Fireside seat

Winter in Scotland, and one of the finest and simplest pleasures, sitting not just in the pub, but getting the comfy, cushion-strewn sofa right by the old stove, cosy, comfortable, ah, perfect…

a session in Teuchters 02

Waiting on chum and his dogs to arrive (the hounds, of course, after several minutes of demanding attention from me settled down happily in front of the warm stove for the rest of the afternoon), and leafing through a fascinating book while sipping a very fine ale by the fire on a chill winter’s day. The simple pleasures….

a session in Teuchters 03

Nocturnal pub

Go off the main road in the West End and you find more interesting spots, such as three pubs right by each other down a nice, old cobbled road, including this one, Teuchters:

Good real ale pub, comfortable, a little pricey perhaps, but not by the normal West End standards to be honest, and a nice place to relax (also dog friendly), although it can get very, very busy. How cosy does it look at night though?

I had actually been shooting some other parts of town at night, walking home past the pub with tripod still over shoulder, so thought may as well take a few more. I’ve grown fond of doing some city night scenes in black and white in recent years, amazing the difference it makes to switch to monochrome rather than colour. I tried focusing in on a window, giving a glimpse from cold, dark nocturnal street outside into the cosy, warm, well-lit glow within the pub, didn’t expect it to work, but seemed to come out okay:

A good session

Chum and I wandered down to Portobello the other week (Edinburgh’s seafront area), rather grey and stormy day as we walked along the promenade, as you can see:

stormy weather 01

stormy weather 06

This howling, freezing wind, rain and grey mist and clouds, the crashing waves and blowing sand didn’t stop a few hardy souls from trying to fly kites on the beach though!

stormy weather 03

We ducked out of the weather and into the Espy, a very nice pub and bistro right on the promenade by the beach at Porty (very child and also dog friendly place too, if you’re looking for one) and settled into the dry, welcoming warmth of the pub, finding a pair of nice, old leather Queen Anne chairs to relax back into, ale in hand, for a relaxing natter. And then the barman told us that there was someone from Innes and Gunn, the very fine independent Scottish brewer, set up in the back with samples of their wares and we should check it out. And naturally we did and had a nice talk with the brewery rep who talked us through some of their different ales, from ones we had seen and tried before to some new ones and some export only ones (they sell a lot abroad – Canada and Sweden are two of their biggest markets now).

There was an interesting stout finished in Irish whisky barrels which gave it an interesting taste (also it was, pleasantly, not as heavy and thick as some stouts can be – some feel like drinking a liquidised black pudding – this was a touch lighter, with a reddish tinge to it) and a Canadian one made with a touch of maple leaf syrup (it could only be more Canadian if you had a hockey stick projecting from the neck of the bottle). I’ve had honey ales before, some are good, some simply way too sweet, but this had a nice balance, the sweetness not too strong, just a nice touch.

a good evening's session 01

When the brewery chap left we were talking away to the bar manager and some others, he showed us some interesting import ales he had gotten in himself, then decided we may as well all try samples of those as we had the Innes & Gunn beers, naturally we agreed (be rude not to) and a much longer than planned for but rather pleasant evening ensued… I noticed one of his imported beers was from the American brewery Flying Dog and the label for it, Raging Bitch, was drawn by the great Ralph Steadman, no less. Nice beer and cool art, not bad!

a good evening's session 02

Autumn

autumn colours

It’s Scotland and it’s autumn, pretty much my favourite season here – the sunlight (when we get it!) from a much lower lying sun now bathes the land in a more stretched out coppery-golden hue, a beautiful quality of light, the low height of the autumn sun meaning we get good light but also many shadows, making it perfect for photography (and painting). And then there are the riot of colours as still verdantly green leaves mix with some already turning yellow, gold and russet, lit by the warm bronze tones of the low autumnal sun.

backlit leaves

As I was out snapping some autumnal shots on Sunday I was briefly joined by this charming little fella, scooting rapidly between the old tombstones of Saint Cuthbert’s kirkyard, in the shadow of the Castle:

cemetery squirrel

Amazingly even as September ticked over to October there were still some flowers to enjoy – clearly now on the wane and yet still boasting some vibrant colours:

the last buzzing of the flowers 01

And remarkably given the time of year and the chill wind (which was a contrast to the warm, copper sun), the flowers were still awash with numerous insects busily buzzing around for the last of the nectar before winter sinks its claws into our northern kingdom:

the last buzzing of the flowers 02

Even the less flamboyant flowers were attracting attention from the insects scurrying around for their last hurrah of the season:

the last buzzing of the flowers 03

The autumn light is great for taking pictures of buildings too, such as the fine 18th century Pear Tree, quick snap from its huge, walled beer garden as chum and I refreshed ourselves (will that be the last proper outdoor beer of the year? Sure we can have more outside, but I mean proper one where you can sit without the coat and gloves on and enjoy a pint) in the autumn light in between visiting some of the annual Doors Open venues:

Pear Tree, autumn afternoon 01

Poet’s Pub

I enjoyed a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, the first time I have been in for years as it was closed until recently for a huge refurbishment. Many spots now much more open and lighter, including the nice room they have an old friend of mine, in an old favourite from before the refurbishment, Sandy Moffat’s Poet’s Pub. Always loved this piece depicting some of the most important and influential writers of mid 20th century Scottish culture (including, as you can see on the far right, Captain Picard!). In the new display room it is in an airy, light filled space with a comfortable big padded seat right in front of it so you can sit there and regard it, with a touchscreen interface angled into the armrest so you can tap it for more information while sitting comfortably in front of the painting, touching the individual writers lets you hear them reading some of their own work in their own voice. Lovely.

The work itself is a composite as they were never all in the same pub at the same time and the location itself is a combination of elements from three different Edinburgh pubs, the Abbotsford, The Cafe Royale and Milnes. All still exist, although sadly Milnes these days is an awful chain-operated place with lousy service that I long since gave up on (complaints to company who runs it made it clear they never gave a damn about standards or customers so sod them), although the Royale and Abbotsford are still firm favourites of mine. In fact I was in the Abbotsford just a few nights ago and bumped into a number of contemporary Scottish writers I know, including two of our bestsellers, Ian and Iain:

 

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

Al Fresco album browsing

Ambling through Edinburgh’s Old Town on a Saturday afternoon recently with a friend we noticed a stall set up on Middle Meadow Walk with second hand albums, CDs and DVDs. I used to go to second hand record shops regularly when I first moved here years ago, but prices for CDs and DVDs in places like Fopp or online have dropped so much over the years that the second hand places are often not worth it, although I do find myself still going for wanders through second hand and charity bookstores (and I certainly don’t really need more books, but it doesn’t stop me!).

al fresco album browsing 01

al fresco album browsing 02

It’s funny though, as soon as my fingertips started flicking through the racks, especially the plastic-wrapped albums, it was like the fingers remembered this exercise from many years of browsing and I felt a curious satisfaction, half memories of browsing through old albums with pals in Glasgow or Edinburgh of a weekend in our late teens and 20s. An enjoyable way to spend some time; raking through boxes of second hand comics has a similarly satisfying feeling. And I think the fact you can come away with some purchases but only spend a small amount is kind of nice, especially with things so tight – the feeling of having bought something cool but not having made a hole in the wallet to do it. I think I came away with second hand White Stripes album and a jazz one by Courtney Pine, plus a DVD of The Goonies for the princely sum of about 7 quid. Then we wandered over the road to Sandy Bell’s for a few pints and listen to some live folk music.

folk music in Sandy Bells 02

folk music in Sandy Bells 01

Old Nag Ale

Peggy the horse, long a regular at the Alexandra Hotel bar in Jarrow, Tyneside, has lost her access to her local watering hole. The twelve year old mare usually accompanies her owner Peter Dolan to the pub, where Peggy enjoyed a pint of beer and a packet of crisps (I wonder what flavour?), but now she has to wait outside – no, not because she likes a ciggie, but because the bar has recently been refitted and the owners decided that they didn’t really fancy having a horse clip-clopping through it. I suppose it says a lot that they let her up to now, we have trouble in a number of bars if my mate tries to take his dog in with him. Wonder what they’d say if we turned up on our trusty steeds instead? What do you say, chaps, let’s form the world’s First Ale Cavalry squadron! (via the BBC)