Tag Archives: Westminster

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?

The Gallery Café

Gosh, it’s been a while. We have both been so caught up with other things that scones have had to take a back seat … disgraceful, we know. Yesterday, however, we managed to tear ourselves away from building works to attend a St Andrews Day book launch at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum and it just so happened that, in the Gallery Café, they had scones … back in harness.Cover of the An Eagle In A Henhouse book by Lachlan Munro The launch was for a new book by Lachlan Munro on the political speeches of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham. Regular readers will know that we have a bit of a soft spot for Graham. He is a national hero in Argentina, where he was a gaucho for many years, yet remains a relatively obscure character at home in Scotland and the UK. He was a landowning aristocrat who lived only a short distance from Stirling and during his flamboyant and adventurous life became friends with George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Keir Hardy and the likes. He tried to get justice for oppressed people wherever they were, be they crofters, miners, women or even Sioux Indians. He hated politicians but became one and managed to get himself thrown out of Westminster on three occasions for disrespecting the House … an mighty achievement in itself. He even spent time in jail for taking part in a Trafalgar Square march in support of Irish home rule. His ability to ruffled feathers gave rise to the book’s name “An Eagle In A Hen-House”. Although a founder of both the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish National Party the launch had politicians from all parties reading extracts from the book. There must have been a couple of hundred people at the launch so when formal proceedings came to a close they all descended on the Gallery Café at the same time … chaos! A scone at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and MuseumEventually we managed to get a scone … the first we had had in ages. It was nowhere near a topscone but given the time since our last one, we thoroughly enjoyed it. No cream but plenty jam and butter … and the coffee was excellent. The Stirling Smith was founded in 1874 from money given by local artist Thomas Stuart Smith and has continued as a public-private partnership to this day for the benefit of the citizens of Stirling, Dunblane and Kinbuck … long may it continue! Floor sign for the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and MuseumAs we were leaving to go home we were alarmed to come across what we initially thought was the disembodied head of our prime minister … turned out to be nothing more than a left-over from halloween  … phew!Pumpkin outside the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and MuseumFK8 2RQ       tel: 01786 471917    The Gallery Cafe FB


It was way back in January that we got a tip-off about the scones at Dobbies Garden Centre just outside Stirling.

January, afternoon tea with two Dobbies scones

Our ever diligent Trossachs correspondents had bought some to take home only to find that they had been given some extra ones free. This was more than they could handle on their own, so they passed on a couple to us and we ate them as part of an afternoon tea we were having with some neighbours. At the time we thought they were rather good, if a little bit oversized … we had to split them up to make them more manageable for our guests. Since then, we have been promising ourselves that we would visit Dobbies and do a proper review … seven months later, today is the day.

Internal view of the restaurant at Dobbies Garden Centre, Stirling
Just part of Dobbies’ restaurant

The garden centre is big and they have a restaurant to match. It is a little bit surprising to come in and find so many people out shopping and then to find a large restaurant which is equally busy. The servery area is also big and, rather than wait in a long queue we opted to go to the automated self service part. There is normally some sort of problem with these vending machines … and so it was, however the problem was not so much with the machine as with the operators.

Automatic coffee vending equipment at Dobbies Garden Centre, Stirling
Coffee machine about half way through delivering and it cannot be stopped

Basically, from the large array of cups, all of which looked identical to us, we selected what turned out to be a tea cup and of course it was far too small for the quantity of coffee being delivered … a kind of Niagara situation ensued. We were a bit bemused by this until we noticed that there were similar but slightly larger ‘coffee’ cups … trauma over. We had opted to share a cherry and coconut scone because they were all so large and also we hadn’t actually tasted that particular combination before. Perhaps we should have stuck to what we know because we found this combo somewhat insipid … the tiny pieces of cherry were relatively few and far between and the coconut, although there, did not feature strongly enough. The scone itself was fine though, still too big for our taste … no topscone here but maybe the prize for the biggest.

The problem with Westminster and Holyrood being on holiday is that there is nothing much to report – witness the BBC’s interminable coverage of athletics. But wait a minute, apparently the end of the world has just got a whole lot nigher … we should report that in case any sconeys get caught unaware. With the great big ‘Goliath’ madman in Washington threatening unimaginable fire and brimstone against the wee ‘David’ madman in Pyongyang who likes dressing up like Ruth Davidson, there may not be much time left. The big question, of course, is … will Scotland manage to become an ordinary self respecting  country before armageddon? The man in the know, Alex Salmond is predicting 4 years for independence but that may be too late. However, with HMRC admitting that Scotland’s economy is actually £15b bigger than they had reported … oops, and the latest figures showing that England ran a massive trade deficit in 2014 and 2015 whereas Scotland had an even greater surplus in those years, perhaps we can just squeeze in a wee bit of self respect before we are all blown to smithereens. How to avoid complete annihilation? We think that Trump and Kim Jong should sit down together over afternoon tea … the civilising influence of a good scone cannot be overestimated and the size of the Dobbies’ scones should almost match their egos!

FK9 4UF     tel: 01786 458860     Dobbies Garden Centre

BREAKING NEWS: Our Tyrolean correspondents have lodged a report on what could possibly be the first ever scones to be baked in Austria … you heard it here first! They were in Scotland for a few days and became so obsessed with scones that when they returned home they baked some of their own ‘Austrian scones’. First scones to be baked in AustriaThey look good and by all accounts were good. No information on whether Austrians go jam or cream first but together, dear readers, we are taking scones to the world … and the world will be a better place! Many thanks C and M.

The Bothy

We sailed into Port Mòr, the capital of the Isle of Muck, in great anticipation. For some reason this was the culmination of a long held ambition to actually visit Muck rather than just viewing it from a distance. Maybe it has something to do with the name? We were not to be disappointed … it is a great island … not in size, only 2 by 0.75 miles, but it just has a lovely feel to it. It’s fertile and the land seems well tended giving it a softer look than its neighbours Rùm and Eigg.

On the Isle of Muck looking towards Skye
Looking towards Skye in the distance with Rùm to the left

We walked the only road on the island, about 1.6 miles long, and the same Land Rover passed us five times … it was the only thing that passed.

On the main road on the Isle of Muck
Looking the other way towards Port Mòr … waiting for a corncrake to appear

We stopped at one point because a corncrake was calling in one of the fields but in spite of a lengthy wait, as usual, this shyest of birds, did not reveal itself. Muck has been owned since 1896 by the family of Lawrence and Ewen McEwen and currently has a population of about 38.

Internal view of the Bothy tearoom on the Isle of Muck
Everyone is outside

The island is famous for its succulent ‘Muck Meat’ derived from lambs that thrive on the rich grassland in this stress free environment. They also breed Highland ponies using a stallion that goes by the rather impressive name of ‘Strathmashie Seumas Mhor’. You can probably tell by now that we really like Muck … and to top it all off, they had scones in Port Mòr’s, Bothy tearoom. Sometimes you can just tell as soon as you walk into a place that there is a high probability of the scones being good … so it was  with the Bothy. We were served by Jenny McEwen who had made the scones earlier in the day. They were delicious and accompanied by a generous portion of homemade apricot jam and a knob of butter. Great coffee and sitting outside in the sunshine with chickens under the table waiting for crumbs didn’t do anything to lessen our enjoyment … easy topscone, well done Jenny and all the ladies who were providing great service in this tearoom. We only had three hours so before long it was time to make our way back to the ferry. Guess what we came across, you got it … a K6 standing high above the village … they really are everywhere, though this one was looking a wee bit sorry for itself. Unusually for such items in these parts it did not seem to have acquired an alternative use.

K6 telephone box on the Isle of Muck
Another Lion foundry, Kirkintilloch K6

When you are on places like this, you definitely get the feeling that no matter how disastrous things get in the outside world, life on Muck will just go on regardless. The same could be said for all the islands we visited … they are indeed another world … a quieter more peaceful world. What possible interest could Putin or Trump have here? Not a lot, and we think that the islanders themselves are very happy for it to stay that way.  On the other hand, EU investment has been good for this part of the world so lets hope that the same level of interest is maintained, in a year or so,  when such decisions are left entirely to Westminster … don’t hold your breath though. All too soon the hooter sounds on the ferry signaling that we must return to some semblance of reality … boo!

Port Mòr on the Isle of Muck looking towards the mainland
Our ferry waits at the Port Mòr jetty

PH41 2RP         tel: 01687 460057/462990         The Bothy

ps: For those interested in Pat’s bird count from Arisaig, Eigg, Rùm and Muck here, in rough order of observation, it is: robin, starling, swallow, blackbird, dunnock, house sparrow, hooded crow, oyster catcher, greenfinch, song thrush, grey heron, black guillimot, cormorant, eider duck, guillimot, manx shearwater, chaffinch, great black backed gull, herring gull, collered dove, golden eagle, feral pigeon, sea eagle, buzzard, whitethroat, rock pipit, artic tern, wood pigeon, pied wagtail, lesser black backed gull, raven, kittiwake, pintail duck, gannet, skylark, rook, kestrel, wheatear, lapwing, greylag goose, goldfinch, pheasant, corn bunting, mistle thrush, corncrake (heard). That’s 44 in total. I would give her 45 for that corncrake but I know our very strict birding mentor, RD, would not allow it. Oddly we did not see any swans or mallards and we just missed a storm petrel and some puffins … there were also quite a few warblers and such like that we could not positively identify. Pat was pleased with her total so that’s all that matters.

Pier House in Port Mòr on the Isle of Muck
Pier House in Port Mòr

The Park Bistro

In the year 1818 a man stood in a field somewhere between Edinburgh and Falkirk and drove his spade into the soil … he was starting to excavate a massive thirty one mile long ditch between the two towns which would eventually be filled with water … the Union Canal, as we know it today. In a modern world of JCBs and  huge automated earth moving machines, it is quite extraordinary to think that this canal with all its tunnels and aqueducts had to be constructed entirely by hand … millions of spadefuls mostly at the hands of hundreds of Highlanders and Irishmen. The intention was to feed Edinburgh’s insatiable appetite for coal but today our own personal needs are much simpler because just a few yards from the canal’s towpath at Philpstoun is a converted cattle shed, the Park Bistro, which we hoped would satisfy our appetite for scones. For the many hundreds of people using the canal and the towpath The Park provides welcome respite from their exertions though today our exertions were pretty feeble since we arrived by car on our way home from Edinburgh. Interior of the Park Bistro, Linlithgow Quite a while back we tried to get a scone here but they had just sold the last one so it was not to be … today, however, there was no such problem … scones aplenty! When they arrived with our coffee we asked if there was any cream .. the lady screwed her face up and said “only scooshie”, we screwed our faces up and said “no thanks”. A scone at the Park Bistro, LinlithgowHowever, just as we were about to cut into our first scone she suddenly reappeared placing a lovely bowl of whipped cream on our table … “stole it from the chef making a pavlova” … and, with a sly wink, she was off just as suddenly … service, or what? The coffee was good but the scones themselves were quite tricky to eat because they were so crumbly … much wiping and licking of fingers. Despite this we enjoyed our time at The Park …  but not what we would describe as a topscone experience. Ajoining the café area is a wee room imaginatively called ‘The Wee Room’, which can be hired for private parties and in it hangs a tapestry showing Louis XIV defeating the Spanish near a canal in Bruges in the 1667 War of Devolution. Can’t think why it should be hanging here other than canals … oh, and devolution, a concept which seems in mortal danger these days given the Prime Minister’s attitude to Scotland and Brexit.

a tapestry at the Park Bistro, Linlithgow
Must have taken them ages to get ready for battle!

It’s a bit rich, when the Parliament in Edinburgh wants independence and almost every single Scottish MP at Westminster wants independence, for May to tell Sturgeon to ignore these ‘details’ and get on with the day job … especially when May’s own domestic politics are in a much worse state than Scotland’s. Anyway, with the announcement yesterday of IndyRef2 we cannot expect the battle over the next few years to be conducted with anything like the aplomb of Louis XIV … it is going to be messy! Window sign for the Park Bistro, LinlithgowOn a slightly different tack … these days most people would pay a premium to have a canal view but not so William Forbes of Callendar.  When the Union Canal was being built he petitioned every MP at Westminster because he thought the canal might spoil the distant view from his mansion … the route was subsequently diverted through a half mile tunnel under Prospect Hill which had to be hewn by hand from solid rock. Not a problem in those days when men were disposable … the great and the good will always look after each other. Looking at that tapestry again you kind of get the feeling they might take a break from battle for afternoon tea … and a scone!

EH49 6QY     tel: 01506 846666       The Park Bistro

The Coffee Club

Why do you think you would find yourself in Bathgate on a cold winters day? By accident, of course … why else would you be in Bathgate?

Linlithgow Palace across the loch
Linlithgow Palace and a scaupless loch

We had started off with a walk round Linlithgow loch hoping to  catch sight of a scaup because sometimes these relatively rare ducks make an appearance here. We did the first half of the walk with snow falling quite heavily and the second half in brilliant sunshine …  Scottish weather at its very best! No scaups unfortunately but a really enjoyable walk. Instead of going into Linlithgow for a coffee we thought we would visit a place called the Vu which involved a few miles of driving round the side of Cairnpapple Hill. We had been there a couple of years back and it was nice. Nowadays, however, it has turned into a wedding venue, no coffee, no scones, nothing … they told us to go another mile to Bathgate where there were lots of cafés and bars. Hence we found ourselves, by accident, in downtown Bathgate … a post-industrial town which is obviously still struggling with the effects of defunct coal mining and British Leyland’s demise in 1986 followed by Motorola’s closure in 2001 with the loss of over 3000 jobs. In spite of the earlier claim there seemed to be almost no sconeries … this one, The Coffee Club, seemed to have little in the way of competition. Interior view of The Coffee Club in BathgateThe surroundings could only be described as ‘basic’ however we were warmly welcomed and you got the feeling that they would happily make you anything you wanted, even if it wasn’t on the menu. The Coffee Club, however, does not do local produce … our scone appeared, ready sliced (what’s that all about), with English jam, Irish butter and a great dollop of scooshie cream from goodness knows where, but in spite of all that the scone confounded our expectations by not being too bad, fairly light if a little short on fruit – I had seven sultanas in mine … okay,okay, I need to get a life! A scone at The Coffee Club in BathgateTopscone it was not but a commendable effort nevertheless. The town nestles in the shadow of Cairnpapple Hill which, 5000 years ago, was home to the Beaker People, so called because of the shaped pots found in their graves. You cannot help but wonder what they would make of things if they were to make a return and gaze down on the world from their lofty hilltop. Obviously they would need an iPad or two to bring them up to speed but we think there would be some serious head scratching when they saw what supposedly educated people had made of things in the intervening five millennia … America tearing itself apart over Trump and religion; the EU (surely mankind’s greatest achievement in the last 100 years) tearing itself apart over populism; the UK tearing itself apart over Brexit. Perplexing, or what? But perhaps most astonishing of all for these wee Beakers would be to find that Scotland was being lorded over by a parliament five hundred miles away that doesn’t care a jot about it. As Lesley Riddoch puts it “if the UK Government can completely ignore Scottish democracy on a big issue like EU membership, does anyone seriously think Scottish interests will matter in any other policy decision reserved to Westminster?” ‘Reserved to Westminster’ means just about everything meaningful for Scotland … too much for even the most hard-nosed Beaker to stomach!

If a Beaker was to go into the Coffee Club they would probably think it hadn’t changed that much … joking, many thanks to Bathgate and The Coffee Club for making us welcome.

EH48 1PD    tel: 01506 656352    The Coffee Club FB

Venachar Lochside

When you stand on the south shore of Loch Venachar looking over the water to the restaurant/café that is Venachar Lochside, it looks very small in it’s remote location set against the magnificent backdrop of Ben Ledi. It’s a rather splendid and peaceful sight … but don’t be fooled, everything is not as it might seem! Below these tranquil waters lies a dreadful and terrible beast in the form of an evil waterhorse or kelpie. View of the Venachar Lochside café with gardens in foregroundMany lochs have these creatures however the one in this loch is, by all accounts, in a league of its own. As a shapeshifter it can appear as a beautiful horse … or even a handsome man, and it lures women and children into the water where it drags them under and devours them. Just along the road from the Venachar Lochside café is the woodland called Coille a’ Bhroin (wood of lamentation) which commemorates fifteen women and children who fell foul of this malicious kelpie. Picture of the outside seating area at Venachar Lochside overlooking the lochToday, there is a car park across the road from the wood, and few who sit in their cars gazing out across the loch are aware of it’s dark secret. Given the kelpie’s shape-shifting attributes, and with me being a handsome man, our only worry was that my entrance might spread alarm amongst those already in the café …  but no one paid a blind bit of notice! venachar-03Venachar Lochside has been here for almost exactly five years and is a family run concern. We have passed it on several occasions but this was to be our first visit. There is a large eating area downstairs with an open air deck right on the water and upstairs there is a function room where you can get married if you want to? With it being midweek in late October, we thought it would be quiet … but no, it was bustling. Two cheery young girls were doing a great job coping with the multitudes so it wasn’t long before we were seated and presented with our scones. Picture of our scones at the Venachar Lochside caféThey were excellent, and with a little jar of jam and a nice tub of cream we had no problem awarding a topscone. It’s just brilliant to see new businesses like this being made to work so well and thriving in relatively isolated areas like this – that has to be down to astute business acumen and good old-fashioned guts and determination. The Scottish government gets accused of being unbusinesslike for running up huge deficits yet it is required by law to balance the books every year .. something it has done each and every year of it’s existence. Maybe it’s the UK that has the deficit? The sign board outside the Venachar Lochside caféIt also gets criticism for not reducing this deficit, which considering control over: the minimum wage; VAT; corporation tax; fuel duty; oil revenues; immigration; tax avoidance and income tax personal allowances are all held at Westminster, is a pretty tall order … an impossible one.

UK voting pattern for EU referendum
United? Voting pattern in EU referendum

Given that the UK government was dragged kicking and screaming into devolution by the EU, Westminster never intended the Scottish parliament to be anything more than an expensive talking shop. In looking after the interests of Scotland however, we think that Holyrood takes it’s business very seriously indeed, so it is great to see it starting to bi-pass London and open up new ventures directly with other EU countries.  Let’s hope they can be as half as successful as Venachar Lochside.

FK17 8HP          tel: 01877 330011        Venachar Lochside

Inversnaid Hotel

When Gerard Manley Hopkins, approached this hotel by boat in 1918 he was struck by the Arklet Falls on it’s right. He duly walked up the bank of the burn until he reached the high open ground and was so inspired he wrote a poem, imaginatively called ‘Inversnaid’. It is a lovely poem, one of our favourites, and the reason for our visit today … retracing his steps, so to speak. The first verse starts at the waterfall as it drops into Loch Lomond then the following two verses illustrate the journey upwards to the high ground where he finishes with the fourth and wonderful final verse:The Arklet Falls at Inversnaid

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

He was a religious man and he is looking at a scene, as he sees it, created by God. It was the Duke of Montrose though that created Inversnaid in 1790 as a hunting lodge, and in September 1869, Queen Victoria, who had been staying at Invertrossachs Lodge on Loch Vennacher, arrived here by horse drawn coach from Stronachlachar for a trip around the loch on the Prince Consort steamship. Even today this is a fairly tricky road to negotiate by car so goodness knows what it was like back then? She was particularly taken with the northern part of the loch with its views to the west … and why wouldn’t she be impressed?

View from Inversnaid Hotel across Loch Lomand to Ben Ime
Ben Ime in the middle distance with Ben Vorlich and the Loch Sloy hydro scheme to the right

Nowadays, as the Inversnaid Hotel, it is almost exclusively used by bus parties and walkers on the West Highland Way.  As such it suffers in the same way as most hotels that specifically cater for this sort of custom … a bit soulless. Arriving, like Manley Hopkins by boat from Tarbert we were hoping to be inspired by scones as well as the scenery. View from Inversnaid Hotel across Loch Lomand to Ben ImeNo such luck! They didn’t look at all inspiring so we just shared one and our fears turned out to be totally justified … edible, but only just. At least we were able to sit out on a beautiful day and admire the scenery. Incidentally, the captain of our boat informed us that the huge pipes of the Loch Sloy hydro scheme were in fact the means of delivery to the packing hall below of a massive haggis factory buried deep in mountain. We have no way of verifying this but it doesn’t seem any more far fetched than the recent GERS (Government Expenditure Review Scotland) figures. On the face of it, it is bad news … we spend much more than we bring in. You have to bear in mind that GERS was set up back in the day by Ian Lang specifically to counter nationalism so it is hardly likely to deliver good news. View into the sunlight down Loch LomondGERS does however benchmark against other countries of similar size and again we do rather badly by comparison. The trouble is that no one seems to ask how we got to this situation  … under Westminster management? It is all supposed to be Scotland’s fault and proves that we could never ever ever be a viable independent nation. These benchmark countries would give their eye teeth for Scotland’s assets:

  • Norway is far more reliant on oil than Scotland, but is doing ok thank you very much.
  • Denmark would love to have whisky generating £120 of exports every second.
  • Belgium would love to have the Edinburgh Fringe, adding £261m to its economy.Interior of Inversnaid Hotel
  • Ireland would love to have Scotland’s online gaming industry, grown over 600% and potentially worth more than oil ever was.
  • Sweden would love to match Scotland educationally. According to the Office of National Statistics the adult population of Scotland is the most educated in the whole of Europe.
  • Finland would love to have Scotland’s tidal and wave energy potential, 25% of the entire EU.

So what’s the problem? Let’s guess … could it be the way we are governed, surely not? Entrance to Inversnaid HotelAn independent Scotland should be sporting an embarrassingly large fiscal surplus … and now they want to drag us out of the EU? Yet still people cling to the illusion that we are better together. As someone as  eloquent as Manley Hopkins would say …. aaarrgghhh!

FK8 3TU      tel: 01877 386223       Inversnaid Hotel TA

Acoustic Café

“Sounds like great coffee” … that’s the strap line for this latest addition to the Falkirk café scene, the Acoustic Café. Not sure what great coffee sounds like, other than the deafening sound of their own coffee machine (it really is the loudest), but we feel it probably indicates a bit of confused thinking around the concept of selling coffee and guitars together in the one place. Acoustic 07So, is the Acoustic Cafe a coffee shop that sells guitars or a guitar shop that sells coffee, we’re not sure, it does not seem to do either particularly well, kind of falls between two stools, so to speak. As a guitar shop it has a good range of very nice guitars … all well and good you might think but we suspect that more attention has been paid to this aspect of the business than the cafe side … and if anything it should be the other way round. Some fundamentals are just not there; the coffee may sound great but what about the taste … it is not up to the standard of it’s near competitors, the staff are not trained to the same standard as it’s near competitors … the sole member of staff on two of our visits was unsure of just about everything. Worst of all, of course, the scones are decidedly average.Acoustic 06 Not home baked, a bit dry and powdery … nowhere near a topscone. On the up-side it has a nice funky interior which differentiates it from the rest and offers loads of potential. Also, it has only been in existence for a couple of months so maybe we should cut it some slack. If it can concentrate more on the cafe side of things we hope it goes on to make sweet music and  much better coffee and scones for many years to come. Music to the ears, that’s what we call the Scottish Government’s current stance in the negotiations with the U.K. government over settlement of the new fiscal framework for Scotland. Instead of giving the ‘sweeping new powers’ promised after the referendum, now it seems that any new powers will have to be paid for through reduced funding … not even vaguely in the spirit of the Smith Commission. Thank goodness for the SNP .. if it had been up to a Labour led administration they would have undoubtedly rolled over to their London masters long ago and Scotland would be much worse off as a result. To end on a high note, the Acoustic Café did manage to introduce a new word to our lexicon .. luthier; someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments, a service available through the cafe.Acoustic 04

FK2 7AS            tel: 01324 638297      Acoustic Cafe FB

The Scottish Parliament

Well, well, well, look where we are. Once you have endured the airport style security this is quite a pleasant building to be in, not grand and imposing like it’s southern counterpart, but friendly and, even with the slightly austere design, welcoming. It’s very much a talking shop, rather than a coffee shop (is there a difference) and although we have been here several times before it has never been when the Parliament has been in session so the hope was that today was to be one of glorious enlightenment .. and maybe a scone.Parliament 02 But, for the moment, never mind the controversies raging in the debating chamber, the entire history of the Scottish Parliament is highly controversial. In spite of the very British illusion of democracy embedded in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ and all that, almost thirty years ago the EU found the UK to be one of the most undemocratic states in the EU, and as a result the European Commission forced devolution on John Major’s government to try and create more localised accountability. Major hated the whole idea but was perhaps fortunate in being deposed and was thus able to hand on the poisoned chalice to Tony Blair who hated it as much, if not more. In fact he hated it so much that on the eve of the inauguration of the Scottish Parliament he secretly redrew the border between Scotland and England so that the ownership of seven North Sea oil fields could be transferred to England with  consequentially dramatic effects on each country’s GDP figures … and presumably in case the Scots got a bit above themselves.  Controversy also followed the construction program with an eventual cost overrun of almost £400m .. ouch!!

the foyer area
the foyer area

Designed by a Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, it has been described it as “a Celtic-Spanish cocktail to blow both minds and budgets, it doesn’t play safe, energetically mining a new seam of National Romanticism refined and reinterpreted for the twenty-first century” … whatever … we rather like it. The debating chamber is built above the public areas to remind those in it that they are only there at the behest of those below them .. not sure that bit is working too well but the theory is good. Parliament 05We already know that the First Minister is a dab hand at making scones but if the 129 MSPs had anything to do with the scones in the tearoom, there must have been some sort of cross party rapprochement, because they were not too bad .. nowhere near topscone but quite good all the same .. packaged jam; butter a bit too hard; on the expensive side for self-service … perhaps a scone designed by a committee?Parliament 01

We listened with interest to a session in the chamber but much of it was fairly opaque. A plethora of acronyms, can make it difficult to follow proceedings if you are not familiar with each and every one. Nevertheless we did find it an enlightening experience and it was good to see it all in full flow. You would think that with the formation of the Scottish Parliament that the UK democracy issue would have dramatically improved, but it hasn’t, if anything this place is akin to a sticking plaster. Recently, 97% of Scottish MPs voted against bombing Syria, but you all know what happened there. There are countless examples like this; nuclear weapons; the EU; trade union laws; the Scotland Bill; human rights; tax credits, where the Scottish voice matters not a jot .. if you live in Scotland it is almost pointless voting. Parliament 09 Any system where one set of MPs is outnumbered 12 to 1 is self evidently flawed and certainly not geared to Scotland’s best interests. If Scotland were not in a union with England and the top 100 UK secondhand car salesmen were given the task of selling the current union deal to the Scottish electorate they would not have a snowball’s. On top of all this the current government is intent on reducing our democracy even further .. chipping away at trade unions and eroding our human rights, they might as well be open about it and hand the whole thing over to the corporates and banksters who actually run everything at the moment. It’s enough to make you choke on your committee scone!

EH99 1SP       tel: 0131 348 5200       The Scottish Parliament