Edinburgh & The River Tweed

Posted on May 18, 2020

1



Per usual, as my blog anniversary approaches, I start cleaning out my draft folder. Besides, this is my only fishing post for the year.

Because I was working during the day, I got very few images, but Amber made 11 very detailed posts, with fantastic images on Facebook. Look under her Albums section and choose Feed View. And of course, she also had many more adventures than I did.

I got a chance to go to Edinburgh Scotland for work, having to work both Thanksgiving Day and the day after, both US holidays. Given that the GE travel ticket for me alone was $3100 and for the same price Amber and I got two round trip tickets and 6 nights in a hotel, plus I got double secret overtime, it was almost cheaper to take her than to leave her home. The first day there, after traveling 24 hours, the room wasn’t ready, but the whole center of the city was given over to a Christmas Fair. I would say only about 20 percent of the people we passed were speaking English, so this is a big, International event. This was one of the few day outings I was able to go on, given my work schedule, but given that every third booth had alcohol of some kind (and we discovered the warm gin and tonic making it both a summer and winter cocktail) and that the National Gallery adjoined the space it was well worth it. We got to see the Monarch of the Glen up close, which is cool. We ended up at The World’s End, a Bellhaven tied pub for shepard’s pie and bangers and mash. This means all or most of the beers come from the brewery that owns them, and it was only recently (2017) they broke this model, bringing about a slew of microbrews.

When we booked the trip I thought, like hell am I going to Scotland with Amber and not fishing, so I started looking for guides. I emailed a couple and one called me back. The only thing in the entire call I really understood was when he said “Cheers!” at the end. When I got off the phone I said, “Either we are going fishing on Sunday, or, I just got off the phone with the Klingon high command.” He was frank that the salmon runs were down and we had just missed “sea trout” season. He almost abashedly suggested grayling, which is on Amber’s life list and pretty rare below the arctic, so I jumped on it.

We fished the Tweed, once the most prolific salmon river in Europe, and for me this was the highlight of a trip of highlights. Getting out into the country was fantastic. I saw more pheasants in 5 min than I’d seen in my entire life. No wonder there is a brace of them in every still life. The don’t come in flocks, they come in herds, huddled fifty at a shot in fields and running around all together. In the UK (or Britain, or the British Isles or whatever the hell the correct demarcation, we had a hilarious conversation about this with a woman at the airport, not my first), the water rights are all privately owned. Our guide (ghillie, I’m sure) had a beat on a private farm right on the river.

I got this book for Christmas from my brother-in-law Patrick, and contacted the guide, to see if he could help align where we were to the maps, but so far no luck. Which is too bad because the book has a beat-by-beat description and I would really like to correlate that with experience. Here is Amber’s post on the day:

Day 2: Grayling fishing
Early breakfast at the hotel and every menu everywhere offers smoked salmon and I’m obsessed. Our guide, Callum, picked us up from the hotel and we took the loveliest drive south through the countryside to the River Tweed for Grayling fishing. I tried to take photos out the window, but of course they don’t do the beauty justice. Saw more wild pheasant than I’ve ever seen in my life. Gorgeous birds – kinda dumb though. Beautiful stone and hedge wall divided pastures full of sheep everywhere in sight. Very few horses though.

In conversation, found out that Callum was scheduled previously to fish with Heather Hodson, but had to cancel due to a back injury. What a small world fishing is. We talked about women in fly fishing and how it’s not yet popular in Scotland. I really liked this guy and would recommend him if you’re wanting to fish the area. (http://scotiafishing.com/)

We had to nymph for the Grayling, but thankfully it was tightline nymphing and not bobber nymphing. Still though… so boring! Successful for both Jon and I, so hooray for #bucketlist fish! The private stretch of river was on a sheep farm, which provided adorable companionship on the river. We had venison burgers for lunch in the little fishing hut with a heater. (Editor’s note: With a choice of beer or whiskey.)We fished until dark, but it was absolutely FREEZING after lunch. On the drive back into town, we asked for some dinner recommendations, but I couldn’t make out the name of half the places he was recommending and just wrote down things I thought he might be saying so I could try to google them later…

We were on the Upper Tweed, just downstream of Traquair House (oldest inhabited building in Scotland, and also at one time a brewery ranked as the “world’s best beer.” How we missed this…). We were on the Caberstown Water in the map. Our beat was owned by the Eibank House B&B.

Once back in the city, we ventured out to a Turkish restaurant for dinner and had a couple of quite-nice Turkish wines. We stopped into The Black Bull, which was a hilariously bad bar with mix-your-own g&t, but no stirring devices, and the World’s Smallest Pool (*Snooker) Table. Back at our hotel, we had proper drink service from Jonni, the past-life chef of a restaurant in Greece – his description of the food (and his explanation for why he couldn’t duplicate the food in Scotland) made Greece jump to the top of my travel wish list.

 

 

 

We literally put this trip together over a pint in the local pub. I got a guidebook and map delivered the day before we left, and didn’t crack it open until we were in Paris. But we barely used it. Most of what we did we either, saw on the side of a bus – literally – or was recommended by people at work. We developed a routine. Amber had a brilliant plan that we would breakfast every day at a new grand hotel, nicely covered by per diem. Then we would walk to the hotel, which was so close to the train station that it had a button in the elevator for it.  Amber would explore and I would go to work. The one thing I wish I could’ve done was hit the Da Vinci exhibit, but unfortunately it was scheduled for Monday and after traveling 30 hours on Sat, and getting up at 5:30 on Sunday to fish, we slept late and I had to off to work.

Even though there is a long line of cabs and I used two different train stations, four out of the five days I got the exact same cabbie, he talked the whole way from the station to the office, I have no idea about what. On the fifth day, he saw me coming, and waved me on to the next cab in line who, thankfully, spoke English-English. Never was Churchill more apt than when he said “two people separated by a common language.”

My co-worker was very solicitous of my time, having me arrive promptly at 11 and leave at 4, so that Amber could meet me at the train station by 5. We would have a drink, including roof top tea, partake of whatever activity she lined up such as Underground Tour or Christmas Lights at the Castle, we would read menus until we found a place, eat, have a night cap somewhere else and go home to start it all over again. The food in Edinburgh was excellent. Almost every non-ethnic menu contains venison, elk, and duck, to the point its a little monotonous. But we branched out. We had Turkish metze (small plates) and wine the first night. That wine was sooooo good, so complex and layered, and only $20/bottle. I can still taste it and have been looking for a source in Seattle since we got back. On reference from my co-worker we hit Andaluz, a Spanish restaurant,  and had one of the best meals of my life. The decor is fabulous. The wine was terrific. The service perfect. We gorged on tapas and it was so inexpensive we went over the bill with the waitress to make sure she added it up correctly. Why this place was nearly empty was baffling. There are two in Ediburgh and I highly suggest them.

I was expecting the Royal Mile to be a tacky tourist prowl, and there is some of that. But they also have Whisky World, with 1100 single malts (okay, and a ride where you sit in barrels on a train track, but otherwise, not tacky), any number of other good malt shops, fine woolens, etc. We hit the Devil’s Advocate and several  tied houses. I was so frustrated: you cannot find Scotch Ale in Edinburgh! However there are many other fine beers. There may be a law topping them at 4.2% because even the “IPAs” came in at that. Probably the best food find of the whole trip was in the lower end of the mile, past the “World’s End,” where Amber found the White Horse Tavern. She claims I infected here with my menu reading and I’m damn glad I did. We had a meal entirely of seafood small plates and splurged on a very nice Chablis to go with it.

I finally got to one of the whisky shops before it closed where the guy waiting on us could’ve been Bill Murray’s Scottish brother. Like to the point where I had a really hard time talking to him with a straight face. Basically everything I thought I knew about Scotch was wrong, all marketing drivel. I asked again for Scotch Ale and he sent us to an “old man bar” which was a taxi ride away. When we got there, the local soccer teams had a match in full swing and the bar was packed with locals. This pub was one of the first we hit that was not tied, so I was up a the bar ordering half pints of “crushable” perfects or milds. One guy was making fun of me for ordering half pints. I pointed to his beer, “How many?” “Two,” says he. I pointed to the tap selection and said, “But I’ve had one of each.” This got the affirmative nod for ordering girlie beers. When the game was over, I can’t remember who started it, the guy next to us started chatting us up. He noted I’d been explaining the game to Amber and we went from there. I mentioned my quest for Scotch Ales and soon we were on a locally mentored pub crawl which also turned out to be an Ian Rankin literary tour. And the guy turned out to be a scrum master. To be frank, when I embarked on having one of each of the beers in the first pub, I did not quite count on visiting more pubs and the evening is a bit hazy from there. Small World File, the next day I found out my coworker’s son plays for Celtic, the team we watched the night before.

Other highlights were an underground tour, which gave me the inspiration for a novel I’m currently outlining, and the Christmas light festival at the castle. This tour exceeded all expectations and while I really could not capture it well with my camera, Amber did, complete with video.

I really love both duck and venison, so we decided to have Thanksgiving Dinner a the Balmoral grand hotel, essentially right across the street from our hotel (the Apex). I thought it might be mobbed with expats, but there was only one other couple there. We had duck and venison, but I was aghast at the paltry wine list and the poor handling. We ordered a vintage South African Hermitage, a grape only grown in one place in North America that I’m aware of, and were sorely disappointed with a bad bottle because all of their wines are stored standing up. So then I had to employ a strategy of instead of splurging on a vintage wine, choosing a newer, high turnover wine that was least likely to be spoilt. It think you can guess how this might’ve colored my appreciation of the meal.

On the last night there we discovered quite the happening block right behind the hotel. There was a new Asian fusion restaurant which was the only place we were not able to get into without reservations, the very cool and dark Voodoo Lounge, and another 400-year old locals’ pub. Almost all of the pubs had ubiquitous gilt crown mouldings, and fantastic woodwork. In the same block (triangle, really) we found a really nice restaurant and ate at the bar, although I disremember what. I’m sure Amber recorded it.  I was very sad to leave, and I really hope I get the chance to go back. I certainly wish I’d gotten to walk around with Amber during the day, and I seriously want to go to the National Writers’ Museum. I’m sure the second Andaluz needs us to visit and I could probably do with a redo of the Ian Rankin pub crawl to refresh my memory. Until then, dear Edinburgh, cheers mate!