Berwick upon Tweed to Stonehaven: the Best Mushy Peas in the World?

Chips, chips, chips….. We’ve spent much of the last four days salivating over the fish and chips awaiting us at the award-winning Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven. We’ve seen castles, a mill, giant horses, a boat lift, round towers, and a posh house, but nothing can beat a good fish and chips….

Overview: 4 days, 284 miles

At the end of our last post, we were hanging around in the general area of Berwick upon Tweed, waiting for SOK’s new battery to arrive. On Wednesday morning we had a look at nearby Etal Castle and Norham Castle (both English Heritage).

Etal Castle was owned by the Manners family from the 13th to the 16th century. The Manners of Etal Castle seem to have spent most of that time feuding with their neighbours, the Herons of Ford Castle. Initially, Etal was a stone tower house, but in 1341 they obtained a “licence to crenellate” from Henry III (I wonder how much that cost them…) and embarked on further fortifications:

In 1513, James IV of Scotland invaded England (Henry VIII had just invaded Scotland’s ally France, which must’ve seemed as good a pretext as any). Etal Castle was situated at a key strategic point, defending the bridge over the river Till on the main North-South road through the area. It was quickly taken by the Scots: the defences were enough to hold out against raids by the pesky neighbours, but not against the heavy cannon of a proper army.

The Scots then camped at nearby Flodden Field. The resulting battle only lasted two hours but around 10,000 Scots were killed including King James and most of the Scottish nobles (more than ten times the estimated English losses). Following the English victory, the castle was handed back to its owners, the Manners family.

By 1541, the bridge had been swept away in a flood and was never rebuilt. Probably a wise move as the lack of a crossing point would’ve made Etal’s location less strategic and so less likely to be attacked? In 1547, the Manners family went one better and gave the castle and estate to the Crown in exchange for land elsewhere.

Nearby Norham Castle, on the River Tweed, was also captured by the invading Scots in 1513. The first castle here was built by the Bishop of Durham in 1121 and defended the Tweed Fords, an easy crossing point.

Norham Castle was repaired and strengthened after the Battle of Flodden, but slowly fell into disrepair following the Union of England and Scotland.

A quick ‘phone call to the garage revealed that our new battery had arrived so we scuttled back to Berwick as fast as SOK’s wheels would take us….. It took most of the afternoon to change the battery by the time they’d jumped through all the hoops to make sure they’d get paid for the battery and labour by Ford, after which we trundled North into Scotland to a lovely free overnight spot at North Berwick.

Bass Rock, just offshore, was absolutely plastered with gannets:

On Thursday we stopped off briefly at the National Trust’s Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot (dovecote).

Unfortunately, they didn’t open until 1pm and we had a busy tourist schedule ahead of us, so we had to make do with a quick look from the outside.

The dovecote would have been home to around 500 pigeons, great for the occupants of nearby Phantassie House, who were apparently quite partial to pigeon, but not so good if you were trying to farm the surrounding fields without the birds eating all your seed….

We skirted around Edinburgh towards Falkirk, home of the Kelpies. These are 30m high sculptures erected in 2013 to celebrate the historical role of the horse in Scottish agriculture and industry:

Next stop was the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift opened in 2002 to connect the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union canal.

We watched the pink boat enter the caisson at the top of the wheel. The wheel then rotates, one caisson rising and the other falling, until they’ve swapped positions. We both agreed, though, that the Anderton Boat Lift (the UK’s only other working boat lift) is more impressive. Built in 1875, the Anderton Boat Lift really is a sight to behold…

A sudden very heavy downpour saw us temporarily stranded in the Falkirk Wheel shop. Mark got a few funny looks as he guffawed his way through a book in the children’s section……

From what I gathered, the book involved the little mole going around asking all and sundry if they were the guilty party who had pooed on his head…. Hilarious, if you’re a small child or Mark! (in case you’re wondering, it was the butcher’s dog).

We made a quick stop at Culross late in the day then settled down for a quiet night at our CL at nearby Blair Mains. We got a price reduction from £7 to £5 due to the generator in the next field, but to be honest we didn’t even notice the noise….

Friday’s main destination was Abernethy, a few miles to the South East of Perth. This was a plan formed early in our 2018 trip to Ireland when we discovered that there are three Irish-style round towers still standing outside Ireland: two in Scotland and one at Peel on the Isle of Man. One of the Scottish round towers is at Abernethy, birthplace of one of my GGGGG grandfathers but a town that I hadn’t yet got round to visiting.

There’s a fantastic little museum at Abernethy with all kinds of fascinating information about the village over time. I particularly enjoyed the tale of the 1918 trial in which a total of 52 defendants (19 from Abernethy) were accused of hoarding butter (this was during the First World War). These weren’t your usual petty criminals, though – among them were ministers, teachers and prominent families in the local area. In other news, the scientist Ernest Rutherford’s father apparently came from Abernethy (later emigrating to New Zealand). My GGGGG grandfather was a Rutherford from Abernethy. I wonder……

We weren’t able to go inside any of the round towers that we saw in Ireland, but a modern metal spiral staircase has been inserted into the Abernethy tower. You can borrow the very impressive key from the museum and climb the tower for a fantastic view from the top:

We liked the Pictish stone set against the base of the tower. It shows a tuning fork, crescent and v-rod below (both common Pictish symbols), a hammer and an anvil.

After Abernethy, we had a quick look at Blairgowrie and Rattray to the North of Perth, another ancestral site. It’s a twin burgh – a bit like Buda and Pest but without the tourist appeal…..

Looking for a place to park up for the night, Backwater reservoir came up on Searchforsites so off we went. Hmmm….Someone has very recently put up a shiny glow-in-the-dark yellow “no overnight parking” sign. At this point, we were several miles into the middle of nowhere so decided that we hadn’t noticed the sign (though we didn’t have any clear plan for explaining how we could possibly have failed to see it; even the mole in Mark’s new favourite book would have been hard pressed!).

Today, we’ve driven across to the coast and then up to Stonehaven. We passed through Kirriemuir on the way and stopped to have a look at J.M. Barrie’s birthplace (National Trust). Neither of us is particularly interested in Peter Pan but apparently J.M. Barrie’s dad was a weaver and this was a weaver’s cottage – two up two down, with the downstairs used for weaving and storage and the implausibly small upstairs space being where the family lived.

No photos were allowed inside (for unknown reason). It was OK but not overly enlightening and we didn’t feel it would have been worth the £6.50 per person entrance fee had we not been members. The main snippet we gained from our visit was that when J.M. Barrie was six, his thirteen year old brother David died in a skating accident, this possibly providing the seed for “the boy who wouldn’t grow up”.

Our route now took us through Brechin, the home of the other Scottish round tower. It would’ve been rude not to have completed the set!

The tower was originally free-standing but when the new cathedral was built in the thirteenth century, the round tower was incorporated.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you’ve done a bit of family history, you will never again be able to walk through a graveyard without reading as many inscriptions as you can before you’re dragged away…… This one, by the bottom of the round tower, has to be one of the best I’ve seen:

ERECTED
By
William Mackay Artillery Pensioner
in memory of his wife Mary Bain
who died 2 Dec 1836 aged 42 years

Ye children who this motto read
I pray you to your ways take heed
And do not do as some have done
Hurry your Mother to the tomb
All feuds by me are now forgiven
Resting in hope of peace in heaven
Then ere too late think on your end
As death you leaves doth judgement find

Erm… yes…. William Mackay does seem somewhat displeased by his offspring. I wonder what happened?

Our final stop for the day was at the House of Dun, another National Trust property. This was built between 1730 and 1744 for David Erskine, a Scottish MP and judge.

There were obvious parallels between the House of Dun and Castletown House near Dublin, built around the same time, which we visited earlier this year (old post here). Symmetry was all the rage when the House of Dun was designed by William Adam (father of Robert Adam), so we have the usual fake doorways etc. The plasterwork in the saloon at the House of Dun was very reminiscent of that at Castletown, and took four years to complete:

There’s some interesting detail above the fireplace. 1744, when the house was completed, was the time of the Jacobite uprising in Scotland. Erskine had a second cousin who was an important figure on the Jacobite side, but as he was employed by the Crown, he couldn’t himself easily express any Jacobite sympathies…. except in the decoration of his own home that is…..

Note the Crown being trampled underfoot and the poor old English lion looking similarly squashed……

One feature everyone on our tour liked was the family portraits on the staircase, done by a travelling artist. Apparently, these would rock up at a house with the bodies already painted to save time (hence, we noted, all the women have identical bosoms). They would then paint in the head of each family member. This explains why all the women get a string of pearls – it hides the join in the paint. Best of all, it would be highly unlikely that all the members of the family were at home, so other family members might stand in as models. Here it’s assumed that the brothers stood in, either that or the young ladies of this family really did look like pantomime dames:

We’ve now arrived at Stonehaven and have parked up on the quayside. The main thing to remember is not to boing out of SOK’s habitation door too vigorously lest we fly over the edge….

We had one last task before the day could be considered complete: fish and chips at the Bay Fish & Chips. We visited the Magpie at Whitby back in February (old post here), Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips in Padstow in April (old post here), and the Quayside Fish & Chips in Peel on the Isle of Man in June (old post here).

It was suggested back in April that we should check out the award-winning Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven. The Bay won UK No 1 Independent Takeaway in the 2013 National Fish & Chip Awards. More recently (August 2018) it was listed top food experience in the UK (31st place in the Worldwide list) in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Eatlist……

To be fair, the exterior doesn’t really shout “best in the UK”, although there’s a sign on their window proclaiming the 2013 win and the queue, looping the length of the (very long) shop and back out through the door, speaks for itself…

The haddock and chips were very good (normally, Mark has cod and chips but it’s haddock or haddock at the Bay). On the walk back to SOK, we passed judgement…..

We both easily agreed that the Magpie reigns supreme at number 1 of the four fish and chip establishments that we’ve visited, and that Rick Stein trails in last in around 15th place out of 4. After much mulling, we each decided that the Quayside in Peel just had the edge over the Bay, me based on the superior crispiness of the Quayside’s offering and Mark based purely on portion size!

So it’s 3rd place for the Bay on our scoreboard. Their homemade mushy peas, though, are the best ever. Better than the Magpie’s. Perhaps that’s why they win so many awards? Best mushy peas in the UK / possibly the World……

7 comments

    1. right-o, I’ve added that to our to-do list on our way back South.
      Five lots of fish and chips in a year is unheard of for us. At this rate, we’ll be asking Santa for Weightwatchers membership come Xmas time!

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  1. And you have blue sky too! Didn’t want to tell you before, but I was sick after having fish and chips in Stonehaven; I think it was possibly sea food contaminating the haddock or chips…. Lesson learned, I now ask if places use the same vat for cooking both. Enjoy heading north!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We hadn’t realised that you were trying to kill us when you recommended The Bay! Mark says he used to like you but he might now have to re-evaluate (I think you’re safe. I’ve tried to kill him loads of times and he’s still here 😀)

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