Most of us have come to expect certain standards these days. Unfortunately, common denominators often produce bland outcomes. This applies in all walks of life, but for now I’m interested in roadside catering and visitor attractions.
The Carse of Gowrie lies between Perth and Dundee on an alluvial plain by the River Tay. It’s an area famed for soft fruits and largely responsible for one of Dundee’s famous “J’s” – jute, jam and journalism. The polytunnels are everywhere, ensuring Scottish raspberries are available in supermarkets even in late September. On a fact finding tour around the Carse last week, I made my first visit to two well known local attractions.
The first is The Horn roadside cafe off the A90. It’s impossible to miss – a building with a rounded front, in a sea of caravans, with a dairy cow perched on the roof. This is no chain-owned motorway service stop! The decor is dated, the layout is cramped and you won’t find games arcades, burger chains or a 24 pump filling station. However, the gargantuan bacon rolls are legendary for their ability to satisfy the most demanding trucker, whilst maintaining Scotland’s proud position as world leaders in heart disease. They also sell traditional cakes which look more like the pies the Dundonians are famous for.
A few miles down the Carse lies the Cairn O’Mohr Winery (try saying it out loud). There are a number of Scottish wineries, but this one is unique. If Ben & Jerry’s had set up shop in Christiania instead of Vermont, their visitor centre might have looked something like this. Surrounded by giant heads carved with chainsaws from whole tree trunks, this Easter Island of the north uses reverse psychology and guerrilla marketing to sell drinkable wine made from those same local soft fruits. When you buy a bottle, it comes with a free slice of Cairn O’Mohr attitude.
Neither establishment conforms with the modern formula but that’s exactly why they should be treasured. They are Carse institutions. If you visit them with an open mind and take the rough with the smooth, maybe you’ll agree. Otherwise, enjoy your Starbucks coffee, wherever you are………