My Old Uncle and New Deer Abbey

When my great Uncle Jim died, approxiamately 12 years ago, my mum and her sisters were left with the task of clearing the house that he had shared with his brother, Tom, in Old Deer, Aberdeenshire. As they slowly emptied the house into black bin liners my mum came across a book she had heard Tom talking about with her mum many, many years before. It turns out Uncle Tom was the Custodian of New Deer Abbey and it was being closed to the public. What she had overheard was Tom telling his sister he had taken a book for safekeeping as, like the Abbey, it would go to rack and ruin if left unattended. The book he had been talking about was a 1st Edition of A Book of The Parish of Deir dated 1896.

My mum, obviously, spared the book from the bin bag and it’s been on her bookshelf and her IMAG0001conscience ever since. Inside the book was a newspaper cutting with a story, “He looks after historic ruins”, and a photo of Uncle Tom  tending to the grounds of the Abbey. The newspaper was dated 1962.

This weekend, OH (other half) and I were intending to head west for a weekend of camping but as Sean Batty was forecasting a very wet Tayvallich we decided instead, to head north to a hotel, The Saplinbrae Hotel in Mintlaw. The hotel is very close to New Deer Abbey so I mentioned this and the book to my mum who jumped at the chance of finding a new home for the book.

When we arrived at the hotel I explained about our dilemma and was told that although the Abbey was once more open to the public, no-one actually ‘manned’ it. I was also advised to go to the farming museum in Aden Country Park and if I couldn’t find someone to talk to about the book there, the chap who does the pat tests for the hotel was a historian and they could contact him for me if needs be. I think they were just as eager as my mum was to find a new home for the book.

OH and I went first to the Abbey and had a IMG_20180811_163530_231look round. It was easy to work out where my great uncle had stood in the newspaper photograph since nothing had changed since 1962 but not so easy to picture the Cistercian monks as they wandered around what would have been an amazing abbey in 1219.

As no-one else was around we headed off to Aden Country Park and the farming museum. In there we looked at old pieces of farming equipment and black and white photographs of people who used to live in the area. Disappointingly, I saw none that could have been relatives of mine. In the Horseman’s House, where you could see how people used to live in the 1830s, one of the museum curators chatted to us about the difficulties of living in a house with no electricity, running water or indoor toilet (I was immediately reminded, and thankful, I wasn’t camping) and whilst chatting I decided to share the book with her. She was in awe. She told me she should be wearing gloves but this did not stop her fanning the book open and gasping at the photos inside it. She then radioed her Supervisor, Pam, and asked her to come and see the book. Pam was entranced by the book and said she could sit and read it all day. She asked if my mum would want to donate it to the museum and then went onto explain that we would need to go through the proper channels and take the book to HQ and get a receipt for it. With no other plans I said that would be fine. We then went back to reception and she phoned HQ.  It turned out it was only admin on site and the woman who would normally deal with donations doesn’t work Saturdays.  Pam then wrote down all the woman’s details and asked me to phone her on Monday. Basically this meant taking the book back home, making a phone call and then having to post the book back up. Due to red tape I could not simply leave the book at the museum.  IMAG9988

Pam then asked if she could photocopy the newspaper cutting of my great uncle and the front of the book. She explained she wanted to have something to share the story with the public as the book would possibly sit in HQ and her and her staff would have to make appointments to go and see it in HQ after I had posted it up.

She then took me into the back room where the photocopier was stored. As we waited on it heating up she told me she was just back from Colonsay where her and her husband had been on holiday. Her husband was a minister so he had taken the sermon and she had written the address for the children. She said although the walk up to the church had been covered in sheep poo she was surprised to find 30 people in the congregation as well as 2 dogs plus her own. She said the atmoshpere was amazing.

As she looked through the book, picking things to photocopy, she showed me a picture of her house in the book and told me other interesting anecdotes. I could tell she loved it.

Copies made, we said our goodbyes and I walked away with the book under my arm. As I spoke to OH I told him about my conversation. How she had completely appreciated the book and how much hassle taking the book back home was going to be. We both knew what we were going to do. We turned round.

I went back in to reception and said, “I’ve been thinking. My mum would want this book to go to a good home, to someone who appreciates it so I want to gift this book personally to you Pam.”

Pam looked stunned but really happy. “Do you want to donate it to the farming museum?”

“No, personally to you and then you can do whatever you like with it. If you then want to donate it to the museum that is up to you but I am giving it to you.”

She made me sign a piece of paper saying I was gifting it to her and got her colleagues to witness it to ensure everything was above board. She said she was going to share the book with her staff and the woman who was in charge of The Book of Deer Project and she could not have looked happier.

I left feeling like I had done the right thing, it felt great.

My mum now also feels really good, knowing the book is now going to be appreciated and not hidden from view but most of all because her conscience is now clear.

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19th Hole, Earlsferry, Fife.

Yesterday OH and I went for a walk along the beach next to Elie Golf Course, it was a fabulous day and there were a number of golfers making the most of the links course. Of course, after a walk in the summer sun, the next sensible thing to do is go for a pint and it just so happened that next to the golf course is The 19th Hole.

We went in just for a drink but once in, we checked out the menu, the decor, the clientelle and decided to stay for something to eat.  The menu had the normal kind of bar food options such as burgers, steak pie, mac and cheese but with more local fish dishes than your average pub. However, what made it stand out were words like freshly delivered, made to order, artisan and East Neuk, which is the local area just in case you didn’t know.

OH decided on a Crab Salad and I asked for a starter size of mussels. As we waited, I looked around and noticed the coat rack was made out of golf clubs and the leg of the table was hidden in an old leather golf bag. There was tennis on the large tvs and also a fireplace to relax in front of. I nipped to the loo and the sign on the door was a lady putting, the door handle was a putter, there was another door with turf on it. Inside there was a display of golf balls under the sink. Yes they have taken the golfing theme to the nth degree but actually, it works.

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By the time I returned from the loo my mussels were already on the table and OH was tucking into his crab salad. Now, normally I’d be annoyed that someone had delivered my food when I wasn’t at the table but we were sitting in the bar rather than the restaurant as we had the dog with us. In the restaurant you are able to see the chef at work as it’s open plan and I’d like to think if he could see our table he would have held it back until I was there.

The crab was abundant on OH’s salad, which was good to see. He enjoyed it immensely describing it as light and fresh. Even the potatoes got a special mention.

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Along with my plate of mussels was a finger bowl and empty plate for the shells. My mussels were plump and very hot. The sauce wasn’t salty or gritty as can often happen. Instead it was creamy and the onions had a nice crunch. There was a couple that weren’t open and one had a beard but overall I enjoyed them. The accompaning bread was chargrilled and dunking it into the sauce was lush. I even asked for a spoon so I could sup the rest up.

Whilst we were eating it was the chef that popped out to ask if our food was okay, which meant so much more than one of the bar staff asking.

The 19th Hole is a place you need to seek out as it’s well off the beaten path but I would definitely recommend it.

2 pints, a starter size of mussels and a crab salad = £24.40

A week in Gran Canaria

Looking for some winter sunshine I looked at Gran Canaria to book a week long getaway. OH and I are not ones for lying on a beach so after much searching decided on an AirBnB apartment in Agaete – a small fishing village on the North West of the island. A long drive away from where the majority of tourists lie starfished in the sand.

imag5840We hired a car from the airport and drove anti-clockwise around the round island. We were not disappointed when we were shown around our new home for the week. The view of the mountains and Atlantic was amazing (the wine and beer left in the kitchen for us were also great). After stocking up on some essentials we chilled for the rest of the evening enjoying the first of many amazing sunsets whilst sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

The following day (Sunday) we drove in to the capital of the Gran Canaria, Las Palmas. It was the day of their annual marathon so the city was buzzing. Groups of drummers lined the route, helicopters and motorbikes followed the runners and the locals cheered and clapped as the sweaty athletes sprinted (or limped) past. There is also an old town aspect to the capital, which was definitely prettier on the eye than the new builds and chic shopping centre.

The weather on Monday was perfect for a drive, this time clockwise, down to Maspolomas where we found miles of sand dunes. Imagine the Sahara Desert but with a coast. img_20170124_180703_063

There’s a main road, which runs from Agaete round the majority of the island and is the sensible route to take if you’re going anywhere. Additionally, there is also a spiders web of roads, which wander through the middle of the island clinging to the sides of the mountains. These roads are seriously narrow, have sheer drops, crazy hairpin bends and don’t offer the chance to get into 3rd gear too often. However, as well as the near death experiences they offer, they also give you breath taking views. So after a wander over the dunes we drove back to Agaete through the mountains. img_20170124_180233_758imag5685Stopping off at Roque Nublo, a precariously perched volcanic rock and the second highest point in the island.

This drive messed with my hands and nerves giving me white knuckles, sweaty palms and muscle cramps as I tensed at each and every corner (and I wasn’t even driving!) but they also give some amazing views – img_20170125_170331_759the kind of scenes you wouldn’t normally see unless you’re the type that actually enjoys leaving the car behind and trekking up a mountain for hours. Incidentally, the roads were also full of cyclists. Lycra clad mentalists pedalling along the extreme roads, cycling just as fast as the cars could drive.

imag5734When I booked the break in Gran Canaria the last thing I was expecting to hear was that I could visit a coffee plantation. Yes! They grow coffee in the Agaete Valley at Finca Los Castaños. This was only a short drive for us but it was still another scenic trip into the valley where we loved the relaxed tasting of their own red, rosé and white wines accompanied with cheese made from cow and goats milk and some pork pate on chunky bread. This was then followed with a lovely cup of the only coffee grown and produced in Europe and some delicious home made cake. This was all enjoyed whilst being surrounded by orange trees, grape vines, coffee plants and lush green mountains. The word you’re looking for right now is bliss.

Our apartment looked over Puerto De Las Nieves making it only a short walk down through a cactus garden and along the coast. The working port boasts a string of fabulous fish restaurants. We could easily have dined in a different place each night and not been disappointed. As the area isn’t full of tourists there were very few menus with photos or waiters trying to coerce us to a table so it was great to wander and choose at will without pressure. imag5707Additionally, the lack of beach seekers meant the meals were reasonably priced and didn’t break the bank at all.

As well as the amazing fish dishes we also managed to eat like cavemen when we dined in a restaurant, which had been carved out of the mountains. Restaurante El Centro Guayadeque The menu was fascinating. Eventually OH decided on a Steer Steak, which, when it arrived, covered the whole plate and looked like at least half of the beast. I had chicken skewers, which I couldn’t finish but wanted to. Both dishes were beautifully flame grilled. Like Fred and Wilma, we ate our meals sitting at a stone table in a cave, which was surprisingly cosy.

I could go on and on and tell you about everything else we did and every meal we ate but I’m already way over my usual word count so will stop now.

So, in summary, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about Gran Canaria. Perhaps thinking it’s just a place to go and lie on the beach. This certainly isn’t the case. Gran Canaria is an absolutely beautiful island, which has something for everyone and even more if you venture off the beaten path. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to go back.imag5675