Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Scottish Cottage Wall

A few weeks ago we stripped all the plaster off one of the walls in our old cottage sitting room. This was a wall which had been slightly damp for years and years, and every possible cure had been tried, inside and out, on roof, chimney, walls. Eventually our friendly builder intimated that the plaster itself had turned 'sour' and the only cure was to strip the whole thing off, with the possibility of adding a false wall, with a space behind to allow air to circulate. In the event, the stonework behind the plaster (which was indeed very sour) was so beautiful that we decided to point it up and leave it. It became clear, moreover, that when the cottage was built (some time between 1808 and 1811) it was never intended that these walls should be plastered at all - hence the problems on this, the chimney wall. What really fascinated us though, was the sight of the 200 year old lintel stone, which had once sat on top of an enormous old fireplace - you can see it in the picture, with a layer of ancient soot along the edge. This would have been the kind of fireplace where all the cooking went on, possibly, back then, with an old fashioned metal 'swee' to swing the pans in and out, over the flames. High in the wall to the left is a very definite space - either for a lamp, or a candle, or just possibly for keeping the salt dry. We're not sure - but a candle looks very nice sitting in it!
The other surprise is just what a change it makes to the room - opening it out somehow, and making it, possibly the darkest room in the house, seem much lighter and altogether warmer. The stonework will, I hope, look even nicer at Christmas time, when I get going with the holly and ivy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Went out for a very posh lunch yesterday. My main course was salmon with 'scallop' which turned out to be just that: a single (albeit delicious) scallop, used as a garnish. And no wonder. Commercially, they cost a fortune.
Which took me (inevitably) back to Gigha, earlier this summer. We were given a large bag of cleaned scallops by a fisherman friend. We took them to our self catering cottage, and Alan cooked them, flash frying them in a little olive oil and pressed garlic. We ate them at the picnic table outside the cottage, looking down into the bay, at the turquoise blue waters from which they had been dredged. We divided them between five of us, one each, and another, and another, until they were all gone. Fortunately the teens in our party didn't like the look of them. We didn't press the point. We must have had about seven or eight each. They were completely delicious, tender, and with a real tang of the sea about them - that faintly astringent taste of really fresh shellfish from clean salty waters....
Afterwards it struck me that all my most memorable meals seem to have been fishy: sardines with salty potatoes and spicy sauce in a small restaurant in Candelaria on Tenerife, mussels in Bruges, and again, this year, in the south of France, fresh crab on Gigha, and now scallops from the same place. But the scallops were most definitely the winner.