Scotland #2: A tiny taster of Edinburgh

We spent a day in Edinburgh – just enough time to be intrigued but not enough to claim that we’ve even begun to understand it. But, anyway, here a few impressions.

First, Edinburgh’s pubs, based on the two we drank in and a few more we peered at, feel more like Eng­lish pubs than those in Glas­gow.

The Stock­bridge Tap, with two reformed vikings behind the bar, could have been in Bris­tol, not least because of the pres­ence of Tiny Rebel, Elec­tric Bear and oth­er famil­iar names on draught.

The Stockbridge Tap.

There were some Scot­tish beers – Swan­nay Island Hop­ping on cask, for exam­ple, and Cross­bor­ders Heavy on keg – but we got the impres­sion those were for the ben­e­fit of vis­i­tors like us. The Heavy was our favourite beer of the day, though, bundling cher­ry with choco­late with the dark crust of a day-old rye loaf.

Crash­ing a get-togeth­er of local beer geeks we heard Eng­lish, Aus­tralian, Amer­i­can and French accents, and con­tributed our own chat about the West Coun­try and Waltham­stow to this off-brand blend.

The Guildford Arms.

On the way back to the sta­tion, tanks dan­ger­ous­ly full, we stopped at the Guild­ford Arms which had caught our eye as we rushed past it ear­li­er in the day. It’s at the junc­tion of a pas­sage­way and a back­street, like many of the best pubs, and projects a dis­tinct gin palace ener­gy. A handy board out­side tells the sto­ry:

In the peri­od 1880–1910 a unique breed of lux­u­ri­ous pubs were built. This coin­cid­ed with major changes to the city includ­ing the demo­li­tion of old build­ings like The Turf Hotel and The Bridge Hotel… Curi­ous­ly, and per­haps as a reac­tion to it, pubs like The Guild­ford Arms were built dur­ing the height of the tem­per­ance move­ment: their opu­lent char­ac­ter was in marked con­trast to the dark and dingy bars of Edin­burgh where the ceil­ings were not often beyond the reach of a man’s arm.

Though we chick­ened out of try­ing to cov­er Scot­land in the 80,000 words of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub that real­ly does seem a famil­iar nar­ra­tive.

Inside, it felt like a Lon­don pub: a bar at the back, not horse­shoe­ing through the cen­tre, as we gath­er is the stan­dard in Scot­land; large win­dows with ornate detail­ing rather than frost­ed slits; with all the car­pet and brown wood you could wish for.

And Fyne Ales Jarl in fine con­di­tion. This is what lured us through the door, if we’re hon­est, and we stopped for a cou­ple of rounds, watch­ing locals and Ger­man tourists nav­i­gate around each oth­er at the bar and bar­gain over table space.

Shame you didn’t make it to…”

Well, here’s the thing: we’re at peace with the idea that we can’t get to every pub in every city on every vis­it.

Cram­ming ten pubs into a sin­gle day just isn’t much fun for us any­more; we’d rather than spend two hours in one pub and three in anoth­er than just 20 min­utes each in every stop on a crawl.

We also know we’ll go back to Edin­burgh some­time and have anoth­er go.

That’s what we have to tell our­selves, any­way, or these kind of dri­ve-bys would break our hearts.