Readers of this blog with excellent memories may recall that January 2017 was marked with a hospital stay for delightful assistant no.1. Back then, she was having a knee replacement operation, a piece of surgery that proved highly successful following several months of recuperation and exercise.
This January, almost a year to the day since she went into hospital for the knee operation, the poor assistant found herself again taking up a hospital bed. On this occasion it wasn’t a planned visit, but the result of stomach pains and sickness that led to the diagnosis of a twisted bowel.
In the early hours of a Friday night/Saturday morning, she was whisked away in an ambulance and operated on the following day. It was a major operation and one that left her feeling considerably below par, but relieved to have survived the trauma.
After nine days in a high dependency unit, where she was linked up to numerous tubes and machines constantly monitoring her condition, she was transferred to a surgical recovery ward. That’s where she is now, two and a half weeks after the operation.
Her spouse and their chauffeur have been making daily visits to the patient, and were delighted to discover today that she had eaten solid food for the first time since the operation. Prior to this she had been receiving nutrition through a tube, feeling too sick to eat anything.
This morning she enjoyed a bowl of Rice Krispies with milk for breakfast, along with a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea. When lunchtime came round she ate most of a bowl of soup and a few spoons of jelly, and was glad to be given another cup of tea.
In the past couple of days she’s made quite a bit of good progress, including sitting in a chair for a few hours at a time (something she finds surprisingly tiring) and walking with a zimmer (her muscles have become very weak from lying in bed for so long).
Today also saw her writing for the first time in weeks, adding a note to a card for a friend. Her handwriting was a bit wobbly, but she took her time and no doubt felt quite pleased with her achievement.
Shortly after Christmas, about a month before she was admitted to hospital for the operation, she fell and broke a small bone in her hand. That required a one night stay in another hospital, and several weeks of wearing a splint on the broken hand. No sooner had she recovered from that than she got the stomach pains that led to her current hospital stay.
It’s been quite a challenging start to the year for the delightful assistants, but their resilience and positivity are keeping them going. The patient will have to stay in hospital for a while yet, but she’s keen to get home as soon as possible, and her spouse and chauffeur are keen to have her back. For one thing, there’s been a noticeable dearth of countryside walks and tearoom visits lately, a wrong they look forward to righting in the months to come.
Two days ago, on a cold but beautiful morning, the delightful assistants got themselves warmly kitted up and headed off to a quiet road not far from their home for a little health-giving trot.
Although the temperature was below freezing, the air was dry and the sunshine very welcome. They strode out briskly, hand in hand, to keep each other upright.
Thankfully, the road was only icy at the very edges; fallen leaves on the verges were covered in a thick frost.
Most of the trees had lost their leaves, but swathes of green grass softened the scenery, provided pleasing blocks of colour against a bright blue sky.
In one of the fields they passed, the assistants were delighted to spot four horses of varying sizes, each clad in its own nicely fitting blue blanket.
Whenever they’re out for a walk, there’s discussion between the assistants about when to turn back. Delightful assistant no.2 is usually for stopping when he feels he’s had enough, but his spouse always wants to go to the next bend. On long straight stretches with no bends in sight, something else has to mark the turnaround point for her. On this occasion it was a hedge of beech trees, still sporting quite a lot of orange leaves. This is the sort of turnaround point delightful assistant no.2 finds quite satisfying, since it avoids walking in a shaded area (she likes as much sunshine as possible at all times).
As they walked back past the field of horses, they met a lady who was on her way to remove the coats from her beasts. They watched as the horses bounded around, free from their garments and apparently delighted to be shot of them. Delightful assistant no.2 wondered if he should remove his coat to see if it had a similar effect, but the prospect of getting any colder wasn’t in the least attractive.
In the latter stages of the walk, despite the sunshine and their brisker than usual pace, the assistants were beginning to feel rather chilled. By the time they passed an oak tree with some of its leaves still clinging on, they were relieved to be nearly at the car and only a few minutes’ drive from home.
Arriving back at their cosy house, with the heating turned up nice and high, they sat down hungrily to hot bowls of leek and potato soup with crusty rolls, pleased with their exercise and glad to be in out of the cold.
On the last day of their holiday, the delightful assistants took it easy and mooched around in the local area in a leisurely manner.
They started off with morning coffee at a steading conversion complex called Born in the Borders, which incorporated a cafe, farm shop, brewery and grass sledging. Their chauffeur thought the long, closely-cropped grass slopes looked tempting for sledging down, but the assistants showed no inclination whatsoever to engage in such activity. Their minds were, quite rightly, on their morning refreshments.
The cafe had a special deal on, with an Americano and a scone for £2.95. The assistants were quick to take up the offer and, after surveying the options available, both plumped for fruit scones, while their chauffeur went for the cheese variety.
They were delighted to find that the coffee was served in decent-sized mugs, ample for slooshing down their scones with.
Continuing the holiday tradition, they rated their scones out of 10. Unfortunately, all three felt these scones were not as good as most of the others they’d had previously, and the top score was 6.5/10 (from delightful assistant no.1 and their chauffeur), and the lowest 6/10 (from delightful assistant no.2). However, the total cost of scone plus coffee was not to be sniffed at, and all agreed it was good value for money.
Refreshed and ready for a little exercise, the assistants made use of the beautifully clean facilities before striding out into the fresh air. Still not remotely tempted by the notion of grass sledging, they headed away from the grass slopes and towards the River Teviot, which was flowing gently nearby.
The riverside path was very damp, and not terribly pleasant to squelch along in their ordinary shoes. After a short distance, they turned round and headed back towards the car.
Before they reached the car park, delightful assistant no.2’s attention was attracted by a curious wooden box beside the path. He went over to investigate, and found that it had opening drawers at the top and a cupboard beneath. It wasn’t at all clear what the purpose of this piece of furniture was, and he was left puzzling over the question.
Leaving behind Born in the Borders, the assistants drove to Kelso, where they had a wander round the town square before calling in at The Cobbles restaurant. They enjoyed a relaxed late luncheon there before tootling back to their holiday home to start packing for leaving the next day.
The following day the assistants were up early and ready for the journey home. They decided to have their morning snacks in Melrose, since they hadn’t ventured into the town at all on their holiday.
Melrose was bustling and they were very pleased to find that their chosen tearoom, Apples for Jam, had space for them to settle in and order refreshments. There were only four small tables, and they soon filled up.
The tearoom incorporated a small gallery selling a few locally made cards, framed paintings, items of jewellery and trinkets. While they were there, the assistants noticed that every customer who came in for coffee also bought something from the gallery.
The scones on offer were fruit, cheese, and lemon and poppyseed. They opted for one of each to share, with coffee for delightful assistant no.1 and their chauffeur and a beautiful glass pot of Darjeeling tea for delightful assistant no.2.
Each of the scones came with a little dish of butter cubes and a silver dagger to spread it with. The fruit scone also came with an overflowing jar of strawberry jam, while the lemon and poppyseed one came with a similarly filled container of lemon curd.
The scones were rated, but I appear to have lost the note reminding me of their scores. In any case, Apples for Jam was declared top-notch in the refreshments department, and the staff were friendly and helpful to boot.
These were to be the last scones of the holiday, and they were an encouraging note to end on. To quote the wise old Scottish saying: ‘A scone a day keeps life’s troubles at bay.’ For the assistants and their chauffeur these words certainly rang true for their week in the Scottish Borders.
The morning after their exciting train journey to Edinbugh, the delightful assistants visited an award-winning tearoom for coffee and scones. Part of the Woodside Plant Centre, the Birdhouse Tearoom was located in a very pleasant setting, inside a large walled garden.
They enjoyed a slow amble through the plants for sale, en route to the tearoom which sat in a far corner of the garden.
The tearoom contained scrubbed wooden tables and an assortment of wooden chairs. The assistants had their pick of where to sit, and chose a table next to a window, with a bird feeder outside and hungry birds making the most of the treats on offer.
There were plenty of treats inside for humans, including a magnificent array of delicious-looking cakes and a fine selection of scones.
There were four scone options available: fruit, ginger beer, cheese, and cheese and pickle. Delightful assistant no.1 chose a cheese scone, while her spouse plunged into a ginger beer affair and their chauffeur went for the fruit option.
The scones were absolutely delicious, and the awards won by the tearoom were undoubtedly well deserved. The trio’s scone scores were as follows: delightful assistant no.1 rated her cheese scone 9/10, delightful assistant no.2 rated his ginger beer affair 8/10 and their chauffeur was so overwhelmed by the excellence of her fruit scone she could give it no less than a perfect 10/10.
Happily sconed-up and ready for a little ramble, the assistants shimmied out of the plant centre and drove the short distance to Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre. After parking in the centre’s car park, they trotted off along a way-marked route, past an interesting-looking tree, which was labelled as a ‘Spanish or hedgehog pine’.
It was a lovely morning as they walked along a forest trail, enjoying the beautiful sight of sunlight through beech leaves.
Well into the forest they came upon two striking trees with large, partly-exposed roots. Standing between them, the assistants looked like a pair of little wood sprites.
After a good hour’s healthy exercise, they hopped back into the car and buzzed off south for lunch. They stopped at Carter Bar, on the border between Scotland and England, and read an information board about the area and its history.
The board included an explanation of the design of the UK flag.
After a quick look at both sides of a standing stone painted with the names of the two countries, it was back into the car and off to their luncheon destination.
For the third day in a row, they were boarding a train. This time, it couldn’t take them anywhere, but it did offer much-needed sustenance and an unusual environment to lunch in.
Inside the train – now enjoying a new lease of life as Carriages Tearoom – the assistants felt they had gone back in time. The carriages were built in 1957 and still contained their original seats and fittings.
From the tearoom menu, delightful assistant no.1 chose a tuna salad, while her spouse and their chauffeur both plumped for quiche of the day: cheese and onion.
After a leisurely luncheon, the well-filled threesome disembarked and tootled off back to Scotland. They had one more full day of holiday left, and as they settled themselves into their holiday home for the evening they wondered what tomorrow might bring.
The day after their adventure on the narrow gauge railway at Etal, the delightful assistants headed off to Tweedbank station, the southerly terminus of the Borders Railway.
It was late morning when they boarded the train to Edinburgh, the right sort of time for their usual coffee break, but there was no tearoom at the station and no dining car on the train. To avoid enduring the entire journey without sustenance, they purchased hot drinks at a kiosk, and a large packet of salted crisps to share, and settled themselves in for the ride.
The seats were clean and comfortable, and the train wasn’t busy. They enjoyed the countryside views as the train whisked them smoothly northwards.
On arrival at Edinburgh Waverley, they disembarked and made their way towards the Princes Street exit. Since their last visit to the station, many years before, new lifts and escalators had been installed, saving them an exhausting trek up the Waverley Steps (I forget the exact number, but I think it’s something like 72 steps from the station to Princes Street, rather a lot at once for two octogenarians).
Up at street level they were bewildered by the crowds of people, and quickly headed across Princes Street to Jenners department store where they planned to have lunch. There were three cafes to choose from and they went for the one that looked the most enticing.
Delightful assistant no.1 chose a chicken salad, while her spouse opted for mushroom soup and their chauffeur went for carrot and coriander soup.
Carrot and coriander soup.
Alas, the food was not up to the old Jenners standard they remembered from time gone by, and the store had lost its sparkle since being taken over by the Frasers chain. However, the food filled a gap and gave them the energy to set off for the next stage of their culinary journey. They fought their way out of the shop and into the breezy air of South St David Street.
Sauntering north, they entered the pleasantly landscaped St Andrew Square, where they found a curious box with peep-holes inviting them to look inside. To their surprise, the box contained large Chinese lanterns in the shapes of various animals, glowing from lights inside them.
From St Andrew Square it was a short toddle downhill to Queen Street and their hot beverage destination, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery cafe. The cafe had undergone a major refit since their last visit, and contained a quiet room at one end with sliding doors to keep the noise of the main cafe at bay. They were delighted to find a table free in this room, and after choosing their snacks and drinks, sat down to enjoy the peace and catch up on their postcard-writing.
After a leisurely and refreshing experience in the cafe, it was time to bring their short Edinburgh visit to an end. It had been an interesting day and they had enjoyed it, but the crowds and the busyness of the city had quite exhausted them.
They took a quick squiz at the magnificent murals in the main entrance hall of the gallery before toddling back to the station and collapsing onto a much busier, and less clean, train for the return journey. Relaxing into their seats, the train rocked them gently into snatches of slumber all the way back to Tweedbank.
On the second full day of their holiday, the assistants kicked off proceedings with a visit to Cafe U in Kelso, the place they had found closed on their previous visit. They found a parking space nearby and walked along to the cafe, passing the magnificent Kelso North Parish Church building on the way.
Cafe U was set up some years ago as a church project, incorporating a Fairtrade shop and cafe serving loose leaf teas and organic coffees. It originally went by the name ‘Under the sun’, but that name now only applies to the shop part of the business; the cafe has borrowed the shop’s initial letter, becoming Cafe U.
It was busy inside and the only table free was adjacent to one occupied by an excitable toddler with an excellent pair of lungs. They sat down and attempted to study the menu.
It was a pity they weren’t there for main meals, as the menu looked very enticing with lots of vegetarian and vegan options. Although the selection of teas was impressive, all three visitors went for organic coffees, delightful assistant no.1 having an Americano and her spouse and chauffeur decaf cappuccinos. They paired these with one cheese scone and one fruit scone, cut up into bits to share. They made a right mess of the table, but enjoyed their bite-sized portions.
When they had finished their repast and made use of the nice, clean facilities, they exited the building satisfyingly filled and relieved to step out into the relative peace of the outside world.
The sun was coming out after a misty start to the day, and they decided to have a little walk round Kelso’s cobbled central area, the largest market square in Scotland. In the sunshine under blue skies it had quite a continental feel to it.
On their way back to the car, the assistants stopped to admire the River Tweed.
After looking at the Tweed they walked along the street on which their car was parked. Coming towards them on the same side of the road were two cheerful-looking men dressed in policemen’s uniforms. As the policemen walked along, one on the pavement and the other on the road, they grabbed the doors of every parked car they passed, attempting to open them. This was something the assistants had never seen before and they watched with interest as the men drew nearer to them and then went past, not missing out a single car as they strode along. It seemed likely that the men were indeed bona fide police officers, rather than criminals dressed up as policemen, since they seemed delighted to find every vehicle safely locked.
Pleased with themselves for having witnessed this lesser-spotted bit of police activity, the assistants hopped into the car and drove off towards the English border, just a few miles away. Entering Northumberland, they made their way to the conservation village of Etal, via the Heatherslaw information centre. At the information centre, they learned an interesting fact about the county they were in.
As they went about during the day, they spotted several of these flags flying in various locations.
There was a tearoom at Heatherslaw, where they might have partaken of a spot of luncheon, but their chauffeur had other ideas. She was keen to try the Lavender Tearooms at Etal, which had a good reputation and glowing recommendations from tearoom lovers online.
Housed in the village shop and post office, the tearooms were doing good business, but thankfully there was a table free in the back room of the building, where the assistants gratefully sank into their seats to consider the menu options. Delightful assistant no.1 fancied a sandwich meal, and chose cheese and tomato on brown bread, while her spouse and their chauffeur succumbed to individual broccoli and red pepper quiches with salad. The quiches came with an unusual and delicious coleslaw which contained peppers, celery, sultanas and seeds alongside the expected carrot and cabbage.
While they’d been at the Heatherslaw information centre, delightful assistant no.2 had picked up a leaflet about a small narrow gauge railway running between Heatherslaw and Etal. For £7 (or £6.50 for concessions) visitors could take a return journey on this railway, pulled by a small steam train, admiring the countryside along the 6.4km route.
The train left Etal station every hour on the half hour, and when their lunches were finished the holidaymakers were in good time to catch the next train to Heatherslaw. They bought tickets from the guard and settled themselves into an open-air carriage to enjoy the journey.
The train departed in a cloud of steam with a peep-peep from its whistle, and began its jolly little journey along the track between a river on one side and fields on the other.
Their spirits soared as they were whisked along in the train, delighted to be enjoying such a pleasant and unexpected experience.
When they reached Heatherslaw, quite a few people got off the train and there were plenty of empty carriages. To allow both assistants and their chauffeur to sit facing forwards they split up into two carriages, with the assistants in front.
On the way back, the cows they had passed on the outward journey had wandered close to the fence. Normally, when delightful assistant no.2 is close to cattle, such as during a countryside ramble, he stops to give them a lecture on some topic or other. There wasn’t time for that as the train sped along, but some of the beasts looked up as he passed, perhaps hopeful of catching a wise word or two on the breeze.
On arrival at Etal, the journeying party got off the train and walked back to the Lavender Tearooms, ready for a small snack after the excitements of the train ride.
None of them felt particularly hungry, but the temptation of a cream scone was too much for delightful no.1 to resist. Delightful assistant no.2 and their chauffeur opted for the local speciality, the singin’ hinnie, which was described on the menu as ‘a large griddle scone with currants’. The scone was a decent size, but the hinnies were enormous.
Just after their food and drinks had been brought over, a cheerful couple appeared at their table and greeted them effusively. Disorientated and still reeling from the size of their snacks, the assistants were momentarily baffled by the warm greetings they were receiving. Moments later, they realised these people were in fact known to them. They were the next-door neighbours of the delightful assistants’ other daughter, and happened to be holidaying that same week in a village close to Etal.
They all agreed it was a remarkable coincidence to have bumped into each other in this tiny village over the border. When they had gone, delightful assistant no.2 got busy penning a postcard to his daughter, asking her to guess who she thought they might have met in the Lavender Tearooms. He was going to leave it a mystery, but decided to add the answer before posting the card, in case the suspense was too unbearable.
Postcards written and snacks consumed (as far as possible, with bits of hinnie being taken home wrapped in paper napkins for later consumption), the assistants left the tearoom and walked through the village in the late afternoon sunshine. Having had their appetites whetted by a most enjoyable and unexpected excursion on a little steam train, they were even more excited about the following day’s adventure that would see them fulfil their ambitions to travel on the Borders Railway.
The second full day of the Jedburgh holiday dawned damp and misty. It seemed perfect weather for mooching around old books and munching on treats, and so it was that the delightful assistants set off mid-morning for Old Melrose Bookshop and Tearooms, a converted farm steading complex up a minor road a few miles north of Jedburgh.
There being no signage to assist the visitors, they made the mistake of going in through the door to the antiques and books centre first. After wandering around on the ground floor seeing no sign of a tearoom, they hauled themselves up a flight of open wooden stairs to the top floor, where they found more antiques and lots of books, but still no sign of teas being served.
After a few minutes, they discovered another staircase leading back down to the ground floor. Having thoroughly searched the upstairs area, they adventurously descended this second staircase, which was carpeted and seemed more like someone’s home than a public place. As they neared the bottom, savoury smells led them to believe they were close to the tearooms. They followed their noses and found that they had indeed reached their destination.
On questioning the waitress, they learned that if they had gone through a different door to begin with they wouldn’t have had to negotiate all the stairs and fight their way through ageing tomes to get to the tearooms. Their curious entrance had left them feeling bewildered and convinced they were having an adventure. They sat down and ordered large cups of coffee, and two treats to help the drinks down.
The only scones on offer were plain ones and they were so enormous that delightful assistant no.2 and their chauffeur agreed to share one, while delightful assistant no.1 plumped for a lightly toasted teacake.
The scone was unusual in that it was decidedly salty and not very sweet. It had a nice texture but an unexpected taste. Delightful assistant no.2 rated it at 6/10, while their chauffeur gave it 7/10. Delightful assistant no.1 rated her teacake at 7/10.
Refreshed and slightly less bemused than they had been prior to consumption of comestibles, they decided a health-giving walk was what they needed next. After a quick squiz at the books and antiques, they went back outside into the misty air and set off on a way-marked trail through soggy grass.
The grassy path led into a forest, which was drier and quite steep in places. The assistants marched on undeterred, making good use of their trusty walking poles.
They came out of the forest onto another path, which was very wet and muddy in places. This path led alongside the River Tweed, quite high up above the water. The misty view created a dreamlike atmosphere that seemed somehow appropriate for the strangeness of the day.
When they got back to the car, it was high time to be thinking about a spot of luncheon. They knew of several options in the vicinity, but decided on Ochiltree’s restaurant, at Abbotsford near Melrose.
Abbotsford was the house of Sir Walter Scott, built by him in the 19th Century, and is a superb place to visit if you happen to be in the Scottish Borders looking for something interesting to do. The picture below was taken on a previous visit.
The assistants had visited the house before, and on this occasion decided a tasty luncheon would suffice. They were pleased to find the restaurant quiet and ready to receive their patronage.
The enticing menu catered well for different dietary requirements, with meals for vegetarians, vegans and those requiring gluten-free meals. When delightful assistant no.1 asked their waiter about a certain dish and discovered it contained garlic, he summoned a knowledgeable waitress to go through the menu explaining which dishes were definitely garlic-free. The staff were courteous and helpful and their assistance led to delightful assistant no.1 choosing a sandwich with honey roast ham, baby gem lettuce and tomato.
Delightful assistant no.2 and their chauffeur both went for the same vegetarian option: butternut, pea and feta frittatas, pea mousse, butternut puree and pumpkin seeds. The meal was a work of art, and delicious to boot.
It was so pleasant sitting in Ochiltree’s that two of the lunching threesome managed to find room for pudding. Delightful assistant no.1 settled for a cup of coffee, but her spouse wisely commandeered a warm toffee apple crumble tart with chantilly cream, while their chauffeur fell back on the old fruit scone favourite. She recalled from a previous visit that when this particular choice was made it came as a pair of scones, something that seemed too good to resist. She opted for the jam and cream version, since she was on her holidays.
Although the scones were good value at £2.95, they were rather solid and it was quite an effort to munch through both of them with their accompanying condiments. They were nicely helped down with a pot of rooibos leaf tea, but the scoring was quite low at 5/10. Perhaps if they hadn’t come hot on the heels of a delicious main course they might have scored slightly higher.
When they had finished their meals, the two assistants spent some time enjoying an informative exhibition about Sir Walter Scott while their chauffeur worked off some of the clotted cream on a short trot along the Borders Abbey Way, a footpath running for over 100 miles through the Scottish Borders (she didn’t complete the entire route).
It was late afternoon when they left Abbotsford, and on their way home they took a short diversion into Tweedbank railway station. Back in the 1960s, the Scottish Borders suffered from the Beeching railway cuts, which saw hundreds of railway lines closed throughout Britain. The trains were sorely missed from this largely rural part of the country and there was a long-running campaign to get them reinstated. After years of planning and engineering works, some of the original track was reopened in September 2015, and ever since then the assistants had been keen to take a ride on the newly opened Borders Railway.
Having familiarised themselves with the set-up at Tweedbank, they whisked off home, excited by the prospect of a railway adventure to come.