Last year I spent a lovely week in Ullapool with my mum, staying on the shores of Loch Broom in the well equipped Rubha Mor. Ullapool is well positioned for memorable road-trips around the North West of Scotland and we did plenty of exploring during our holiday. When I'm with my mum (or anyone else for that matter!), a day out exploring inevitably includes a tea and cake stop and we discovered some cute cafe gems in the most unexpected of places so I thought I would share my recommendations in case you find yourself craving for a cake fix in this stunning and wild part of the country. Those of you undertaking the North Coast 500 Route might also find this guide useful as you pass most of these stops on the way.
My mum and I do consider ourselves to be Scotland cake and tea stop aficionados so hopefully you won't be disappointed in our choices which definitely met with our expert approval!
TEA BY THE SEA, 17 SHORE STREET, ULLAPOOL
We walked past this gift shop come cafe a couple of times before we finally succumbed to temptation. Our willpower was eroded away by the list of delicious sounding daily desserts on the notice board outside which we just had to investigate for ourselves.
This is a quirky little place inside with a few tables adjoining a new age type gift shop. The friendly owners were more than happy to explain what delights were on offer that day and the counter was stuffed with enticing choices.
I opted for a creamy slice of bannoffee pie and my mum opted for the apple pie topped with caramel sauce and cream just for good calorific measure! A generous amount of tea and an extra pot of hot water to wash everything down completed our sweet, sticky feast and we both agreed that a cake stop at Tea By The Sea deserved a big thumbs up.
Check out my blog or more ideas on things to do around Ullapool
ACHILTIBUIE PIPING SCHOOL CAFE, OLD VILLAGE HALL, ACHILTIBUIE
The highlight from my week in Ullapool was definitely a trip to Achiltibuie and the Coigach Peninsula. The scenery is breathtaking and it really feels as if you have left the tourist trail well behind. I highly recommend a visit to this stunning part of Scotland and a stop at the village of Achiltibuie which is surprisingly big considering its remote location.
The Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe is a real off the beaten path gem with amazing views to the Summer Isles. This old village hall has a real community vibe and we found the table of home-made cakes irresistible! For such a remote place, I was also surprised at the wide range of teas on offer and although I didn't have Willow with me, it was good to discover that it is also dog friendly.
Now this is where I must confess to a blogger fail, I didn't photograph our tea and cakes as I was enjoying the experience too much, oops! I can tell you that I really enjoyed my huge slice of lemon cake and I did remember to photograph the view! The baking was so good that we bought pumpkin scones to take back to the accommodation and I also bought a cute little puffin card as a souvenir of our day. We also bought some local free range eggs from an honesty box on the road and I made sure I photographed them to make up for my earlier fail. You'll just have to take my word for it that our cakes looked and tasted incredible and of course try them for yourself!
Check out my blog to find out why I fell in love with the Coigach Peninsula
This weekend I completed my first joint travel blogger collaboration with #Scotlanders. For our launch campaign we took to the streets of Dundee to discover what this often overlooked Scottish city has to offer. Our aim was to showcase the many interesting faces of the city with each of us focusing on a particular theme.
While my fellow #Scotlanders enjoyed a diverse range of activities from archery to visiting a cruise ship, I was tasked with uncovering Dundee's developing culinary layers, which is very topical as this is the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland.
Best known for it's foodie contributions of cake and cow pie, the city has an ever expanding range of restaurants and cuisine to match the expanding building plans and predicted tourism growth. The new kids on the block sit happily beside the traditional offerings and this sums up Dundee itself, a city with grand modern design plans that will complement the industrial history and heritage.
If it's food heritage you're looking for then Dundee Cake and Mackays Marmalade are thriving examples of traditional fare with provenance.
I don't know of any other city in Scotland that has a cake named after it so I was feeling quite smug when I found out that I would not only get to sample one of these famous plump, fruity creations but I would also be involved in the baking process. I was also delighted that my lesson would take place at Clark's 24 hour Bakery, a legendary food takeaway in Dundee which I missed on my last visit.
Clark's Bakery has it's own historical roots in the city and is currently being run by the third generation of the same family. My Dundee cake baking session was with Alan Clark, whose father established the bakery in 1950.
For those that haven't tried it, Dundee cake is a rich, fruity cake containing sultanas, candied peel and topped with almonds. It's origins in the city are said to date back hundreds of years to the kitchens of marmalade inventor Janet Keiller and although still a local specialty of Dundee bakers it is now mass produced and sold widely by supermarkets who don't necessarily follow the accepted recipe.
There is currently a bid to give this local creation Protected Geographical Indicator Status (PGI). This means that only Dundee Cakes made in Dundee and following a traditional recipe can legally be called Dundee Cake and ensures that you are buying and eating an authentic product and local producers are being supported.
MACKAYS DUNDEE MARMALADE
Mackays are the only remaining producers of Dundee Orange Marmalade in the Dundee area, which also happens to be referred to as the home of marmalade. Mackays are proud of the heritage of their product and continue to make the marmalade in the traditional way in copper pans and sourcing the world’s best bitter oranges from Seville in Spain. Sticking to historic production methods seems to have paid off as Mackays are the largest producer of traditionally manufactured marmalades and preserves in the world!
The branding of their product with the city name and the logo 'Made The Authentic Way' have ensured this classic orange preserve remains a favourite on breakfast tables across the country and helps to promote the city and it's heritage far and wide.
A more recent edition to the Dundee food and drink scene is MòR Brewery, established in 2012 and based in the village of Kellas on the outskirts of the city, this microbrewery has brought it's unique Scottish ale with humour to the ever growing market of craft beers.
MòR means 'big' or 'great' in Gaelic and the big plans for this small brewery were brought to life by former Broughty Ferry lifeboat coxswain Jim Hughan and business partner Ross Niven. The word MòR (pronounced more) has enabled then to come up with a witty range of names for their ales such as 'MòR-ish' and 'MòR Tea, Vicar?' which are not only sold in an increasing number of pubs but also sold by the bottle in stores such as Aldi and Spar. It's good to see that Dundee businesses are not only great at preserving heritage but also competing in emerging food and drink markets and from my own personal point of view I'm glad that I have a something local to wash down my cake with! I'm sure I'm not the first person to say "Can I have some MòR Please?"
If you want a real 'Taste of Scotland' then avoid the fast food joints, restaurant chains and deep fried Mars Bars*.
Instead head to one of the superb eateries up and down the country that focus on simple Scottish cooking using local produce. If you make the effort to visit a real Scottish restaurant you may be surprised at the choice of quality and tasty courses on offer.
What will you find on a Scottish menu?
There are common dishes that you will find in most Scottish restaurants, although they all have their unique way of cooking and presenting them.
Haggis is almost guaranteed on any Scottish menu and for those that haven't tried it I would highly recommend it! Seafood including mussels and salmon are pretty standard along with other fish choices. Our seafood is famous as some of the best and freshest in the world. Meats tend to include a choice of chicken, Scotch beef and lamb. For dessert expect sweet and savoury choices such as a Scottish cheese board with oatcakes, cranachan and sticky toffee pudding.
As Scotch lamb is a common ingredient featured in Scottish restaurants and usually one of my first choices on the menu, I couldn't miss a street food festival celebrating my meat of choice. With a butchery lesson, cooking demonstrations and the chance to try Scotch lamb cooked four different ways, the day was certainly educational.
I learned that Scotch lamb and beef labels can only be used for animals born, raised and processed in Scotland to a quality assured welfare standard. If the meat is only labelled 'Scottish' then they are not necessarily quality assured. I also learned that the Scottish red meat industry employs more than 50,000 people which makes you realise how important using local produce is in supporting the economy and providing jobs.
A butchery lesson and handily positioned posters helped everyone understand exactly where on the animal each cut of meat comes from.
As soon as I pulled up to Cairn o' Mohr Winery in Perthshire I realised that this was no ordinary place. Firstly it's in Scotland which is not exactly known for it's contribution to the wine world, secondly there is not a vineyard in sight. However, it is neither of these things that strike me as the most unusual, instead it is the carved tree people, the bursts of colour, the psychedelic murals and entertainingly random signs.
Before I even step through the door I know I am going to love this place.
Bizarre, weird, wacky and strange are all terms I'm sure come to mind when people first arrive here. I prefer quirky and humorous. I get the feeling that the owners would be upset if these adjectives didn't come up as it is this quirkiness and original approach to running the small family business that has helped it grow substantially from it's humble beginnings in 1987.
A tour of a whisky distillery may be high on the list of things to do in Scotland but have you ever considered visiting a small, independent Scottish brewery? Widely available in pubs, supermarkets, farmer's markets and at events around the country, real ales and craft beer provide their own unique taste of Scotland.
If you're visiting the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond then follow the low road to the town of Alexandria where you will find the family run Loch Lomond Brewery tucked away in an unassuming industrial estate next to the whisky distillery (not open to the public).
It is unpretentious, not in the least bit touristy and offers a completely authentic experience. In Loch Lomond there are not many attractions that are still under the radar, this is the place to visit if you're looking for an original taste of Scotland, quite literally!
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.