6.00 am, 22 January 2019 and all was quiet. The weather men had been warning us that the Beast from the East was going to return (though maybe not from the East!). It had certainly been cold over the last couple of days and last night was positively Baltic. However, when you only have two days away from the tearoom, you just have to make the most of what ever weather comes along on a Monday or Tuesday.
Last night, we were visiting one of our lovely customers. It does seem strange referring to people as customers because of course people are more than customers. They may well have been strangers and new customers when they first entered the tearoom, but they very quickly become friends. This is certainly the case with Dashing Tom. Tom had a bit of a tumble last week and broke his hip so we were had popped in to see him at hospital. If you can’t come to the tearoom Tom, we will bring the tearoom to you.
Anyway, I was discussing with Tom, his daughter and Mr M that I was planning to go up Ben Ledi from Callander in the morning. Well you would have thought I was talking about going up Mount Everest. (Actually, that is on my bucket list). I was trying to explain why I liked to go walking on the hills, especially in the winter and snow. It’s not because I am an intrepid explorer and live for the adrenalin rush, but quiet simply being on the hills is where my peace and tranquillity is. Everyone finds their own space, and the hills are mine.
First thing this morning Kirkintilloch was a bit on the chilly side and the ground a bit icy when I took Beatrix for a 10 minute walk before breakfast. There was no snow though. All will be well I told myself.
Back home for a bowl of steaming porridge and blueberries. I was expecting the usual, “are you sure it’s safe to go…..” from Mr M but he just said, “be careful”. So off we went. Flasks of tea (one for after the walk if needed), plenty layers and of course, crampons, were packed into the car along with the excited Border collie.
The drive to the start of the walk, just past Callander, was quite non-eventful. There were a few snow flurries but nothing to shout about. I could see Ben Ledi and the surrounding hills in the distance and they were indeed covered in snow. Parking the car, there was a good covering of snow, which is unusual for so low down in the valley.
5 minutes after leaving the car, it seemed that the Beast had caught up with us. I did lots of detailed calculations in my head. Ok, I thought, “Well, I’m here now”. No, honestly I thought that I would be better to have a bit of walk now and let the snow pass over us and let the gritters, ploughs and traffic clear the main A84 ready for us to go home later.
Usually the walk up Ben Ledi takes you along a forestry road then up a forest track before opening out onto the real hills. I know the forest track and it can be a bit tricky in good weather so I opted to go the long way round and follow the forestry road to the end before going into Stank Glen. I planned to get as far as the end of the glen and not attempt the full climb up Ben Ledi.
The highlight of the day today has to be the point along the forestry track when the snow was falling but there was not a soul about except for me and Beatrix. There was no wind, no sound, nothing. Imagine walking alone with your dog and listening to the sound of your own footsteps in crunching and your dog running in the snow. I stopped for a while and watched Beatrix playing, rolling and jumping in the snow. Once Beatrix had stopped alongside me, I just waited a while and enjoyed the silence.
As we climbed up the valley and reached the track to take us into the glen, the snow eased, and then stopped. The clouds started to lift and before long, the sunshine had joined us on our walk. At the end of the Glen, we had our picnic and flask of tea looking at the amazing scenery and I have to admit that I was very, very tempted to go up to the top of Ben Ledi. However, I did listen to my little voice of reason and agreed that Ben Ledi will be there another day when I have not used up all my limited energy walking in the deep snow. So I lingered a while and enjoyed an extra cup of tea and a boozy fruit slice. (Imagine a fruit slice but rather than just a fruit filling, this one is filled with my homemade Christmas mincemeat).
I am sure that there would have been many people cursing the snow and struggling to get to their work today, but for me, the snow provide the just what I needed. Now I have had a hot shower, a nap and had my tea cooked by Mr M. I am fit for the week ahead at the tearoom.
The Beast of the East (but from the West) was trying to scare us, but was certainly put into the shadows by the beauty of nature today.
Where will we go next week?
Of course, the song for this week just has to be Walking in Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves.
FRUIT SLICE (GF/DF/Egg Free)
Fruit Filling (or simply use some homemade Christmas mincemeat)
Making the fruit filling
1 Preheat oven to 190oc/170oc fan oven.
2 Grease and line a tray bake tin with parchment paper.
3 Put all the fruit filling ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.
4 Boil for 4 minutes until the mixture has thickened.
5 Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Making the pastry
6 Put the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum into a free standing mixer (or a large bowl) and whisk to mix.
7 Cut the stork into small cubes and add to the flour mix. Have the mixer running at low speed and mix until you have rough breadcrumbs (or rub in with your fingers).
8 Add cold water, a little at a time, with the mixer still running (or mixing with a knife) until you have a soft but not sticky dough.
9 Cut the dough into two equal pieces and roll out each piece until they are large enough to cover the baking tray.
10 Carefully lift one of the pieces (use the rolling pin to help here) and place in the baking tray.
11 Cover the pastry with the cooled fruit mixture and spread out covering all the pastry.
12 Carefully life the second piece of pastry (again use the rolling pin to help here) and place this over the fruit.
13 Prick the pastry all over with a fork and then brush down with almond milk.
14 Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes until lightly browned.
15 Remove from the oven and (if you are not coating it in icing later) sprinkle with caster sugar.
16 Leave to cool completely in the tin before cutting into 24 equal pieces.
17 If you want to add icing to this, wait until completely cold. Mix the icing sugar with enough cold water to make a thick paste and carefully spread over the pastry and leave to set before slicing.
I know that I am not the first person to become a Grandma, but what follows is why I feel the need to tell the whole world about my new baby Granddaughter. Sadly, I know that I am not the only person to have such a take to tell. Who knows though, by telling this story it may just give hope to somebody else. Hope, determination and love is what conquered here.
Let’s take a little trip back to 2007. A short conversation from my 16 year old daughter, Chloe, was to change my whole outlook on life. “I’m pregnant”. Ok, so this was not the news I was looking forward to hearing from my young daughter, but pregnant she was. So, I was going to become a Grandma. I think it probably took about 30 minutes for me to change from being concerned at how young Chloe was to being excited about being Grandma.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be as smooth a journey as I would have hoped for my daughter. This pregnancy sadly ended in an early miscarriage. This was followed by another miscarriage.
In 2009, Chloe became pregnant again and this time she passed all the usual milestones and, flying past the usual 12 week worrying time, we thought this was her time. Two days after my birthday, 20 October, 2009, Chloe went into premature labour and suffered the unbearable pain of her first still born baby, Michael.
I cannot explain the pain of seeing your daughter going through such terrible heartache whilst being unable to do anything to help. No words, no actions, no money, nothing. Nothing I could do would make this easier for Chloe. Behind this heartache of Chloe’s my own heart was breaking for the grandchildren that were not to be. How could it be fair that one person could have to endure such pain? How could one person deal with such pain?
The next few years past and more miscarriages followed. Tests were carried out, therapy given, but still the miscarriages happened.
2012 seemed to start well though. Chloe was pregnant again. As usual, Chloe shared this information with me almost from day one. Every day I spoke to Chloe and every day we spoke about the pregnancy and how well it was going. 6 weeks passed. 12 weeks approached and the first scan. Everything was perfect. We took the pregnancy day by day and eventually the date for the 20 week scan arrived. The scan showed that this little baby was going to be girl. Oh my! This was going to be Chloe’s time. Every day we talked about things to look forward to. We talked about the things Chloe would be doing with her daughter. A name was chosen, Nieve Debra Olive. I can’t tell you how my heart was bursting with pride at this.
1st November found me at home making smiley face biscuits for our bonfire night supper up here in Scotland. That day I got the phone call that has probably changed my life for ever. It was Chloe. Just as though she was saying hello, Chloe simply said, “The baby has died”. I heard a noise and realised that I was wailing. Jim standing next to me picked me up of the floor. “Will you come down please”, asked Chloe.
What followed is still a bit of a blur. I remember having a long, dark, cold, icy journey down to Halifax from Kirkintilloch. I recall stopping at Tebay services on the M6 and trying to eat something but feeling sick at the very thought. I needed to be in Halifax. I needed to be with Chloe.
On Saturday 3 November 2012, two days after learning that her baby had died, my incredibly brave and amazing daughter endured, with no complaining, no tears, no words, the unbearable labour of her angel baby Nieve. My Granddaughter! It is no exaggeration to say that every day since then I have seen my daughter’s face as she held her still-born baby. The shock, the pain, the heartache but somehow I could see the acceptance. I held my Granddaughter, my perfect little Granddaughter who had somehow just fallen asleep for ever.
What followed was just a nightmare. A funeral. A small white coffin. Holding my daughter up whilst we buried her daughter.
How on earth was Chloe going to get through this. How could I help her through this. It was my job, no my aim in life, to make everything ok for my children. How could I have let this happen? How could I have stopped this from happening? How could anyone have stopped this happening? How can anyone help Chloe now?
Over the coming months I shed tears by the bucket full. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my daughter’s haunted face; I saw my perfect but sleeping Granddaughter and my heart was breaking. How on earth was Chloe going to get through this pain and heartache?
However, get through this Chloe did. She got through it day by day. What I could see though was a girl who was sad from the core. There was no happiness in her. My beautiful daughter was completely broken. I was broken.
Meanwhile, Mother Murphy’s Tearoom opened. Chloe found the strength to come and be with us for the open day. She came to celebrate our 1st birthday at the tearoom. But still she was broken. Still her heart ached for her lost babies and how she ached to be a mum.
Over the next few years there followed more miscarriages. More pain, more heartache, more tears.
Then in 2018 Chloe told me she thought she was pregnant. Only a few days. Pregnancy tests followed. Yes, it was true, Chloe was pregnant. My only thought was that I could not bear any more heartache for my daughter.
With the past history, Chloe was going to be monitored and monitored during this pregnancy. There was nothing extra that could be done because there were no known medical reasons for the previous losses. So, day by day, we held our breaths as the pregnancy developed. 6 weeks, 12 weeks. First scan, second scan. Everything looked perfect. Chloe had the most awful morning sickness, which everyone told her was a good sign. Regular scans followed, along with heartbeat monitoring. 20 weeks and the scan showed that the baby was another girl. A small baby on the scan, but the pregnancy was going perfectly otherwise.
I think I probably stopped breathing at this point. I could not concentrate. I ate chocolate. I ate cake. I ate more chocolate. I ate more cake. I could not sleep. I could not craft. But the tearoom still had to be run.
I was under strict instructions from Chloe that I could not tell anyone that she was pregnant. I did wonder how she was going to hide the growing bump but I understood her concerns. Of course, there were a few people I told in the tearoom. Ok, so I told lots of people. Chloe had a bit of a laugh at the idea that I had not told anyone, but I did not, of course, tell anyone on the wide, wide world of facebook, so really I had not told anyone.
Over the next few months, I have to say that the tearoom was probably my haven. I had to bake, I had to organise crafts, I had to talk to people, I had to listen to people’s concerns, I had to be a shoulder to cry on when they needed it, I had to laugh with people. Inside I was a mess. There were times when I cried, many, many times. I cried because I was scared. I was scared that something would happen and my daughter would have to go through terrible heartache again.
Eventually, a date was set for induction at 38 weeks. Everything was perfect except for baby being a bit small. Scans were carried out every two weeks. As the time progressed and baby stayed small, the induction date was brought forward to 13th December, just about 36 weeks.
Wednesday 12 December I travelled down to Halifax. The train journey was a bit of a blur. Oh my mind was running in overdrive. Jim had long since stopped expecting any common sense from me and he was just amazing dealing with my anxiety. He held me and ignored my tantrums. He wiped my tears and did everything he could to reassure me. Only one thing was going to reassure me though.
So 13 December came. We took Chloe into the Calderdale Royal Hospital. Induction medication was given in the manner it is given! I started to crochet a blanket as I waited with Chloe. I was going nowhere until this labour was over. Not one for praying usually, I can tell you that I prayed hard that night. I am sure that everyone in the tearoom (who did not of course know that Chloe was pregnant or being induced!) was praying and waiting. Jim was holding the fort and I was giving regular updates. The blanket was growing but that was the only thing progressing. 24 hours later, Chloe’s waters were broken. The labour room was full of every piece of equipment you could imagine. The consultant was not expecting anything to go wrong but as she put it, “we are prepared for everything”.
As things suddenly progressed, standing next to me the nurse pressed the emergency button and the room was suddenly filled with about 100 people (or so it seemed). “One more push and she will be here”.
Then she was here. No suction, no help, no respirator. This perfect, perfect, pink, tiny breathing baby was in her Mother’s arms. Yes I cried. But this time the tears were of joy, relief and love.
I have the most amazing photo of Chloe holding her baby and the love in her eyes is amazing. Minnie Violet is just perfect. Chloe is just perfect.
That night, I slept like a baby.
This is a tale of sadness, heartache, tears and love. Most of all though, this is a tale of one girl’s determination, strength and endurance to become a Mother. I have no doubt that Chloe will be the most amazing Mother and, if little Minnie Violet loves me half as much as I loved my Grandma, than all will be great.
It is also a tale of the support, warmth, thoughts and concern that a whole group of people who have never even met Chloe gave us. I keep saying that we created our tearoom to be a place in the community where everyone could come along, feel safe, feel loved and feel needed. I did not fully realise until this last few months that the tearoom and our wonderful customers are also providing that love and support to me. Thank you.
Behind this story of course there is a tale of hope and love. Chloe never once gave up hope that she would become a Mother.
Now we have our miracle baby Minnie, we can start to build new memories. The grief for the lost babies will never go. With tiny steps, one day at a time, Minnie will help Chloe to smile again and, one day in the near future, I hope that I will see my daughter laugh like she used to laugh, something I have not seen for a long, long time.
So, going back to November 2012 when I was making smiley face biscuits, I vowed never to make those biscuits again until there was a baby to celebrate with. In the tearoom when we open again in January, there will be smiley face biscuits. I am sure there will be tears when I make them but tears of both joy and sadness.
The song this week just has to be, "You've Got A Friend" by James Taylor.
The Tearoom On The Hill
When we opened Mother Murphy’s Tearoom in March 2015, it was far removed from the previous things we had both done in our lives. Mr M had been a lift engineer for 40 years. I had been involved in Learning and Development for many years. Somehow our two lives became entwined and we found ourselves opening our very own tearoom at Falkirk. It was a perfect size for us to manage just the two of us. It had previously been a café, so we just needed to clean, decorate and put our own stamp on the place for us to open our own place.
A Community Hub
Nearly four years down the line our tearoom is, I believe, part of the local community. We are providing a safe, relaxed, friendly environment for people to come along and enjoy the tearoom. Our food and cakes are, I believe well received and I still love the look on peoples’ faces when they try a cake that they have not been able to eat for years. Our gluten and dairy free goodies are indeed very popular. Our crafting side has developed from a couple of sessions to being a huge part of the tearoom. Crafting, chatting and eating cake – everything that the Doctor ordered for those in need of our tearoom, even when they did not realise they needed us.
Time To Grow
Now we are ready to grow. We have limited space at the Tearoom on the Hill and our location is perhaps not ideal. At times there is not a seat to be found, but other times the tearoom can be empty. I have a vision of the tearoom hosting birthday parties, book clubs, story time sessions, baby showers, hen parties. I would like to see crafting classes in the evening and for the tearoom to be an even greater part of the local community.
Mother Murphy's Tearoom at the York Cafe?
I often take a walk into Falkirk town centre and see the many empty buildings. Mr M talks fondly of being brought to Falkirk as a boy with his mum and going to the York Café for fish and chips. Wouldn’t it be great to have Mother Murphy’s Tearoom at the York Café.
Or Mother Murphy's Tearoom at the Castle?
Recently I have been reading a book by Caroline Roberts, The Cosy Teashop in The Castle. In this the main character takes over the café in a Castle and makes this a Cosy Teashop (finding love at the same time). I don’t need to find love as I have my very own Mr M, but if anyone has a castle that they would like us to move into, let us know. “Mother Murphy’s at the Castle” has a certain ring to it too don’t you think.
Seriously, though, we are now looking for new premises that we can afford, where the rent and business rates do not make it just a pipe dream. If anyone knows of anywhere……
Anyway, The Cosy Teashop in The Castle was a great read and one of the cakes mentioned throughout the book was Nanna’s Choffee Cake. At the end of the book, the recipe for this cake was given and I thought I would just have to make this for our tearoom. I have tried to keep it as close to the recipe in the book as possible but have, of course, adapted it to make it gluten and dairy free. The book’s cake did have chocolate coated coffee beans on it, but for the life of me I can’t see the point of spoiling a cake with coffee beans so there are no chocolate coated coffee beans on the top of my cake. Quite simply, a four layer sponge cake, 2 coffee, 2 chocolate, filled with layers of chocolate and coffee frosting. Oh my! There may need to be some quality assurance tomorrow at the Tearoom I can tell you!
Of course, there will also be Christmas Cake served with a slice of Wensleydale Cheese, but not until 1st December. With a bit of luck I might even manage to get my mince pies made for Saturday too. Both of these are gf/df of course (but don’t tell everyone), along with a lemon drizzle cake. There will be some of our Rocky Road (not gf/df) but still one of our customer favourites.
Back On the Hills
This weekend, I finally felt well enough to venture back out onto the hills, with just a pesky cough lingering. I woke early and to be honest, still felt rubbish and did think about just turning over and staying in bed all day. I looked over at Mr M still in a deep slumber and guilt grabbed me a little. Mr M has been doing most of the early morning walks for some time now so I thought it only right I let him sleep longer on his day off. So up I got and took Beatrix out for a short walk to do what dogs need to do in the morning. It was still a little dark, but the sky was clear, the moon shining bright and the stars glistening. In the distance I could just make out a dusting of snow on the Campsie Fells. What was I thinking? I didn’t need to spend the day in bed sleeping to get better. I needed to get out on the hills, feel the air around me and breathe in the freedom the hills bring. By the time I got home, the sun was starting to make an appearance and it was looking like a good day. I found myself almost running home to get ready. The porridge master was in action and my breakfast was almost ready when I got home. How spoiled am I!
By 9.00 am I was ready, my picnic made (all gf of course), my rucksack packed and Beatrix was giving me the huge collie smile she has when she realises an adventure is about to begin.
Driving over the hills to the start of our favourite walk up the Meikle Binn, the sun was well and truly awake, the sky clear and the added bonus was that I could see snow on the tops of the hills. Today was going to be a good day indeed.
Once we reached the start of the walk, changing my shoes into my walking boots I realised just how cold it was. I was regretting not putting my thermal leggings on so I opted to put my over trousers on to keep me warm. I even put on a hat and gloves! Off we went.
Beatrix found her stick for the walk within a minute of leaving the car (it’s a collie thing!).
Even though the walk up the Meikle Binn is so close to towns and cities, it is a surprisingly isolated walk. As I do my walks on a Monday, the chances of having crowds of folk along the way are also minimised. Strolling up the forestry track, I could feel life coming back into my bones and could feel a glow building on my face.
In The Bleak Mid-Winter
As we walked, chatting about different things (yes, I do talk to my dog when I am out walking and she talks to me!), it started to snow. Large snowflakes as big as tennis balls started to gently fall. I found myself singing In the Bleak Mid-Winter. As you all know, if Mr M had been out on the walk it would have been doom and gloom because of the cold, the snow and the wind, but for me, I seem to come alive in the winter.
As we reached the summit, the sunshine had long since disappeared and the clouds had engulfed us. The ground had a good covering of snow, so footsteps were taken carefully. Taking photos with my trusty camera, I remembered that I am now the proud owner of one of these fancy i-phones. Time for a selfie and a live video I thought. I’ll show people that I can really start to embrace technology! I managed to take a couple of photos with said super-duper phone then nothing. The phone died. I remember reading somewhere that people should not rely on their phones for navigation on the hills as they do not work very well in the cold weather. Well, lesson 1 today – i-phones don’t like to work in sub-zero temperatures. At least I had learned that lesson on a day when I did not need the phone.
We headed back down the hill and had a short break at the picnic bench for our lunch. A perk of the job is that I always seem to have a supply of yummy cakes and bakes for my walks. I also have a new flask for my tea. My trusty flask of 10 years + has finally been retired as it was no longer keeping the tea hot and the inside was flaking away. Thank you Mr M for my lovely birthday present.
My second lesson of the day was that my other lovely birthday present, new walking boots, were never ever going to be comfortable on me. I have spent the last month or so wearing them in the tearoom, on short walks with Beatrix and generally hoping that one day they would be comfortable. They were so uncomfortable today that I seriously contemplated taking them off and walking in my bare feet. If I had had a sharp knife I might have even cut the toes of them. I wonder if Mr M will mind buying me another pair of new boots?
Of course, the song for this week just has to be Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins.
Spice Girl’s Apple Cake/Pudding
Over the few years we have been open Mother Murphy’s Tearoom has developed into a community hub; a place for people to come along, meet new friends and enjoy the peace, tranquillity (and often madness) of our traditional tearoom.
Catering for people with different dietary requirements, including those with coeliac disease and dairy intolerance, we are always seeing new customers come along who are looking to see if it is really true that most of our lovely cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free.
One particular Saturday we were getting ourselves geared up for one of our first Craft Chat and Cake Sessions doing some encaustic art painting. You have never heard of this I hear you say. Well until the fabulous Norma came along and demonstrated this to us, neither had I. Encaustic art is basically painting with bees wax using an iron. Believe me, it is one of the best crafts I have ever tried. We even had Mr M giving it a go too!
Kiddies in a candy shop
Anyway, that Saturday lunchtime into the tearoom walked Sharon and Frances with their gorgeous little blonde haired baby Sofia. They had heard good reviews from colleagues about our baking and wanted to check us out. They were looking for somewhere that provided gluten free food that was safe for somebody with coeliac disease, a dairy intolerance and where there would be a warm welcome to a family of 3. Talk about kiddies in a candy shop! I think they wanted to take home one of each of the cakes they saw that day. Later that afternoon just as the craft session was coming to a close, Frances ran in again asking for takeaway soups because they had enjoyed their lunch time visit so much. Let’s just say that it was quite some considerable time later that Frances, Sharon and Sofia left the tearoom once again, armed with Frances’ encaustic art painting, some soup and some cakes. “I only came in for a takeaway soup”, laughed Frances.
The Teashop on the Corner by Millie Johnson
At one of their next visits, without knowing it, they made all the hard work of setting up the tearoom worth every penny when they told me that Mother Murphy’s Tearoom reminded them of a book by Millie Johnson, The Teashop on the Corner. They said this book had some sort of magic about it and that they felt that same magic when they came into our little tearoom. I was nearly in tears I can tell you! Wanting to understand fully what they meant, I went out and bought the book for myself. I can tell you that I was bursting with pride as I read it thinking that people should associate our tearoom with this novel.
After reading this book, I started to refer to our tearoom in my face book posts as The Tearoom on the Hill and this quickly became our nickname. So much so, we now even receive post addressed to the Mother Murphy’s, The Tearoom on the Hill.
The Apple Cake
As autumn drew to a close in 2017, Sharon popped in one day with a sack full of wonderful apples from their garden. Scouring recipe books for some sort of apple delight, I came across a Dorset Apple Tray Bake. I pondered this and thought about how to adapt it to make it both gluten and dairy free and also to make into a large round cake rather than a tray bake. With the addition of some warm spices and few tweaks to the ingredients, our Apple Cake was born.
In December 2017 we had a Christmas Quiz in the tearoom and the deciding question was, “We like to name our cakes after our customers. Which cake should we name after you and why?” Sharon and Frances obviously did some major cheating along the way and were the only people to get every single question correct. It did mean that the deciding question was not needed, but their answer to this did warrant the apple cake being named after them.
So, I would like to introduce to you our Spice Girls’ Apple Cake....
SPICE GIRLS’ APPLE CAKE (gf/df)
Makes a 9” round cake
Warm spices turn this simple apple cake into a wonderful treat. I am not really sure whether this is a cake or a pudding. Cake or pudding, serve it warm and the spices are enhanced. Add a good helping of hot custard and this simple treat is transformed into a delicious pudding.
1 Preheat oven to 180oc/160oc fan oven.
2 Grease and line a 9” round deep cake tin with parchment paper. (I use a parchment paper liner).
3 Peel, core and thinly slice the apples, squeeze the lemon juice over them and put to one side.
4 Put all the other ingredients in the free standing mixer (or use a hand mixer) and beat together until light and smooth.
5 Spread half of the cake mixture over the bottom of the prepared cake tin.
6 Arrange half of the apples over the top of this then repeat these two layers with the remaining cake mixture and apples.
7 Sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
8 Bake in the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.
9 Leave in the tin until almost cold then cool completely on a wire rack.
Of course, the song for this post, just has to be,
Wannabe by the Spice Girls.
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