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Category: Kilts & Scotland

St. Andrew’s Day 2021

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!
Slàinte Mhath!

Unfortunately I have to work tonight, so I can’t properly celebrate, but I made myself a haggis shepherd’s pie to enjoy at work. That way, I’ll at least have a dinner appropriate for this festive occasion.

Flying Scotsman Trip – Epilogue

Now some time has passed, the bags are completely unpacked and back on the attic, and I’ve reverted to a slightly healthier lifestyle again, I’m taking some time to look back on my epic Flying Scotsman Trip. In general, it went remarkably well!

Trains & Buses

All the trains I booked well in advance—notably Eurostar, the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness, and the LNER back to London—were on time, and fully functional. Only the catering side was still a bit sub-par, due to COVID measures, or other reasons: no full menu on the sleeper—which I only know about because of a text message sent to my Belgian phone number, since I only had charcuterie and whisky—and they ran out of bacon rolls on the LNER way too soon!

Most of my ScotRail train tickets were flexible, although most of the time, I took the train I planned on taking anyway. I used the offer to upgrade to first class for £3 a couple of times, mainly because I really prefer solo seats, especially when travelling in a kilt. On one train, the train conductor refused to sell me the upgrade, but let me sit in first class for free, because I was ‘not getting anything in return anyway’… It was nice being able to buy and save all my tickets in-app, an option that wasn’t available yet when I first started planning this trip.

To get to Culloden Battlefield, to Peterhead and Ellon, and to St Andrews, I used Stagecoach buses, usually with digital DayRider tickets. They were never scanned, by the way, I just had to show them to the driver. It’s really convenient to have USB charging ports available on those buses.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh I only used digital tickets as well for the local buses, and for the Glasgow Subway the smartcard I still had from years before. I didn’t buy a single paper transport ticket the whole trip!

Hotels

In northeastern Scotland (Aberdeen, Dundee, and Perth) I stayed in Travelodge hotels. It’s remarkable how different they can be! The first one had two extra single beds in the room, the second one just one, and the third one —just when you’re getting used to having an extra bed to put your stuff on—only had the double bed I actually booked. The last one, in Perth, still used actual keys, instead of keycards!

In Glasgow I stayed at easyHotel, as I had oft before. No surprised there, but I do think I’ve started to outgrow them, or at least their smallest rooms: when travelling for over a week—with a rather large bag and a kilt to air out every night—a bit of extra space is not just a luxury anymore.

In Edinburg and London I stayed at a hub by Premier Inn hotel, in virtually indistinguishable rooms. Even though they discontinued the room control app they used to have, the ease with which you can still control everything—light, temperature, DND sign…—and plethora of USB and power outlets, both UK and EU, to keep everything charged, make these my favourite rooms of the trip. A really nice bathroom helped too… To my surprise the London hub even had a breakfast buffet, which was really convenient on my last day.

Beers & Bars

This was a very beer-centric trip, to say the least… Apart from the BrewDog bars—discussed separately below—I also visited quite a few other bars and taprooms in the towns and cities I visited. Scotland sure has a lot to offer in that department! Unfortunately I missed out on a few, due to their often (still) limited opening hours, especially on Sundays and the first couple of days of the week. I’ll just have to go back another time!

I actually had about a third of my beers in London, and almost half of the bars I visited were there! Considering the only noteworthy hangovers I had this trip were after a day or evening in London, next time I might avoid cramming so many London bars in my schedule…

BrewDog Bars, Stamps & Badges

So the BrewDog bars I visited in Scotland were BrewDog Inverurie, BrewDog Castlegate, BrewDog Aberdeen, BrewDog Peterhead, Dogtap Ellon, BrewDog Union Square, BrewDog St Andrews, BrewDog Dundee, BrewDog Perth, BrewDog Stirling, BrewDog Merchant City, BrewDog Kelvingrove, BrewDog Cowgate, and BrewDog Lothian Road.

When people hear I visited all of them, they tend to ask “Which was your favourite?” Now that’s a very hard question to answer! Some of them will always remain special to me: Cowgate was my first BrewDog bar ever, and where I drank my first BrewDog beers. In Kelvingrove I spent many hours—and had over a hundred beers, according to Untappd—and it still feels like home there… To fully appreciate the other bars, I should really revisit them a couple of times. A hungover afternoon visit, or being the first customer in for lunch, or the last customer on a Monday night, it just doesn’t compare to a visit on a buzzing Saturday night, or when meeting a friend during quiz night…

That being said, I had a great time in all of them. I didn’t catch anyone on a ‘bad day’, and felt very welcome in every single BrewDog bar. And even though I already tried most of the BrewDog beers on tap—and it didn’t take long to try the remaining ones—the guest beers were sufficiently different and interesting to keep me occupied for quite a while, and without having to drink the same beer twice.

To keep myself from forgetting to get my Beer Visa stamp, I usually put the booklet in front of me on the table. More than once, a crew member would come to my table with the stamp when they noticed it. It was really nice to see how much pride some took in making sure the stamp was the nicely centred and the right way up, and rather funny to get warnings about other bars, because ‘they always put the stamp upside down’…

I tried to get a pin badge in all bars as well, but some didn’t have any: I seem to be missing the ones for Inverurie, Ellon, St Andrews, and Merchant City. Another reason to go back soon?

Even though they swiped my EFP card in about half the bars, none of the digital stamps appeared automatically. After reporting them online however, they soon showed up, and even the Homedog and coveted Flying Scotsman challenge now appear as completed!

Kilts & Compliments

From the moment I alighted the Caledonian Sleeper, until the day I went back to London, I was wearing my eight yard MacLaren kilt, and I loved every minute of it. Some of the time I wore it with brogues—not ghillies!—and with proper garter ties, especially in more formal settings, like museums and memorials. Most of the time though, I wore it more informally, with a T-shirt, hiking boots, and the hose scrunched down, showing off my calf tattoos… Since I hardly ever wear shorts, I don’t get to do that very often!

As I’ve experienced before, even when a kilt isn’t an everyday occurrence, even in Scotland, no-one blinks an eye. If there is any reaction at all, it usually is a smile. On a couple of occasions, I even got a “Nice kilt”, or “Love your kilt” shoutout—thank you Glaswegian girls! When in one museum I suddenly noticed being followed by a guard, it turned out he had recognised my tartan, because he used to be in the Clan MacLaren Society council.

Only once this time, I was asked “Is Scotland playing tonight?” Apparently for some, that, and getting married, are the only reasons to kilt up! I don’t really need a reason though, and next time when I’m going to Scotland, I will definitely do it kilted again!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 10

Last Call in London

The last day of my trip was a bit calmer than originally planned. Instead of hitting the streets early in the morning, after breakfast in the hotel, I just went back in my room for a couple of hours. I prepared for the return trip—making sure I don’t have to dig too deep for my Belgian SIM, Brussels transport card, an house keys—and edited and uploaded the photos for the blogpost of the previous day. Those pull-out desks they have at hub Hotel really are perfect for this!

Then it was time to head out to Dalston for my vegan lunch… only to find out BrewDog Dalston doesn’t open until 16.00 on Mondays!

I briefly considered coming back then, but when I also found out that BrewDog Old Street wasn’t even open, I decided to take it very easy my last day, and save both those bars for another trip.

I did however go to BrewDog Chancery Lane, and had the blackened cajun chicken bowl for lunch there. That place is way bigger than I expected, by the way!

After that, I already I picked up my bag at the hotel, and walked over to BrewDog Camden. I spent my last hour and a half there, to meet up with its GM Ryan after all, and a last couple of beers.

From there it was not even a twenty minute walk to the Eurostar terminal in St. Pancras International train station.

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 9

LNER back to London

After putting on my trousers again—and that feels weird and uncomfortable after a week in a kilt—I boarded the LNER Azuma to London. Unfortunately, because of railroad works, it would take a different route, and take around six hours to get there, instead of the usual four. At least I would be well fed and hydrated, or so I thought… They already ran out of bacon rolls by the time the trolly arrived at my seat! A cheddar and pickle pickle roll for breakfast is was, then. A bit after noon I was lucky enough—yes, lucky, since they skipped the early boarders to feed all the newcomers first to see if anything would be left—to get a chicken and salad sandwich as well. Plenty of tea and cold drinks, though, and even their own ale!

The longer ride, also meant less time in London, so a lot of places to visit in a short time. A quick checkin in my hub Hotel—with a view on King’s Cross train station, highly recommended for trainspotters—and off I went!

I managed to get to the Bermondsey Beer Mile in time and have a drink—sometimes even more than one—in the Hawkes Taproom (yes, for a stamp), 73 Enid Street | Cloudwater London, new kid on the block Craft Beer Junction, and finally The Kernel Taproom Arch 7.

Then I went to that other set of arches in Hackney, where I visited Brew Club, Hackney Church Brew Co., and The Experiment.

To finish the night, I went to the OG London BrewDog bar: BrewDog Camden. Never seen it that calm, but it was a Sunday night, and already getting late. Still enjoyed my time there, some bars always feel a bit like coming home…

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 8

Edinburgh & Leith

My last full day in Scotland started with breakfast at Papii, and coffee at Lowdown Coffee. Then I was off to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. I knew there wouldn’t be any demonstrations of the actual camera obscura, but I didn’t expect it to be completely closed off for the public! So that left me with the World of Illusions—nice, but it wasn’t what I came for—and the observation deck, which at least gave me an interesting perspective onto Edinburgh.

The visit was over a bit quicker than I anticipated, but that at least meant I had time to revisit Oink for some pulled pork and crackling, and find a good spot to hear the One o’Clock Gun, and see the time ball drop on the Nelson Monument. I’ve been in Edinburgh a few times already, but somehow I’ve always missed it… I found a great position, one o’clock came, the gun blasted loudly, and the ball… did nothing!

Oh well, to Gladstone’s Land then, which is other than you might expect, a house. Each floor is redecorated and refurnished as it would have been in a certain period of its long life. Hats off to the NTS volunteers, enthusiastically telling the story of their floor, and pointing out all kinds of interesting tidbits.

Another coffee or two, at The Milkman this time, and it was time to discover Edinburgh’s bus network, and head over to Leith. Apparently, that’s where all the cool, new breweries open up (a taproom) or move to nowadays.

I actually went to two locations of Campervan Brewery: their Lost in Leith taproom, and their taproom—beer garden?—at the brewery itself. In between I tried to visit Pilot for a cheeky canny, but I didn’t think to check until what time their shop would be open…

Back in the centre of Edinburgh, I then headed to The Hanging Bat for a chicken club sandwich for dinner, and a beer, of course.

Then it was time for a special moment: my visit to the final Scottish BrewDog bar, BrewDog Lothian Road! Exactly one week after I entered the first Scottish BrewDog bar on my trip, I stepped into my last. It might sound silly, but I was actually even a bit emotional about it! Before I left, I collected the final stamp in my Beer Visa needed to complete the Flying Scotsman challenge.

As promised to the Fierce crew, I then finished the night at Fierce Bar Edinburgh, for my last beers on Scottish soil…

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 7

Glasgow West End & Edinburgh

After another breakfast at the Bucket List Café, I decided to spend my last day in Glasgow in the West End. It gave me a great excuse to travel on The Clockwork Orange again, the third-oldest subway system in the world.

I started my western adventure with coffee and a cruffin at Papercup, where, in despite of their name, they actually did serve coffee in proper cups.

Since part of one of my tattoos is inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s designs, I simply had to include a bit of his work in this trip. I didn’t visit the Willow Tea Rooms this time, but the Kelvingrove Museum had another of Mackintosh’s tea rooms set up. Unfortunately the traditional one o’clock organ concerts had not yet been reinstated…

By the way: if anyone is looking for some Ingram chairs: just £500 in the museum shop!

The Grunting Growler is an addition to the area I had been looking forward to to visit. A bottle shop is so much more fun if you can sit down for a drink as well!

A last visit to BrewDog Glasgow, before shoogling back to the centre, picking up my bag at the hotel, and I was off to the train station again. Destination: Edinburgh!

Edinburgh Waverley is just a couple of hundreds of meters from my hub hotel, so a checkin and bag drop off was the first thing I did.

I’m all for discovering new places, but some are too good not to go back to. Wings is one of those places, and I’ve really been looking forward to get stuck in some of their chicken wings, five years after the last time I had been there! My pick of the evening: the Charlic dry rub, and the Baz’s Buffalo, Imperial Tiger, and Barbaraki sauces. Nothing too spicy—only up to level two out of five—but very tasty. I’ll level up next time!

The last stop of the evening, was my first ever BrewDog bar, where I drunk my first ever BrewDog beer: BrewDog Edinburgh! Or is it BrewDog Cowgate now? I was lucky enough to immediately get a table, and spent a wonderful couple of hours there. Love that they still have a chalkboard with staff portraits!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 6

Glasgow and its Southside

My Thursday started with some poached eggs at the Bucket List Café, conveniently right next to my hotel, and a bus to Glasgow’s Southside, more specifically Pollok Park, where I went to see some Highland coos, and to visit Pollok House. I already mentioned I recently became a member of the National Trust for Scotland, but when I booked this visit, I didn’t realise this was actually the place where the NTS was founded. I’ve even been in the room where the actual foundation meeting was held! The house had an awesome library as well.

After my visit and an enjoyable walk out of the park again, it was time for the first of my joyful reunions of that day. I met up for lunch—Mac ‘n’ cheese—at Eala Bhán with Mark and Emma. They’re two food and travel writers I’ve first met the very first time I visited Glasgow, and probably every visit to Glasgow since then.

I then rushed to the Wee Beer Shop, to visit it just before it closed at 15.00. I then spend some time in The Allison Arms, where they had some beers in the fridge by Brew Toon, the brewery in Peterhead that was sadly closed when I visited it last Sunday.

The main reason for sticking around in the area however, was the Koelschip Yard, which only opened at 16.00. There I met up with its owner Dom, and with Andy, whom I both know back from their BrewDog Glasgow days. Lots of beers and laughs were had, and it was great seeing them again! The bar and its beer selection is awesome as well, of course!

For dinner I—finally—went to a Glasgow institution, Mother India’s Café. It absolutely lived up to its fame, that was some really good chicken saag!

The night ended at BrewDog Glasgow—that’s the Kelvingrove one—which still is my most-visited BrewDog bar after my ‘home’ bar in Brussels. They just started the Amundsen showcase, so that was my night sorted!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 5

Stirling and Glasgow

After a breakfast burrito at The Bulldog Frog, and a coffee at Blend, it was time to head back to Perth’s railway station, to take the train to Stirling.

After some hassle to pre-book while already standing in line, I finally visited Stirling Castle. I say finally, because the last time I was in Stirling, I simply didn’t have enough time for a visit to justify the entrance fee. It was nice to see reenactors telling us about where we were and what would have happened there, but it kinda defeated the purpose of the (paid-for) audio guide…

Castle visit over, I had some crispy haggis bon bons at BREA, followed by their ‘malt of the month’. A quick coffee at Unorthodox Coffee, and it was almost time for BrewDog Stirling to open.

I could easily have stayed about half an hour longer, because my train turned out to be delayed. My £3 upgrade to first class made me quickly forget about the delay though. I arrived in Glasgow Queen Street station, which meant I was able to check into my easyHotel not long after that.

Nevertheless, I still had to hurry along to be in time for my 19.30 booking in BrewDog Merchant City—or is it still DogHouse? After a first drink to catch my breath, I ordered the Trinity Sampler, which, in the end, turned out to be a little bit too much, even for me. I loosened my kilt straps and belt a little, and stayed in the bar for the remainder of the evening…

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 4

Dundee and Perth

My morning in Dundee started with a Kiwi breakfast at the Bach. No, not the fruit I’m allergic to, but a breakfast dish from New Zealand: mince on toast. Right across the street was my next destination, the McManus Galleries and Museum, where I learned about the three J’s of Dundee (Jam, Jute, and Journalism).

On my way to the station—and after a coffee stop at Empire State Coffee—I caught another glimpse of the—unfortunately closed on Tuesdays—V&A, and the ship Discovery.

Only a short train ride later, I arrived in Perth. Here I first visited The Black Watch Castle & Museum. An interesting history to say the least, but especially items from more recent history—like a kilt with bullet holes, and the mud from the banks of the river Somme still stuck on it—brought it very close to home.

Before finally checking into the hotel, I stopped at the Craft Beer Bottle Shop for a couple of beers, a chat, and a great breakfast spot recommendation (but you’ll have to wait to see until tomorrow).