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The Secret Garden + The Witchery by the Castle Edinburgh

Hot Stuff | We’re Stuffed | Get Stuffed

The Witchery Edinburgh Windows © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Quail’s eggs on a watercress nest at Mayfair regular Hush, Maundy Thursday. Fried duck eggs at Holborn favourite The Delaunay, Resurrection Sunday. And so a procession of lunisolar led lunches, moveable feasts, begins. An extended Easter Triduum. When a man is tired of London, there’s always Edinburgh. Squared hen’s eggs on board Virgin, Easter Wednesday. York – Durham – Newcastle – Berwick-upon-Tweed – everywhere looks better when viewed from the 1st Class carriage. Rows of distant roofs punctuated by chamfered dormers announce to the visually aware the proximity of the Border.

The Witchery Edinburgh Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Oh yes I stayed in The Witchery years ago,” a journalist bravely whispered to us during the Making Africa press briefing in the Guggenheim Bilbao. Admittedly a mildly incongruous locale for such a muted conversation. It was undoubtedly a memorable stay. “I woke up in the middle of the night in the most frightful sweat! It was like the bed was on fire! I was boiling alive!” She got an unexpected roasting, so to speak. The next day at breakfast the journalist voiced her concern to a waitress. “That’ll be the witches,” came the nonchalant reply. “They used to burn them at the stake on Castlehill right outside.” And presumably it wasn’t the effects of a wee dram nightcap.

The Witchery Edinburgh Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Secret Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Tapestry © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Our Easter Thursday lunch in the restaurant turns out to be a slightly less steamy but still hot affair. Dr Johnson and his biographer James Boswell used to lunch there. Well if it’s good enough for Sam and Jamie… The schlep up the Royal 1.6 Kilometres past winding wynds and claustrophobic closes is so worth it. Four enigmatic fanlights peering over Johnston Terrace way below are all that hint at what lies beneath. We’ve arrived. Physically and metaphorically. Bewitchingly charming certainly, hauntingly beautiful definitely, ghoul free thankfully. Think Hunderby without Dorothy. Or Northanger Abbey goes to town. Owner James Thomson, Scotland’s best (known) hotelier and restaurateur, is evidently a follower of the Donatella Versace school of thought: “Less isn’t more. Less is just less.” An eclectic dose of ecclesiastical remnants, gothic salvage and Jacobean antiques is healthily apt for this 16th century building. A pulpit above, a trellised obelisk to love, a flag there, a tapestry where? Candlesticks galore carry flickering flattering light across a Secret Garden the envy of Frances Hodgson.

The Witchery Edinburgh Main © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The interior may flurry with wild abandon but the service and setting mercifully don’t. Our Milanese waiter makes sure of the former. Tradition takes care of the latter. Linen tablecloths, phew. Round plates (slates are for roofs), double phew. Unheated pudding (a dish best served cold), triple phew. After a bubbly reception (thank you Mark), the feast unfolds. Palate seducing grilled sardines followed by lemon sole with brown shrimp butter preceding chocolate orange marquise with espresso jelly raise spirits further. The huggermugger harum scarum of a prowlish ghoulish night owlish postprandial prance on the mansard tiles of Edinburgh’s Auld Toun awaits. The only way is down (hill).

The Witchery Edinburgh Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Art Design People

Lucinda Mudge + Take What You Want

Art Attack

Lucinda Mudge Contemporary South African Artist @ Lavender's Blue

“It’s such a lovely part of the world,” says the artist Lucinda Mudge over a long lunch in the Guggenheim Bilbao where she’s now exhibiting. “We live in a natural dune forest in Keurboomstrand outside Plettenberg Bay. We designed and built our own house. We are surrounded by trees and dense indigenous bush. It is an extremely attractive place to live.” That’s the beautiful side of living in rural South Africa. But there’s a darker, more sinister side. “When my husband is abroad working, and it’s just me and the children, I’m aware of how isolated we are and how susceptible to burglary or violent crime. I go through this checklist before I go to bed: lock the doors, turn on my walkie talkie as there’s poor cell reception, keep the landline near the bed, and so on.”

Beams.On. © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue

This dichotomy directly translates into Lucinda’s art. Take ‘Doors.Locked’, one of 26 ceramic vases from her show ‘The White Tiger and Other Stories’ at Knysna Art Gallery. On one side it’s a beautiful black and gold object “decorated with the sort of thing a magpie would collect”. She laughs, “I make glitzy vases. They’re quite bling!” But the other side menacingly has her security checklist inscribed into the clay and painted with a honey glaze. ‘I Will Kill You And Then I Will Eat You’ reads another piece. “I incorporate headlines and quotes from local news stories into my vases.” She sees what she hears. She makes what she sees. Duality of experience. “I like playing off the two.” Beauty | Ugliness. Reticence | Confrontation. Abstract | Message.

Like all the best ideas, Lavender’s Blue for one, the inspiration for Ms Mudge’s vases has roots in Battersea, south London. “My husband and I moved to London straight after getting married in South Africa,” she relates. “I managed to secure a contract as a photographer to Ralph Lauren and I worked for him on a freelance basis for the four years we lived in Battersea. I joined an evening class in pottery – next door to Edmund de Waal but I never met him – and it was there that I learned about using slip as a means to decorate.” Lucinda had previously studied fine art at the University of Cape Town.

“I was not exhibiting in London,” Lucinda recalls. “In retrospect I can see I was internalising a lot, and absorbing a wealth of information. My time in London helped me to see more clearly when we returned to live in South Africa again. I saw inequality in a new and ugly way. I think that when one lives in a country where generally speaking people are pretty well looked after, such as the UK, it is hard to conceive the reality of the lives of underprivileged people elsewhere in the world.” Aut Visum Aut Non.

Lucinda Mudge You Had It Coming © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue

No doubt her vase ‘If I Ever Had to Run For My Life I Would Probably Die’ has a story to tell. Hard hitting stuff, yes, but much of it’s delivered with humour. Her piece ‘How Glorious To Be Filthy Stinking Rich’ features a middle finger provocatively pointing upwards. There’s an underlying satire – jokes with a jag. As lunch draws to a close late afternoon, Lucinda confides she did experience the dreaded home invasion only recently. “I was upstairs when I heard someone prowling around below inside the house. Filled with trepidation, I ran to the top of the stairs and came face to face with the intruder. It was a baboon! They’re scared of male humans but not females, so I growled in a deep voice and did my best male impression!” The baboon, a beautiful but potentially dangerous creature, fled. Life in Keurboomstrand continues for the artist Lucinda Mudge, ever vigilant, ever observing, ever commenting through her rather wonderful art.

I Told You Not To Call Me Baby! © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue