Come ‘awa’ in!”, says the sign as you enter the village of Hopeman.
We were in the area to help clear the house of my much loved late mother-in-law.
It had been an emotionally charged weekend of sorting through cardboard boxes, old letters and unworn clothes, making for a clinging fug of sadness that only a breeze off the Moray Firth might disperse.
We parked down at the harbour, where kids were pier jumping – somersaulting, dive bombing and backflipping into the black water.
In their wetsuits, they looked like bats plummeting from the rafters. Limber and brave.
I was feeling a bit too mortal to go within even a metre of the edge.
Five minutes walk from here, towards the entrance to the caravan park, which seems to be benefiting from a staycation boom, you’ll find the two month old Bootlegger’s Bothy.
It’s the covid project from the people behind The Bothy Bistro at Burghead.
They’ve set up a food van, Dory, a corrugated tin roofed barbecue shack, The Grill, and Peggy, the turquoise vintage Citroen van that serves drinks.
There are also various seating areas – a double decker bus (currently shut), but also lots of pale blue picnic tables, some of which are rain-proof thanks to a huge sail of tarpaulin.
The toilets are labelled Quine and Loon, of course.
We thought we might be their keenest customers, hovering about at 11:55am, waiting for the lunch service, but we weren’t the only ones. At noon, the breakfast blackboard was removed, and a new one went up.
We got into the socially distanced queue, with its fringes marked by buckets and spades, and ordered before waiting for our cardboard containers and tumbler of homemade lemonade (£3).
We unboxed at our picnic table – chosen since it had the most sun, and the least wind.
I don’t think I’ve ever had as many scallops (£16) in one sitting. There were about a dozen Shetland sweeties, with tea-coloured edges. I’m sure the local bottlenose dolphins would beach themselves for these.
They came with two flattened and peppery coasters of “Teddy’s black pudding”, as well as nibbly crispy onions, a wedge of lemon and a load of lettuce, carrot and red cabbage salad. I wouldn’t say the trio of pickled onions were the most natural partner, but I could never pass up a silverskin.
The smoked brisket (£14) option was a monolithic thing. There were cold (warm in bits) and heavy hunks of beef, all doused in a “gravy mayo” and served in a very sweet and soft charcoal bun, which had a smooth stone-coloured lid. It was the bollard of foodstuffs. You could tie your boat to it, and it probably wouldn’t drift off.
Our lightest option was the panzanella salad (£7), with segments of warm yellow, green and red tomatoes, soft palate-exfoliating cubes of sourdough, capers, rocket and lemon.
We’d ordered all these from The Grill, but the Dory menu is more casual and sells whitebait, nachos, prawn and crayfish cocktail and whatnot. From their list, we’d opted for the mozzarella and halloumi dirty fries (£9), which turned out not to involve any potatoes. Instead, there were hot sticks of either kind of breadcrumb-coated cheese, all topped with cheddar and wheels of green chilli. Filth, indeed.
They say that ice-cream is the best food to eat on the beach, but my research has proved otherwise. We went back to the van and ordered sticky toffee pudding (£5), then took it down to a dune to share, all civilised with spoons and napkins. It was especially enjoyable to eat pudding with live entertainment, provided by a spaniel sloshing in the water.
It took us a while to get through this option, as the sponge bit was the size of a tin of beans, and the sweet sauce was about a fathom in depth. We were on a sugar high. Any remaining ennui can get in the sea.
I even paddled – unheard of – and the cold water was like a defibrillator.
So, this is the place to go if you want to be a happier quine.
Come ‘awa’ in! n
West Beach Caravan Park, Hopeman, www.facebook.com/BothyBistro/