If you were looking to write a Gothic novel, your first choice of location would most likely not be tropical Sri Lanka. Because the tropes of Gothic novels include storms, rain, mist and fog and Sri Lanka is all sunshine, white sand, blue water and palm trees right?
Wrong, so wrong. Welcome to Nuwara Eliya.
Situated “up country” Nuwara Eliya is about as far away most people’s idea of a “tropical” country as you can get. This is a famous tea growing district – all of the bushes you can see in the photo above are tea plants. We were there for three days and the weather was like this the entire time, all low swirling clouds, fog, mist and rain.
As we climbed higher and higher into the hills, the weather changed from hot and sunny, to cold and gloomy. It was as if you were entering a different, very isolated world – even though the nearest town was only a few kilometers away and you could usually get a decent wifi signal.
As well as the weather, a good Gothic novel should be set in a (preferably haunted) old mansion or manor house. Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed Little England and The Hill Club, where we stayed, would not look out of place on the Yorkshire Moors.
I’ve read enough Agatha Christie and watched enough episodes of Midsomer Murders to know that the English Manor house is actually a hot bed of murder and sexual intrigue. If it’s not a pyromaniac mad woman in the attic, it’s something nasty in the woodshed!
The Hill Club may well be the one place where the sun hasn’t set on the British Empire. Staying there is like taking a step back in time. I suspect that not even in Britain today are there many hotels where one wall in the bar is adorned with a large portrait of the Queen and another with an equally large photo of Winston Churchill. And this is not someone’s idea of a decorating a hotel with some kitschy memorabilia from the days of Empire. This is a Hotel from the days of Empire. Actually, sorry, not a hotel at all. A gentlemen’s club.
The olde-worlde atmosphere only contributed to the feeling that you had somehow strayed into either some sort of time slip stream or parallel universe. I would not have been entirely surprised to wake and find myself back the 1940’s or to see a ghostly figure roaming the halls. Speaking of which, there was also a long corridor which could have come direct out of The Shining:
Add to this some flickering lights and power outages caused by the storm and you have almost the perfect place to gather around the fire in the reading room either to read your favourite Gothic novel by candlelight or to see who can make up the spookiest story. Who knows, it may even be the next Frankenstein!
But telling ghost stories can be thirsty work, so whilst you are doing that you need the perfect libation to not only wet your whistle but give you some Dutch courage in the event that a large hound starts baying outside or the tap, tap, tapping on the window turns out not to be a tree branch but your dead lover come to woo you from the grave.
All of which, after the longest intro, ever means, I made us a cocktail.
I wanted to make something with tea to highlight the wonderful produce from Nuwara Eliya. And, in a wonderful piece of serendipity, the very next chapter of The A-Z of Cooking contained a recipe for a tea punch. (Yes, we are still only up to D – Dips and Drinks).
Sadly, the Tea Punch in The A-Z of Cooking was non-alcoholic. So, I boozed it up. Because in my mind, a punch needs to have a little punch if you know what I mean.
My only dilemma with this was what to use as the “spike” for my tea. Absinthe would have been the Byronesque choice however I can’t bear the taste of it nor the big shirts with frilly collars.
Arrack was my next choice because I brought a bottle home with me, but that would be no fun for any of you. Arrack is a Sri Lankan spirit made from toddy, which is the fermented juice from a coconut palm.
I then found this wonderful article in Gothicked which confirmed not only spiked tea as a Gothic drink of choice but also whiskey. I still had some Jameson’s from when I made the Emerald Presse so I used that.
The original recipe called for Orange Bitters, I had Rhubarb Bitters so I used them instead.
Whether you are in a Gothic Manor house or at home just reading about them, this is a really nice drink – the combination of the tea, whiskey and ginger give it a dark, smokey flavour whilst the peach and orange adds some sweetness and a lovely bright tropical colour!
If you are a reader and you were interested in learning a bit more about Sri Lanka, particularly the civil war that tore that beautiful country apart in the ’80’s and ’90’s you might want to take a look at this book:
I read it when we were there which made the story that much more real, particularly as completely by chance we stayed at two of the places, Mount Lavinia and Havelock Town which feature in the book.
And if anyone is inspired by this post to write a spooky Gothic tale or locked room murder mystery set in Nuwara Eliya, please let me know, I would love to read it!
- 50ml strong Ceylon tea
- 30ml whiskey
- 30 ml peach juice
- 30 ml orange juice (about 1/2 an orange)
- 5 drops Rhubarb Bitters
- Dry Ginger Ale
- Orange and peach slices to garnish
- Mix the tea, whiskey and fruit juices.
- Top with the dry ginger ale.
- Add the bitters and stir to mix.
- Garnish with orange and peach slices