Breathes there a man,
with soul so dead,
who never to himself
“This is my own.
My native land”.
In 1826, Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish poet, playwright, novelist and eventual biographer, found himself burdened by a crippling debt to the Crown after the Ballantyne printing company, in which he was heavily invested, went under. Scott decided that rather than declare himself bankrupt, he would simply write his way out of debt. And so it would come to pass that in the various pubs in and around the historic Grassmarket area of Edinburgh, Scott wrote day and night, pumping out reams of fiction as well as a massive, multivolume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. Scott died in debt, but the financial returns of his literary output did, eventually, absolve his estate of the money owed.
Which, if you ask the hosts of the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, is all thanks to whisky.
I arrived in Edinburgh on a rainy day — in Scotland it seems there is no other kind — in May for a week-long initiation to the culture of whisky, beginning with a tour around the city’s historic pubs. It was a fitting start to a trip that covered the ins and outs of whisky production, manufacture and most importantly (or frequently, at least) consumption, given that Edinburgh is UNESCO’s first-ever designated City of Literature and, as my tour guides would have me believe, most of the country’s great writers fuelled their best work with a steady supply of booze. Though if my notes from the trip are any indication, that takes some practice.It will come as no surprise to hear that Scotland embraces the brown stuff: Most stories, celebrations and occasions are filtered through the bottom of a dram. And since it’s a country where the spirit flows like water, getting a feel for the essence of the Isle is no tough feat.
Remembering that feel in the morning, on the other hand …