If you like your tearooms to be traditional, joyful and somewhat off the beaten path then The Willows is the place to head for. It's a world of white table linen, china decorated with flowers and dainty cakes. You will find it, not in a town, but in farming country, around 4 miles from the Moray coast.
Highlights of This Route
The journey is half the fun of visiting The Willows. You must look for a dusty path in the depths of Moray's farming landscapes. It's a slight diversion from the coast, not far from Cullen, so if you are on the coastal cycle route (National Cycle Network Route One) it's easy to pop by. Or if you are looking for the nearest rail access head to Keith- it is a 10 mile cycle from there.
Directions from Keith Station
Keith is about one hour from Inverness or Aberdeen by train.
Leaving Keith station you are aiming to get onto the B9018. From the train station you cycle down Station Road. Look for a path on the left, which takes you along a road that links to the B9116- Newmill Road. Take a left here. When you reach a crossroads you turn right onto the B9017. This road will join the A95 where you turn left and then the next left is for the B9018, signposted for Cullen.
The B9018 is wide and does not get a lot of traffic. It's got some ups, downs and curves so there is a bit of variety. The scenery is agricultural and although it is not the most exciting road in Scotland the peace and quiet and smooth tarmac make for very good cycling. During my visit I had the wind behind me and I sailed along at a nice pace- the long and empty road ahead providing a wonderful sense of freedom.
There was a lot of livestock in the fields, including sheep, cows and a very large bull with a nose ring who stared at me. I pulled over to say 'hello' to a group of donkeys, but they bolted off. Then one of them plucked up the courage to wander back to the fence and check me out. When his buddies could see that I was not a threat they all copied the brave donkey and returned to the fence, sniffing me for signs of food.
There were several wind turbines on the hillside and I spotted a farm sign that had both a picture of a cow and a wind turbine, a reflection of the mixed use of farming land in this area.
There is a place with a lovely name on this road- Berryhillock. Here there is a wooden shelter with a fantastic display of flowers. Inside the shelter there was a poster promoting an evening event with the local heritage group- there would be talks, including one on Deskford witches, tea and biscuits. Opposite the shelter is an attractive garden with a model windmill.
Less than 5 minutes cycling from Berryhillock will bring you to Deskford Church. This is a peaceful spot with an historic building which you are likely to get all to yourself. There is an iron gate with a heavy bolt to slide to gain access to the church yard. The church dates from 1540 and is now a ruin with no roof and holes where windows and doors once were.
The standout feature here is the sacrament house, a decorative storage cupboard that had been used to keep the wafer that is transformed into the body of Christ during Mass. The stone carving is impressive, particularly the angels with flowing frocks.
Just five minutes cycle from the church will bring you to South Lissens Pottery. It's a great place to hunt for a unique souvenir from the area. How about a Cullen Skink bowl? One of Scotland's most famous dishes, this hearty fish soup, was invented just up the road in Cullen.
The dusty track to the side of the pottery takes you to Deskford Garden Galleries and The Willow Tearoom, also located in farm buildings.
Raspberry, Rose and White Chocolate
When I opened the door to the tea room it was like stepping into a different era. The Shadows were on the music player and the tables were set out with linen, napkins and vintage china. What a surprise to find such a place in the depths of Scotland's farming landscapes!
The loose leaf tea selection is excellent. This is a place where tea is a passion. I ordered the Russian Caravan which has a sweet and smoky taste. The home baking is no less impressive. My raspberry, rose and white chocolate cake was perfection and looked so dainty (see image at top of the blog).
During my visit there were just two other women who hummed along to the soundtrack of 50s and 60s tunes. However, there are a lot of tables and the exciting menu of full meals and afternoon teas was a sign that this is a popular place.
It's not just the tea room to see here. The complex of buildings includes a lovely conservatory and rooms packed full of antiques to buy. There is also a pond in the garden with benches. I sat here for a few minutes watching songbirds gathering up twigs and bits of grass for their nests.
When I got back on my bike I felt really happy. This place was such a chance find and a wonderful experience that it put a spring in my pedalling.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.