Monday 22 October 2007

Rock cakes

On the second day of my brief Scottish holiday, Rachel, her husband and I drove north-west from Coldingham, through Dunbar, past Tantallon Castle (closed that day) and on to North Berwick.

Dominated on its landward side by Berwick Law, and from the sea by the Bass Rock, North Berwick struck me as a highly desirable place to live. It has streets of very attractive colour-washed terraced houses with contrasting coloured window- and door-frames. It is closely proximate both to Edinburgh and to vast stretches of rolling countryside (I loved the burgundy-coloured soil of the ploughed fields, basking in the crisp golden light of another sunny autumn day). It boasts some excellent shops and eating places. Most of all, it lays claim to a particularly fabulous chunk of coastline.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Bass Rock. It has an astonishing pull – like a magnet. The seabirds clearly feel it too. I think perhaps it’s the fact that this spectacularly inhospitable lump of volcano, jutting from a notoriously choppy bit of sea, has actually been inhabited by humankind for much of its (comparatively) recent history. From St Baldred in the 8th century, to the wretched prisoners held there in the State Prison built there in the 17th century (the appalling barbarity of which is described here), to the keepers stationed on the lighthouse, built in 1902.

The day of my visit, the light shining on the rock (white, courtesy of the 140,000 gannets residing there for ten months a year) was quite mesmerising.

Between coastal walks, we lunched at the Bella Italia – an authentic 1970s-style Italian restaurant, with decor to marvel at (though probably best not to try to replicate at home) and an excellent pasta menu.

Having subsequently expended a modicum of energy clambering over rocks and trudging across expanses of flat golden sand, we nipped into Tea at Tiffanys for a restorative cup of tea. Not long opened, this is a gem of a tea-room, with gorgeous magenta walls, sparkling chandeliers and friendly personal service from the owner (we ordered tea for three and two big pots arrived with a promise of as much more to follow as we cared to consume).

The crockery is all vintage china – Rachel was given a green cup, saucer and plate because it matched her jumper – and the warm chocolate cake with ice cream came in a large dish which struggled to contain the oozing delights within. I’m assured that it is, in fact, the best chocolate cake ever.

I plumped [funny how that word just sprang to mind!] for pancakes with maple syrup and (oops) ice cream. I think it is the only time in my life that I’ve eaten ice cream with a dinner fork – which is how it was served - but it this a very small cavil considering that I’d probably have eaten it out of a trough on the floor if I’d had to, it was so delicious.

Slightly regretted not having time to visit The Pennyfarthing antique and book shop on Quality Street (yes, really – and no toffees in purple cellophane to be seen). But given my unfortunate inability to walk into a secondhand book shop and emerge carrying less than a half-hundredweight of must-have books, it is probably just as well. I’d have had to courier them home to myself at vast expense.

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