Tuesday, 20 March 2012
OUT & ABOUT : AULD REEKIE.
"Edinburgh isn't so much a city, more a way of life" – Ian Rankin.
Edinburgh is located in the south-east of Scotland, and lies on the east coast of the Central Belt, along the Firth of Forth, near the North Sea - and what a spectacular setting it is for the capital of Scotland too. The city sprawls over a landscape which is the product of early volcanic activity and later periods of intensive glaciations. Only I hadn’t just made the trip from the North-West of England to admire the city’s location, its castle and the grand, historical buildings. I was also there to visit the city’s fine public houses and quaff the finery of beers in which they serve.
Two of us boarded the early morning 6.44am train to the Scottish Metropolis for a weekend on the ale, bleary eyed and still yawning, cappuccinos in hand – the rest of the lads, some twenty odd of them, would be joining us in 'Auld Reekie' as it's affectionately known, around dinnertime. The jaunt was due to one of them finally taking the plunge into wedded bliss. The rest of the lads also fancied a champagne breakfast at a mates café in Preston rather than a spot of sightseeing in the 'Athens of the North' before hitting the pubs.
Disembarking the train onto Waverley Station, just the other side of 9 o’clock, we grab a egg & bacon bap and begin our urban ramble at haste. Crossing over the North Bridge, and passing the K.O.S.B. Memorial, we find ourselves pounding along the granite sets of the Royal Mile in the Old Town looking the part with cameras at the ready. The Royal Mile is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, historical monuments and pubs, as well as forming a major focal point for the annual Edinburgh Festival when it’s on. We then headed up the High St/Castle Hill towards the castle, calves pumped to the max. To the front of the entrance to the castle, is where The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - the most spectacular military show in the world, enjoyed by an international television audience of 100 million, takes place. A decision is then made to make a 360 degree view over the city from this compact area rather than enter the castle with time running out to meet the lads with it fast approaching midday. I tell a lie, we’d a raging thirst kicking in – that bacon weren't half salty. You’ve also to remember, we’re a stag-do and ale does take first priority, after all!
Not wanting to partake in any whisky tasting too – it isn’t our cup of tea - we throw a right and jog down some steps, as we descend, ending up in Grassmarket and its abundance of boozers. Having drank in this part of the city before, and planning on meeting a few local lads there later in the day, we carry on to the hotel and drop our bags off.
The first drink of the day was in The Kenilworth, on Rose St – coz we both needed a piss. It’s not a bad wee gaff and a local ‘Thai’ summat-or-other brewed ale was on tap which tasted of lemongrass, but was a bit flat. The next stop on Rose St were The Abbotsford, which had 6 ales dispensing. (This is also where my pub ceiling fetish began.) Centrally is The Edwardian, island bar. In the far left corner is the original snack counter. And above your head, is the majestic, plaster moulded and painted ceiling.
The pub has barely changed in over a hundred years. The Abbotsford is also one of only a handful of pubs in Edinburgh still using the traditional Scottish method of dispense - the tall fount (the 'u' is silent) - to dispense its range of real ales. We then made tracks to The Abbotsford’s brother pub, The Guildford Arms. The Guildford had 10 casks on – heaven. It had a ceiling to match/better its sister too. We then nipped next-door to the Café Royal Bar. The Doulton tiled interior walls, and pictures, are very classy indeed, and so are the dinners dinning on seafood food. So it were a swift Black & Tan they’d on, and then back to The Guilford for another pint before meeting the lads in The Mitre Bar, opposite their hotel. The Mitre Bar is steeped in intriguing history, an alleged resident bishops ghost makes an appearance every now and then and, they’d 6 real ale hand pumps.
During the rest of Saturday afternoon, and evening, and the early hours of Sunday, we visited an array of pubs and bars. In no particular order, meaning the ones I can remember are; The Bow Bar, that is home to 200 malts and 8 real ales. The Last Drop Tavern, where locals use to stand outside to watch public hangings many moons ago. The quaint Sandy Bell’s. The Halfway House, and I were more than halfway there when I were in there. The Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar, named after a folklore dog. And, wedged in-between all of these and more was, the BrewDog Bar...
Now then, the BrewDog Bar won’t be to everyone’s liking, nor will be the beer they brew/sell too, but I admire their individuality. The BrewDog Bar has a modern, industrial feel to it, and the craft beers they have on offer are cool, fresh and, extra strong, to say the least. (For more in-depth details checkout their online site: BrewDog) I got chatting to a middle aged couple at the end of the bar while deciding to take the plunge on opting for a pint of 5.4% Punk IPA. The couple inform me they are regulars in the bar and that ‘if’ you have the BrewDog symbol tattooed on your own good self, which four nutters have, you get 20% discount off your beer. The bloke of the couple then informs me he indeed one of those nutters to have got the tattoo (above a more politically motivated and fading William III one) to get 20% off his beer that he is sipping from a branded BrewDog pint glass, which is the exorbitant 9.2% Hardcore IPA at £2.75p a half!
I bid my farewells and retreated to the lads. ‘No Surrender’ to the Hardcore IPA, eh?
Sunday morning: Following a shit, shower and no shave, a livener were needed. But because licensing laws in Scotland dictate that pubs cannot serve until 12.30pm on Sundays, we find ourselves in Diane’s Pool Hall just gone 9am on pints of Magners – there weren’t any real ale on – working out who of the locals had gone right through the night, and who had a need for an early morning drink, like us. A spot of shopping was then undertaken before we once again met the lads. The Royal Oak – more commonly known to avid ‘Rebus’ fans as the ‘Oxford Bar’ – was the only one left to tick off a long list that I’d put together, only it were still shut gone 1pm. There’s always another time, though.
Last port of call on the Sunday was The Haymarket, which is built in a late Georgian to early Victorian style, and occupies a sweeping corner spot. The pub had on 8 or so ales on and I ordered two different halves for myself and a pint for the mate that were all served in dimple glasses. Checking the time, and with it fast approaching four bells, it was time to leave. Directly outside the pub stands the Haymarket Clock – which we passed running for the train – that is a memorial to the Heart of Midlothian football team of 1914 that signed up en masse to fight in the First World War. They were the first British team to display such patriotic unity. We board the train with seconds to spare, with a carry-out.
In less than 48 hours we had observed quite a lot of Edinburgh glorious sights, and supped gallons of cask too but, we’ll be back very soon, I bet. Your Northern Monkey correspondent, Bill.