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Edinburgh – Searching for a Pub on the Royal Mile!

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By Kulbhushan Kain
I was in Scotland some years back – albeit for a very short time – but enough to see Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Stirling Castle. Scotland is perhaps one of the prettiest spots in the world.

Scots are different from the British –make no mistake about that. I am not going to go into those differences, but one thing you can expect in Scotland in greater measure than in Britain is the fact that they love their whiskey. They produce the finest whiskeys in the world, so much so that any whiskey that is good is always compared with the one produced in Scotland.

“Bilkul Scotch jaisi hai” people say when passing judgement on a local brand they think is good. I want to recount a delightful experience with a semi-drunk Scot on my walk on the Royal Mile one evening.

Everyone who goes to Edinburgh goes to the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions. The thoroughfare, as the name suggests, is approximately one mile long and runs downhill between two significant locations in the history of Scotland, namely the Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. The Edinburgh Castle is a landmark of the city and breathtakingly beautiful. The Holyrood Palace is also the official residence of the British Monarchs when they visit Edinburgh. I walked the Royal Mile a couple of times during the day and even purchased a sweater for my son and a jacket for my wife. Besides that, I picked up a gift of miniature bottles of the top brands of Scotch whiskies to gift to a friend in Jaipur. On the last day of my stay in Edinburgh, I decided to hit the pub on the Royal Mile. Everyone had told me to do so. “It would be like going to Agra and not seeing the Taj Mahal if you go to Edinburgh and don’t visit a pub,” a friend had advised me.

I had researched where I wanted to go and settled for “The Ellison Pub”. It has the distinction of being located near the highest point in Edinburgh. Consequently, after a hard night in the pub, the pub offers a downhill road to one’s home. I was staying a couple of kilometers from the Royal Mile and “walking downhill” after a couple of drinks, late at night, I thought, would help!!!

It had got dark and I was finding it difficult to find the pub. Suddenly I found a Scot ambling towards me. I stopped him, and after wishing him, asked,
“I am looking for a pub by the name of ..” He interrupted me and asked, “Do you want a drink?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Here, come and share with me. I am drinking good Scotch whiskey. You don’t mind having a swig from the hip flask. Do you?”

Before I could say anything, he had reached the inner pocket of his grey overcoat and brought out the hip flask.

“No, no,” I pleaded. “I AM LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO SIT AND DRINK.”

“Ok. Come, there is a bench just a few steps away. Come let us sit and drink. Where are you from?” he drawled with a very Celtic accent, as he walked towards a bench.

I was in a bind. He was a friendly soul and was obviously looking for company. However, I wanted to have a drink at the bar. The drink would have been accompanied with fish and chips. The pub also boasted of a band that played music. I was in no mood to sit with someone on the Royal Mile in weather that was getting colder by the minute. What if the cops came and rounded us up?

I was blunt, “Thank you very much. You are very kind, but I want to drink at the Ellison Pub, because I have a friend waiting for me there (I lied). Would you know where it is located?” I asked yet again.

“Oh, you have a friend waiting. You must not make the lady wait. You must go. But it’s a lousy place to take a lady to,” he said in a very preaching tone!!

Ha, ha! So many presumptions. So many lies. So many judgements. Whether one is in Rohtak, Dubai, New York, Dehradun or Edinburgh – human beings are all the same!!

I finally found the bar. As it turned out, it was really no place to take a woman to. It was noisy, smoke filled, the decibel of the music was too high. The drinks were expensive – but the fish and chips were nice. But the best part of it was – it was all downhill and it helps if you have taken in liquid, its cold, and you are in a hurry to get to bed because early morning you have a train to catch!!

(The name of the pub has been changed to protect their privacy.)

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)