From arriving in John O'Groats at 10.30 p.m. nearly three weeks ago, until now just outside Glasgow, there have been many fine inns, hostelries and pubs. Sadly, I have not had the time or the funds to visit them all. Still, a good few ales and single malts have been sampled!
The fairly ordinary looking Seaview Hotel at John O'Groats hides a very nice public bar at the back. Scapa - a very fine ale brewed in The Orkneys - was readily available, and I believe was awarded the title of Scottish Champion Ale 2008.
The prices are quite high in The Seaview, but this is very understandable as transportation costs to get anything way up to the top of Scotland must inevitably tot up. A very fine selection of single malts were also available - and we tried several, would have been churlish not to methinks. The bar was filled almost entirely by locals, though the hotel was full with guests not many of the Americans, Aussies, Germans and others were to be seen in the bar. I think many of the (mostly) cyclists appear to either start or finish their ride at John O'Groats with the traditional "we did it!" or "we are about to do it" picture, then go. Not for me, I wanted to meet a few locals first.
Walter - the owner of the 'First and Last' shop at John O'Groats on the harbour, was highly entertaining in the bar at The Sea View, and told many a good yarn. Some he may have stretched a little, but all very entertaining. Kevin Macgregor, a local fisherman, was also very good company along with his lovely wife Dorothy. Very friendly people, and the first to sign my book of travels. As I left the bar in the wee small hours it felt very good to have met a few real locals before the long plod south.
On to Wick. An overnight stop at Keith and Virginia's very comfortable Harbour House bnb was punctuated by a visit to really the only pub that I could really rate - The Camps Bar, (top right).The town had an 'non-pub' (Weatherspoons) and two bars with big screen football drowning any possibilty of conversation, so the only choice was Camps. A very nice little pub too. Very friendly, serving a decent pint of Belhaven Best and several single malts.
No pubs in Janetstown (Latheron Wheel), but a very decent bnb to stay in courtesy of Jo and Steve Calan, so next to Helmsdale.
Dropping further south now, to Drumnadrochit, and a first rest day. A marvellous stay at the quite superb Glen Rowan guest house, and two visits - on the personal recommendation of jolly Alistair Ferguson -
to The Benleva. A quite superb pub. The food and service were excellent, and the ale was superb. A micro brewery situated in the heart of Drumnadrochit makes their very own Loch Ness Ales. Wilder-ness, Hoppi-ness, Red-ness, Dark-ness, Light-ness - all superb ales, and all were tried and very much approved. A fellow in the bar was also quite insistant on sharing some of his rather potent 'aviation fuel' from a little casket he had. Ahem, that was an aid to sleeping, as if it were needed!
Down to Fort Augustus, and a very pleasant bnb The Three Bridges, and several decent pubs in town. The Bothy and The Lock Inn being the best, the ale in The Lock being the better.Alas, no pics as my little camera device wasn't playing! (its only an old nokia phone!)
tGreat guest house, but the nearly places to eat/drink were not good. A shortage of time led to taking a taxi to the nearest - The Moorings Hotel. Reasonable food, rubbish beer, dreadful price and diabolical service. Nuff said. Toby was great at Mansefield though!
On to The West Highland Way, with hope and expectation for some more quality brew.
Now, onward to Inverarnan, and my personal number one so far.
The Drovers Inn.
The accommodation, food, ale, service, and entertainment
at The Drovers was all first class, and at a good price too!
The lads on the bar were all very smart in their kilts, and the lovely blasses doing waiting and serving were all wearing their tartan skirts.
They couldn't do enough for the customers, and therefore The Drovers gets my number one pub vote so far.
As well as the top quality service etc, the entertainment- as I mentioned - was pretty special too. The two guys in the picture provided marvellous musical entertainment, with plenty of jokes old and new, with impeccable timing.
A few old standards to get the crowd warmed up, then..."Is there anyone in from Edinburgh?" asked the little guy with the guitar.
"aye!" came a call from a busy table to the side. "we are!"
A grin came to the face of the guitar man. "is this your first time in Scotland then pal?"
Much laughter followed, then a whole medley of traditional Scottish tunes, with the odd Irish one thrown in for good measure, including a superb version of Finnegan's Wake.
They played on until after dark, to a very happy crowd.
To be continued, as the pub crawl expands further...
Alec Hawkes on walkabout 31.05.13