Mr M and I have explored a fair bit of the UK, especially since we got the good old camper van last year. But we always seem to head south rather than north. That means one place we’ve seen very little of is Scotland. Well, I’ve visited once or twice for work and Mr M has been on the obligatory stag do to Edinburgh, but we’ve never had the chance to explore and see some of the beautiful landscapes we’d heard so much about.
With that in mind, after Christmas we packed ourselves, the dog and all the Christmas leftovers and went oop north, beyond the wall, to explore bonnie Scotland. We started in Loch Lomond, where we celebrated Hogmanay in true Scottish style, before camping our way around, taking in the west coast, the Cairngorms, back down past Glasgow to Dumfries and Galloway before heading home.
It was a week full of walking, wild camping (yes, that means no toilet block, no campsite, just parking up and making do – can thoroughly recommend) and lots of great food. I was researching a piece about Visit Scotland’s new ‘Grand Porridge Tour of Scotland’ (yes, it’s a thing) so we had a fair few oats, but I also underwent my own merry venison tour, while Mr M sampled as much Scottish beef as he possibly could (standard, but it’s become a thing!)
One of our foodie finds was a FABULOUS pub in Aviemore in the Cairngorms. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that we love a good skiing holiday, having visited places like Italy and France, so we were intrigued to see what a UK ski resort would be like. After a day crunching around in the snow at the bottom of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway we toyed with the idea of wild camping up there, but found the idea of a warm pub and open fire far more appealing.
It was that lure of a log fire and a bunch of great reviews on Trip Advisor that took us back down the hill to the outskirts of Aviemore and The Old Bridge Inn. A lovely little hideaway just across from the river, it had all the feeling of an apres ski bar, packed with people at 5pm after a long day outdoors warming themselves and having a well-earned drink. Better still, it is super dog-friendly, which suited us perfectly.
We parked up in the car park (where we were allowed to stay overnight – bonus!) and joined them, tucking ourselves into the corner by the fire with some drinks. We hadn’t actually planned to eat but a look at the menu, and the helpfulness of the staff who happily accommodated our request to dine exactly where we were, but a bit later on, and we were sold.
For two people keen to feel like we were ‘doing’ Scotland, the January menu at The OId Bridge Inn seemed custom-made for us. It screamed Scotland – starters of Wester Ross oak smoked salmon or Great Glen venison salami and mains of Shetland cod, Speyside beef, and Ardgay venison. Does it get better than that?
We skipped the starters and went straight for the main event. I opted for the haunch of Ardgay venison served on a fat pillow-like bed of soft polenta, with red cabbage and blueberry sauce. Yet again I hate myself for this picture not doing this dish ANY justice at all.
The venison was tender, lean and rich yet without an overly ‘gamey’ flavour that some people say puts them off. It was also cooked just right, escaping any overcooking that would have killed its tenderness. The polenta was officially the nicest I’ve ever had – I’m often put off by polenta on a menu as its texture has been all too similar to either a rubbery sponge or a savoury version of semolina. But its consistency was just right and it was seasoned beautifully to provide a great background taste that allowed the venison to stand front and centre.
The red cabbage and blueberry were the perfect accompaniment to the venison. Sweet, slightly tart, and with all the taste of winter and Christmas that red cabbage brings with it. The dish also came with cauliflower florets that were slightly charred, bringing a bit of crunch and another slight hint of bitterness that worked well with the sweetness and creaminess of the polenta. All in all, a wonderfully well-balanced dish that was hearty yet had a bit of a flourish to it.
Mr M had chosen the roast fillet of Speyside beef with chips, spinach, baby onions, mushrooms and red wine sauce. Again, a classic dish, but this was executed better than you could possibly have imagined. Thick slabs of beef fillet that I’m pretty sure if put back together would have amounted to a whole chateaubriand to himself. A pile of golden, homemade chips with just the right amount of crunch and fluffiness.
The sauce combined the tried and tested steak accompaniments of onion, mushroom and red wine and flowed over the meat in a river of loveliness. Usually Mr M is a stickler for eating his beef with no sauce of any sort, but this must have been good as he didn’t bat an eyelid. In fact, he declared it the best beef he’s ever had (beer makes him a bit gushy) and was still talking about it two days later, so that really is high praise.
Still battling the Christmas bulge (yeah, as if we actually fought it in any way, shape or form…) we tried to avoid dessert, but agreed to share a cheese board – as if that’s some kind of lesser evil. Even this one dish was a proud Scottish statement, showcasing its own cheeses rather than reaching abroad for any stereotypical choices.
Alongside an obligatory glass (or seven) of port, we enjoyed Inverloch goat’s cheese, Isle of Mull cheddar, an amazingly melt-in-the-mouth, deliciously wonderful Strathdon Blue that I’ve never tried before but will be hunting for wherever I go now and a Howgate Brie. Served simply on a slate (which I don’t mind at all when it’s cheese), with some biscuits, grapes, apple and chutney, we enjoyed more of the hospitality of the staff – whom I genuinely can’t fault for making a pair of campers feel as welcome as if we were locals – until we tottered back across the icy car park to ‘bed’.
At first glance, the Old Bridge Inn could have you fooled into thinking it’s just a lovely, cosy pub where you can enjoy a drink after a day doing something outdoorsy. But its food offering is far beyond that of pub grub. It’s a proud flag-flyer for Scottish food, showcasing great local ingredients, cooked well.
They’ve got a great ambience, accommodating staff and an appealing menu that embraces classic combinations, flavours and ingredients without feeling the need to mess around with them. Given our experience, it’s somewhere I could happily go back to again and again. And don’t just take my word for it – take a peep on TripAdvisor and you’ll see I’m not alone in thinking this is a bit of a gem. See you soon The Old Bridge, we’ll be back!
We paid in full at The Old Bridge Inn. They didn’t know I was a blogger.