Breathes there a man,
with soul so dead,
who never to himself
“This is my own.
My native land”.
The nightlife of Edinburgh is one of the pleasures the Scottish capital city offers its visitors. Thanks to the overwhelming range of historic pubs it is impossible to recommend only a few of them. But is there something else beneath the beer and whisky? Actu- ally there is and you can even add an intellectual flavour to the joy of drinking – you just have to follow the path of the famous literary sons of the Scottish city. You get the chance for this special kind of upgrade during a Literary Pub Tour. How did great poets like Robert Burns work and where did Sir Walter Scott get his inspiration? According to the tour there is a strong connection to the “water of life” in which the authors indulged - a bold claim we had to prove ourselves!
The tour starts at the Grassmarket, one of the most historic and lively places in Edinburgh with some very famous and highly recommended pubs like the “Last Drop” or the “White Hart Inn”. In the 18th century the last public hangings were held in the market, promising a backdrop for our trip to the past. We meet in the “Beehive Inn” and a man called Mr. Clart – “yes, as in muck”, he explains the old Scottish word – starts with a Scottish toast and begins to tell us about the time when the great Robert Burns, who lived in the Grassmarket in 1786, wrote his poems. In these ancient times the air was sweet and warm, with a smell of hay, dung and fish from the market. All kind of people mixed here: soldiers as well as prostitutes, the reputable and the shunned, the poor and the rich. Mr. Clart draws a lively picture of the historical setting so we can get a real sense of the atmosphere at that time. Suddenly a man in the audience interrupts his speech and complains: “What has that got to do with the literature?” His name is Mr. McLaine – promptly turned into “McBrain” by Mr. Clart – and he claims the verified, documented truth about the literary history of Edinburgh. This is the beginning of a witty debate between the rough and the intellectual about the merits of Edinburgh authors, their impact on Scottish life and especially their drinking habits.
According to the two main protagonists, the lively taverns in the Old Town were the birthplace of Scotland’s most famous literature. Here, among the common herd and the prostitutes who filled the dark closes and pubs, writers like Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott found inspiration for their great works. And who could hold the joy of drinking against these respected Scotsmen?
From the “Beehive Inn” the tour goes up onto the Royal Mile. Near the pub “Jolly Judge” and the “Ensign Ewart” we listen to more stories, songs and poems. For our final stop we have to leave the Old Town and go along Rose Street in New Town where we find the Scottish Literary renaissance of the 1950’s alive. In the pub “The Kenilworth”, which takes its name from one of Scott’s Waverley novels, we enjoy our last drinks amidst an art nouveau interior, having had a good time together with many other listeners. “The audience is always different”, says the actor who played Mr. Clart, “and it is a lot of fun to interact with the people.” For us it was a really entertaining evening, too, with interesting stories and flavoursome drinks – the best combination for a good time. Or to say it in the words of Robert Burns: “Freedom and Whisky Gang Thegither”. Cheers!