Even moar travels, food and drink

I am now in Edinburgh—cold, gray and rainy, and just the way I remembered it when I once lived here for five months (the worst five months for this town: November-April).  But I’m warmed by the memories of fine comestibles yesterday.

It was too rainy yesterday to essay our planned trip to Cambridge—a walking town—so we went instead to Oundle, a lovely old town that is home of a famous school. Here’s a bit of downtown Oundle:

And below is the Oundle School for well-heeled Brits. Tuition there is well above tuition at universities like Cambridge and Oggsford (the Oundle School is of course for younger students). It’s not quite in the class of Eton, but is up there, and was disgorging male students in coats and ties, and females in equally spiffy garb.

(UPDATE: A reader below has noted that this is where Richard Dawkins went to school. That was news to me.)

Observing Oundle is thirsty work, so we drove a few miles north to a fine pub, the Shuckburgh Arms in Southwick, with a thatched roof and a lovely fire. Another wonderful feature is that pints—good pints of real ale—are only two pounds each, all day and seven days a week!

Here’s what was on tap:

The two on the left are from a local brewery, Neen Valley (we visited it afterwards), and I had the BSA (Blond Session Ale), which was a wonderful pint.  I find myself shying away from very hoppy beers these days: American microbrews tend to be too hopped, perhaps since American brewers equate hops with quality, and I’ve been put off by overly bitter beers like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. Give me a well-balanced session pint any day!

The menu was extensive, featuring local game (click to enlarge):

Guess what I had? (Answer below.) While waiting for lunch and quaffing a pint, I enjoyed another British tradition: PRIME MINISTER’S QUESTION TIME.  This occurs for half an hour each Wednesday, when all the members of the House of Commons get to fire questions at the Prime Minister. It’s very lively and also funny, as the members growl and make other low sounds, snickers, and noises of disapprobation during both the questions and answers. I’d like to see this in the U.S.:

(To my left is a wonderful fire in a nook underneath the beam.)

My lunch: partridge (with a potato cake, sauteed leeks, broccoli, and cauliflower). The publican told me that his father-in-law had shot the bird on his property. It was my first partridge! I tried to eat it with a knife and fork, but that was a bad business, and I finally picked it up and gnawed off the meat. The publican told me that was the way to do it!

It was a delicious bird, juicy but not gamey (I like gamey), and a substantial lunch. We then visited the very small Nene Valley brewery, talked to the brewmaster, and picked up a few bottles.

After that the rain worsened and we repaired home, later to consume a delicious homemade dinner of pasta shells with cheese, spinach, and tomato sauce, washed down with a bottle of Italian chardonnay (not shown) and a very fancy Valpolicella, which was inky black and brimming with raspberry fruit and hints of mint:

Because of the flooding yesterday, many roads were closed this morning and I barely made my train to Edinburgh. But I have arrived in Auld Reekie to speak to the local humanists—tomorrow evening. In the meantime I plan to visit the National Museum of Scotland and scrape up a pint or two and some local grub. I’ll be glad to receive suggestions for pubs in the center of town.

Details of my talk in Edinburgh are here.

37 Comments

  1. Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    On the subject of Oundle school, you could mention this account of an Oundle education by an Oundle old-boy well known to readers of this website.

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      What a lovely essay that is!

  2. Lewis Spurgin
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I’d recommend the Cloisters for good ale, whisky, cider and food. http://www.list.co.uk/place/102899-the-cloisters/

  3. daveau
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    You should have gone with the pheasant. At least that was my choice.

    I spent my time at pubs or after dinner learning about whiskys. I’d ask the bartender what his favorite was, then I’d buy him one, and have one myself, of course, and then pick his brain about others. I had no appreciation for Scotch previously, but I learned. I still have no affinity for Speyside, which is too subtle and complex, but I really like the lighter Island whiskys, like Talisker. Love the smell of peat and salt, as it takes me back to being there.

  4. Dominic
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Did you learn about Old Shuck? The Black Dog beer illustrates this. The shuck is a devil or fiend in the form of a black dog “This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk..describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes.”
    Not got my placenames dictionary hard by so I cannot check, but it is possible that the name Shuckburgh is related to this – or has been assumed to be.

    • BilBy
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      ‘Black Dogs’ are common all over the UK – ‘Gurt Dogs’ and ‘Yeth Hounds’ in the south west, ‘Barguest’ in Yorkshire, and, as you say. ‘Old Shuck’ or ‘Shug’ in the east. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the gurtest of the gurt dogs.

      • Dominic
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Shuckburgh does indeed mean demon, goblin or haunted hill according to Ekwall.

  5. Bonzodog
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    You will be balloon shaped if you carry on like this!

  6. Dominic
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Did you learn about Old Shuck? The Black Dog beer illustrates this. The shuck is a devil or fiend in the form of a black dog “This phantom I have heard many persons in East Norfolk..describe as having seen as a black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes.”
    Not got my placenames dictionary hard by so I cannot check, but it is possible that the name Shuckburgh is related to this – or has been assumed to be. Also, Conan Doyle supposedly stayed in Cromer & was inspired by the story in writing the Hound of the Baskervilles.

    • Dominic
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Sorry this appears twice – the UCL servers met a water pipe in an unfortunate assignation…

  7. Phil Knight
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I had a very good meal in “A Room in The West End” last week. My co-diners were particularly impressed by their haggis, me by my pint of Landlord. It’s a fair walk from the museum, but it could be worth a trip: the pub above (Teuchters) has a wide selection of Scottish/English ale. And whisky.

  8. Lissa
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Agree with Cloisters, also the Abbotsford on Rose Street, the Guildford Arms on West Register Street (near Waverley), and if you’re at the NMS, Doctors is just round the corner!

  9. Veroxitatis
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I would recommend Sandy Bells, 25 Forrest Rd. Edin., near the George Sq. part of the University. A great pub for live traditional Scots folk music, although noy perhaps quite the place it was in the 50’s /60’s, the heyday of Hamish Henderson of the School of Scottish Historical Studies.
    Rose St, just off Princes St has a number of famous boozers, although personally I think the best thing about them is the architecture and fittings. The round bar of the Kennilworth (The K) is worth taking a look at.

  10. invivoMark
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I love Edinburgh! And I would certainly love traveling to all these pubs, and tasting all these beers.

    But you misunderestimate American beers, Dr. Coyne! America has the best microbrews in the world, and living in Chicago, you have no excuse. I, too, avoid hops as much as I can, but in the Midwest, that still leaves me with lots of choices.

    You’ve got Goose Island in Chicago, which I know has some great brews, and I know you can get Founders too. I don’t know what you can get there that’s from Wisconsin, but there are several solid breweries I could easily recommend. Since you seem to like the English style ales, I’d suggest that if you can ever get your hands on a Furthermore Proper or a Potosi Cave Ale, do so!

    • BilBy
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      When I first came to the USA I guzzled a lot of very hoppy beers and loved them – but lately the taste is wearing off and I yearn for a more balanced pint. Off to visit family in Blighty soon, so shall have a few sessions when there.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      As a proud Badger I’ll vouch for Potosi Cave Ale as a not-too-hoppy well balanced brew for those of us who tend towards the English style ales. (Stay away from their “Good Old Potosi” beer which reminds me of the stuff sold by major breweries here in the States for the last 90 years. I think they sell it to people who are nostalgic for the flavors of 1955.)

      And Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls makes a tasty “English Style Special Ale”.

      http://www.sandcreekbrewing.com/beers.php#sand_creek_english

      We have a gazillion microbrews up here, but still the over-hopped varieties dominate.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        and sub.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      As a (continental) European who has lived in the US and then moved back across the pond, I totally agree. US microbrews are probably the best I ever had, and I miss them terribly. And there is nothing wrong with a good hoppy IPA once or twice in a while. There are many recently-opened microbrews here where I live, too, but they tend to go for Belgian-style brews only. And all major breweries have been bought out by Heineken or the like ages ago, and all make the same, basic, boring lager beers. I had to resort to making my own to be able to recreate some of that hoppiness which reminds me of my halcyon days as a student in the US. Still, I think I might need to convince my better half to go back to the UK for our next vacation.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Can’t agree, Alek…, about over-hopped American IPAs… Or, rather, I agree with Jerry Coyne. There’s a micro-brewery run by Americans here in Japan – Baird Brewery – who also go in for over-hopped IPAs (the expensive Suruga Bay IPA is a star example), and who were being sniffy in a magazine not so long ago about Japanese-run micro-breweries, some of which produce quite good ales (quite a few sake brewers are going in for beer as well now).

  11. Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    The National Museum of Scotland is not to be missed.

  12. revjimbob
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    The MP on the telly was my MP until I recently moved – typical Labour vote-fodder and as bright as a blackout.

  13. MadScientist
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “Question time” may be a tradition, but it was probably far more valuable many decades ago. I don’t mind that we don’t have an equivalent with the president standing in front of Congress – Congress is enough bad comedy and monkey house behavior as it is.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      And the average US politician would be helpless and in deep trouble if she/he had to speak without a teleprompter or had to answer questions that were not pre-approved…

  14. aljones909
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you should have been here (Edinburgh) earlier this week. It was wet, grey – but mild! We can take some consolation from the equally bad weather in england. Tomorrow it’s forecast to be sunny most of the day. The top of Arthur’s Seat is a terrific vantage point to view the city. If you’ve not seen it before there’s a new-ish statue of David Hume on the Royal Mile. I take particular pride in the number of churches that are now put to better use.

  15. Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never been to Edinburgh but I’ve always wanted to live in Scotland, precisely *because* of the weather. Some people seem to forget that there are humans amongst us who positively detest the sun!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:23 am | Permalink

      The West Coast is the place for you – I can recommend Oban.

  16. Les Faby
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    So, when are you going to make it out to Silicon Valley to lecture?

    Did anyone notice the 1 and 2 pound ticket prices in Scotland? What a bargain!

  17. Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    ‘… a very fancy Valpolicella, which was inky black and brimming with raspberry fruit and hints of mint.”

    I love that wine.

    Though sunny climes nurture a different cuisine than a foggy, damp, cold one does, both have their merits. The later cuisine in some ways is more satisfying psychologically, at least to me, especially if eaten near an open fire.

    • Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:57 am | Permalink

      And so true about the joys of watching Parliament do their thing–in the five years I lived in the UK I could never get enough of that inimitable style of seemingly chaotic argumentation.

  18. Miles_Teg
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    That menu looks very enticing and reasonably priced. If I ever get to Edinburgh again I’ll have to give it a try. My only quibble with your choice is that I like to avoid using my hands. to pick stuff apart.

  19. Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    I come from Edinburgh but no longer live there. I made a document for a couple who were visiting over the weekend…it may help.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nqvGswaC4H37hEf0zHnP6hWNJvAUBucWN2UC9bEiYSs/edit

    • Larry Gay
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Jerry, You must have had one pint too many. On the menu the partridge was “caught”, but later described as “shot”. Is someone playing loose with the truth here? In a sober state this discrepancy wouldn’t slip by you.

  20. Pray Hard
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    You do realize that “kitteh” English is a nefarious plot to control our minds, don’t you?Soon, nuns of us will be able to spell korreklee.

    • Pray Hard
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Sorry … “nunz” …

  21. Jonathan Smith
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Just a couple of points(not pints) It is pronounced Suthick and the Nen Vally/River.
    I was born in Thrapton the next town.

  22. Jonathan Hartley
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Back to important stuff; Edinburgh pubs to visit: Canny Man, Morningside; Sheep’s Heid Inn, Niddrie (on the ‘other’side of Arthur’s Seat, and the Halfway House, near the station.

  23. Posted December 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    My boyfriend & I frequently enjoy the Prime Minister’s Questions on BBC America Sunday evening here in the Southern Tier of New York State. Yep, it’s a lot of fun


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