In Praise of Scotch Pies and Carn á Chlamain

JOHN Lennon had a dream about a man in a flaming pie who said: “From this day on you will call yourselves Beatles with a A.” Simple Simon met a pie man going to the fair. Little Jack Horner sat in a corner and stuck his thumb into a rather controversial pastry to pull out a plum. Four-and-twenty blackbirds came to a sticky end beneath a royal crust. Sometimes we are obliged to eat the humble version. Statisticians slice up pies into segments just to amuse themselves.

The pie is part of our culture and should be cherished like the Tolpuddle sycamore or the last night of the Proms. It should be cast in bronze and placed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square . . .

The pie defines us as a nation. Desperate Dan, the cowboy from Dundee, what did he eat? Cow pie with horns and tail sticking through the crust, that’s what. Lord Woolton, Minister of Food during the war, what did he invent? Woolton pie, a nutritious vegetable and Marmite dish that sustained us through our darkest days. What are the people of Melton Mowbray famous for? Their fabulous Melton Mowbray pork pies. Who fancies a slice of Bedfordshire Clanger, or shepherd’s, cottage, Cumberland or Derby? And what did Rupert Murdoch have thrust in his face while being quizzed by a parliamentary committee? A custard pie, ha ha.

Actually, on that final point, did you notice that some of the humourless tossers in the national press and TV news insisted on referring to it as a “shaving foam pie”? There is no such thing as a shaving foam pie. It’s a custard pie, in the same way a pantomime horse is a pantomime horse, not “two stage performers in an equine costume emulating a farmyard animal in comic fashion”.

Back to proper pies. The best, the most delicious and delectable pie by a country mile is the Scotch pie. It is the unsung hero of the pie world. In pie world pecking order, the Scotch pie sits demurely at the back like the woman in the orchestra who plays the harp, while the Melton Mowbrays and meat-and-potatoes are up the front like James Last and Mantovani.

And yes, I know I’ve touched on the subject of Scotch pies in the past (and delved deliciously beneath the fluffy crust of its brassy cousin, the Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney), but today I have one of the unassuming little rascals tucked safely in my bait box and ready to perform its preordained duty on the summit of Carn á Chlamain (or Carn á Charmaine, as Mantovani might have called it).

This is no ordinary Scotch pie. This is a Blairgowrie Scotch pie from the Gowrie Bakery, just a step across the hills from the Blair Atholl store where I secured its ownership with a few bright coins. Not only that, it’s the SECOND Blairgowrie Scotch pie I’ve purchased in the past 14 hours, because I ate its predecessor in the middle of the night and had to acquire a substitute.

So I’m trundling six delightful miles along Glen Tilt on my knackered old mountain bike, with my Blairgowrie Scotch pie nestling snugly in my sack, when the wind begins to bend trees and rain slants from the east. Clouds lower themselves onto the higher summits of Beinn á Ghlo and the sun says goodbye to the day.

Carn á Chlamain (963m or 3,159ft) is a pretty little Munro, spoiled only by a Land-Rover track running right to the summit. And the least said about that the better. But in deteriorating weather, with mist threatening to choke off the views, the track could be an advantage.

I tether the bike to a wooden bridge that spans the Allt Craoinidh – rather like Desperate Dan tethering his horse before eating his cow pie – and climb the steep green toe of Carn á Chlamain’s long south-west ridge to join the track. From the ridge, I gaze through curtains of rain to mist swirling about the shoulders of Beinn á Ghlo, and down into the glen where ruined black-houses and abandoned 19th Century farmsteads are scattered along the slopes. Glen Tilt appears to have been occupied by poor people in the days before it became fashionable to get evicted (click on lower picture for close-up of ruined black-houses, and see notes at the end for details).

The wind whips itself into a frenzy and rain hammers down. By the time I reach the top of the ridge and bear north towards the summit, I’m feeling pretty cold, pretty wet and pretty hungry.

I’m a few hundred yards short of the summit when the entire mountain is consumed by a dirty great cloud and visibility is reduced to about twenty paces. In a fit of despondency I sit down in the turf and eat the Scotch pie. No ceremony, no frills. I just stuff it down my neck in great gulps like a ravenous dog. Then I trudge the last few steps to the cairn, gaze out upon nothing, and walk sullenly down the mountain with rain filling my boots.

Back at the car, still cold and wet and spattered with mud thrown up by the mountain bike tyres, I open a can of Sainsbury’s Bombay Potatoes to warm the inner man. I don’t care much for tinned curry, but the Bombay Potatoes turn out to be tasty and filling, with a pleasant though mild afterglow.

Just what a bloke needs to end a day on the hill. After all, curry is part of our culture, a jewel in our culinary crown, and should be cherished like the Stone of Scone and Carry On Up the Khyber.

Curry? For Christ’s sake, don’t get me started on curry . . .


  • Apparently, Glen Tilt has the distinction of being the site of the first recorded Highland Clearance. The Duke of Atholl gets the blame
  • On a lighter note, though possibly a heavier one depending on your point of view, if you’re partial to “hand held snacks with a cult following especially at football grounds”, pay a visit to the Scotch Pie Club

About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist. Recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job was transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climb mountains and run long distances to make life harder. Gravitate to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Cookery, Cycling, Food, Highland Clearances, Hiking, Mountains, Scotch pies, Walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to In Praise of Scotch Pies and Carn á Chlamain

  1. jcmurray1 says:

    The Scotch Pie, what can I say? Well I can say that you’re a terrible man for placing such temptations in my way! My new diet – sorry lifestyle – no longer has a place for Scotch Pies, although if it did, it would need to be The Killie Pie. This is partly because Kilmarnock, near enough, is where I grew up so loyalty does still hold some sway. But that said The Killie Pie was also voted the best football halftime pie in the UK and the fourth best in Europe at one time, although I can’t imagine what three things can possibly be better to eat at halftime than a Killie Pie, but there you go that’s Europeans for you…………………J
    PS I guess I should also mention that it looked like a good walk even if it was a little bit damp!

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. John, I don’t know whether to apologise for putting temptation in your way or rejoice at stirring such fond memories of Killie Pies – which I shall endeavor to track down. Ticking off regional variations of Scotch pies sounds a more worthwhile pursuit than visiting trig points or locating abandoned railway wagons. That’s something to think about.
      The walk was fine, but the photographs just do not get across how wet and misty it was. My camera tends to show even the darkest day all warm and sunny. I’ll have to read the instructions.
      For a good day there’s an alternative route up a stalker’s path just a couple of miles further up the glen. I had planned to come down that way, but the weather was so abysmal I just retraced my steps.
      Cheers, Alen

  2. Howellsey says:

    The walk looks worth doing for the pie alone…..I’d always considered the pasty a more portable style of hill snack, but would be keen to give the Scotch Pie a test run. One of the beauties of moving to the North (over a decade ago now) is the prevalence of bakeries……, oh, and hills !

    • McEff says:

      Ah, a man after me own heart. Light-weight, high-energy foods have their place, but there’s tradition to be upheld when tramping up mountains. Man didn’t raise his head above the rest of the animal world on nuts alone.
      Cheers, Alen

  3. mandala56 says:

    I can’t remember if I’ve asked you this, but are you familiar with Marjorie Lloyd’s children’s books (Fell Farm Holiday, etc.) ? It’s because of her books that I recognize so many of your destinations in the Lake District like Crinkle Crags, etc. and those kids always had disgestive biscuits in their pockets when they hiked. It was years later that I learned what a digestive biscuit was, but they are also favorites of mine (although expensive here in Kansas!) Any kind of British meat pie is a real treat here.
    We have a family tradition of eating U-No bars ( when we hike in the northwest, because that’s a candy bar that you can’t get east of the Rocky Mountains, therefore it’s special. You have to chill them in a snowbank to do it right :) Of course you take a photo of it chilling in the snowbank, too.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jeanne. You’ve awakened some long-dormant memories there. I remember Marjorie Lloyd from school, and also Arthur Ransome who I think was a bit earlier though I may be wrong – Swallows and Amazons, and I think a book called a Winter’s Holiday. I have a granddaughter who loves books – although she’s only two – so when she’s ready I’ll steer her gently in the direction of those authors.
      I took a look at the U-No Bars and they look tasty. I like the tradition of chilling them in snow first.
      Cheers, Alen

      • mandala56 says:

        Oh yes, Swallows and Amazons were favorites of all of my kids, although I never knew them until I was an adult.
        I have a granddaughter who’s four, so yes, we have to pass on all the good stuff!

        • McEff says:

          There was a film made of Swallows and Amazons back in the 70s or 80s. Although Windermere was the setting for Ransome’s fictional lake, the movie was filmed on Coniston Water, which is the next lake west. I might look into getting the DVD for a Christmas present for when she’s a bit older.
          Cheers, Alen

  4. rthepotter says:

    Ages since I made a pie … more temptation!

  5. rthepotter says:

    PS I believe you about the weather in spite of the pretty pics – I haven’t been to Scotland in twenty years or more and I STILL remember the rain.

    • McEff says:

      My wife won’t cross the border. She maintains that you drive into a wall of water when you enter Scotland and drive out of it again when you return. That’s why I get to go by myself.
      Cheers, Alen

  6. Paul says:

    Coming from Wigan I’m biased to a good old fashioned meyt & prater every now & again, but by-eck, that Scotch Pie looked good in the mist.
    mmm….food for thought

    Great post as always

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. Is that English you speak in Wigan, Paul? Actually, being a former Lancashire lad myself I’m rather partial to a meat and potato pie – but I haven’t had one for a good few years. I think it’s time I reacquainted myself with them. Or what about we start packing traditional food in our sacks instead of sandwiches and cereal bars? I could get into that.
      Cheers, Alen

  7. Ah years since I ate a Scotch Pie – reading this made me want one! – but alas my diet nowadays doesn’t allow me. If I eat on a regular basis starch and protein together I get terrible reflux. So I stopped about three years and the reflux stopped almost instantly. I do eat protein with vegetables but pies are out, along with bacon sandwiches and cheese on toast :(

    • McEff says:

      Doctor Al says, have you tried Lansoprazole, Mark? I had similar problems but it sorted them out. I still take the occasional 30mg tablet, but not regularly. I’ve cut out the bacon, mind, because there was a report out recently that said bacon and other processed meats increase the risk of premature death by an alarming rate. It was enough to alarm me, anyway. Pies are a treat on special occasions, and so are fish and chips. They can be eaten only after strenuous exercise.
      Cheers, Alen

      • Yes Doctor Al I have them in the past, but it comes back. So I googled one day about it and find a US article on food combining or the Hay’s diet and it pretty well solved the issue for me. On occasions I lapse and it will be there again if I don’t watch it. Affects millions of people in the West, that is why Zantac is (or was) the biggest selling OTC medicine in the USA. So it is vegetable pies for me now !!

        • McEff says:

          Doctor Al says, so you sought a second opinion. A wise decision. My only other advice, seeing as you’re into vegetable pies, is try the Woolton Pie mentioned above (if you already haven’t, that is). I cooked it once and found it very tasty. Fed a nation through its darkest hour, it did. For anyone else interested, the recipe’s here:

  8. David says:

    The hill is also known as the hill of the Kite or Buzzard. Incidentally a Kite is also Geordie for stomach For example I love pies, that’s why I have developed a massive “Kite” – which for me is true. As you can probably tell I can’t stop thinking about food because I am supposed to be losing weight. Please no more food related posts:-)) Lovely pie pics btw.

    • McEff says:

      Sorry about that, David. I’ll try to keep off food in the immediate future. Don’t want you nipping out to Greggs to feed yer kite.
      That Geordie dictionary is absolutely brilliant. I’ve just skipped through the first couple of pages and several entries had me laughing. I particularly liked Bile, a boil – as in “Me bile’s borst.” That brought back vivid memories of boys in short pants in my class at junior school, a couple of whom always had boils on their legs. You don’t see many boils nowadays, which isn’t a bad thing I suppose.
      Cheers, Alen

  9. scott says:

    That was a great read. Cheered me up enormously – and I wasn’t that unhappy in the first place, which proves how good it was.

    Mildly interesting fact: they prescribed me Lansoprazole to counter the digestive difficulties of all the daft heart medication I’m on, and I’ve not needed a Rennie for 10 months now. Whereas I used to get through a box every couple of days.

    (Oh, and Desperate Dan’s horse would have to have been a helluva size, would it not?)

    • McEff says:

      Hi Scott. I never expected to be Googling the question “did Desperate Dan have a horse?” but I just did, and I must admit I can find no reference to one. That doesn’t mean to say one never existed. I did read somewhere, though, that he could lift a horse using only one arm. That’s pretty good stuff.
      Glad to hear your tummy’s feeling better. A man should never be without his Lansoprazole.
      Cheers, Alen

  10. scott says:

    Excellent! I googled it earlier, with the same result. ;0)

    On mature reflection, I’m thinking this vaguely remembered Blazing Saddles image is what was making me think about Dan having a Big Horse.

  11. scott says:

    Can’t do links, obviously. Nice red colour though, eh?

    • McEff says:

      I can sort of see how the accidental juxtaposition of random thought processes took you there. It’s certainly big, but I don’t think it would win a gold in the team dressage. Unless I’m mistaken . . . and it wouldn’t be the first time.

  12. I really wish I hadn’t read this! I haven’t had a scotch pie in years and now I’ve got a terrible craving. Where am I going to get one from?! :-)

    • McEff says:

      Terribly sorry about that, Mountain Dweller. I can’t help you out there. Cravings are terrible things. If it’s any consolation, I remember once camping at Ulpha Bridge in the Lakes and being so hungry one night, all I could think about was jam sandwiches. I don’t suppose that helps, but there you go.
      Cheers, Alen

  13. Greg. says:

    I too am on a diet , hopefully to reduce blood pressure as well. i can still eat pies, but they are the ones made by the Hairy Bikers ! They have made a book called the Hairy Dieters and these pies are low calorie.

  14. beatingthebounds says:

    Ummmm. Pie porn.
    The new pieman?

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