Month: January 2017

A Quick Trip To Edinburgh

There’s nothing quite like a well-earned kip.

When I awoke, very much rested, from my night’s sleep in the Lodge, the entirety of the Highlands was awaiting me when I opened the front door.

It had rained during the night, leaving a fresh dewy smell on the tarmac of the drives and the grass of the front gardens.

Although I could have quite happily stayed there for days on end, I only had the one night booked. As I dragged myself away from the idyllic miniature village of lodges and back into the van, I received a call from the farm.

A visitor from the States happened to be flying in to Edinburgh that very morning, a commercial Beef farmer from the States who wanted to get the low-down on British Farming techniques and they wondered whether I’d mind making the drive to pick him up. As far as I was concerned these people were already doing me a favour by allowing me to visit their home and nose about their farm, so I agreed, and prepared myself for a quick trip to Edinburgh.

Around 60 miles lay between myself and the Edinburgh Airport parking lot, where I was to drop the van off. The Watsons had already booked ahead, I was to leave the van in the parking space and head straight to the terminal to pick up a Mr. Jeremiah Carson.

On the way to Edinburgh, I found my mind drifting, wondering what kind of man this Mr. Carson would be like.

I’d been given no information beyond a name and occupation. Informed by Hollywood and American TV, an image was conjured in my mind of a man resembling the KFC mascot with a beige suit and twirled moustache. Could such people really exist? Rich talking Texans, with Southern drawls and bolo ties, harbouring strange opinions about the Civil War – surely these were all cliches and stereotypes, amalgamated into an unrealistic expectation of what people could actually be like?

All hopes of meeting a Colonel Sanders-esque figure were dashed when a modestly dressed gentleman in his late 50s shook my hand at the airport. The real Jeremiah Carson was a quiet, well-mannered man with a penchant for stumbling over his words especially when he was speaking about himself. Although he’d spent nigh on 24 hours in transit, from his ranch in Texas to the airport in Edinburgh, he’d somehow managed to take with him the essence of his home country. As we both stepped into the van and shut the doors, the cab was filled with the smells of the farm. An earthy scent of livestock apparently exuded from his skin with the faint undercurrent of a butchers shop – I felt a little sorry for whoever was sat next to him on the plane.

As we drifted through the winding roads of the Highlands, more and more buildings began disappearing from the horizon.

I quizzed Jeremiah about his farm back in the States, his holding was a large one covering several acres. In his own quiet way Jeremiah was a proud man. He’d built his modest herd of 50 or so sucklers to a horde of 500 and now employed 60 people to keep them fed and well kept. However, his successes had not left him arrogant, he’d travelled to Scotland in order to learn from the Watsons and try to get to grips with just why Scottish Beef was understood to be the best in the world.

In a way we’d both made the journey for the same reason – two meat-loving pilgrims, one step closer to our Mecca.

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Meeting Friends on the Road to Crieff

By the time I arrived at Highland Heather Lodges in Crieff, it was pitch black.

The drive had been treacherous.

The weather had taken a serious turn for the worse.

50 miles into the journey, so I now had to contend with heavy winds buffeting the van, as well as severely tired eyes and a belly full of rich food. Once more, I was paying the price for my overindulgence. I wasn’t the only one struggling on the roads that night, however, little did I know that I was about to cross paths with another traveller on their way to Crieff.

I’ve always been open to picking up hitchhikers, having spent a summer hitching on the roads of Europe. So when I saw a bedraggled young man accompanied by an even more scruffy dog, resolutely sticking his thumb out on the deserted road to Crieff, I knew that I had to pick him up. Other than the waiting staff at the restaurants, I’d barely spoken to a soul since I’d left Cornwall, so I was more than eager for the company and my new companions were more than eager for the lift.

Bartholomew was a strange chap.

Part Oxbridge graduate intellectual, part civil rights activist – his long straggly hair was pulled back in a tight bun, giving him the appearance of a weather-beaten Samurai warrior. His dog, an impeccably trained Cocker Spaniel called Nestor, sat stock up right next to his master as they both waited patiently for a metal chariot to deliver them from their current predicament.

Their own van, a huge Transit that had seen better days, rested in a ditch to the side of the road. Whilst swerving to avoid a rabbit, the unlucky pair had slipped on the wet road and veered their van off the road. Without a mobile phone, Bart had resigned himself to a long wait, so was clearly relieved to receive his salvation so swiftly – although it looked like he’d been waiting for days, it had not even been an hour yet.

The two clambered into the front of the van with me and we set off once more on the road to Crieff.

Whilst I drove, still wary of the fierce winds that were shifting the vehicle’s momentum, I quizzed Bartholomew about his journey. He had been on the road with Nestor for the past year. Travelling throughout Europe and England, he was a drifter – with no aim or motivation. An amateur chef himself, all his meals were prepared on a single gas ring, including the gourmet dog food that Nestor subsisted on.

We spent the hour drive to Crieff discussing French cuisine, fined dining and Brexit. When I dropped my travelling companions off at a garage we shook hands and I wished them all the best. Bart and Nestor were clearly gifted with a natural joie de vivre that allowed them to forgo the home comforts that most others (including me) could simply not live without.

As I fell gratefully into the embrace of my king-size bed at the lodge, I thought about those two getting to sleep in on their single mattress in the Transit.

Suddenly I found myself falling into a deep, smug sleep.

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On The Road To The Highlands

With a full belly of very rich fine dining, I slid back into the drivers seat of the battered van.

My food pilgrimage from my old Steak House in Cornwall to an award-winning beef producer in Banchory was now well underway, but I still had half the journey left to go.

The first day’s drive had taken me all the way to Manchester, where I’d marvelled at the sheer wealth of galleries and eaten my fill at Simon Rogan’s The French.

However, I still had another 350 miles left to go and that van wasn’t driving itself.

After a difficult night’s sleep in the van (spending over £100 on my dinner the day before had left me rather short for a room in a hotel), I pulled out of Manchester still feeling oddly full from my dinner the night before. Luckily my destination for the day would take me to a much more comfortable night’s sleep at some luxury lodges in Crieff, around 250 miles away. Buried in the midst of the Highlands, I was looking forward to spending a night surrounded by the mountains and trees of Scotland’s visually stunning landscape.

Firstly, though, a quick stop had to be made at Glasgow.

Out of all the stereotypes that have been piled on top of Scotland – a lack of sunshine and an obsession with deep-frying chocolate bars – there is one that holds absolutely true. Anyone working in the food industry for long enough will know at least one Scottish chef and they will, more than likely, be an exceptional one. All the major cities in Scotland are home to some truly spectacular restaurants, so I felt it would be simply negligent to not stop by in Glasgow for a quick bite.

Although I’d heard good things about the recently opened Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, I elected for something a little out of the ordinary instead.

The Ubiquitous Chip has been serving a rich example of Scotland’s cuisine since 1971.

Opened by Ronnie Clydesdale with the aim of bringing traditional Scottish cookery to the forefront once more, The Chip (as it’s informally known) serves a fine dining take on classic Scottish cooking. Now I’d officially crossed the border and had been surrounded by the wonderfully rich accent of it’s indigenous people, there was nothing more that I wanted than a traditional Scottish meal to ground me culturally.

To start I enjoyed The Chip’s signature dish – venison haggis with champit tatties, carrot crisp and neep cream. Wonderfully seasoned with just enough give in the meat, the modest portion left me wanting more in a good way. To follow, I elected something a little more daring. Galloway roe deer was prepared with a bramble gel as well as vanilla, peanut and cocoa. This was a strange blend that I wasn’t convinced would work completely – however, I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Although I was risking over indulging again, I couldn’t quite resist the sweets menu.

Once more, The Chip’s speciality stuck out like a sore thumb. An exquisitely presented oatmeal ice cream was presented with poached brambles and oats. I still had another hundred miles to get to Crieff, I chose to pair this with stiff shot of Whiskey…when in Rome!

After suffering another minor heart attack at the sight of the bill – I spent an hour walking in Glasgow’s peaceful Necropolis. Although it might have been an oddly grim way to spend an hour, the views that this cemetery offers you of the city are unparalleled.

When I finally got back to the van, my head had cleared and I was ready to get back on the road to Crieff.

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