Is it March already? Seems like only yesterday that Kathy and I were ushering in the New Year in a basement bar in Edinburgh. We’d made the trip mainly to take in Hogemany, the Scots’ New Year’s Eve blowout that’s been going on for over 450 years (1). But as we awaited the trip, Jimmy Harbaugh’s boys beat Ohio State, won the Big 10 Championship, and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff, all for the 2nd year in a row. A big part of our last minute pre-trip planning became a frantic search for a bar there that would be showing our Fiesta Bowl contest with the Horned Frogs of TCU. Chris, owner of the Globe Bar on Niddry (2), assured me that if they could not find a channel showing the game that he’d stream it and put it on a big screen for us. He apologized that he wouldn’t be putting the sound on, as the rest of the patrons would have other priorities. Fine for us, so we packed in a much less anxious mood.
We were supposed to make the trip last year, booking in January 2021 after I first learned about Hogemanay as I was researching the 12 days of Christmas (3).
The fėte grew up after Mary Queen of Scots, in 1561, forbid her subjects from celebrating Christmas, as she deemed it too pagan. We took in a little of that celebration, drinking and chatting with strangers in one of the many outdoor booze, food, and music outfits set up for the night. But we had to break and get ready for the 10 PM game, finding the little alley of Niddry. Looked pretty great when we found it. They’d even painted it maize-and-blue for us!
Chris was magnanimous, happy to see us, bearing a beard and wearing a kilt over his well-earned (I’m sure) gut. He showed us to our table by a nice big screen. We raised the average age in the bar considerably, but the Scottish kids were all friendly and inquisitive. Some of them even cheered along with us. It was a silly game, with the team making many uncharacteristic mistakes but almost digging themselves out of a big hole at the end, falling just short. They played their best ball when we stepped outside at midnight to see the fireworks and hear the bag pipes, somehow having 14 more points on the board when we finally sat back down.
Chris had made arrangements for a taxi to take us back to our place north of town, so we hung around with the kids till 2 AM, when our taxi was supposed to arrive. Chris was evidently safety-minded, as he protected his patrons from hangovers and alcohol poisoning but putting a minimum amount in his drinks. We’d have bought a bottle of champagne had Michigan won, but dodged another bullet there. The 2 AM taxi never showed, so we joined the line on High Street and waited in the rain for over an hour till it became out turn to get to South Queensferry. Between the excitement of the game and the fact our biological clocks were still on Eastern time, we weren’t tired. But we each paid for that soaking by coming down with a cold the next day, which lingered so long and racked our chests so much I’m pretty sure it was COVID. Neither of us had been vaxxed, as if that would have made a difference! The cabbie managed to find the bat-cave alley to our place, easy to find as the owners still had their Christmas lights up. South Queensferry is so called as Saint Margaret of Scotland is believed to have established a ferry at this point for pilgrims on their way north to St Andrews. It stands at the Firth of Forth, the Firth a finger of a fjord that comes in from the North Sea. The River Forth is one of several that feeds it. Lovely bridges traverse it, viewed beautifully from our digs.
We woke up early enough the next day to see from our living room window locals gathering on the beach for Loony Dook (4). This ritual allows intrepid Scots to dive into the frigid waters of the Firth to prove their mettle. Announced by a gun blast and bagpipes, the start was no mystery. Fortunately, no ambulances announced themselves thereafter. Walking to breakfast, we ran into a few of the participants along the road, and none seemed the worse for wear. Tough people, these Scots.
South Queensferry is the charming neighborhood around it. Trails, once mastered, lead right to the local pub and adjacent restaurants. Such were the charms of this place we found little reason to venture back to downtown Edinburgh.
It all starts with a great pub, and there we were
We scarfed down a shephard’s pie and were happy. Later, we wandered through on a Sunday and were surprised to find the place packed. They weren’t citing the catechism. They had one of those exquisite urinals of which I am so taken
We were later rewarded by excellent breakfasts (including haggis with our “full Scottish”):
That speckled patty to the lower left is haggis. Quite good when you ignore its offal and sheep’s stomach origins.
There was excellent Indian to be had at Queen’s Spice (5) and up the street and down a bit was superb seafood at The Boat House (6).
Not that we neglected Edinburgh. We trekked in by bus (trains were on strike) and took in Edinburgh Castle. Perched high on a rock, getting there is quite a climb. But it’s huge and impressive, and you can imagine the advantage of all the guns pointed down. A memorial to their war dead was moving, and a glance at the royal jewels – guarded by an armed uniformed officer – was worth the look.
Then based on recommendations from several, we set out to see the Queen’s Yacht. The Britannia has sank anchor in Leith since it was decommissioned 12/11/97 (7). It’s been maintained shipshape and I’m told they still hold state dinners there suitable to the Queen’s standards. Afterwards, I asked my high finance buddy in London if he could get me into one of those parties.
After our tour, we moseyed up and found a bar suited to the lugs dragging up stuff from the docks. We had a fine time, and no one asked us for our teamster card. Thank you Jimmy Hoffa.
Home after that was gathering together for the return trip. It was an exhausting trip. We didn’t do much last day but pack, and stare out the window. We were pleased our Uber driver could find us up our cul-de-sac. Our driver was from the area and regaled us with local tales.
Our flight home through Newark was pretty smooth, and we slept through days once home. 10 days was barely enough rest as we pushed off for Florida on the 16th. Such are the travails of the retired.
1. Ike B. Hogmanay! WordPress 12/31/21. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/12/31/hogmanay/
2. Old Town Pub. The Globe Edinburgh. https://www.oldtownpubco.com/our-bars/the-globe-bar/
3. Ike B. Dandy Dozen. WordPress 12/25/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/12/25/dandy-doze
4. Norah L. The Loony Dook 2024. Everything you need to know, including + alternatives. Finding the Universe. https://www.findingtheuniverse.com/loony-dook-edinburgh-hogmanay-scotland/
5. Queen’s Spice Indian Restaurant. https://www.queensspice.co.uk/
6. The Boat House . https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-boat-house-queensferry?osq=south+queensferry+Scotland
7. Liebman L. The Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite Palace. AD 11/21/22 https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-royal-yacht-britannia-a-history-queen-elizabeth-ii#:~:text=The%20Royal%20Family-,The%20Royal%20Yacht%20Britannia%3A%20A%20History%20of%20Queen%20Elizabeth%20II’s,season%20opener%20to%20The%20Crown.