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Issue 35 - Breaking the habit

Scotland Magazine Issue 35
November 2007

 

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Breaking the habit

Scotland is full of new discoveries, says Sally Toms

You know how it is; you get to know a place well enough and yet always end up going to the same places.

Like when you order the same dish from your local takeaway, because you know it’s the one you like the most. It’s especially true of cities, for visitors and residents alike.

Residents are often the worst, ask anyone who lives Edinburgh if they’ve actually been inside the castle, or to the Tattoo, and you’d be surprised by how many people say no.

We are creatures of habit. We know what we like and tend to stick to it, but I’d like to encourage our readers to break those habits and explore everything that Scotland has to offer. In particular, its national drink.

This idea was prompted one day when, in a rare break from my routine, I found myself in South Queens ferry some 10 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh. Often I only see the same parts of the city – inside the airport; taxis, my favourite hotel, pub, restaurant, shop etc and always in the centre.

But on this particular morning in early autumn, I was rewarded.

At a time when most visitors are further east, jostling for space inside the gift shops on the Royal Mile, Queensferry is quaintly idyllic. It’s the kind of town where people still put flowerpots outside their front doors (without having to chain them down), a sleepy seaside town with cobbled streets, seagulls and the salt tang of seaweed in the air.

The only noticeable sounds were the waves on pebble beach, and rattle of trains on the bridge.

I can imagine no better view of the Forth Rail Bridge without getting wet. The locals agree; a very proud and helpful taxi driver went out of his way to show off its dramatic beauty at night. Yes, yes… as taxi drivers are inclined to do while the meter’s running, but – you cynical lot – there was no charge.

But breaking old habits does not only mean exploring new towns or eating in a new restaurant, it is also to do with challenging stereotypes and changing something’s image.

Astute readers may have noticed we publish a number of other magazines here at Paragraph Publishing. I edit another magazine called Beers of the World, which represents my other passion. This year was the first of our annual World Beer Awards, which as the name suggests, showcases the world’s best beers. Scotland and beer being passions of mine, I was overjoyed when a Scottish beer won the awardfor World’s Best Ale.

This is an amazing achievement and I hope it will make people realise that Scottish beer deserves the same respect as its other national drink, whisky (the other being Irn Bru, but we’ll rule that out for now).

In the 19th century there were nearly 300 breweries in the country, though today there are not more than about 60. Beer in general has been getting rather a lot of bad press in recent years, whereas whisky has somehow maintained its status as hand-crafted premium product. This is rather unfair when you consider that brewing in Scotland goes back thousands of years – whisky is the newcomer.

Both whisky and beer are made from malted barley, yeast and water. Whisky is, effectively, beer that has been distilled and aged. Though beer generally has hops added, and sometimes other ‘adjuncts’ such as heather. The distinction can be blurred when beers such as Innis & Gunn are matured in whisky barrels, but I’m getting my magazines confused… Whisky tourism is big business in Scotland, but beer tourism? Not so much. This could be about to change with the launch of Scotland’s ‘Real Ale Trail’, an initiative backed by VisitScotland similar to th whisky trails that already exist. The upshot of all this positive marketing is that beer is about due for an image change, and this has to start with people’s attitudes and (bringing me back to my original point) breaking old habits.

Nowhere is this more deserved than in Scotland.

Sally Toms