Here I’ll continue an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the British Isles this summer. Much like last year’s trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, this was a self-organized tour with our friends Jim and Lori Stroner, as well as my wife Sarajo (Sj) and myself. I’ll be posting a day-by-day travelogue of the trip as I organize and go through my multitude of pictures. While the posts won’t be fully about beer–there will be a focus on good pubs, real ale, distilleries, and food! So here goes: enjoy!
Have Fun Storming the Castle!
We got up early this 10th day of our trip, walking over to Edinburgh Castle for our scheduled tour time right away in the morning. As photographers, Jim and I always wanted to minimize the other tourists in our shots, so that means getting up early for the first crack at things. This also means we are chronically tired!
The castle grounds are fairly extensive and sport different types of cannons looking out over the walls. The view of the city is fantastic from up there making for some of the best vistas we had seen so far. There are several small museums or memorials within the walls including a beautiful WWI memorial which unfortunately did not allow photos. You’ll just have to take my word on this. They had a museum of the armed forces which was interesting, and a small section showing off the the dungeon/prison area. We spent a fair amount of time wandering our way through the complex but the cobblestones led to some foot pain by the end of it! Today would also mark our 5th Unesco World Heritage site this trip–the combination of Edinburgh’s old and new city!
After this we wandered the now crowded streets around the castle district, finding many cool taverns (more on them shortly) and lots of little alleyways called a “close”. Some of these were simply narrow pedestrian-only passages to the next street, while others were secret entrances to little neighborhoods, shops, and gardens.
We opted to get lunch at a brewery–St. Andrew’s Brewing Company. We didn’t realize that this is really one of a couple pubs owned by the brewery and not really the place where things are brewed. Oh, well! The service was pretty slow for the limited amount of people in the place, so that wasn’t fantastic.
The food was decent though–here’s where I got my burger topped with haggis! They only had two of their own beers on tap, with the best being the Yippie IPA (3.5/5). While we were here, the Edinburgh Pride parade started up and went right past the front windows of the place. An endless line of colorfully dressed and happy people marched past as we ate–taking nearly an hour to finish up! On this particular day Lori had randomly put on her Tin Whiskers pride shirt with the rainbow robot design so she was dressed appropriately.
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern
Full of haggis burger, but not yet satisfied on the beer front, we wandered about the city for a while, searching out good pubs–of which there are a plethora in Edinburgh. Our next stop was Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, a pub since 1806. The place is named after a respectable businessman who by night was a gambler and philanderer–resorting to robbery to pay for his excesses–and was supposedly the model Robert Louis Stevenson used for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So, a little bit of history to this place!
The Conan Doyle
Why not continue our literary themed pubs? The Conan Doyle is a must-visit pub in the Edinburgh area for sure. We stopped in for a pint, with a solo drinker making room for our group at his table before taking off. I’m sure he was close to done drinking and it wasn’t us that scared him off! This is a classic old pub and very comfortable. They have a house ale named Elementary made by the Stewart Brewery that was a fair bitter, but not fantastic (3/5).
We actually ended up back here later for dinner after watching some good looking food move past us in the bar area. I ended up with the Balmoral Chicken which was very tasty but a little overdone, while Sj got a fantastic trio of tiny meat pies. I ended up trying the Nicholson’s Pale ale on cask with dinner (3.75/5), finished with a dram of Lagavulin 16. Because when in Scotland one must finish dinner with whisky!
After our first pint at The Conan Doyle, we went in search of music for me. I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile (not as dirty as it sounds) and have searched out obscure English and Scottish music. I blame my friend Peter Lee for getting me into Marillion, and felt obligated to see what gems I might find in their home territory. Back in the day I had to order in rare bootlegs and import versions of their albums, but the internet has changed things a lot. We discovered Fopp (a cool record store) and and I found several live and remastered albums to bring back home with me. I could have spent more time here, but my group was getting restive…and I was spending too much money!
I believe around this time we climbed the big hills to explore some of the memorials and architecture atop Calton Hill. This hill hosts the Scottish Government, and at the top has several monuments including the National Monument, Nelson Monument, Robert Burns Monument, and an observatory. It also overlooks the city and is a beautiful spot to visit. While everyone else was marveling at the view and the architecture, I was trying to catch pictures of swift moving magpies…
From here we decided it was time for another pub. Of course. After our far-between pubs in the smaller towns and cities we had been frequenting, this easy access to so may classic pubs was a wonderful boon. The Abbotsford Pub is yet another old-school Scottish pub rife with history and vibe. About half of the pub was being taken over by veterans of the Scottish Army and was quite loud and busy. We almost let this one go, but our ladies managed to ask strangers to make room for us. Jim and I ordered pints of beers on cask–the best was Loch Lomond’s Silkie stout, perhaps the best stout I had this trip.
The veterans were dressed in their uniform dress kilts and having a grand old time, including singing, passing around flasks, and general rowdiness. Usually this would have bothered us, but they were so happy and glad to talk to us and include us in the festivities that we couldn’t be upset with them! One of the spouses of a veteran was asking Lori slightly odd questions (think Monty Python “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge”), and eventually we figured out that she thought Lori and Sj were a couple thanks to Lori’s pride shirt. This was a great stop and we felt that we really got some authentic pub life here.
After dinner we dropped our ladies back home and walked back downtown with our tripods for some night photography. This was a pretty night and lots of people were wandering the darkening streets in search of entertainment and party. While we were set up take pictures of a clock tower a group of drunken young ladies stumbled dangerously across the traffic-filled street onto our side of the road. One of them drunkenly proclaimed “We should show our boobs to the cameras!” To my sadness, the group did not follow this suggestion. They then staggered across another busy road, nearly missing dismemberment by fast moving busses. In another spot, we had one older fellow talking to us about how he thinks Trump is doing a great job (he is not), and a tall slack-jawed college age kid trying to get me to give him high-fives. Later that same slack-jawed yokel was seen putting a traffic cone on his head–spurred on by his frat-boy friends. It was time to leave for the night.
If you want to hear the episode of A One Pint Stand where Dan and I recap the entirety of my UK Beercation, click on the link below. If you like the podcast, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!
Ruined Abbey/Churches: 7
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 5
Drunks on the street: 8-9