Friday, 31 May 2013

Review of my favourite pubs so far, John O'Groats to Glasgow.

From Saturday 11th to Friday 31st May 2013.

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.
The Belgrave Arms in Helmsdale is a very nice place. Superbly run by Craig and Wendy Simpson, and their excellent staff, the Belgrave was a pleasure. Two or three decent bitters on tap, I think Caledonia and Belhaven, and another fine selection of single malts. Damn good food and accommodation too!
On to Brora, and The Sutherland Inn. Not bad, a couple of ales on, but much more of a food pub, and run very much as a business, and it showed.

Onwards to just outside Dornoch, The Trentham Hotel. Again, not much to look at from outside, but a very well run pub/hotel. Funny man John Mackintosh is in charge, and he keeps some pretty good ales. The food and rooms were good, and the ale and whisky excellent. Belhaven best.
On to Invergordon, and though The Ship Inn sounded like a pub when I booked it, it was actually a pleasant little bnb, comfortable and well run by Sue and Alan Hilton. Just one pub that was anywhere near any good, but it's name escapes me and I didn't take a picture, so that tells you enough I think!
Turning inland now, over 100 miles on the clock, towards Dingwall, the home of Ross County Football Club. We stayed a mile or two south of Dingwall, at The Conon Bridge Hotel. 

A fairly decent pub, but no ale in pumps, despite advertising the fact, so a couple of bottles had to suffice, and a large whisky - Balvenie Signature, rather good!

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!)

Further south (30 miles in one go) to Corpach, and a top guest house run by Aussie Toby Richardson.

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.

The Tailrace at Kinlochleven. A superb pub/hotel. We stayed half a mile away with lovely Elsie Robertson at Eden Coille, and she recommended the Tailrace. She was dead right. A top quality pub, great food, good prices, excellent service, brilliant atmosphere, and Ember Ale from Glasgow. The 80 shillings was my favourite dark ale so far, by some distance. Lovely jubbly!

The Kings House Hotel in Glen Coe, above, was really rather good. Some top quality ales and whiskies were sampled, though the food was a little disappointing, the ale made up for this very well. The Kings House is in the middle of a stunning area of beauty, and really should not be missed by campers, hikers, or anyone atall really. Stunning. Onwards to Tyndrum, and my number one guest house so far (narrowly pipping Glen Rowan and Eden Coille) - Glengarry House, run by lovely Ellen and Andy. Ellen provides the most fantastic welcome, and even offered me a lift to The Tyndrum Inn. I declined, as a good stretch of the old legs for a mile was rather needed after a wonderful dinner cooked by Ellen. The Tyndrum was another high quality pub, with more 80 shillings on the pumps, and of course a wee dram or two. I met a cracking chap in there, Tom from The Isle of Skye. Tom had many a tale to tell, and was also very interested in my charity walk. He gave me a small donation too, cheers Tom!

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.

Great stuff!

To be continued, as the pub crawl expands further...

Alec Hawkes on walkabout  31.05.13

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