19 Jun 2011

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

I thought the first line to the popular Burns’ song Auld Lang Syne would be appropriate on this occasion, which marks my goodbye to this blog.

After more than two years I am closing up virtual shop. Like many bloggers I have simply run out of creative steam, and as I get older it becomes more important that I persue something because I love it rather than because I feel I should. My life is very full and happy, and I simply feel my energy being pulled elsewhere.

I don’t know quite how to thank you, everyone who has followed along on my many adventures, and who has encouraged my writing and photography. You have helped make this wee project a great joy. Thank you also for your passion and curiosity for Scotland. I think that together we have shown this wee country a lot of love.

While I will eventually be shutting down comments and other bits and pieces, the blog itself will remain as a point of reference and potential enjoyment for whoever should stumble upon it.

I shall leave you with Eddi Reader, who sings my favourite rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Much love and safe journeys,


5 Jun 2011

Gullane's black rocks, then cake

In the gentle world of East Lothian, it is easy to make a trip to the beach stretch out the way the sun laps from the dunes to the shore in the late afternoon.

Be as lazy or adventurous as you like, running or rambling from the carpark in Gullane down to the beach, where you start the lingering trek towards the distant black rocks.

The day is that combination of chilled breeze and the coin-sized orbs of warmth against your cheeks and your eyelids.

Follow the trail from the beach, over the rocks and up into the dunes, past the ruins of a small chapel whose parishioners worshiped here 500 years ago. Today a golf course extends inland not far away, but the waves that roll against the sand below sound the same as they did then.
Walk as far as you like, all the way out to Yellowcraig if the spirit moves you. Or stop and sit for awhile before deciding that the afternoon just wouldn’t be complete without an enormous piece of cake and a comforting cup of milky coffee.

Sun, sand, vistas, shells, cake. The perfect afternoon out.

26 May 2011

Deep fried pizza. Get it in ye.

This is a pizza supper. Take a pizza. Fold it half. Plunge it into hot oil until maximum saturation is reached.
If you dare, unfold the greasy pizza and fill it with chips until you are have created a mountainous, fatty, salt-sprinkled, cheese strewn monster.


23 May 2011

The long walk of foodie torture

A wee while back I undertook a stroll through areas of Edinburgh known as Morningside, Bruntsfield and The Meadows.

My guidebook was once again the Pocket Mountains Edinburgh edition of 40 town and country walks, but while the book pointed out one quaint city landmark after another, for me the directions they had written down entirely missed the mark when it came to the pleasure of this particular journey.

We're talking foodie pleasure here. A walk through Morningside and Bruntsfield takes you past some of the best cafes Edinburgh has to offer, especially if you have a sweet tooth.

I began as instructed at the clock at the foot of Morningside road, which in 1884 marked the spot for Morningside train station.

I should pause here to point out that I already knew of several of the foodie havens we will be visiting. So as a way to limit my spending, I had brought with me a paltry £6. Only a few steps away from the clock I began to regret my decision.

My first stop was Henri’s of Edinburgh, a specialist French delicatessen where the cheese cooler is full of delights and the shelves are heaving with treats direct from Paris. On this occasion, the counter was also coloured with a selection of delicate fruit tarts. Glancing around the shop I saw my friends’ Christmas lists filling themselves in.

Managing not to part with any of my meagre pocket money so early on, I crossed the street to Loopy Lorna’s Tea House, where the pink sign in the window adorably dubbed me “poppet” and let me know that the kettle was on. It was there that I spied what must surely be the city’s grandest lemon and poppy seed cake. It was a tower of two layers of cake and canary yellow, creamy citrus goodness.
Once again I extracted myself without buying anything (fellow foodies may begin to praise me at your leisure).

My next stopping point was The Canny Man’s public house, which dates back to 1850 when it was a popular boozer for local cattle drovers and farmers. On the outer wall is posted a brass plaque that would make the surly character of Bernard Black creak out a lopsided scowl:

No smoking
No credit cards
No mobile phones
No cameras
No backpackers

Luckily the woman behind the bar gave me a pardon on the no camera rule and I was allowed a few shots inside this dimly lit, writer’s dream of an old pub. My favourite spot was a tiny nook between two close walls, which housed a single table and two chairs. The ultimate booth for introverts. Then there was the main bar, which displays an amber wall of Scotch.
With a rambling trail of thank yous I left The Canny Man's and headed out of Morningside and towards Bruntsfield, where my non-spending streak would meet an abrupt end the moment I set foot in the S. Luca ice cream parlour.

First I sampled the NY Lime Cheesecake ice cream, a brilliant combination of creamy texture and tart citrus tang. But as the weather had been variant all morning, I decided to be the same and go with a trio of vanilla, chocolate and coconut icecreams with a hot chocolate sauce. The coconut was my very favourite, like a tropical smooch that melts into memory.
Anyone with German ancestry living in Edinburgh knows of the next spot on our trail. If childhood recollections can be reborn in a loaf of bread, they are at Falko, where the fat bread pretzels hang before baskets of heavy rye and walnut loaves.

Then there are the mountainous apple strudels and the triple layered torte, but I succumbed only to a loaf of this dark bread, mainly because I was down to my last few coins.
One more stop before we get a reprieve from pleasure, and only because on the day of my walk (a Sunday), Coco Chocolate was closed.

The Chocolate Tree is one of my favourite shops in the city. They adore chocolate here, and their welcoming window display, a tip of the hat to Victorian style indulgence, speaks to their ongoing obsession.
Normally I would linger longest over the cakes or the chocolates themselves, but as it is the summer season they have added a small ice cream selection to their offerings.

I nearly fell into the almost sinister blob of purple and red that is the blueberry sorbet. When I look at it I don’t know whether to feel afflicted or hypnotised, but either way I know I want some.

But now we are (mostly) free! Free to dance or (in my case) lumber through Bruntsfield Links and its marvellous views toward Edinburgh Castle, before turning down the path through The Meadows, where only weeks ago the last of the blossom petals cascaded around walkers and bicyclists. The light that dances through the heavily leafed trees onto the carpet of green below will last all summer long.
If you’re still feeling up to it you can stop again at Peter’s Yard before heading over George IV Bridge and ducking down to the best cheese shop ever. Or you can just go home. Rest. Try not to think about cake or chocolate or ice cream or bread or sorbet or cheese or anything at all.

Just promise to remind me to bring my wallet the next time I walk through Morningside and Bruntsfield. Thank you.

3 May 2011

The Hound of the Wellingtons

The folks at the Ness store in Edinburgh have created a tartan canine out of boots. And I love him.

30 Apr 2011

Isle of May: Highlights

The Isle of May will make you think of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. On the island’s western side, sheer cliffs reach up from the waters of the Firth of Forth. Noisy guillimots - around 30,000 of them - clutter every available rocky ledge, while thousands of kittiwakes dive and squawk in what seems to be a mad, confused display.

If you are prone to seasickness and the water is choppy, you will not enjoy the more than 45-minute journey to the island. As eager as you will be to take it all in as you approach, all you will be able to do is look towards the horizon and focus on your breathing.

Once your shaky legs touch solid ground again, you look up to see your first puffin, sitting at a distance atop a concrete outbuilding. Today the Isle of May is inhabited each summer season by a handful of researchers from Scottish Natural Trust, but over the centuries it has been a holy retreat for monks, a village for fishermen and their families, the site of Scotland’s first permanent lighthouse, and a wartime lookout post.
You have two hours to follow the paths around the two-kilometre long island. If you thought you were excited about seeing one puffin, prepare to fall utterly in love with these tiny clown-faced birds. From just 10 pairs in 1950, the Isle of May is now home to the largest breeding colony of puffins in the UK.

As tempted as you may be to leave to path to get closer, don’t! You could disturb a puffin burrow or the nest of a female eider duck, who, unlike the drake with his stark black and white plumage, blends in neatly among the tufts of uneven grass.
There will be so much going on around you that you won’t know where to look. These seabirds descend en masse to breed and raise their young, rattling every fibre of life while there is time.

If you are lucky, you will spot some grey seals sunning themselves on the beach on the west side of the island, or poking their heads out of the water. In the autumn the birds will return to the sea as the seals come ashore to welcome another 2,000 pups into the world.
It will be difficult to leave, and not just because you are dreading a second bout of illness on the way back to Anstruther. What is most precious is being a passive observer among creatures who are so oblivious to you.

You are a curious two-legged thing that walks by and will not harm them. When you leave you will not be remembered. But you will remember them and be grateful for all the rapturous life that will continue when you are gone.

The journey back is fine, since you head straight to the upper deck and an endless supply of cold, fresh air. Yes, your bones will feel as if they have atrophied by the time you enter Anstruther harbour, but it will be worth it.

If you want to learn more about the Isle of May, Scottish Natural Heritage offers a great virtual tour.
On a side note, the Isle of May is a wonderful place to get engaged.

Particularly if you are looking out at a view like this one.

Happy Beltane, everyone!

25 Apr 2011

Kirkcaldy to Dysart: The longest short walk

Looking at a map, the walk from Kirkcaldy to Dysart is short. The two are so close in fact that Dysart is considered another suburb of Kirkcaldy and if you stick to the roads the two communities flow together almost seamlessly.

But if you take the trail from Ravenscraig Castle along the shore to Dysart, you can easily forget there are any towns nearby at all.

Start at the beach below Ravenscraig. If you are the type who loves to wander beaches collecting pebbles, don’t be surprised if glance at your watch and find that an hour has passed rather than 15 minutes.

Years of wind and waves have created incredible contours and designs in some of the larger rocks, whose features warp and sway like frozen lava. Scattered here and there are particularly unique specimens, like the stone I have named “Batman rock” for its bizarre shape. Where did it come from? What might it have been used for?
I propped it up on another larger stone to photograph it and this is where I left it, with its blind eyes looking out to sea. Mind you, if I had brought my backpack along you can be sure I would have hauled it home. I wonder if anyone else saw it and did just that.

When you finally leave the beach below Ravenscraig you have the option of retreating to one of a number of waterside nooks that exist next to a long curved rock wall that looks like pulled sugar. Shorter rock walls descend to the beach, creating secluded enclosed areas ideal for picnics or just a little quiet time. At least until the tide comes in.
Eventually you must make your way through a large stone tunnel before emerging at Dysart’s quaint harbour. On one side the gaps in a massive stone wall have become home to nesting seabirds, while on the other a myriad of boats bob and rock in the quiet water.
To get a sense of Dysart’s fishing past and the history and geological background of The Fife Coastal Trail, it is ideal to first pay a visit to The Harbour Master’s House, which was opened in 2006 as Fife’s first coastal centre and the headquarters of the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust.

The old workers houses along the harbour front were restored in the 1960s. Their whitewashed walls face the lapping sound of the waves. I imagine the view from the windows would be incredible during storms, and of course just a few short steps from the doors is the water and plenty of opportunity for watching the local sea and bird life.
From here you can continue on the Fife Coastal Trail, or head back to Dysart, choosing a high trail out of the village, which provides a postcard view of the harbour. Walk a little further and you won’t miss the end of daffodil season when you see the carpets of bluebells stretched out between the budding trees.

Depending on the kind of experience you’re after, the short walk from Kirkcaldy to Dysart can take as long as you like. Start in the morning to give yourself plenty of time. Bring a picnic. Bring a book. Don’t rush. If you’re lucky, the sun will shine high and the breeze will blow warm. A short afternoon can stretch out like a week.

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