Scotland by Cafe
Sorry that heading should have read Scotland by night train, but when I re-read my draft I realised just how many cafes we hit in three days.
The decision had been made to have a four day trip with a group of friends to Inverness. This involved an afternoon being ‘touristic’ in London before catching the overnight sleeper. In the course of the afternoon we strolled around St James’ Park, saw the guards changing at Horseguards, walked along the Thames to The Millennium Bridge and into the Tate Modern for a coffee and a whiff of culture, before strolling past the globe and finding out way back to Euston for the train to Inverness. A witty trip, with dinner in the dining car; haggis, neeps and tatties to get in the mood. This is not Haute Cuisine but the food and wine was perfectly good and the dry sense of humour of the staff was second to none.
The great thing about sleepers is the ‘as if by magic’ effect of waking up the other end of the country without the stress of a long car journey. The greeting by our host, in the dining car at breakfast, of “It’s amazing the things you see when you haven’t got a gun” cannot surely have been a reference to our behaviour the night before.
After picking up the car we were fit and ready for a trip to Culloden and a lunch in Nairn at the Basil Cafe, overlooking the harbour where a Bronze Fisherwoman looks on stoically at the boats. I had an amazing Cullen Skink which made me warm and happy on a changeable day.
After checking into the Columba there was time for a trip to Roggie falls, to watch from the suspension bridge, for salmon leaping. We were fortunate, there were many fish. It never ceases to amaze me how these fish find their way back upstream to spawn, struggling against the steep falls to return to their birthplace. We ate at the hotel, having watched the pipers come down the town and past the hotel on their ways to the tattoo in the park nearby.
The next day we went on a trip to Loch Ness and Urquart Castle. I had hoped to swim in the Loch, but the weather was choppy and rainy, which would have been no fun for the others. We did the tour of Urquart, despite its popularity and the huge numbers of people there; it still had the feel of a proper castle and even in bad weather is fantastically photogenic. Later we visited Glen Affric. This is a jewel in the crown of the Highlands, a long quiet glen, with spectacular walks. I made up for my lack of swimming earlier by a swim at Dog Falls, cold and peaty, with strong flowing water; an absolute delight. Following the swim and lunch we walked up to a view point, complete with fallen tree to stretch out on, overlooking a beautiful tarn. On the way to the top there was no shortage of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries growing wild to make tasty little snacklets.
The third day was a touring day, out to Gairloch via Benn Eighe. If there is one foodies tip from the whole trip it would be – go to Whistle Stop Cafe Old Village Hall Kinlochewe. The old corrugated metal village hall is now a cafe, open in the evenings as well. We had the most amazing cakes, sponge cake with fresh cream and passion fruit. As the owner picked up that it was birthday time for two of the party the cakes came with candles in; the coffee was stunning too. Gairloch also has a great cafe, the Mountain coffee Company and Hillbillies bookshop. This is a place for those needing hearty, heavy scones and rock buns after a hard climb. Clumpy sofas and frothy coffee, plenty of reading matter, a great place to chill out. Then off to Inverewe gardens, famous for their special climate. Later, a swim for me at little Guniard Bay and then supper at the Seaforth, Ullapool. Delicious crab claws with ginger; but rather disappointed that the mammoth plate of langoustines we have had there in the past were not on the menu.
The last night we had a fabulous meal out at, the Kitchen, Inverness. Its sister restaurant the Mustard seed had been recommended but there were no places. At the Kitchen we were offered drinks on the balcony while we waited for our table, this overlooks the castle and the River Ness. This is a thoroughly modern building, squeezed in between the other older buildings along the river. Three dining areas are stacked one on top of the other, giving smaller dining space. On the white wall there is a live video stream of the activity in the kitchens below. The food and wine were excellent. Then, just the ride home on the train; plenty of good reading undertaken. My choice for this break was Hell of a journey: on foot through the Scottish Highlands in winter by Mike Cawthorn.
For more details about travelling by train I recommend as usual The Man in Seat 61, for all journeys whether it’s London Scotland or down to Puglia, this site is the invaluable.
One additional note; Visitor Centres in Scotland have really come up a notch in the last few years. The centres at Culloden, Beinn Eighe, Inverewe and Urquart were all excellent. But extra special thanks to the lady at Benn Eigh who recommended the Whistlestop Cafe, we would never have found it without her and it was a delight.