8 October 2005 Mr M and I were married on the Isle of Skye. I was wondering how we should celebrate this year’s anniversary when fate just seemed to take over. My son was coming to stay for a few days before starting a new chapter in his life. On Monday (being our anniversary) he needed to get on the West Highland train. Mmm I wondered. After last week’s adventure in Glen Lyon, Mr M had said he thought he would be taking a break from walking with me! However, I could now see the possibility of a train journey up North to accompany my son on part of his journey, sneak in a walk and stay overnight in a hotel with Mr M to celebrate 13 years of married bliss. A bit of research on the internet and I calculated that it would be possible for us to all get the train from Croy. My son could sit back and relax and enjoy a long train journey whilst me and Mr M could jump off the train at Tyndrum. We could then walk roughly 6 miles on the West Highland Way up to Bridge of Orchy, stay in the hotel there overnight, relax over long leisurely breakfast and get the train back just after lunch.
A Perfect Plan
Now to convince Mr M that he wanted to walk part of the West Highland Way on his anniversary. “I thought we could have a night in a hotel to celebrate our anniversary My Sweet”, I said. Enough detail for now I decided. The rest of the information could be released at appropriate intervals.
So with Mr M on board with my plan, I phoned the hotel and was very pleasantly surprised that I managed to get a dog friendly room booked for us so we could take Beatrix with us. Not only did I manage to book a room, but got a deal on a separate cottage next to the hotel. Perfect. There would be nobody to walk past the hotel room causing Beatrix to bark to protect us. What could possibly go wrong this week? I did have a bit of a giggle with the manager on the phone when he asked me if I wanted the room setting out with two single beds or a double bed. “Well it is our anniversary,” I laughed.
“Have you seen the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday?” asked Mr M. “It is going to be teaming it down both days”. Now we all know that Mr M’s idea of bad weather and my idea of bad weather are poles apart. “It will be ok. We are only walking on the West Highland way and the guide books tell us we don’t even need a map or a compass”. Mr M raised an eye brow at me. “Oh, we are walking are we?” Smiling sweetly I discussed the plans for the two days and advised Mr M that he just needed to travel light as he would be walking for 6 miles carrying everything for the overnight stay along with his picnic.
Yellow Weather Warning!
Everything was planned. Sunday came and the tearoom was closed and cleaned for our weekend. A quick check on social media at on the Sunday evening and I noticed a message from a friend, “Have you seen the weather for the West Coast. You must be mad”. I could ignore Mr M’s warnings of bad weather, but when a friend mentions the weather…. I logged onto the weather on the internet and there it was, yellow warning for torrential rain covering Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and beyond. Now I have never walked any of the West Highland Way so have no idea what the terrain is really like, only what I have read in guide books. I read the section from Tyndrum to Bridge Orchy and the words that were suddenly jumping out of the book at me were “flood plains”. Oops. Perhaps a change of plan was needed. Ok, we would get the train all the way to Bridge of Orchy then go for a walk once we were there.
Second adjustment of plans needed. All ferries up North were cancelled for Monday. My son now needed accommodation for Monday night. Should I book him into the hotel with us? On our anniversary? So, accommodation sorted for him on his journey right by the ferry terminal ready for the re-commencement of the ferries.
An Early Start
Monday morning at some ridiculous hour, the alarms went off and we all nibbled at our breakfast and pretended that we did not mind being up so early. After a short 10 minute train journey we were in Glasgow Queen Street. We had an hour to kill before the next train but Beatrix kept the whole of the station amused going from one person to the next getting cuddles, strokes and, of course, there was always the possibility of a biscuit or too if she did the puppy dog eyes.
8.20 and we were settled on the next train. We had just short of 3 hours on the train (though my son had about 6!). How long should we hold off before we had our picnic? Realistically we could probably last until we got off the train then have our packed lunch on the walk. Just outside Helensburgh the train came to a standstill. “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be short delay”. The track on this line is single track in several places so a delay with a train from the opposite direction can cause delays for all other trains. We waited patiently, we chatted, we looked at the views (ha, ha), I did some crochet and some reading. Then, by 9.30 ish our picnics had started to creep out of our rucksacks and you know what happens once you start. It was not long before I had to tell everyone they would have to stop eating their snacks as we all had a long day ahead of us – some longer than others. Beatrix had certainly had enough – every time I looked at her my son seemed to be giving her some treat or another.
Eventually, the delayed Caledonian Sleeper train came down the track and we were once again on our way. Once beyond Arrochar and Tarbet, the views should have been amazing but imagination was needed as the rain moved in. We trundled along past Ardlui and up the long incline passing the Falls of Falloch on route to Crianlarich. Of course today any little waterfalls were now raging torrents. Next stop was Upper Tyndrum, leading to our final stop at Bridge of Orchy. So, hugs and kisses given to my son, we left the train for the very short 5 minute walk to the hotel.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel
By the time we got to the hotel we were like drowned rats as the weather was so bad. In my opinion though, that’s what good waterproofs are for. We checked in at reception only to find that the lovely annex cottage we had been promised was now flooded due to the inclement weather so we had been moved to a different room. Did we mind? Not at all, especially as the lovely hotel manager removed the additional charge for Beatrix and even gave us a further discount for the inconvenience. Ok, time for a walk. Mr M was on his best behaviour and was, in his words, quite happy to do what I wanted as it was my anniversary treat. “Let’s walk up the West Highland Way towards Inveroran” says I. My already favourite hotel manager gave us a map and told us about a round trip we could undertake in about 3 hours or so to go the top of Màm Carraigh, drop down to the Inveroran Hotel and back to the Bridge of Orchy hotel. I think the manager’s words to us were something like “you’re mad”.
Within the first 5 minutes of the walk we had hit the mud, the flood water and the comments of “this is just too wet to go any further” started. Watching two other people go in front of us, I pointed out to Mr M that they had not come to any harm so we would be fine. It was difficult to see at this point whether it was the rain on Mr M’s face or if there were actually some tears as he reluctantly agreed to follow me. Thankfully we were soon through the mud and the path started to climb steadily to become just a stream to walk in rather than a mud bath. Before long we were passing the forest and I noticed a nice spot for lunch – sheltered from the rain and with a few logs to act as a table. What better place to have lunch on your anniversary. I also knew that the thought of warm tea and food would cheer up Mr M. Ok, so it was not quite so sheltered from the rain and all the fallen trees were way too wet and slippy to use as a table, but we had a lovely lunch and I even managed to get a cheeky anniversary kiss.
We continued on our way, with the rain getting heavier and the wind getting stronger. We did get a few glimpses of the hills around us and decided that we would go to the top of the Màm Carraigh and decide what to do from there. Lo and behold we could see the Inveroran Hotel in the distance so we knew we could make it to there and then a gentle 3 mile stroll back on the single track road to the hotel. Before long, we arrived back at the hotel, very wet and with an equally very wet dog shaking herself in reception. I confessed to the manager that I had forgotten to pack a towel for Beatrix and asked if he had an old towel I could use. This was not good enough for him though and he very kindly gave us a lovely fluffy bath sheet to use. Did I tell you how great I think this manager is?
We finally got to our room only to find that the fabulous manager had remembered our joke on the phone a few days earlier and there were chocolate covered strawberries in our room with a lovely hand written anniversary note. Hot showers and dry clothes (and chocolate covered strawberries) and the wet walk was quickly forgotten. If you are ever looking for a cosy, friendly hotel in the middle of nowhere, then the Bridge of Orchy Hotel is just perfect. We had a lovely meal in the restaurant, sitting next to the log burner, chatting to the staff and the other guests. Beatrix, of course, was the star attraction again.
Out in the Wind and Rain Again
All was going well until 4 am in the morning when, as the saying goes, Beatrix was as sick as a dog. The accumulation of treats stretching from Glasgow Queen Street, the train journey to Bridge of Orchy, the lunch in the rain and who knows what else on the fells, was too much for Beatrix and she very kindly returned them all. Yes, on the hotel room floor before we had chance to get dressed and get her outside. Fortunately the floor was not carpeted so whilst Mr M was once again outside in the wind and rain, I was on my hands and knees cleaning the hotel floor! Then, as all dog owners will understand, 10 minutes later Beatrix was back to her usual self and now snuggled up on her lovely bath sheet acting as though nothing had happened.
Happy Anniversary Mr M x
Oh, the song for this week? Under the moon of love by Showaddywaddy.
This week saw our long, hot summer slip gently away to be replaced by another of nature’s amazing seasons. Of course, up in Scotland we can often experience all four seasons in one day! There has been frost in the mornings this week and even some windscreen scraping. The temperature gauge in the car has dropped to 2 degrees at times and I have to confess that I succumbed to popping the central heating on at home for an hour on Monday night. We do have a bit of a challenge at home when we see who will give in first to the heating. A couple of extra layers, a few brisk walks and plenty of hot, steaming tea and you can usually hold off the heating for a couple more weeks.
All Quiet At The Tearoom
At the tearoom this week it’s been very quiet (as always at this time of year for some reason). This has given me time to catch up on some of my own crafting, share tea, cakes, gossip and laughter with the lovely customers and start to plan for our exhibition table at the Soul Sista’s event at the end of October. The tearoom will be closed that day so that Mr M can come along to the event and we can both show off with pride what Mother Murphy’s is all about.
I Will Succeed
After last week’s disastrous trip up to Glen Lyon I decided that this week, no matter what, I was going to be successful in climbing Stuchd an Lochan before winter makes the Ben Lawers road impassable for mere mortals like myself.
After bit of a late night on the Sunday with a birthday celebration and I headed to bed and had the alarm set for 6.00 am. Mr M had said that he thought he would not go walking as he had a few things to do. I did wonder if that was his way of saying, “there is no way on this earth that I am ever getting into a car with you again and heading down Glen Lyon, never mind thinking of going up Stuchd an Lochan”.
So, Mr M was not going. Was I brave enough to go out on the hills without Beatrix and have a totally solitary outing? Well, here’s the thing and all dog owners will know exactly what I mean. For me to go out on the hills without our highly intelligent, but sometimes naughty Border collie, I would have to put some sort of escape plan together. Firstly, I would need to pack my rucksack with all my walking clothes and boots the night before and have them stashed away in the car. Then, on the day of the walk, I would have to appear downstairs in my non-walking gear, have breakfast as usual and then try to get my packed lunch and flask ready without Beatrix seeing this. Of course, she does have some sort of sixth sense, so even if she didn’t see this secret planning, she would be able to sense it. Then the looks would start – the puppy dog eyes. There has been actual scientific study into puppy dog eyes, where the brow is raised to make the eyes appear wider and sadder. Oh, and only when humans are looking. So, lying there trying to sleep, my guilty conscience got the better of me just for thinking about it, so walking the hills without Beatrix was never going to happen!
Mr M Is Coming Too
6.00 am the alarm went off and I crept out of bed, dressed and headed out for a short walk with Beatrix to let her do what a dog needs to do.
Heading back home, the lights were all on. I smiled to myself because this could mean only one thing. Mr M was making my porridge. Sure enough porridge was on the go but I also spied Mr M’s rucksack in the room. Ok, so there would be three again in Glen Lyon.
Just before setting out I checked the mountain rescue weather forecast and was pleased to read that it was going to be fine and sunny until around 4.00 pm and visibility was recorded as very good. The views were going to be great. This week it will be great.
The drive again took us along the A84 up from Callendar and past Loch Lubnaig. What stuck both of us (and possibly Beatrix noticed it) was the difference in the colours in just a week. Last week there was a hint of autumn in the trees and hills. This week, the greens were replaced with autumn golds, yellows and orange. The sun was shining and the sky clear blue. Again! The loch shimmered again and the reflections were just as clear as last week. This week, the hills were all cloud free and there was not a hit of rain. The weather forecast was correct.
The single track road from Killin up to Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie was just as narrow and scary as the previous week, but this week there were no timber lorries for me to reverse for. There are signs out on the road advising a speed limit of 10 mph as there is a risk of skidding in places. Let me tell you, 10 mph is positively speeding on this road! Turning left at Bridge of Balgie I assured Mr that I had carried out extensive research on the internet and I knew exactly where I was going. Ok, I had re-read my Munro books and looked at the ordnance survey map a little closer! I knew now that the little turn off I had discarded the previous week was actually the road I needed to take. With Mr M sleeping most of the way I had no back seat passenger this week. He woke up as I switched on the indicator to take the road on the right. Why I felt the need to do that I am not sure. Who on earth did I think needed to see which way I was going? The deer? The cattle? The sheep? Well, this did wake up the back seat driver. “Why are you going down here? This is not the way. I don’t remember this road”. Anyway, 5 minutes down this even narrower road, we could see the dam in the distance. Phew!
Mr M kindly opened the gate for me to enter the final stages of our journey. This road takes us into the remnants of the Caledonian forest and these fences and gates are vein attempt to protect this wonderful area from the deer and sheep. Unfortunately for car drivers, highland cattle are not prevented from roaming this area. Now, Glen Lyon is a vast glen. Actually it is the longest enclosed glen in Scotland, running for 34 miles from Loch Lyon in the west to the village of Fortingall in the east. Why then I ask did all the highland cattle feel the need to be on the road I was travelling on. Mums, Dads and baby highland cattle. Oh flip I thought. Not to worry, if I drive slowly they will move off the road when I get to them. Or so I thought! Before I had chance to panic, the car was surrounded by cattle all looking in the windows, licking the windscreen and generally putting their huge horns far too close to my windows than would like. Now, don’t forget that I had a back seat driver and a border collie in the car with me. Beatrix by now was barking like a ferocious wild animal in the back of the car. This just intrigued the cattle more and they were putting their faces even closer to the car to get a better view of the barking dog. The back seat driver was telling me that I should not scare the cattle because we didn’t know what they would do. Is that right I thought! I inched forward slowly and eventually I was able to crawl the car through the herd. On any other road, I would have thought about reversing and going home for a cup of tea, but this was, don’t forget, the narrowest road you could find, so reversing was not an option for me.
Eventually though we were though the beasts and the car was parked safely at the side of the correct dam this week. The sun was still just about shining but there was a strong, cold breeze blowing in. Off we went.
Stuchd an Lochain starts with an almost impossibly steep climb to begin with and you do question at times whether you are walking a path or a stream. Eventually though it eases out and the views start to open out. Past the initial very steep beginning, the rest of the route up to the summit is gentle in comparison. I love this walk because you are walking most of the way up what feels likes a horseshoe ridge. The views are spectacular and mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. I was hoping to see lots of deer around the Loch on the way up to the summit but it was not to be today. Now let’s not forget that I checked the weather forecast just before setting off this morning and read about the sunshine and the very good visibility. Maybe I will send my photos to the mountain rescue weather people. Stopping for a snack and to catch our breath a little, we could see that the clouds were rapidly heading our way. The rain started but stopped almost as quickly as it started – to be replaced by snow! I am in my element in the winter weather and love the snow, the driving rain, the wind. I know! I am a little mad. Mr M, however, loves the hot, sunny weather. By now were perhaps an hour away from the final summit. Being the thoughtful, caring wife that I am, I did say to Mr M that I was happy not to go to the summit if he thought the weather was too bad. “I am not coming this far and not getting to the top” was the reply. Oops, my plan worked then!
Finally arriving at the summit, the views were not as spectacular as I had hoped but the feeling of isolation was still the same. We should have been able to see across Rannoch Moor and the Ben Nevis range but we could just about make out the dam across the valley that we arrived at by mistake the previous week. It was very cold and windy at the top so we did not hang around too long. The descent was very pleasant and the snow turned back to rain, though not quite so heavy now. The final mile or so is not quite as pleasant as we had to go back down the steep descent where the stream path was now a bit of a raging torrent at times. There were several slips and slides and lots of little swear words (from all three of us I think).
Finally we reached the dam road and just had a 5 minute walk back to the car from here. Suddenly Beatrix disappeared. I whistled to her, shouted to her and looked all around. My initial thought was that she had somehow managed to get into the dam workings. Don’t be silly, there is no chance of that. I looked and saw she was down at the edge of the water playing with the stones. Phew! Then she disappeared again! There was lots of shouting, cursing. How could we walk all that way and then loose her! I set off down to the car to see if she had gone past without us seeing her. No. She was not there. I set off back up the dam service road to see if Mr M had found her. She came running towards me like a bullet, stopped at my feet and dropped a half-eaten fish at my feet, smiling like only a collie can smile. She won’t be hungry now I thought to myself!
Drama over, we were all back in the car and Mr M said he would drive home. As we set off back up the hill, the highland cattle were nowhere to be seen but like magic they suddenly descended on the road and surrounded the car again. No matter how much we waited and waited, they were not going to move. “You will have to get of the car and shoo them along”, said Mr M. Well, I have to say, it took Mr M quite a while to keep getting out of the car, shooing the beasts and jumping back in the car to drive. I can tell you, there was no way I was getting out of the car to shoo these beasts!
Mr M says that he is going to have a little break from walking with me!
This week’s song for you to sing along to,
Rocky Mountain High by John Denver.
So today was the day. 6.00 am and the sky was clear. It was still dark but I could see there were no clouds. It was going to be a fabulous day. A lovely drive and then a wonderful hill walk in one of Scotland’s most scenic glens. I could barely contain my excitement as I ate my porridge.
Breakfast finished, lunch, flasks of tea and rucksacks packed with warm clothes and waterproofs (not that the waterproofs were going to be needed today). Daylight had arrived, the sun was shining and the sky was clear blue. Oh my, today was going to be great.
The drive up to Glen Lyon is a bit of an adventure in itself. This involved a tootle along the M9 motorway to the Callander exit, then the wonderful drive along the A84 and alongside Loch Luibnaig. The views were amazing. The loch was like glass so clear it was difficult to decide which was the reflection and which the real thing. Driving on through Lochearnhead and up Glen Ogle, I glanced over at the old railway bridge, remembering the many different cycling adventures I have had on that cycle route. The road from here sweeps down passed all the now harvested trees, giving a glimpse of the twin munros of Ben More and Stob Binnein towards Crianlarich. Our route though takes a sharp right down to the small village of Killin and passed the tumbling Falls of Dochart. A mile or so beyond Killin we take the small single track road towards Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie. At least there will be no snow today to make the journey hazardous.
What could go wrong?
It’s been many years since I drove all the way down this glen and the map is a bit vague – drive to the end of the single track road to the dam. What could go wrong? Well this is me of course. So five minutes along (or up) the single track road I met my first hazard, a large timber lorry coming down the winding hill. Oh flip! Now I am the girl who can drive quite well forwards but reversing is not really my thing. I panic if I have to reverse the length of Ladysmill outside the tearoom! Of course, today it was made even worse because I had the joy of Mr M, the back seat driver. “You will have to reverse down the hill a bit,” he informed me. No kidding, I thought! “left a bit, right a bit, straight back……” You get the picture. Finally I managed to reverse down the winding single track road to a passing place large enough to allow the lorry to pass me. He passed me with a smile, a nod and a friendly wave. Perhaps he could feel the tension in the car.
Where Is That Dam?
So back to my route. Start at the end of the road below the dam of Loch an Daimh. The road continues in the same vein, twisting, rising, and getting narrower as you pass the Ben Lawers range on your right (think Beatrix chasing skiers) and the Tarmachan ridge on the left. We passed the first dam on the left. Not this dam we both agreed as this was not the end of the road and we had not driven far enough. I continued on the road, ever conscious of the Mr M gripping his seat, sighing, gasping and I am sure I even saw him mopping his brow! I was only going 20 mph at some points! This road had been blocked by deep snow for a long time during the winter and now bears evidence of this. The road surface was terrible, there were pot holes the size of our house, grit, gravel and deep ditches down the side of the narrow strip of road I was driving on. The sign at the bottom of the road said Bridge of Balgie 9 miles then I had a few more miles to drive towards the end of the glen. At least the sun was shining and the views were amazing. We eventually arrived at Bridge of Balgie and took the turning to the left, with the sign indicating this was a dead end after 10 miles. This is the road we both agreed. Can I just emphasise the word both here! Now this road was actually a little better. There were not the high drops at the side of the road and it even felt wide enough for my car. We passed another dam. No, not this one, we both agreed as it is still not the end of the road. So we drove on, enjoying the scenery. By now, my back seat driver had relaxed a little but had become the, “I think I need the toilet. I am getting hungry” passenger instead. Beatrix of course, was just sitting in the back with her head resting between the head rests. I wonder what she was thinking.
Shall I leave him here?
Eventually we did indeed come to the end of the road and the huge dam towered over us. Mr M very proudly announced that this was not the right dam as he can clearly remember having a large parking area and signs all around. So whilst he got out of the car and did what he needed to do, I turned the car around. Yes, I did contemplate leaving him there! “You will just have to go back and find the right one. You have obviously gone the wrong way”, he advised me. Obviously! So we set off back down the road and eventually found ourselves back at the Bridge of Balgie. Time was now marching on so I made the decision that I would drive back to the Ben Lawers car park and we would go for a short walk from there. In my mind, my short walk was actually to go up Beinn Ghlas (the munro you climb on the way to Ben Lawers). From the Bridge of Balgie I now had to drive back up the narrow road. Of course the steep drops were now on my side of the car, which added to my excitement a little. Now I have already told you that the road was covered in pot holes, gravel, stones and ditches down either side. I was driving very cautiously but suddenly my passenger side wheel managed to go down one of the soft ditches. The car twitched, and twisted and the steering wheel pulled in my hand. I have to admit my heart was in my mouth (actually I think at this point it was running alongside the car) but I managed to catch the skid and carry on my merry way. My back seat driver was now almost in the passenger foot well and I could hear lots of sharp in takes of breath. To his credit, he never said a word!
Finally, we arrived back at the Ben Lawers car park and safety. Excitement over, but it was now nearly lunch time. We had some of our lunch in the car and then donned our walking boots ready for the walk. I pointed out Beinn Ghlass to Mr M and said that’s where we are going. Again, to be fair to him, he never said anything.
Now just as everyone else in Scotland was enjoying the glorious whether, our sunshine disappeared at the same time as we got out of the car! The temperature had dropped somewhat and the wind was building up. Nevertheless, we had a great walk to the top of Beinn Ghlas. The rain came down in heavy showers, but fortunately, it was falling horizontally because of the force 10 wind. Mr M did make lots of comments on the way to the summit, such as, “this is steep; this wind is so strong; my hearing aid is whistling; I need another jacket on; I need a rest”. Beatrix meanwhile was chasing after every stone she could find, barking at people to thrown the stones to her and generally making a nuisance of herself. The turning point was when I told Mr M and Beatrix in no uncertain terms that if they did not stop their behaviour I would quite simply leave them on the hill and go back to the car. In hindsight, I should have said this at the start of the walk because this behaviour ceased very quickly after that.
Again, in fairness of Mr M, it was incredibly windy and I was actually blown off my feet a couple of times heading towards the summit. Nevertheless, we found a sheltered spot in the dip between the top of Beinn Ghlass and the start of the final ascent to Ben Lawers. Lunch was very enjoyable and peace reined once more. Of course, this was helped somewhat by the lovely Candy Road I had in my lunch pack.
I decided to take us down the old Shephard’s trail around Beinn Ghlass rather than back down the steep ascent we had climbed. This gave us an easy descent and eventually we were back to the safety of the car.
“Do you want me to drive from here?” asked Mr M.
Of course this week’s song has to be:
I Love My Dog by Cat Stevens.
So here we are again. It’s our weekend but still I am not out on the hills or on my bike. Today being Monday, I have a meeting to go to tonight so I could not go walking today as I would not be back in time. It’s never a good look turning up to a meeting covered in mud (which usually happens with me out walking on the hills even on a dry day), eating all the cakes yourself because you are so hungry and then falling asleep during the talks.
I decided (yet again) that I would be taking Mr M and Beatrix up Stuchd an Lochain on Tuesday. I am beginning to think Mr M has been talking to the weather gods because we have gales and torrential rain forecast for tomorrow. Now I am by far a fair weather lass, but I do recognise that there are sometimes you just have to listen to the forecasts. So a day crafting tomorrow I think.
Of course, no walking or cycling means no tales of danger and excitement to report again. Today I have been making more of our gluten and dairy free bread for the tearoom so I thought what better than to share our gluten free bread recipe that will, of course, be going in my book, Mother Murphy’s Diaries, once it is eventually finished.
Who doesn’t love a slice of homemade bread spread with lashings of homemade jam or lemon curd.
I go through phases where I make homemade bread for us at home and when my children were growing up I loved spending a Saturday morning making enough bread for the week. We would often then have some homemade bread rolls and soup for lunch before heading out for the afternoon. Now there is just Mr M and myself at home, I don’t seem to have the need to make so much bread.
If we are to believe what the history books tell us, bread originated in Egypt and first grinding stone, or quern, was invented in Egypt around 8000 bce. The unleven bread produced then would be much like the chapattis and tortillas we have now. Eventually leavened bread (where a rising agent such as yeast is added to produce fermentation and cause the dough to rise) became a symbol of Egyptian culture. It is thought that the first leavened bread was most likely to be the result of some floating yeast landing in a bowl of thick gruel. How do historians even know such things!
Later in medieval times, along came the trencher bread. These were flat, old loaves of bread that were cut in half and used as plates during feasts. It is believed that after the diners were finished with the food, the used trenchers were given to the poor. Later they were made from wood and often had writing on the back of them which was thought to encourage conversations once the food had been eaten.
Casting back a while in the short history of Mother Murphy’s tearoom, we actually set about making some trenchers in our craft sessions. We did not make these out of bread, but took some cork mats, did a bit of decoupage on them and these were used to stand hot teapots on the tables. We had great fun with this and the crafters even came up with their own sayings for the trenchers. Of course, the table cloths still bear the evidence that I was allowed to use glue!
Now bread over the years has changed and we now have the most amazing choices from loaves, sliced, unsliced, white, wholemeal, seeded, sweet, spicy, rolls, wraps, chapattis and tortillas. Of course, there is the heavy processing of bread now to meet the daily demand for this and bread is now manufactured to last more than a day or so in the supermarkets.
In 1961 the British Baking Industries Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire developed the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) which developed a method of producing bread with greater volume and lightness, that was labour efficient and low cost. Let’s not go into the real ins and outs and of the merits of this process except to say that making your own bread, whether gluten or gluten free has got to be better than the bread produced using this process! There is of course also the debate that this processing method has increased the gluten content in the bread we eat today.
Our gluten free bread in the tearoom
Nowadays I have to admit to not being a big bread eater but we do need a good bread to serve to our customers. In the tearoom, it is not practical for us make homemade bread for all our customers as we would be constantly bread making and have no time for cake making or talking to our lovely customers. However, we have tried to buy in different brands of gluten free bread and have not really found one that we are totally happy to serve. Actually we have found some that we would be ashamed to serve in the tearoom!
So with the taste of these often disgusting gluten free breads still in our mouths, Mr M set about having a go at making some gluten free bread and, after a few trials, disasters and lots of food waste, he now makes an exceeding good loaf of gluten and dairy free bread. All the customers love this bread, not just those needing or choosing or a gluten free diet. Mr M is very protective of his bread though and sometimes we joke that customers will need to come along to the tearoom with a note from their GP confirming that they do indeed require his gluten free bread before he will serve it to them. He has a fear of somebody coming and needing (no pun intended) his bread and finding that he has given it away to all the other customers.
Now, as often happens when you get a husband and wife working together, we often have little “discussions”. One of these little discussions was about him making the bread. The result of the discussion was him saying to me, “You could always have a go at making the bread”. Anyone that knows me will recognise that this is just fighting talk to me. Let’s just say that in the tearoom you will often get Mr M’s lovely gluten free bread but you are now just as likely to get Debra’s gluten free bread. I have challenged the customers to tell us which they prefer but they have all declared that they are equally as good as each other. Very diplomatic customers!
Our secret to a successful gluten free loaf
If you read all the cook cookery books from the famous people such as Paul Holywood, Mary Berry and Jamie Oliver, you will pick up lots of amazing tips and hints for bread making. Indeed, I have used many of their recipes over the years and produced some wonderful breads. I enjoy the process of kneading, proving, re-kneading and finally baking the dough. Sharing homemade bread with others and watching their faces as they enjoy it is truly one of the best things about baking.
Then there is gluten free bread making. For this to work, you first need to forget everything you have ever learned about bread making. Forget about getting that lovely soft dough that can be kneaded and re-kneaded. Now imagine making something that looks a little bit like smooth porridge and you will start to get the picture of how gluten free dough appears. There are of course, less stages in gluten free bread as there is no kneading (you can’t knead runny porridge). Once you have made the dough, you simply leave it to rise then bake it.
I have to say that I do not believe (I may be wrong and am happy to be corrected) that gluten free bread will ever match soft, fluffy bread made with gluten. The gluten is of course the viscoelastic protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. This simply means that it is viscous (it binds together) and elastic (it stretches). This is the stuff that makes wheat bread so lovely and is perhaps one of the things that most people who cannot eat gluten miss the most.
Sometimes I do feel you have to accept that something will not be the same, like vegetarian sausages will never be sausages. Of course, you can still work at it and you can produce something that is tasty, enjoyable and 100% better than the manufactured gluten free versions. I am now very happy to serve our gluten free bread and our customers’ obvious enjoyment of it is high praise indeed.
Mr M’s (but sometimes Debra’s) gluten free bread (gf/df)
Makes two 2lb loaves
“You could always have a go at making the bread,” said Mr M to me during one of our discussions. Fighting talk indeed!
I use a free standing mixer when making this bread and it really does help to be able to have the mixer running when gradually adding the water and then the flour. I am sure you would be able to use a hand-held whisk too but it would just be a little more fiddly.
The loaves are sliced once they are completely cold and then frozen ready for slices to be taken out as and when required in the tearoom. Don’t be tempted to try and slice the loaves when they are even slightly warm. Believe me, I have tried this with disastrous results.
Our bread recipe is devised from the recipe that you can find on the back of a packet of Dove’s Farm Freee from bread flour. We have just been more specific in which oil, sugar and vinegar to use and the method we have settled on.
· 4 free range egg whites
· 12 tablespoons olive oil
· 2 teaspoons cyder vinegar
· 4 tablespoons caster sugar
· 2 teaspoons salt
· 900 ml tepid water
· 1kg gluten free white bread flour
· 4 teaspoons easy bake yeast
(I use Allinson’s)
1 Preheat oven to 220oc/200oc fan oven.
2 Put the egg whites, sugar, salt, vinegar, water and half the oil into a free standing mixer (or use an electric whisk) and using the balloon whisk attachment, whisk until frothy.
3 With the mixer running slowly, add the water slowly and continue to whisk until well blended and frothy.
4 Put the flour and yeast into a bowl and mix until well blended.
5 Change the attachment on the freestanding mixer to the dough hook and, again with the mixer running slowly, add the flour and yeast mix one tablespoon at a time until it has all been added.
6 Turn the mixer up to high and beat until you have a smooth batter with no bits. Remember to stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl to get all the flour well mixed. Turn the mixer back on and beat again until every bit of flour is blended into the mix.
7 Take the bowl off the mixer and add the remaining olive, stirring in with a spatula until just blended. You should have a mixture something similar to runny, smooth porridge.
8 Pour the mixture into the loaf tins, dividing equally between the two. (You could weigh them to make sure they are identical if you wish). Gently smooth the top with a spatula.
9 Put the loaf tins into a plastic bag and tie the ends of the bag to keep the air in. Try and get the bag to stand higher than the edges of the loaf tins.
10 Leave until the dough has risen up to the top of the loaf tins. This will take anywhere from 50 minutes to 2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen. I usually pop the oven on at this point ready for the loaves to go in when they have risen.
11 Carefully remove the plastic bags and bake the loaves for 50 minutes.
12 Remove from the oven and from the tins and leave the loaves to cool on a wire rack.
13 Once cooled completely, slice, put into a freezer bag and freeze. You can then take out slices as you need them
This week’s song?
Of course now I have started the precedent of adding a song to the end of my blog, I need a song for this week. What else could it be but:
Make It With You by the band Bread
Just as most folk are getting into their first day back at work for the week, we are enjoying our weekend. #Mother Murphy’s Tearoom is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so our weekend starts as we close the doors on a Sunday night.
Sadly I have no tales of epic mountain walks or long cycle rides to tell of this week. Our plans (ok, my plans!) were to take Mr M and Beatrix up Stuchd An Lochain in Glen Lyon. I think I have said this before, but this one of my favourite places in Scotland with the most fantastic views, weather permitting. Due to the remote location, it does mean that winter treks out here are often out of bounds as the road from Killin along to Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie is not treated for snow and ice, so I am every conscious that we are quickly running out of time for this trip.
Overnight I listened to the wind and rain howling around the house. Oh my! What will the morning bring I wondered. Well, I did get up at 6.00 am with all good intentions but I glanced out of the bedroom window and watched the trees in the park bending over to touch the ground. Not the best day for a trip up a Munro I thought to myself. What should I do? Well, it didn’t take me long to get back to sleep!
Sometimes, you just need a stay at home day. Now I allow myself to indulge in cakes and bakes and all things nice on a Monday as I am usually out on the hills or cycling. I am not sure that you burn the same number of calories doing some crochet or reading. I did wonder if I should forego my treat day due to the lack of exercise but I didn’t spend too long thinking about though.
This last week at the tearoom saw me seriously questioning the health benefits of vegetables. I am not known for my love of vegetables. Indeed, when I rule the world, cooked cabbage will be banned (we need raw cabbage for our coleslaw). I can be tempted to eat fruit and of course I do like carrots. So, Wednesday morning saw me working with Mr M to get everything ready for opening the tearoom for a new week. Mr M makes our fabulous coleslaw and, being the love he is, chopped up some raw carrots for me and put them in a dish for me to nibble on to save me going hungry. A moment’s lack of concentration resulted in me finding a large chunk of carrot had found its way to the back of my throat and completely blocked my airway. It took Mr M a couple of moments to realise that my clawing at him was in no way amorous!
Fortunately for me, before opening Mother Murphy’s Tearoom, we were running a training company and this included First Aid at Work courses. This, of course, covers the topic of choking. Now it may seem an obvious thing to ask somebody but the protocol for choking is to ask the person, “Are you choking”. This is to check if they are suffering from something else other than choking. With this in mind, Mr M only had to say to me, “Are you?”
The next step in the choking protocol is to encourage the casualty to cough. “Can you cough?” asked Mr M. I vaguely recall some quite explicit words coming from Mr M at this point when he realised I was really choking. Fortunately, a few good hard back blows between my shoulder blades with me bent forward forced the said carrot piece to shoot out. They were very effective back blows but I am convinced my back is still bruised!
Of course, if the back blows had not worked, Mr M would have needed to administer some abdominal trusts (think Mrs Doubtfire!). Fortunately for both of us, this was not needed. All this before we even opened the tearoom last Wednesday morning!
Are fruit and vegetables good for you? I have my doubts! I can honestly say that I have never choked or been close to choking on a piece of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I know which I will be sticking to in future.
On a more serious note though, I do believe that everyone should have an understanding of basic first aid. You never know when you might need to help somebody – your child, your wife, your husband, your friend, a stranger on the bus.
I joined St John’s Ambulance as a cadet many, many years ago as a youngster in Halifax and over the following years attended various First at Work courses. Meeting Mr M I discovered he was a volunteer First Aider with St Andrew’s Ambulance. It just seemed natural for me to join St Andrew’s and become a volunteer alongside him. This was great fun and we attended many, many different events as volunteer first aiders. These included football matches at Park Head, Ibrox and Hampden, many different Highland games, cycling events, walking events and we even found ourselves at a Proclaimer’s concert.
We still feel very proud that we were able to do this and also to delivery First Aid at Work courses in our training company. How many people have we helped? I am not sure but I would encourage everyone to get themselves a basic knowledge of first aid.
Here in Scotland, you can attend courses with many different companies, such as
Alba Care, https://www.facebook.com/albacareltd/?ref=hovercard
and of course, there are the charities of:
British Red Cross, https://www.facebook.com/BritishRedCross/
and St Andrews Ambulance, https://www.facebook.com/standrewsfirstaid/
Now, where is that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar? This week, the answer, of course, comes from Bob Dylan, Blowin In The Wind.
So there I was on the Northern Rail train from Halifax to Preston heading back up to Scotland. Was I homeward bound or was I leaving home?
The train was almost empty and I had the whole carriage to myself and my thoughts. The journey on Sunday from Preston had been very different. On that train, there were two carriages only and enough people with suite cases to fill at least four carriages. Sweaty sardines would be an apt description.
This journey though was very peaceful. The train pulled away from Halifax station, leaving behind the large Nestle factory and the giant poster stating, “Quality Street, Proudly made in Halifax since 1936”. The view from the train is very limited at first with steep embankments on either side along the valley bottom to Sowerby Bridge (pronounced Sorby). Very quickly though the luscious hills of the Calder Valley start to appear. On the hillside on the right, like a knight guarding over Calderdale, stands Wainhouse Tower. This impressive tower was originally built in the 1800s as a chimney for the local dye works to meet the Smoke Abatement Act but was never actually used as a working chimney. Whatever the reason was that this tower was built, it is certainly impressive and has always been, and still is, my guiding beacon to tell me when I am reaching Halifax or leaving Halifax.
The train journey trundles gently along and very soon reaches Mytholmroyd. This area is one of my favourite cycling areas. Indeed the hills up from Mytholmroyd take you over Cragg Vale. This beautiful valley came into the national news with the Tour de France travelling up it in 2014. Cragg Vale from Mytholmroyd proudly claims to be the longest continual ascent in England with 968 feet of climbing in 5.5 miles. It is not a steep climb by anyone’s imagination but more a long, long drag. Some cyclists like short, steep climbs, some like long, long gradual hills. This is my type of hill and I am still in my element riding such routes.
Aged 14 or15 years old, I would often take myself off over Cragg Vale, to the reservoir at the top, turning right at Blackstone Edge, descending down the sweeping road to Littleborough, back along the Calder Valley to Halifax again. As a troubled teenager, the valleys and open moors were a safe haven for me and provided the solace and solitude I craved. I often wondered what my headmistress, teachers and school pupils would think if they knew about my cycling. This was an all girls’ grammar school where we were taught to be ladies and I was sent home for being indecently dressed for wearing sandals without socks! There was I clad in cycling gear (not quite lycra in those early days but still tight fitting), sweating from the effort, swigging water from my bottle and munching on mars bars from my back pocket in public!
Along the valley bottom, the train line follows the canal and the new flood defences now in place as you approach Hebden Bridge. This village has suffered with terrible floods over the years, especially in 2012 and 2015. All along the valley, the stone built houses are so obviously built from Yorkshire stone that I am sure if you were blindfolded and dropped in any area in Calderdale you could describe the stone buildings and everyone would say, “Oh you must be in Calderdale”.
Leaving Hebden Bridge the views start to subtly change. The moors come into view, the valley widens and the houses start to change. There are streets upon streets of terraced houses built on hillsides at what look like a totally impossible angle to be safe (but have been there for a life time). There are different trees, bushes and flowers along the train line with so many different greens reminding me of an artist’s paint palette. The valley closes in on the railway again. Hills climb up at either side. You can actually feel the slowing of the train as it climbs, almost crawling, up the valley.
Then it happens. The line levels, the Calder Valley is gone and the open moors of Lancashire await. There has always been a friendly rivalry between Yorkshire Folk and those from Lancashire (though it was not always friendly in the past!). Growing up I remember a TV advert aimed at getting youngsters to drink milk. Two young boys arrive home covered in mud and still in their football strips. One boy gets the glass milk bottle from the fridge and starts to drink it. He tells the other boy his dad says that if you don’t drink your milk you will end up playing football for Accrington Stanley.
So the sadness of once again leaving Halifax is gradually replaced with anticipation of the onward journey through the Lake District, the borders of Scotland and finally back home to Kirkintilloch. Of course, the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow journey is in the form of Beatrix (and Mr M of course).
The song that always comes into my head when I am travelling home is, of course…
Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel
As many people already know, in Mother Murphy’s tearoom just about all of the menu can be prepared and served gluten and dairy free. Indeed, the majority of our cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free, with not a chocolate brownie in sight. It may then come as a surprise to some people to find out that neither myself of Mr M are coeliac or gluten intolerant. So why, you may well ask, do we have so much choice in gluten and dairy free?
This stems back from the time when we were planning our home baking business (never imagining for one minute that I would actually be able to open my very own tearoom). I would try out different cakes and bakes on anyone and everyone I came into contact in both my work and home life. I noticed that some people always refused my cakes saying they could not have them as they could not eat gluten. Gluten? What’s this then? Coeliac Disease? Never heard of it! In my naivety, I boldly told people that I would make them a gluten free cake no problem. Well can I tell you that my food waste bin was overflowing at times trying out this gluten free baking. The cakes looked lovely but fell apart when I tried to cut them. The crumbs were very tasty though. I did lots of research, lots of trials, lots of sampling and finally started to get cakes and bakes that tasted just as good as gluten versions, in some cases, even better.
By the time we had opened up Mother Murphy’s Tearoom, I had realised that our range of cakes and bakes that were “Delicious Without” were just as popular in the tearoom as they had been at the markets and Highland games. I do believe that it was by good fortune I had made “Delicious Without” both gluten and dairy free. It appears that although it is difficult for people to get good gluten free food in eating establishments, it is just as difficult to get good dairy free food.
Allergy Show, SECC 2016
Always keen to make sure we are doing the best we can in the tearoom, we decided to attend the Allergy Show at the SECC Glasgow in April 2016. Our hope was that we would be able to see what other people were doing; talk to people with different allergies; get some samples of good gluten free food and get some new ideas for the tearoom. What an eye opener this was! I sampled so many different things that day which left a dry, horrible taste in my mouth. By the time we had been there for just an hour, Mr M simply refused to taste any more samples. I remember vividly somebody passing me and saying, “These are the best doughnuts I have ever tasted”. Always a sucker for a good hot, sugar-coated doughnut, I was instantly drawn to the stall and before I knew it I had a bag of these warm delights in my hands. Sampling did not take long. I took one bite of the first one and promptly gave the rest of them away to somebody walking past. However, by far the worst sample was a custard cream biscuit by a well-known gluten free producer. Now, growing up in a not so wealthy Yorkshire household, the Family Favourite range of basic biscuits with bourbons, custard creams and coconut creams were really the only biscuits to be seen in our biscuit barrel. Basic as they might have been, I just loved custard creams – the look, the smell, and the way you could pull them apart and scrape the cream away with your teeth, the taste. Oh, the memories. These free samples of the custard creams at the Allergy Show were small, pale and the worse tasting biscuit I had ever tasted. It was an insult to custard creams to give these the same name I felt. This was the pattern for our day at the Allergy Show – people telling us how wonderful something was, me tasting it and putting it in the bin or giving it away.
1 month as a coeliac
As we left the show we pondered over our experiences and wondered why just about everybody else had found things to be wonderful and we thought they were terrible. Were we just too critical? There was only one thing for me to do. I needed to live the life of a Coeliac. So there the plan was formed. I would live like a strict Coeliac for a month starting on 1 May 2016 try to get a feel for how it feels. Was our tearoom really geared up to provide a good menu for Coeliacs?
Nothing to it I thought. Life will be easy as the tearoom is full of gluten free cakes and bakes and we have gluten free bread in the freezer. How difficult can it be? I spent the next couple of weeks looking at all the foods at home and checking which things I would have to change. Oh dear, this is not quite as simple as I thought! It is one thing to be able to say your cakes are gluten free as I know exactly what ingredients I am putting into them but not so quick and easy in the outside world. I quickly found out how long it takes to do the shopping when you have to look at the tiny ingredients lists of every single product you are thinking of popping into your mouth.
What no digestive biscuit!
So Sunday, 1st May 2016 and day 1 of my gluten free month arrived. Time for elevenses in the tearoom. Ok, it’s always tea and biscuit time for me! “I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit,” I thought to myself. Oh no! Digestive biscuits were now off the menu. I looked across our wide array of cakes and bakes. Not a single biscuit for Coeliacs. There was shortbread for those who could eat gluten but nothing in our Delicious Without Range for anybody who simply wanted a little biscuit to go with their drink. New bake number 1 identified – gluten and dairy free digestive biscuits. With the Allergy show still fresh in my mind and the custard cream memory, I also set about creating a custard cream to sit in our Delicious Without Range.
We now have a range of gluten and dairy free biscuits including Wannabe Digestives, Nice Coconut Creams, Jammie Dodgers and Ginger Creams.
Published Recipe in the Gluten Free Magazine
One of my proudest moments was to have my Nice Coconut Cream biscuit recipe published in the October 2017 issue of the Gluten Free Magazine. These have to be one of my favourite biscuits and everyone loves these and many don’t realise they are gluten and dairy free.
Why not make the tearoom totally gluten and dairy free?
I have been asked this many times and quite simply the reason is that not everyone wants or needs to eat a gluten and dairy free diet. There are some things, bread being the obvious one, that simply are not palatable for many people (including those who have to eat it). We do have lovely home-made gluten free bread in the tearoom but we could not replace our wheat bread with this for all our customers.
How do I decide you might ask? I realised during my month as a coeliac that those living a gluten and/or dairy free life accept poor quality food and choices because very often there is only one thing on menu for them to eat. This then leads to, dare I say, their taste buds becoming accustomed to this poor quality food so before long they become like the people at the Allergy Show believing that things are great, simply because they are the only thing they can eat.
Now I am not saying that our food in the tearoom is the best you can get but what I can say is that we put every effort into making it the best we possibly can. When I am converting a recipe to make it gluten and dairy free, the finished product has to look and taste as good as the previous non gluten/dairy free version. Simply having a cake that is gluten free for the sake of it is not good enough for us. There is a lot of quality assurance and taste testing in the tearoom and customers love to give me their opinions, good or bad. I believe that the best customers to test my gluten/dairy free recipes are those who can eat gluten and dairy. If they can tell that it is gluten and dairy free and feel it is not as good as the previous version, it does not get served and goes back to the testing (or discarded). There are some recipes, like our now famous pancakes, that are gluten and dairy free and we only ever make that version. Everyone eats gluten and dairy free pancakes and everyone loves them. Cakes and bakes are almost all gluten and dairy free.
Rocky Road or Candy Road
There are some exceptions, like our Rocky Road, which is made from McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, maltesers and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk that will always be full of gluten and dairy. I have adapted this receipt though and make a Candy Road, made using our Wannabe digestives biscuits, homemade cinder toffee to replace the maltesers and some lovely gluten and dairy free chocolate I have now sources from Plamil foods. This does not replace our Rocky Road but is a lovely different variety.
Empire Biscuits are another example. Our customers love my empire biscuits and I cannot get my gluten and dairy free versions to be quite as good. However, knowing that a good gluten and dairy free empire biscuit is difficult to find, I now have what our customers say is a fabulous version. Some weeks we have gluten free empires, other times they are not. We do not have both versions in the tearoom at the same time to avoid confusion.
Work in progress
My latest challenge is to convert my Fruit Slice (often called Fly Cemetery) to be gluten and dairy free. My usual recipe results in a fruit slice that is filled with wonderfully sticky, mixed fruit coated in shortcrust pastry that literally melts in your mouth. My first version of our gluten and dairy free fruit slice this week was a bit of disappointment. The filling is exactly the same so this was no problem. The pastry was a bit difficult to cut, but tasted not too bad.
Our now almost resident gluten free taste tester Bev was very happy to sample this with us, along with another customer who can eat gluten and dairy. Bev’s opinion was that even though the pastry was a bit tough, it was still better than any bought gluten free fruit slice. Both customers tucked in happily to their bowl of fruit slice served with a big helping of hot custard and I did at one point think they were both going to lick the bowls. So, all in all, not a total failure, but not one I happy to serve in the tearoom yet.
Welcome to another episode of Mother Murphy’s Diaries.
My plan for this Monday’s hike was to go up above Loch an Daimh in Glen Lyon and climb the Munro Stuchd an Lochain. Glen Lyon is one of my favourite places to walk in. Apparently as well as having the most fantastic scenery, there is a local legend that Pontius Pilate was born in the village of Fortingall! I think the very first time I climbed Stuchd an Lochain it was a glorious day and the views just literally blew me away. On a good day, you get to see Ben Lawers, Rannoch Moor, the peaks of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis beyond. The access road up from Killin is often impassable in winter for mere mortals such as me so this really needs to be tackled in the summer months. However, you know the saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men”.
On Sunday night, Mr M decided that he was going to come walking with me again and put up with the pain of his damaged knees. I decided a quick change of plan was in order as the chosen hill was incredibly steep and boggy at the start (which means incredibly steep and boggy on the way back too on my route). Being the kind, loving wife I am, I thought I would find a more knee-friendly walk. Ben Ledi came to mind - nice easy climb with no nasty bits. If the small car park was full we could then drive on a little further and tackle Ben Lawers.
So, lunches made, flasks filled, waterproofs, walking boots and Beatrix packed into the car, we were off. The drive to the start of the walk takes you past Stirling Castle, along the A85 and alongside Blair Drummond safari park and through Callander. You then get the lovely drive up along the rising Falls of Lenny. Limited car parking is available just by the junction of the Strathyre Lodges. It did cross my mind that as we were a little late setting off, we might not get parked but lo and behold, spaces were there waiting for me.
By 10.00 am we were ready to tackle the hill. What could go wrong? Mind you, let’s not forget that this is the same hill I found myself totally lost on one of our winter whiteouts this year which resulted in me cancelling my good friend Salena’s friendship membership when she failed to answer her phone as I called for help from the top of the mountain!
Anyway, as I have already said, I am a kind, loving, considerate wife so was thinking about the hike and decided that an easier route for sore knees was required. I decided that doing the climb straight from the car park and then descending down into Stank Glen for a gentle stroll back down the valley would be a lovely change. Off we went.
The weather was perfect. It was sunny, warm and no wind – not quite shorts and t-shirts but still very pleasant. Even Mr M took his winter fleece off. The path up Ben Ledi has been made much easier by the National Trust for Scotland to prevent further erosion, but it is still a long, long, steep at times, climb up to the top – with many false summits on the way. The views down loch lubnaig were stunning and I thought we were in for some cracking views when we eventually reached the top. Then it started, just a little bit of mist at first. Very quickly, the clouds blew across the valley and surrounded Ben Ledi. Jackets and waterproofs were quickly put on. A tip when buying waterproof trousers – always make sure the zip on the legs goes all the way up the leg so you can put on your waterproof trousers on the hill without having to remove your boots first. I learned this lesson many years ago.
Now the views of Ben Ledi looked exactly like the ones in winter. I could see just about to the end of my arm. We did find a bit of a sheltered spot on the top though to have our lunch. What more do you need on a wet, windy, misty day on the top of the hill but a flask of hot tea and a Bev’s Ginger Cream. Ok, bit of a view would have been nice. Refreshed and full, we set off for the gentle stroll down the hill and into the valley below.
All I can say is that the walk completed in the opposite direction to my usual route is not quite so easy. In fact I think Mr M would compare it to something like the North face of the Eiger. It would be fair to say that we had one or two exchanges of opinions on the way down but we managed and live to tell the tale again. We even managed to pick some bilberries, brambles and rosehips for making into wild berry jelly jam. I have never seen so many bilberries on one place. I decided that I will now call Ben Ledi the Bilberry Hill. Mr M said he doesn’t care what I call it so long as he never has to climb it again!
Everything is always better after a good night’s sleep.
In my last blog I was telling you how I had Runrig’s Loch Lomond playing constantly in my head. It was driving me slightly mad but oh how I wish I could turn the clock back! This week I have a different ear worm. In the tearoom last week were chatting to people about the song There Was An Old Woman. You know, the one where she swallows a fly, then a spider to catch the fly, then a bird to catch the spider to catch the fly….. I was surprised at how many people did not know that song. Some people even thought we had made it up. So this is my earworm this week which, for somebody who suffers with arachnophobia, is possibly the worst song to have running through my head.
With this in mind, the big cake at the tearoom this week will be The Old Woman. This is decorated as a spider’s web but is flavoured with chocolate, orange and vanilla and, in theory, once sliced into, should have a chequered design. Time will tell.
I will leave you this week with the words of the song, best performed by Burt Ives which you can get on utube.
There was an old lady...
Tonight I was wondering whether to do a post on facebook or whether it should be blog. The blog seemed to be shouting the loudest, so here goes.
Last week in a visit to Stirling with Mr M I was scouring one of the charity shops for some books for our book folding session at the tearoom tomorrow. I quickly found the books I needed - not too bit, not too fat, hard backed and in good condition. The content of the books was not important so I didn't even really look at the titles.
I am quite an avid reader and my tastes for books changes like the Scottish weather. At the moment I seem to be choosing books for myself that are somehow related to tearooms and cafes. This comes from somebody a while ago coming into the tearoom and telling me that our tearoom reminded her of the book, The Teashop on The Corner by Millie Johnson. Since then, I have read many similar books, such as The Little Tearoom of Lost and Found by Tricia Ashley and the Seafront Tearooms by Vanessa Green.
From all of these uplifting reads the same message was coming out loud and clear that there are people all around us who need (not always knowingly) somebody to give them a smile, a helping hand or to make them feel valued.
Going back to my new stash from the charity shop, as well as the hard backed books my attention was caught by a paperback book I had heard several people mention to me and just had to pick that one up too. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman - a plain looking book and it was only others mentioning I should read this made it catch my eye. Well, I started reading this on Wednesday this week. If I am honest, I could have quite happily played truant from the tearoom so that I could sit alone and read this from cover to cover in one sitting.
I am not going to tell you what the book was about or, heaven forbid, how it ends. I will tell you though that I have been disturbed, moved, laughed, even cried whilst reading it.
What it did do was to highlight again that there are people out there trying to live their lives in the best way they can. We as individuals, rich, poor, old, young, have the ability to affect everyone's lives in some small way. It is up to us to make sure that the effect we have is a good one, that we make people feel welcome, smile, say hello, offer help, give help without looking for reward or acknowledgement.
It's been a bit of mixed bag for me this week with my thoughts all over. On Monday, it would have been my wonderful Grandma's birthday. My Grandma to me was the best person in the whole world as I grew up and it is a great sadness to me that she never got to see my tearoom. I planned and created the tearoom based on what I thought my Grandma would have liked. As I have reflected on my memories of Grandma, what has lit up my memories more than any sadness is the wonderful smile my Grandma always gave me when she saw me (or anyone else for that matter). There was always a kind word, a holding of your hand, offering of tea and cake but never, ever criticism (even if it would have been justified).
In our tearoom we try at all times. No that's wrong, we don't try, we just do smile at people, talk to everyone, reassure people, hold a hand when needed and offer a shoulder to rest a while. I would like to think we are a place where people come along and somehow feel better when they leave the tearoom than when they arrived.
Another fine example of my Grandma's fine traits is one of our lovely customers, Dashing Tom. A friendly face, a smile for everyone, a good word for everyone and praise whenever possible. Tom slipped quietly into our world and become part of the Mother Murphy family. It is also thanks to him that we are having our book folding session tomorrow (fully booked) and we are pleased to say that Dashing Tom is hoping to be there to say hello to everyone at the session. I don't think he will be there all afternoon as he has been a bit under the weather this week but look out for him as he is certainly somebody you feel all the better for talking to.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will be in the tearoom library tomorrow for anyone to borrow.
Oh and the ear worm from the last blog post, it's still there!
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for Runrig’s The Last Dance at Stirling Castle last Friday. What a fantastic night that was. So much talent on one stage! At least I still have my memories of Runrig and CDs to listen to even though there will be no more concerts. Of course one of the highlights was hearing Loch Lomond at the end of the concert. So, having heard this blasted out, sang until my voice was hoarse and danced until my joints were sore (old age you know!) it comes as no surprise to know that I have had this tune as an ear worm since then.
I was planning a hill walk for my day off from the tearoom and what else could it be but to go up the Munro Ben Lomond. My long suffering husband, Jim (aka Mr M) decided that he was going to come along despite his bad knees. I was a little concerned at this act of heroism from Mr M as he has not done any hill walking for some time and Ben Lomond is no mean feat standing at 3,193 ft (974 m). However, come Monday morning lunches were packed, flasks filled with tea, rucksacks filled with spare clothes and walking boots sorted. This all has to be done just before the walk of course because Beatrix (the border collie) gets so excited when she sees the rucksacks as she knows this means a play day on the hills.
The drive from Drymen to Rowardennan is a bit of adventure itself with its dipping, weaving and meandering single track road leading to the banks of Loch Lomond. By 9.30 am though we were there, rucksacks on our backs and Beatrix looking for a stone to take with her up the hill. It’s a collie thing! Of course, one of the drawbacks of walking in the summer is that your rucksack is packed out with spare clothes just in case. In winter, you have most of your clothes and waterproofs already on.
We had a bit of fun as we started the hill and just so that everyone had the same earworm as I did, we started our own version of Loch Lomond and I have to say that I was a star on air drum. I think there were nearly as many people up Ben Lomond today as there were at the Runrig concert on Friday night – just another hazard of summer walking.
The walk up the Ben is a glorious one, but a bit of a pull at times. National Trust for Scotland have done an excellent job of sorting the eroded paths to prevent Ben Lomond disappearing but also to help us folk who think we are real mountaineers have access to these wonderful hills. The views today were amazing. At one point as we were taking a break we were watching in amazement the clouds rising from the valley in front of us. The hills around were in an out of the clouds all day. The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) across Loch Lomond was as clear as I have ever seen it. The 360 degree vista seems to take in every mountain of Scotland and many a while was spent looking in awe at the finery Scotland has to offer. Scotland’s finery does not however, include the thousands of midges that had also climbed Ben Lomond with us today. Smidge certainly does the trick though.
Now I am a bit of a clumsy soul and also not that keen on ridges with steep drops so my route on Ben Lomond is to come down the same way I go up. No ptarmigan ridge for me! After taking in the photos and admiring the vista, we tucked into our packed lunches. A comfy spot found and we both enjoyed a bit of well-deserved relaxation. I decided it was time to get going again though when I heard to my horror that not only had Mr M fallen asleep at the top of the Ben, he was also snoring like a train! Oh the embarrassment!
Heading off the summit, it is a bit slow going to start with as the path is steep and rocky in places. I always remember being told, “take each step as though it might be your last” so I am never in a rush down the hills. By this time, Beatrix had realised that walking in summer was great as there are hundreds of people to fall for her border collie charms. Beatrix has her a smile and cute head tilt mastered that have people talking to her, hugging her, stroking her and, much to Beatrix’s delight, throwing her precious stone for her. I have to say that I felt a bit like I was out with my teenage daughter. She came along in the car with us, but spent the rest of the day chatting and playing with everyone else. Maybe she was hoping that all these rucksacks would also be filled with goodies for her.
The hightlight of the day I think though has to be when we about half way down the hill. Beatrix was a distance from us with a group of people and they were being totally taken in by her charms. It did not matter to Beatrix that these people spoke in a foreign language as they could still stroke her, cuddle her and throw her stone. Now I had noticed a couple of sheep on the hill, but Beatrix was far more interested in all the people she could get to throw her stone than the boring sheep. In the distance further back up the hill breaking the peace I could hear somebody shouting. The shouting started getting louder and turning into a roar. As I looked up the hill it was like something out of a cartoon strip. Sheep were running in all directions being chased by an enormous brown dog. The said dog was being chased by its owner who was howling at it to stop and also using some very short, fast words. The throngs of people on the hill walking, sitting, lying and chatting became aware of the chase and were flying in all directions. It looked like a game of human skittles. I had just enough about me to glance over to Beatrix who now was also aware of the chase. I could read her thoughts and could tell that she was now going to give chase and sort this mess out (well, she is a collie). I joined in the fracas and was shouting up to the people with Beatrix to grab hold of her collar for us. It turned into a bit of a game of charades as I realised they were not understanding a simple, “grab her collar”. Fortunately they realised just in time what I meant and grabbed Beatrix off her starting blocks before she could join in the chase. If looks could kill! Beatrix was not happy that I had spoiled the chase! Anyway I am pleased to say that no dogs, sheep or people were hurt in this story.
Disaster averted and we continued on our way back down to the car and home again safely. I have aching legs, Mr M has sore knees and Beatrix is asleep on her blanket twitching like she is re-running the day. And the ear worm. It is still there.