Literary tales from Scotland’s pubs and bars

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William Faulkner once said, “The tools I need for my work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky.” If the latter plays a part in good writing, it’s perhaps not surprising that so many Scottish bars and pubs have literary connections. From Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott to Hugh MacDiarmid and Ian Rankin, many of Scotland’s most important writers have left their mark on pubs across the country – in Burns’ case, sometimes even scratching poems into the windows!

You’ll find a wealth of literary tales at ScotlandsPubsandBars.co.uk, a great resource detailing dozens of pubs with connections to music, industry, literature, sport, architecture and more. Having brought you some of the collection’s quirky stories back in June, we’re now looking at pubs that have played host to famous writers, or been used as settings in much-loved novels.

The Globe Inn, Dumfries

The Globe Inn, DumfriesEstablished in 1610, the Globe Inn was a favourite haunt of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, during the eight years he spent working as an excise officer in Dumfries. Burns spent many an eve talking poetry and politics in the bar or recording the day’s tax collections in the upstairs bedroom, where he also inscribed six different verses on the window panes with a diamond-tipped stylus. His verbose vandalism can still be seen today, as can the chair that he once used. All visitors who sit in it are challenged to recite at least one line of Burns’ work – those who fail have to buy every customer in the bar a drink!

The Globe Inn isn’t the only pub to have served Burns a glass of claret or two, however. The Tam O’ Shanter in Ayr was another favourite of the poet’s, and he’s also said to have visited the Golden Lion in Stirling, the White Hart Inn in Edinburgh and the bar at the Kenmore Hotel, amongst many others. It’s a wonder he got anything written at all!

 

Hawes Inn, South Queensferry

Dating back to 1793, the Hawes Inn boasts numerous literary accolades. Sir Walter Scott used it as a setting in his 1816 novel The Antiquary, and it was a favourite locale of Robert Louis Stevenson, who stayed at the inn in 1886. Stevenson began to pen Kidnapped while he was there, even mentioning Hawes Inn as the place where his protagonist David meets Captain Hoseason in Chapter 6 of the novel.

Hawes Inn, South QueensferryClearly quite taken with the pub, Stevenson mentioned it again in his 1887 essay collection Memories and Portraits, writing: “The old Hawes Inn at the Queen’s Ferry makes a similar call upon my fancy. There it stands, apart from the town, beside the pier, in a climate of its own, half inland, half marine.” South Queensferry itself may be quite different nowadays, but with its whitewashed façade and dark slate roof, this charmingly old-fashioned pub appears little changed since Stevenson’s era. (Apart from the WiFi, of course.)

The George and Abbotsford Hotel, Melrose

Abbotsford House, Melrose

The George Inn hosted two of the most influential figures to ever grace British letters at once when Sir Walter Scott and the English poet William Wordsworth stayed at the hotel in 1803. It was owned at the time by David Kyle, a colourful personality who was later given a mention in the introduction to Scott’s Waverley (1814), and was so small that the two friends were obliged to share a room.

The ‘Abbotsford’ in the hotel’s present name is clearly a nod to Abbotsford House, the magnificent stately home that Scott had built in Melrose in 1824. Wordsworth was one of many prominent public figures to be entertained there and even wrote a sonnet mentioning the house – On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples – in 1831. The mansion is now open to the public and is a must for Scott’s readers, featuring an excellent permanent exhibition including Scott’s letters, manuscripts and even the egg-timer that Scott used to set the pace of his writing.

 

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Edinburgh

This Edinburgh tavern is named after William Brodie, a respected cabinet-maker and councillor who led a double life as a burglar, stealing from his rich clients to fund a gambling addiction and five illegitimate children. Edinburgh was scandalised when Brodie’s antics were finally revealed, and an angry crowd of 40,000 people turned up to see him hanged at the Tolbooth Prison on 1 October 1788. Almost a century later, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), a novel of split personality inspired by the jarring divide between Brodie’s upstanding reputation and his true, corrupt nature.

The first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh is steeped in literary history from across the centuries – pop into Milne’s Bar on Rose Street, which once welcomed members of the Scottish Renaissance such as Hugh MacDiarmid, or enjoy a pint in the Oxford Bar on Young Street, preferred watering hole of Ian Rankin’s Detective Rebus.

 

You’ll find literary links to bars and pubs all across the country on ScotlandsPubsandBars.co.uk – download the free A Story to Tell app for more tales, follow a literary itinerary to discover other inspiring locations, or find out more about Scotland’s writers in our literature section.

 

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Sophie Cameron

Content Executive at VisitScotland
Originally from the Black Isle, Sophie lives in Edinburgh and spends most of her time reading, running and roaming around Scotland.