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Addressing the haggis!

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I believe in eating and drinking the products of the country being visited and, while trekking around, Scotland never have any trouble tucking into a plate of haggis,neeps and tatties usually served in attractive country or city pubs, inns or taverns.

Travel with Dusty Miller

Haggis (Robert Burns wrote a famous “address” to it!) is essentially a form of sausage, usually comprising heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or lamb, chopped and diced, combined with oat, suet, herbs and spices,simmered in a casing traditionally made from the beast’s stomach.

Believe it or not, this is a superbly delicious dish, often served with “tatties” (creamy mashed spuds) and “neeps” which are pureed turnips or swede. Traditionally the Scots mainly eat it “dry” (without gravy), but I like it with some moisture: either gravy or a rich whisky sauce.

During the 1912 London Olympics, we coincidentally called for lunch at a lovely high street pub in Peebles, The Crown Inn, where one Scott Brash (apparently by name, not nature) often wets his whistle; as we ate haggis, Mr Brash appeared on the inn’s huge TV screen as he competed (unsuccessfully) in the men’s team show-jumping for Great Britain.

Peebles was a favourite with Victorian holidaymakers and still does well out of tourism. It was also a textile manufacturing centre, but only one mill survives. Most Peebles residents now commute to work in Edinburgh,about 35km away.

When in Scottish capital, I often order haggis at The Standing Order in New Town mainly because it’s a JD Wetherspoon pub and this chain offers fantastic value for money. As it name suggests, The Standing Order is a former bank. An enormous, vaulted building it was the head office of Union Bank. I had a slight difference of opinion there with a barman I took to be Latvian or Lithuanian who asked me if I wanted “extra gravy” with haggis. Well no: I didn’t want it slopping in the stuff! What he meant was did I want gravy to accompany the meal at 50p extra.

Other great pubs in Edinburgh include The Dome, with stunning Graeco-Roman architecture, also in New Town but much more upmarket (and costly) than the Standing Order. This lovely building was once home to the local Royal College of Physicians.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern is on the Royal Mile, a short stroll from Edinburgh Castle, Waverley Station (named after Sir Walter Scott’s novels) and George IV Bridge. George IV had been Prince Regent while his lunatic father George III ruled Great Britain in name only.

Deacon Brodie’s is run by the Nicholson group, whose pubs throughout the UK are always worth checking out as they offer value for money and good cooking. William Brodie was the inspiration for RL Stevenson’s characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as by day he was a solid citizen, town council member and Deacon of the Guild of Wrights, but by night relished low company, drinking and gambling.To finance the nocturnal activities he took to robbery, was caught, tried and hanged in 1741.

Another William Brodie sculpted the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his master, John Gray, an Edinburgh policeman for 14 years until the dog itself died on January 14, 1872.

The statue stands outside the pub of that name in Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh; it’s another Nicholson house
Yet another must visit Nicholson boozer in Edinburgh is the Conan Doyle in Picardy Place, close to where the creator of Sherlock Holmes was born. Coincidentally, when in London I often have an odd half pint in the Sherlock Holmes pub in Northumberland Street.

No visit to or pub crawl around Edinburgh would be complete without a dram or a bite at the Sheep Heid in Duddingston. Arguably the oldest pub in the capital if not the whole of Scotland, it’s been dispensing drink, food and good companionship since 1360.

There are a dozen or more licensed premises around the High Street in Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, which has been my Scottish base on two successive August holidays. One of them — the Buccleuch Hotel — is owned by dispossessed Zimbo farmer, Dave Smith. His food is superb (I heard a daughter was the very talented chef) especially stock-rich root-vegetable soups, Guinness-and-beefsteak short-crust pies and succulent gammon steaks, with pineapple rings, field mushrooms, “proper” chips, crisply battered onion rings, an organic freshly-laid egg and good vegetables.

There are many Buccleuch (and Buccleugh) Arms, Inns and Hotels nearby, named after the Dukes of Buccleuch, huge land-owners whose main family seat is Drumlanrig Castle. The Dukes also have the title Marquis of Queensbury, after whom boxing’s rules were named.

To get to Moffatt (population about 2 500 and a previous winner of the prestigious Britain in Bloom competition), I take a bus from London (or Oxford, changing at depressingly modernistic Milton Keynes at midnight) to Lockerbie, about 16km from my destination.

Lockerbie was unknown to most of the world until Pan-Am’s flight 103 blew up 35 000 feet above it on December 21, 1988. A Libyan terrorist bomb killed 259 passengers from 21 nations on the Jumbo and 11 residents of the wee town of 4 000.

It was home to a prisoner-of-war camp after World War II. Almost all prisoners were Ukrainians who volunteered to fight for the Galician Division of the Nazi Waffen SS; not so much for Hitler and Fascism but against Stalin, communism and the occupation of their homeland.

Incongruously, we visited a Tibetan Buddhist temple perched high in the glens in Eskdalemuir. The Scottish Tourist Board says the Samye Ling Temple — the first to be built in the West — is among the country’s 10 most popular destinations.

We’d a nice cup of rooibos tea there, in sun-kissed Zen-peaceful gardens. At the next table, two matrons consumed Tibetan toast with Buddhist baked beans and behind us a spotty Glasgow “chav” berated his long-suffering mum for taking him somewhere he “couldnae” have meat pie!

My companions did have meat (and potato) pies for a fairly late lunch at the interestingly named Tibbie Shiels Inn, St Mary’s Loch above Selkirk in 2012, but when we returned in August this year it was open only to residents, not casual visitors.

Not to worry, we drove on a few kilometres to the recently re-opened Gordon Inn at Yarrow and met a couple called Livingstone, from Calgary, Canada who were attending a Livingstone family reunion in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland. They promised to ring us if they ever made it to Livingstone, Zambia!

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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