My original plan for my final day in Scotland was to tour the Edinburgh Castle, then the Writers Museum, then call an Uber for a ride to a brewery. A quick Google search led me to believe my best option was Caledonia Brewing, located in the Shandon area of Edinburgh, about two miles from our hotel on Princes Street. Unbeknownst to me, however, the Writers Museum was closed for the day so I settled for a stroll around the University campus.
During my travels across the U.S., I have visited 130 breweries (hold your applause until the end of the presentation, please) and I had a strong desire to visit a brewery during my time in Scotland. It wasn’t as though I’d had a shortage of beer drinking, and I’d had the great fortune of visiting the Dalwhinnie Distillery. But there persisted an emptiness which could only be filled with the smell of freshly spent hops.
On Dalry Road the landscape changed back to stone houses and cobblestone streets. I understood that this was the Edinburgh most visitors don’t get to see. I had left behind the manicured surface of a historic city, dolled up to play on the fancies of sightseeing foreigners and wandered into the realm of the locals. This was the residential spread, the unglamorous tenements of the Scottish bourgeoisie. Auto-mechanics and health clinics were the new streetside attractions, and the crowds of rubbernecking pedestrians were replaced with wheelchair-bound geriatrics and perpetual bus passengers. On our national tour I’d seen the Scotland of Outlander, the Scotland of Rob Roy, the Scotland of Harry Potter; but this was the Scotland of Trainspotting, this dingy uneven ancient landscape of brick, concrete, and industrial warehouses.
One of these warehouses turned out to be my destination, and as I approached the site I became increasingly aware of my folly. A secured gate was all that stood between me and a true Scottish brewery but the workers there confirmed my growing suspicion that this was just a location for production and distribution. I pocketed my unused excitement and returned the way I came.
I had missed the Writers Museum, there was nothing I could do to change that now; but across the street from my room was a towering dedication to the inspiration of literature, The Scott Monument. At 200 feet tall it stands as the tallest monument to any writer in the world and to reach the uppermost viewpoint you must ascend the 287 steps of a spiralling stone staircase. The doors would be closed soon and I knew I didn’t have much time, but I also knew that I must climb it.
Each viewpoint unveiled another level of Edinburgh, and from the top you could see it all. From Arthur’s Seat to the ports of Leith, Holyrood Palace, the Parthenon of Carlton Hill, the Castle, the sooty streets of Auld Reeky. From this height I could see the magic which inspired Rowling, the adventure for Stevenson, and even the poverty for Welsh. I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to the man who taught Scotland to see the beauty in its own history.
I eventually did find a brewery. Fairly close to Princes Street. After midnight. But it was still open and I filled that empty space in my trip. I visited my 131st brewery.