CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Five Scotland Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - October 5, 2002

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Ryan's Bar, 2-4 Hope Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland

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Deer Park, Deer Park Avenue, Knightsridge, Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland

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Bridge of Orchy Hotel, Bridge of Orchy, Argyll, Scotland

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Masons Arms, 14-16 North Bridge Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland

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Argyll Hotel, 69 Lochnell Street, Lochgilphead, Argyll, Scotland

Yes, I know this column is late. It's because I've been busy with other things, most notably the sad fact that because of various reasons it's been necessary for me to move back to the US temporarily. But I intend to get back to Sheffield as soon as I possibly can. And while I'm in the US I'll write a column or two about US pubs. But never fear -- I still have plenty of columns to write about UK pubs, and I will continue to do so in my physical absence (because although my body is destined to spend a few months in this godforsaken suburban Southern California setting my heart and soul remain, and will always remain, in Yorkshire).

On that note, I'm going to write about a few pubs we visited on a recent trip to Scotland.

In the center of Edinburgh, at the end of the extremely busy Princes Street, is Ryan's Bar. Enter this large urban pub and you feel as if you've entered a wonderbox, with ceiling murals suggestive of Victorian circuses and museum exhibits of the sort you might find at the unique Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. Period illustrations of monkeys, birds, and collections of beetles and shells and butterflies watch over you as you sip your pint or nibble your meal. The rest of the decor consists of paintings of waiters, fashion photos, Guinness ads, and a fake bookcase in the corner. There is a large front garden area as well where you can sit and watch the passing pedestrian traffic.

Our pints of Deuchar's IPA (3.8% ABV, Caledonian Brewing, Edinburgh, The Lothians) were pleasingly different, openly displaying a unique character with a pilsner sensation. It's definitely a Czech hops taste etched in dark aqua green Scottish stone followed by a pilsner afterbite which marks a sharp curlicue on the palate. This is a complex beer which tastes like the smell of hay. Drinking it makes you feel as if you're in a slightly different country suddenly -- but wait a minute, we are! We're in Scotland!

As it was lunchtime we ordered sandwiches. My Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese sandwich and my partner's Prawn Sandwich were enjoyable but not really enough to justify the £4.50 price. I suppose things are going to be more expensive in a city like Edinburgh. But why does time seem to move slower there? Is it because we're further north?

Ryan's Bar is open till 3:00 AM on Saturdays when it features DJs and live music in the Cellar Bar restaurant.

West of Edinburgh, off the M8 in the Land of Suburban Roundabouts, is the community of Livingston. Here all the roundabouts have names to distinguish them from each other because they all tend to look alike. On the Livingston East Roundabout is the Deer Park, a Beefeaters family restaurant-style pub. The evening we stopped in for dinner they were preparing for Heat 1 of Starz In Your Eyez, obviously a take-off of the TV show where contestants attempt to emulate their favourite pop stars. Fortunately we sat in the restaurant area so we could enjoy our meal in peace without being serenaded by wannabe Freddy Mercurys and Elton Johns. Our meal was rather mediocre, and our pints of Pedigree (4.5% ABV, Marston, Thompson & Evershed, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire) were watery in character and unexciting. But as we dined we made bets on who was to win Heat 1 of the competition. The three of us agreed it would be a female singer -- but would it be Gabrielle, Emma Bunton, or Britney Spears? Alas -- or perhaps I mean fortunately -- we left before the competition began.

The interesting thing about the Deer Park is that there's a great view of NORgate, an evocative sculpture that graces the Livingston East Roundabout. Is it meant to be two elephant tusks? A stone wishbone? Cracked crab? Created by David F. Wilson, this odd structure is 13 meters high and meant to look different from all angles. According to Wilson's website the monument is meant to signify the entrance to Livingston, a New Town built upon the idea of Garden Cities -- although to computer types like myself a name like NORgate suggests a monument to Boolean logic. And I assume this was simply a typo, but I was intrigued by the fact that the artist used "36 mm cube of contere" to construct the sculpture.

West of Livingston, down and around some more titled but nearly identical roundabouts, is the town of Bathgate. Here, drawn in by the "Best Pint Award Winner 2002", three of us stopped in for a pint at the Masons Arms. Obviously this was not a CAMRA award, as the Masons has no real -- so we settled for a pint of Stella Artois. (How strange, to travel all the way to Scotland to drink a pint of Belgian lager...) The pub consists of three rooms, one with a pool table. We sat in a room that felt like a local church being held in a pub, with a table over to one side resembling the pulpit. Should one of us have delivered a sermon, or at least have made a speech? "Listen up, sinners! Sell some real ale, for Christ's Sake! Let us pray...amen and drink up!"

Far, far away from suburban Edinburgh and north of Glasgow, just before Ben Nevis and Glen Coe where the A82 nears the Highlands, is a tiny spot called Bridge of Orchy, with its own rail station lying on the West Highland Line. Here above the River Orchy lies the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, a warm and cosy four-star hotel and award-winning restaurant with a pub on one side. As the three of us were craving a spectacular view with our lunch, we were a bit disappointed that instead of gazing upon 996-meter Beinn an Dothaidh or 1074-meter Beinn Dorain we had a fine view into a new restaurant room under construction. For lunch Giles and Andrew's Thai spiced prawn baguettes were quite unspicy and disappointing, but my smoked brie and cranberry baguette was enjoyable. To accompany our lunch we had pints of the organic Golden Promise (4.3% ABV, Caledonian Brewing, Edinburgh, The Lothians). This beer is a bit bland and inexperienced, just not what you'd expect to taste in such a spectacular mountain setting. At least Celtic music was playing, drowning out the Commonwealth Games from Manchester on the corner TV.

The Bridge of Orchy lies close to the West Highland Way, one of the most popular long distance walking routes in Britain. This is why the pub attracts so many cyclists and walkers from all over the world: even the barman spoke with a Scot-Aussie accent. While we were there three hikers with rucksacks entered and sat in the corner, and one stripped down to his t-shirt and shorts. Fortunately he stopped at that point...meanwhile in the far room a woman paced back and forth in her winter jacket, muffler, wellies, and hi-rise trousers. Hmmm, perhaps I should rephrase my previous statement: the pub attracts many cyclists and walkers from all over the Solar System...

Over near the West Coast, where the A816 meets the A831, is the town of Lochgilphead which looks over Loch Gilp, an extension of the massive Loch Fyne. Nearby is Kilmory Castle, famous for its rhododendron gardens. As it was five in the afternoon and we had been on the road all day and were desperately in need of refreshment we stopped at the Argyll Hotel, which felt very much like a typical American tavern: very little decor, and a big square bar in the center with people sitting around it and not talking to each other. At least the pool players seemed to be having fun. Sadly the Argyll has no real ale, but our pints of Guinness were a welcome refresher for the remaining drive home.