The Oldest Pub in Scotland

Now I know that there are a lot of contenders out there for the Oldest Pub in Scotland, but the Sheeps Heid Inn, in Duddingston, Scotland is the real deal. Either that or they've got a really good marketing team working for them.

Old tyme-y in Scotland. 

Old tyme-y in Scotland. 

The pub is called the Sheeps Heid Inn because the area around Duddingston, right outside Edinburgh was known as the place to get something butchered if you needed it. "Sheep" being pretty self explanatory and "heid" being Scottish for - ready? - "head". This continues with the annoying Scottish tradition of trading normal words for "Scottish" ones, even though they're more or less the same thing. The most egregious case of this being the use of the term "auld" for "old." Hmmm. Ok, you took a word that was pretty short to begin with and then made it longer.

Thanks, Scottish people!

Although the pub bills itself as the oldest in Scotland, I think they might be fudging a bit. The history of the Inn is written on the inside of the walls of the pub. I don't remember the exact wording, but the story was that Duddingston was known for selling parts of chopped up animals and they THINK - not for sure, now - that there was a  pub around then called the Sheeps Heid.

So then found the present building and, since it was so old (or "auld" as they'd say), they decided that this must have have been it.

Skittles lane! 

Skittles lane! 

But they can't prove it.

What they CAN prove however, is that they do have the oldest skittles alley in Scotland!

No, I'm not talking about the candy. I'm talking about bowling!

As in drinking a bucket of suds, throwing a ball down an alleyway and writing on an overhead projector!

Skittles is pretty much the same concept as good old fashioned bowl-a-rama American bowling, as you can see from the picture of the "auld" skittles alley in the back of the Sheeps Heid.

Except that nothing is automated. There's even a little wooden platform, way in the back of the alley, for the "auld" pin monkeys to stand on and stay out of the way of drunken Scotsmen hurling twenty pound round stones down the alleyway towards them.

But you'll notice no space for overhead projectors. The Scots may have invented the steam engine and built the longest railway bridge in the world (that collapsed) but they were still lacking in skittle score keeping technology.

Stirling Castle - The Real Thing

800px-Stirlingcastle

First of all, I don't have any of my own pictures for this particular tale, so you'll have to bear with my "re-enactment" photos. On the spur of the moment, I decided to visit Stirling Castle in Central Scotland. I was on my way to Edinburgh and, the way the rail system works there, you can more or less hop off the trains and get back on as long as you're going in the same direction. Stirling is more or less on the way from Fundee to Edinburgh, so I decided to take a couple of hours to see the castle.

As I said, this was a spur of the moment trip, so I didn't do a whole lot of background research. I quickly took a look at a map to make sure that the castle was more or less close to the train station and set off on my merry way.

I stepped off the train on a bit of a blustery day (RAIN?!! In Scotland?!! No way!) and took a look around - I could see the big hill (see the picture) and I knew that the castle was on top of it, so I headed off.

The problem came in trying to figure out how to get UP the hill. I knew the castle was up there. I just couldn't SEE it. So I kept following the line of the hill around.

After about twenty minutes of walking, I figured I probably wasn't headed in the right direction. Not unless they built Stirling Castle right next to a roundabout and a  Tesco shopping lot. I knew this probably wasn't the right way to the castle, yet the hill was right above me.

So I decided to do the one thing I know best - stop at a pub, have a beer and ask a local for directions.

stirling1
stirling1

Thanks to the miracle of Google Street View, I can provide you a picture of the exact pub!

The sky isn't quite as blustery as it was that windy day in Stirling, but I think this picture shows you what I'm talking about. That's the hill in the background. SOMEWHERE on that hill is a castle. A BIG F**KING CASTLE, so you'd think you'd be able to see it from the street, right?

My thoughts exactly. Which is why I stopped at this particular pub. If anyone knew where Stirling Castle was, people in this pub would.

I opened the door and walked in. The horse races were on and all the gentlemen in the room had their eyes glued to the set. Not being the type to just stop and ask for directions and then go about my way, I decided to stop for a pint with these good gentlemen. A couple of them gave glances my way when I walked in, but nothing to give me anything to worry about. I ordered my pint and headed into the men's room to return the beer that I had rented in the Dundee Train Station (home of the smallest railway bar in the UK).

While I was making my business in the bathroom, I heard a voice call out to me from the bathroom stall....

"Hey mate, you got a fivver?"

I zipped up, not quite understanding what I just heard.

"A fivver, c'mon mate!"

I looked over to the stall, where an older, disheveled man with a wild and craggy beard was eyeballing me. I ran through the options in my mind of what he wanted a five pound note from me in the bathroom for, but none of them were coming up any good. Just then, the bathroom door opened and ANOTHER disheveled man entered the bathroom. He greeted bathroom stall man like he was a long lost war buddy and immediately ran into the stall.

Then, the door slammed shut behind them.

THEN I heard the sounds of....snorting. Long, drawn out snorting. Then a giggle. Then, more snorting.

cocaine-stirling
cocaine-stirling

I quickly left the bathroom and returned to my pint at the bar. Shortly afterwards, the two men emerged from the bathroom and had a quick word with some other friends at the bar. Then, two more gentlemen left from the bar and proceeded to "head for the 'loo" as they say in those parts.

I now noticed that the original two gentlemen from the bathroom were getting very excited about the horse race. I further noticed that THE WHOLE BAR was getting excited about the horse race. Furthermore, some of the men weren't careful about cleaning up after their bathroom adventures and there were several beards about the bar that had a faint white dusting about the nostrils.

It was kind of like that scene in Scarface, but instead of Al Pacino shooting up a room full of cops, I was in a room full of disheveled Scotsmen watching a horse race at 3 in the afternoon.

I KNOW it was 3 because the castle closed at 5PM and I wanted to get there and give myself a couple of hours to explore.

coke-pub
coke-pub

And now time was running late - and this coked up bunch of Bellhaven swilling Jimmies were my best best to get to Stirling Castle before they slammed the gate.

So I turned to one of the "excited" gentlemen and asked him how to get to the castle.

"Oh, aye, the castle is right above ye! You just gotta go by the beheading stone! It's right there, aye!"

At the mention of the Beheading Stone, the rest of the bar got even MORE excited. This mention even eclipsed the action on the turf blaring from the TVs. One of my new found friends even dragged me outside to the front of the pub to show me where exactly the beheading stone was (see picture).

Grateful to be pointed in the right direction and on the road again, I resisted their good natured attempts to purchase another beverage. For, if nothing else, you can't say the Scots aren't friendly.

I quickly drained my pint and said goodbye to my new friends.

After all, I had a castle and a beheading stone to get to!