Travel: London

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in London this summer, and thought I would give a quick overview of the things I did while I was there. A few highlights:

Wallace Collection

This is a stately home near Baker Street that has been turned into a museum to showcase an extensive and impressive art collection. I know very little about art, but I enjoyed seeing the Laughing Cavalier, as well as the rest of the collection of Dutch art (I like Rembrandt). There was also an impressive collection of armour, which was strikingly presented.

V&A

I love the V&A. I’ve been once before, gravitating to the medieval collections and not seeing much else. This time, in order to broaden my perspective, I restricted myself to their permanent gallery on Theatre & Performance, and also had a look at their temporary exhibition on Luxury. The Luxury exhibition was one of my favourite things about London this summer. It’s fairly small, so easy enough to take everything in, and says some really interesting things about how luxury has been constructed in the past and how we may relate to it in the future. I’m really excited now about the V&A opening in Dundee.

Rabot 1745

This was absolutely my highlight of the trip. It’s the Hotel Chocolat restaurant, where cacao is part of every dish. The food was incredible. As I was uncertain what cacao would taste like in a savoury dish, I ordered a simple starter of sourdough bread with three dips – The dips were cacao butter (good, but my least favourite), pesto (slightly chunky and absolutely delicious, with chunks of pine nuts and cacao), and chocolate balsamic (also delicious, I desperately want to try it with strawberries). I had braised lamb for the main with some kind of cacao glaze, plus a cacao/roasted garlic mash, which was fantastic. I think my favourite was the pudding – chocolate lava cake. I finished up with a cacao infusion. I thought this would taste something like the chocolate tea you get in Anteaques in Edinburgh, which is black tea including chocolate, but this was an infusion of the cacao pods themselves and therefore didn’t taste particularly chocolatey. It was a really good after-dinner drink, like a tisane. I would definitely recommend this restaurant – a wonderful treat.

Travel: Islay

I don’t generally think of myself as being a beach person. This is largely due to common perceptions about what beach holidays include – sunbathing, extremely hot weather, the probability of sunburn. However, there are other ways of enjoying beaches and, for me, Hebridean beaches cannot be beaten. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on Hebridean beaches, most memorably on Iona when I worked there about seven years ago, and on both Iona and Eriskay when travelling through the islands with friends four years ago. These beaches were beautiful, calm and peaceful. The sound of the waves lapping against the shore, among all the little coves and rock pools, is incredibly soothing. It’s the closest I get to a happy place. These beaches were a good spot in which to unwind, pray, clamber and explore, and a complete contrast to my current city life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on holiday on Islay with family. Islay is best known for its distilleries, having eight of them on a relatively small island (Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Caol Ila). I’m not a whisky drinker, but am married to one, so some time was spent dropping off and picking others up from distilleries. Bunnahabhain distillery is a bit off the beaten track; it’s quite close to Port Askaig, which is one the ferry ports on Islay, but is a four mile drive down a small, winding road, so after dropping off some of our party we needed to kill some time during their distillery tour. We ended up on a mini adventure, discovering a beautiful, secluded beach near the Bunnahabhain distillery. It was practically perfect, including the following joys:

  • It was hidden away and involved a scramble to reach it, just like a Famous Five-style adventure
  • There was a stream flowing into the sea, which we had to cross over a little bridge, resulting in the slowest, most gentle game of Pooh sticks I have ever played
  • There was grass right up to the beach
  • The beach was covered with pebbles, rocks and shells, including pastel-coloured snail shells and shards of crab shells, presumably after the crabs had been eaten by birds
  • There were a handful of Oyster catchers sharing the beach with us and a bird of prey in the distance
  • There were spectacular views across the Sound of Islay to the Paps of Jura

That’s the kind of beach trip I enjoy!

Other highlights of Islay included:

  • Meal at Yan’s Kitchen in Port Charlotte. I had goat’s cheese with black pudding for a starter, which was a spectacular combination
  • The RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart – there are two walks at it, a woodland walk – which was beautiful, like wandering through a fairy glade, lots of wild flowers, twisted trees and butterflies, and a moorland walk – where we came practically face to face with a deer.
  • View from our holiday cottage of the lighthouse and Loch Indaal. As ever in this part of the world, the view changes all the time – we watched the sea in good weather and bad, secure in the cottage.