Monday, August 24, 2015

Day 7 - East Neuk and Falkland Palace

Journal text finished, I quickly shower while the pictures upload and literally shove my belongings into the suitcase and carry on bag in a most uncharacteristic jumble. Our hire car provider is due to pick us up at 9.30 and we’re running late. Luckily I’d forgotten that the booking was for a half hour window and we’re happily settled on the rocking chairs in the lobby when our driver, Sebastian arrives, introduces himself and helps stow our luggage in the vehicle.  This is the third time we’ve hired directly from Enterprise and their pick up/drop off service is just so convenient.
It’s 10.30 before we’ve got the Bluetooth set up for our music and are on our way to East Neuk, working our way through the Edinburgh suburbs to the strains of Marie’s Wedding.  Crossing the firth we look over to the Forth Rail Bridge to the east. Wow. Now that’s a bridge with presence. Photographs don’t come close to doing it justice.  We make a spur of the moment decision to follow the signs towards Deep Sea World in the hope that we will come to a spot to view the bridge. All we manage to achieve is to get rather tangled in roadworks and detours and I am spooked by the long list of things I’d like to do over the rest of the day. We reset Tommie and get back on our way to Lower Largo. 
Our route takes us past elegant wind turbines, fields of ripening grain and hedgerows with dainty pink flowers poking their heads out under a clear blue sky. We skip through charming villages with neat gardens. Snap a quick reminder of the beautiful yellow flowers by the side of the road, dancing in the eddies of wind caused by passing traffic and the local community enjoying a football match.
At Lower Largo we meander through the wynds with their charming cottages, glimpses down narrow lanes and tantalising signage pointing the way to the statue of Alexander Selkirk. I’m not that fussed to stop, despite having done quite a bit of reading about Selkirk and his fascinating story. Just by coincidence I learned something interesting about the island where Selkirk spent his castaway days. Over the centuries the goats that Selkirk found there and lived off have wreaked havoc on the environment and the lack of habitat threatened the survival of a nectivorous bird native to the island.  They planted Australian blue gums which produce large quantities of nectar and that’s what’s keeping the species going.
Anyway, looking for a parking spot, we inadvertently stalk an elderly man walking an adorable little black Scottie dog. First time we see him is cute. Second is a coincidence. Third, it's starting to get weird. I refrain from taking an unauthorised photograph but not without an internal struggle.  Although we do find a little parking area, I pike on the walk down to the seafront and prioritise getting to Anstruther for lunch. We’re all over the place like a madwoman’s breakfast, but the madwoman’s one up on me - at least she had some.
A shout goes up. Oh my god look at those begonias!! Did you see that?!  We have to go back and get a photo of that. Hubby duly finds a safe place to turn around and we park off the main drag in Milton Crescent where I try this angle and that trying to do the display justice.
It’s only a very short distance further to the waterfront of Anstruther (the second T is silent apparently). We have no difficulty finding a space in the pay and display carpark. Breathing deep of the deliciously fresh salty tang in the air I flag my nationality by donning my wide brimmed sunhat to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my face. I’ll be easy to find if we get separated that’s for sure.  I manage to identify 60p among the anonymous coinage in my little purse to pay and Bob is clearly our uncle. While Hubby ducks back to display I spend a few minutes looking about the beautiful harbour area, amazed that Anstruther isn’t usually recommended as the pick of quaint fishing villages in the area. It’s gorgeous. Gee the others must be spectacular if this is an also ran. The boat trips to the Isle of May have been cancelled today due to strong wind. It’s calm and still here though. Indeed this is what we would call a “magic” day at home. Calm and clear and just the right temperature. I do my best to do justice to the tubs of flowers here and there. More begonias, yellow this time. There is a clear preference for, and skill in, designing these multi-flowered tub displays that are like living vases of flowers.
We cross the road and queue up in the Anstruther Fish Bar. On such a glorious summer Sunday, what could be more delightful than to go for a drive to have possibly the best fish and chips in Scotland! The Anstruther Fish Bar has been voted as such 4 times according to the paint work above the shop. They’re wrong. It may not be official but they’re quite possibly the best fish and chips in the world. We’ve opted for the traditional battered haddock.
The girl serving whizzes away before I can mention chips. Hubby is deeply alarmed. No need to worry, the chips are a given. It’s a package deal. As we wait while our food is prepared I regret not having had a chance to consider the other items on the menu more thoroughly before ordering. I’m curious about the herring in oatmeal I should have gone one serve of haddock and one of herring. Never mind.
We find ourselves a spot on a stone topped, um, picnic slab, in amongst lots of others who are similarly occupied savouring their fish bar lunches. Sprinkle the lemon generously over the fish then we tuck in.  The batter is crispy, the flesh is perfect. Just the right texture. The chips are crispy on the outside and light as a snowy potato cloud on the inside. Superb. Australia has forgotten how to make fat chips this good. SO good. At least part of the secret, I suggest to Hubby is that this fish and chips is cooked in beef dripping. If I’m not mistaken. I haven’t had fish or chips cooked in dripping for, gosh, many decades ago at least, when my grandmother would cook us chips and fried bread. And what a joy it is, sitting here in the sunshine, not too hot, just enjoying the warmth of the sun’s rays rather than shrinking in fear of them. At home the sun is my mortal enemy. Literally.  My skin lives in eternal craving of a return to Britain where it belongs and here we are. Welcome home skin.
Although delicious I’ve got more chips than I can eat. That’s a tough call to make when they are so good but a line must be drawn.
Hubby nibbles on what we have remaining as we wander out along the pier to look back on the village across the harbour.  Meanwhile Hubby has been thinking that an icecream would be just the thing to finish off. Luckily there’s an ice cream outlet just at the other end of the fish bar so we lift our legs over the chain fencing and duck across the road during a break in the traffic.  Hubby opts for burnt cream and mint with choc chips on a double cone. I try a scoop of rhubarb flavour and another of pina colada. All delicious and I think of the simple pleasure of a traditional ice cream by the seaside, as the kiddies play barefoot on the sand and the gulls wait in hope of some more scraps from the fishing boats moored in the harbour.
The wind is picking up now and the hat comes off.  I had thought we might explore the fisheries museum but the day is so beautiful I can’t bear the thought of spending it inside, so we return to the car, stopping along the way to remember those lost on active service in a naval mishap off the coast here that cost 108 lives. Lest we forget.
We know we’ve reached Crail when we are obliged to pull over for another photo stop. What a fabulous village sign. A shell crab nestled in a living bed of green.
 The parking causes us just a little angst and we’re climbing out for a walk down to the famous harbour, delayed by admiration of some pretty flowers in the small cottage gardens along the way. I do my best to capture a reasonable composition for the pocket of blue clematis, delphiniums and lobelia against a white wall. There’s a car parked in a position that makes it impossible to get the wider picture of the blue door nearby. It’s simply gorgeous.
Across the way there’s a spray of pinky purple flowers like baby’s breath. This is one I’m not familiar with, but what was that exercise they say to do for mindfulness, look about and refrain from labelling everything. It’s easier when you don’t have a label to apply!
It’s a slow walk down around the walls of “the castle”. It’s a protected little sun trap with seats placed every few metres and views across the sea washed rocks and an achingly lovely little cottage, bright white in a swathe of green defined by a low stone wall.
Hubby takes a seat and I walk on towards the harbour, boats lying quiet at low tide. The ice cream shop seems to be doing a steady trade and behind the stacks of lobster traps people are savouring their crustacean of choice obtained from the hut across the way.
I pause to take a look at the fundraiser stall for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution). I make my selections and hand over my cash and start making my way back to Hubby, who has decided to wander down here as well.  There’s no shortage of wonderful photo subjects and I’m feeling pretty chuffed at the photos I’ve taken when back at the car I review the images in darker light. DISASTER. Somehow we’ve managed to get a smear of something on the camera lense. Right. I have to reshoot these latest ones. Hubby parks in a closer position and I head quickly down the cobbled lane. I’m in luck. A lady nearby who is walking her dog has spotted a pretty moth laying on the cobbles. She picks it up and we admire it, then she releases it carefully in a tub of pretty leaved geraniums. The perfect backdrop. Looks like I have the material to update my TripAdvisor avatar. 
Snap snap, snap. I forgot to reshoot one of my favourite angles, but I’ll have to try to think of the damage on the smear image as just another element of holiday memory.  Crail is lovely with lots of little corners and it must surely be rare that you could not find a pocket somewhere that is protected from the wind.
It’s time to move on, but it’s not long before we’re stopped again, making a quick attempt to capture the intense light and shadow of a beautiful park garden, in defiance of an inconveniently angled sun.
We have just enough time for a quick look at Falkland Palace on our way through to our accommodation. Along the drive over we enjoy seeing the local snub faced sheep and large scale cultivation under poly-tunnels in between the fields of what I guess might be oats or barley. I’m too late to get a photo of some adorable black sheep with a consistent white blaze down their faces which Dr Google tells me are called Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep.
We arrive at about ten to four which only gives us an hour to explore. It’s a National Trust property so we flash our Australian National Trust membership cards and claim our member entry tickets along with a map and instructions for the route to take through the building and gardens.
Upstairs we find Barbara Villiers, loosely dressed, engaging with visitors and explaining all manner of things about her role and status and the nature of the King – in this case Charles II. A massive program of restoration was embarked upon in the latter part of the 19th century by the keeper at the time, which was the Earl of Bute if memory serves. The most original features are in the old chapel but rooms here and there are decorated to show how they would have been at significant points in history. The painted ceilings are impressive but most impressive of all for me was the death mask of Mary Stuart which has been hung above the entrance to the room they have decorated as it is believed hers would have been. The face is very small and almost childlike in size. Disembodied as it is, I can’t help but reflect on the process of taking the death mask after her execution. They were harsh times but it's only fairly recently we have got squeamish about such things.
The house has only taken us half an hour or so, even considering some time listening to the presentations by the costumed characters, though I think they started just answering questions towards the end rather than go through the whole of their usual spiel. From what little I heard of what Barbara Villiers had to say Charles II loved all of his children and put them to bed each night and cared for them even after his relationship with their mother had ended. I’m becoming more and more intrigued by Charles II with all we’re learning about him on this trip. Previously we’ve only heard him described as rather a libertine. A man of questionable character. Assessments of character are going to depend on the standards of those doing the assessing so it might be interesting to do some reading and make an assessment of my own.
The tour leads us to an exit where we can then take a look around the gardens or sit on the terrace observing games of chess or draughts on the large pavement board.  I find Hubby sitting on a bench seat among small pots of flowering plants for sale eating an ice cream. I head down the stairs to the ladies and find I am on the spot for a quick wander in the gardens.
Hubby, I’m thinking is footsore by now so I’ll save him the extra walking. He’s thinking differently and sets off in search of me, each of us skilfully avoiding the other until we finally meet up in the street outside after closing. While I was waiting for Hubby I wandered up to check out the shining red flowers in the little park behind where we have parked. The light catches the petals and they glow with a rare clarity and intensity – more begonias, this time brightening the location of the village war memorial.
Now it’s a simple matter to travel across to Kinross and find our accommodation for tonight. A quick phone call and we are collected from the service station in Kinross and lead back to the B&B.  A quick tour, a delightful chat as we get to know each other, put in our requests for breakfast and obtain dinner recommendations and before too long we’re on our way to the Kirklands Hotel.
In keeping with our royal explorations we are led up on to a little dais at the end of a spacious dining room. We make ourselves comfortable, myself with a glass of water and Hubby with a beer as usual, this time we failed to write down what it was. L
I’m giving the starters a miss this time seeing as lunch was so substantial but Hubby enjoys a bowl of Potato leek and watercress soup, a Chef’s Special. We stick with the Chef’s Specials for our mains as well. Hubby: Stuffed Guinea Fowl Breast stuffed with pork and chorizo, with mixed salad, tomato, and spring onion salsa and buttered coriander potatoes. Moi: Roast Loin of Pork with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, green been sand grain mustard cream sauce.  Both very nice though I could have used a bit more sauce with my Yorkie. Brace yourselves - we skipped dessert despite there being Banana and rice pudding crème brulee with chocolate and walnut shortbread and Raspberry Cranachan (Blacketyside Farm, Leven with raspberry sorbet). I know, I can hardly believe our restraint.

There’s no energy beyond making sure everything that needs charging is underway and indulging myself by capturing what I call “Dalqueich Still Life”. We sleep.

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