Bonny Scotland

Growing up in Northumberland meant that many a childhood holiday of mine was spent in Scotland, and it is, to this day, one of my absolute favourite places to visit. With the breath-taking scenery of the Highlands, the cobbled wynds of the ancient cities, and the ethereal tranquillity of the great lochs, it’s no wonder it was voted the Most Beautiful Country in the World by the Rough Guide in September of this year.

And it’s not just the stunning backdrop that makes it so appealing. There’s the people, the history, the food (haggis, anyone?), not to mention the fascinating array of pubs and bars spread throughout the land. A 130km stretch of uninhabited moor, you say? Leave it to the Scots to make sure it’s equipped with a bar – and one that stocks more than 75 malts, no less.

So, in honour of St. Andrews Day and this truly wonderful part of the world, here are 10 cracking pubs in the 10 most beautiful places in Scotland, as voted for by the readers of Rough Guide.

10: Dunnotar Castle – The Ship Inn

The Ship Inn stands on the harbour at Stonehaven having been built in 1771. They stock a selection of keg beers, two guest ales and over 100 malt whiskies. The award-winning inn is just 2 miles from the stunning clifftop ruins of Dunnotar Castle which dates back to the 15th century.

9: Ullapool – The Arch Inn

The Arch Inn, overlooking Loch Broom and with magnificent views of the Fannich hills, offers a fabulous selection of local ales from the Teallach Brewery, as well as a range of Scottish malts, gin and vodka. The small fishing village of Ullapool is a popular tourist destination, with hillwalking, cruises, and even a music festival to its name.

8: Rannoch Moor – Moor of Rannoch

Remember that bar in the uninhabited moor? Well it sits right here, in the Rannoch Moor Hotel! As their website states, there is “…no TV / Radio / WiFi signal and almost non-existent mobile coverage”. But they do have a fantastic selection of spirits, ales, and beers from dependant local producers. Sounds ideal to me.

7: Edinburgh – Canny Man’s

Picking one pub in Edinburgh to include on this list was by far the most difficult part of writing it but here we go…Canny Mans! This free house was established in 1871 by the Kerr family and continues to be passed down through the generations. It’s a quirky place, with eccentric furnishings and a real dedication to serving great products – in fact, their Bloody Mary is legendary.

6: Orkney – The Ferry Inn

Sitting on the harbourfront in Orkney is The Ferry Inn, featured in the Good Beer Guide and a regular winner of CAMRA’s Northern Isle Pub of the Year. The bar has four hand pulls which host some great local ales and when/if the sun shines you can enjoy your pint outside while tucking into some freshly caught local seafood, straight from the barbeque!

5: Bealach na Ba – The Applecross Inn

Until the late 20th centuary the Bealach na Bà was the only road linking Applecross with the rest of the country. So, what better way to celebrate conquering this mountain pass than with a pint of local ale in front of the peat burning stove at the Applecross Inn. If you’re feeling a bit peckish you could try some of their award-winning dishes of seafood and Highland game, or maybe bed down for the night in one of their sea-view rooms.

4: Isle of Mull – Macgochans

Macgochans offers its dwellers ‘top live music, local food, lazy afternoons and great craic!’, which combined with the picturesque views of the fishing port of Tobermory, sounds just perfect. The pub boasts four custom built bars, with a little bit of something for every occasion, including a fisherman’s cottage filled with various whiskies and a 250-person strong beer garden.

3: Loch Lomond – The Drovers Inn

The gorgeous views and some proper Scottish hospitality will make you glad you came to see this stunning ancient inn on the West Highland Way. In the 300 years since The Drover’s Inn was built it has welcomed thousands of guests, including non-other than Rob Roy himself! It has quite a history, as you can imagine, and I certainly don’t have enough space to document it all here, but it is well worth a visit. If you really like it, you can even stay the night!

2: Glen Coe – Clachaig Inn

In the heart of Glencoe, among the mountains of the Highlands sits the Clachaig Inn. Offering a variety of ales from breweries across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, this historic traveller’s rest has not one, not two, but three award winning bars. With the slate floors, pine panelling and a huge real fire, it would be impossible to not be tempted to drop in on a cold afternoon like today and soak up the ‘legendary’ atmosphere. They also have their own gin so, why wouldn’t you?

1: The Isle of Skye – Stein Inn

And finally, The Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides, was voted as the best place to visit in Scotland. Looking at the fascinating history, iconic landscapes, and miles of dramatic coastline, it’s probably one of the best places to visit full stop. And in amongst all the enchantment of Skye is the oldest pub on the island, the Stein Inn. ‘A thirsty travellers dream’ as they say, the Stein has stood since the 18th Century, surrounded by spectacular views and offering over 130 malt whiskies, it is the perfect venue to take in a sunset, something for which this stunning area is renowned.

So there you have it – the 10 places (and pubs) you must visit in the most beautiful country in the world. Creating this list actually made my heart pine for a trip – hopefully it will inspire you too!

Here’s to you, Scotland – Sláinte Mhath!

Christmas Market Pub Pit-Stops

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and with it comes streets lined with twinkling lights, handmade treats and colourful chalets which can only mean one thing…Christmas markets! The UK has a healthy offering, with venues spanning the length and breadth of the nation throughout cities and villages, so you won’t even have to go far to find one. And with rows upon rows of stalls adorned with unique trinkets and treasures, selections of hearty foods from both home and abroad and of course, generous helpings of mulled wine, a visit to one of these magical markets is the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.

But whether you’ll be doing a bit of Christmas shopping or just taking in the festive spirit, all that excitement can be a tiring business and it’s getting awfully chilly out there. No doubt you will eventually be looking for somewhere to take respite from the merriment and warm your winter toes. Well have no fear because we’ve done the leg work for you and pulled together some of the finest places for you to go and replenish your energy levels – ’tis the season of self-insulation, after all. These pubs and bars are just a stone’s throw from these 7 amazing Christmas Markets from around the UK, so dig out your wooliest hat and check them out.


The Dome

Auld Hundred

The Standing Order

The Bow Bar

The Oxford Bar


Charles Grey

The Botanist

The Alchemist


Harry’s Bar

London Southbank

The Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden

The Riverfront

Mulberry Bush

Waterloo Tap

The Hole in the Wall


The Old Market Tavern

The Owain Glyndwr

Goat Major

Cosy Club

Cardiff Cottage


Purecraft Bar & Kitchen

The Trocadero

Post Office Vaults

The Bureau Bar

The Wellington


The Garrick

The Perch – Rooftop Bar

The Washington

Fountain Tavern

Crown Liquor Saloon


The Vine Inn


The Waterhouse

The Bank

The Town Hall Tavern

The Autumn Budget

After months of campaigning from leading voices across the brewing and hospitality sectors the Autumn Budget was unveiled yesterday with Chancellor Hammond seemingly heeding requests to relieve some of the pressures felt throughout the trade. Following an unexpected and challenging Spring Budget, which saw increases in both Beer Tax and Business Rates, a number of organisations came together to form a cross-industry coalition urging the government to reconsider the crippling regulations.

These organisations included; the British Pub & Bar Association, CAMRA, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the British Institute of Innkeeping, the Society of Independent Brewers, Maltsters Association of Great Britain, Pub is the Hub, and the British Hop Association. Writing to the Chancellor back in October after a well-publicised campaign, the group highlighted the impacts of the substantial taxes imposed upon the industries despite their considerable contributions to both the economy and society.

So, what were the main points of the campaign?

  • Pubs are paying five times more in business rates than their share of rateable business turnover, and while the rate relief of £1,000 for the 2017/18 year is welcomed, it does not change the disproportionate levels of expected increases in future.
  • The massive 39% rise in beer duty over the past decade, including 4% in March this year, a burden felt by not only pubs but also consumers, particularly those on lower incomes.
  • Pubs and brewing support 900,000 jobs throughout the UK and contribute £23 billion to the economy – with £1 in every £3 spent in pubs going to the Exchequer.
  • 80% of beer consumed in the UK is brewed here meaning a competitive tax environment is essential, however for brewers up to half their turnover is excise duty.
  • The important role pubs play in communities, particularly now during a time of economic uncertainty and divisions in society.

What measures did campaigners request the Government take?

  • Extend and increase pub-specific rates relief beyond this year and set out major reform of the system.
  • Implement at least a freeze in Beer Duty for the duration of Parliament.

What has the Chancellor offered?

  • A freeze on all alcohol duty.
  • 1-year extension of the £1000 business rate relief for pubs valued under £100,000.
  • More frequent business rate evaluations – every 3 years and an early switch from Retail Prices Index to Consumer Prices Index.

What does this mean for pubs?

  • The freeze on alcohol duty means that beer, wine and spirit tax will no longer rise with inflation, as was originally intended. This is only the second time that a freeze on wine has been implemented in 15 years. It is estimated that altogether this will save pub-goers £117 million this year and in subsequent years.
  • Of course, this will have a knock-on effect in the employment areas of these sectors. From the production of the goods right to the point of service – it is claimed that the proposal will save at 3000 jobs that would have otherwise been lost.
  • A 1-year extension of the £1000 business rate relief carries the reduction through to 2019, with pubs feeling benefits to the tune of £25 million.
  • The early introduction of the switch from RPI to CPI (2 years ahead of schedule) and the more frequent evaluation of business rates will generate the industry savings of £37 million in this year alone.

(Estimates of annual savings courtesy of the BBPA)

 What more needs to be done?

  • The alcohol duty freeze is not committed across the entire Parliament and still leaves the UK paying 3x more than our EU counterparts. The BBPA had lobbied for a 1% reduction.
  • The relief rate extension is only for one more year and does not apply to pubs with a rateable value over £100,000. This means that pubs paying the highest rates in the business are not entitled to any immediate assistance.
  • Pubs are still facing a huge rise in rates in the coming years regardless of yesterday’s announcements, thus furthering the case for a complete overhaul of the system to address the potentially devastating long-term effects it presents. Without this, the amendments offered by the Chancellor will be seen by many as simply a band-aid for a bullet wound.

Overall, yesterday’s announcements have been a short-term step in the right direction and it would appear that the government could be starting to listen to the concerns put forward by campaigners. But the feeling remains that there is still much to be done if the Government truly recognises and wishes to maintain the vital role that the great British pub plays in our society. The fight is far from over!

Britain’s Oldest Boozer

For reasons which will soon become glaringly obvious, The Bingley Arms, West Yorkshire, was formerly known as The Priests Inn, and has been recognised as the UK’s oldest pub by the Guinness Book of World Records. Reputedly dating back to 905AD, this fine establishment was around during the time of the Vikings and predates the first English King!

It was used by monks as a rest stop when travelling between Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds and St Mary’s Abbey in York. It is rumoured that at one time a passageway connected the inn to the Parish Church of All Hallows, erected in 950AD and standing just a few yards away.

From 1000AD, The Priests Inn served as the venue for local court proceedings, seeing offenders taken to the pillory outside the church to receive punishment.

However, a little over 500 years later when King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the inn became a place of refuge for the persecuted Catholic priests. This was confirmed in the 1700’s when 2 priest holes were uncovered during alterations to the central part of the premises. They can still be seen within the large Inglenook fireplace.

The inn was taken over in 1780 by Lord Bingley, then becoming The Bingley Arms and remaining to this day. Little of the interior has changed over the years, and while you’re not likely to find any stowaway clergymen in the chimney; stone walls, dark wood panels and a Dutch oven, also unearthed in the fireplace, help the pub maintain much of its traditional charm.

So, while one or two other pubs may have grounds to dispute The Bingley’s title, I reckon any pub that has survived several centuries, two world wars, and UK beer duty has earned itself a visit.

You can check out some of Britain’s other ancient inns by clicking here.

Marvellous Micropubs

 ‘A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks’ – Micropub Association

There seems to be a sense of impending doom of late when discussing the state of the pub industry, mostly because so many are closing (reportedly up to 29 a week) However, there has been something of a quiet revolution happening that should be of great encouragement to pub-lovers everywhere – the rise of the micropub.

The trend kicked off back in 2005 when Martyn Hillier decided to convert his off-license in what was formerly a 14ft by 12ft Butcher’s shop in Herne Bay, Kent, into a pub, but a very particular type of pub. He didn’t want to serve lager or have any form of entertainment, just a place where people who appreciate good beer could come for a pint and a chat. The mircopub was born. Since then these pint-sized pit-stops have become the venue of choice for beer lovers who pine for the more traditional British pub experience.

For a start, they have stripped back all the gimmicks meaning no TV screens, no menus, no music – just as Hilliar intended. Good ale and good company are the order of the day. The ‘good company’ part is a real selling point of the micropub, encouraging conversation and integration, which is not difficult when you consider the super confined environments (more on that later).

Micropubs continue to shy away from the entertainment route of sports and fruit machines, instead focusing their attentions on creating a retreat from the everyday demands of our modern day hyper-connected lives. Some even go so far as to outlaw electronics completely, One Inn the Wood in Petts Wood, Greater London, has a charity fine box where people are expected to deposit a donation should they use their mobile phone on the premises. You have been warned.

Of course, the ‘good ale’ part is very important, too. Quality of beer is something that these pubs pride themselves on, and the level of expectation that comes with being a micropub means they very much live or die by their selection and upkeep. Thankfully, from what i have seen and heard, the majority seem to be rising to the challenge. Not being tied to any particular brewery means they can stock whatever they want from whoever they want. Unsurprisingly that usually means local beers from local breweries, therefore supporting the local economy while also maintaining the quality of the product through shorter delivery journeys – everyone’s a winner!

Now, back to those super confined environments. Cleverly taking advantage of the Licensing Act of 2003 with the intention of keeping overheads to a minimum, landlords tend to set up shop in small spaces no bigger than your average high street sweet shop. But as well as saving money on rates, the snug spaces influence the interactions of the clientele. Such close proximity to your table neighbours naturally encourages a convivial atmosphere and generally makes it feel more like a gathering in a friend’s kitchen rather than various separate groups who happen to be in the same building.

And you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to talk about because often the quirky choices of location lead to some rather interesting backstories. I recently visited a newly opened micropub in Southend that used to be the town’s public toilet – lots of chatter stemming from that one. Other notable histories include a former left-luggage room in a North-East metro station, the prison of an 800-year-old priory, and the former stable block of a funeral directors which still sits adjacent. A little bit of quirk is always a good conversation starter.

These qualities are what add to the overall appeal of the micropub, and the good news is, they are succeeding. My local micropub, The Office, was named CAMRA’s North East Pub of the Year 2017. No small feat when you consider the former town toll-house, which can hold around 30 people at capacity, only opened in 2014. And they aren’t alone – micropubs have become a fixture of many of the CAMRA award categories and this month it has been announced that Wigan Central have made it to the final for National Pub of the Year.

They may not be for everyone, but they are undeniably serving a demographic which was otherwise neglected. And with the number currently standing upwards of 300, and an all-time high of applications being submitted, it would seem that this new corner of the market shows no signs of slowing down, which is music to the ears of many – myself included. Long live the micropub!

Find a marvellous micropub near you.