax) which used to be the centre of the linen industry in the town. The flax (lint) was prepared here before making its way a few hundred yards to Woo’er (weaver) Street to be made into garments. All that is long gone now and in 1903 the state of the street was considered to be so poor that it was demolished in its entirety and a new Lint Riggs (the one you see to the right of the header picture) was built. Riggs Coffee House is tastefully done up but when we entered the chap behind the counter looked as if his entire staff had just phoned in sick … not a happy chappie! He did have scones though! Apparently he had not intended to stock such unitalian items but a lady came in one day and offered to supply him … the resultant trial period had scones flying off the shelf so now they are a permanent feature … one up for the scones! There was a choice of plain, fruit or treacle and we opted for fruit. They were very good, nice texture, plenty fruit and they went very well with the much vaunted Italian coffee which, in spite of not being quite “the cat’s pyjamas”, we had to admit was very good. In fact, with the exception of the scone, nothing we had here; jam, butter, coffee, came from Scotland … shame! In the end this was not quite a topscone … good effort though, well done that entrepreneurial lady. Oh, by the time we were leaving your man’s demeanor seemed to have improved dramatically so we wish him and his venture every success.
One of our correspondents, fondly known as “The Pedant” has been in touch to say he came across a K6 (Kirkintilloch variety) at the Henry Moore Collections in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. Don’t worry the telegraph pole sticking out of the roof is not a new design feature.Much Hadham sounds like the sort of place that the EU should be conducting its Brexit negotiations. Last year, the oil company Shell, which operates in 70 different countries, paid tax in all of them e.g. it paid the Norwegian government £4.3 billion to add to its £1trillion Wealth Fund. Our brilliant negotiators here in Britain ended up paying Shell £187 million so presumably Shell must operate out of Much Hadham as well.
How come, with all the hundreds of billions of oil money that has rolled in over the past thirty years the UK, in stark contrast to Norway, has simply acquired massive debts … where did it all go? While you write your answers on a postcard can we make a plea for some Norwegian negotiators to come over and help us with the Brexit talks. Still on the subject of telephone boxes, our ever adventurous Trossachs correspondents have sent a photograph of a rarely seen K2 on a recent visit to London. Don’t know precisely where it was manufactured but was most likely, Kirkintilloch. We will endeavour to be more adventurous in future – we must be running out of new cafés in Falkirk anyway … musn’t we?
Another beautiful day and this time we are on the Isle of Rùm. From where we are staying on Eigg, Rùm dominates the view from almost everywhere. Before we go further, perhaps a little background info on Rùm is called for. Many moons ago the island had a population of around 450 but in 1826, the owner loaded 300 on to the ships, Highland Lad and the Dove of Harmony, and sent them to Canada. The following year the rest of the population were sent on their way on the St Lawrence along with 150 from the Isle of Muck which he owned as well. A local shepherd related “The people of the island were carried off in one mass, for ever, from the sea-girt spot where they were born and bred… The wild outcries of the men and heart-breaking wails of the women and children filled all the air between the mountainous shore of the bay“. The people were replaced with what was seen to be more profitable sheep but the whole enterprise failed when the owner declared bankruptcy about twenty years later and ended up in a worse state than his previous tenants … just deserts, maybe?
More recently the island was owned by the Bullough family who made their fortune in Accrington from manufacturing machinery for the cotton industry. They wanted to turn the island into their own private playground and sporting estate. George Bullough built Kinloch Castle in 1900 using stone brought from the Isle of Arran. He didn’t scrimp. Fourteen under-gardeners, who were paid extra to wear kilts, worked on the extensive grounds that included a nine-hole golf course, tennis and squash courts, heated turtle and alligator ponds and an aviary including birds of paradise and humming birds. 230,000 tons of soil for the grounds was imported from Ayrshire and figs, peaches, grapes and nectarines were grown in greenhouses.
The interior boasted an orchestrion that could simulate the sounds of brass, drum and woodwind, an air-conditioned billiards room, and a jacuzzi. It even had electricity and flushing toilets when these things were almost unheard of on the mainland. Kinloch became party central for the aristocracy and the shenanigans that occurred there became the stuff of legend and drove a massive rumour mill into a state of near hysteria. They renamed the island “Rhum” because Bullough did not like being called the “Laird of Rum”. The island was eventualy bought by Scottish Natural Heritage and currently has a population of around 30. In the last couple of years SNH have arranged for land and assets around the village of Kinloch to be transferred to the community giving individuals control over their own destinies … lets hope it is as successful as the similar venture on Eigg. The tearoom on Rùm is in the village hall just next to the castle. We asked for a scone but they said they only had cherry cake. Faced with Hobson’s Choice we agreed to have a piece of cake with our coffee. When we made our way outside to sit in the sunshine we were regaled with the news that they didn’t actually have any cherry cake … would we like a packet of crisps?? The lady, seeing our disappointment, said that she could have given us a piece of chocolate cake but she hadn’t had time to put the icing on it. Eventually she agreed to let us have a piece of plain chocolate cake … and it was very nice. Apologies, we would have loved to have brought you a Rum scone. They do know when the ferries come in (there must have been at least 60 people on ours) so it is not as if a sudden influx comes as a surprise … difficult to explain such a situation … hey ho, chocolate cake it had to be! Just to ease your disappointment, however, we can provide some pictures of a lovely K6 telephone box we came across … made in the Lion Foundry, Kirkintilloch and used for growing geraniums. It is in a stunning location and has a lifebelt and an anchor decorating its exterior … could be in line for the prettiest K6 award … unless you know better, of course? After the rigors of Eigg we don’t want to labour the point further but while we were having our plain pieceof chocolate cake we met a lovely couple from Yorkshire. We met them again on the ferry going back to Eigg and when we asked them why they had nettles sticking out of their bag they said they were making a ‘holiday cord’ with nettles from all the places they had visited … and you thought we were mad! In another attempt to make up for the derth of scones we offer you a pictorial guide to nettle chordage.
First you remove the leaves (unless you are some sort of masochist, use gloves) then split the stem with your nail or other similar implement, throw away the internal woody bit then let the outer fibrous sheathes dry for a wee while before twisting as pictured. Your cord can end up as long as you like by carefully pleating all the stems together. It ends up very strong. By the way, Pat got a Sea Eagle and some kittiwakes to add to her bird list … very happy girl again.
Theresa May is still hanging on! This is our seventh scone post since the election and she is still there … almost admiring her tenacity … or is it just sheer stupidity? Don’t let the dire scone situation put you off visiting Rùm, it is quite simply spectacular and maybe by the time you get there they will have got themselves sorted out … don’t forget your nettles. Hopefully we will have better luck on the romantically named Isle of Muck.
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. Anyway, 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.True 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. Unfortunately 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!
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. In 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.