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Issue 58 - High Street Heaven

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011


This article is 7 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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High Street Heaven

Sally Toms splashes the cash in some of Scotland's finest emporiums.

The quote once was that the British were a nation of shop keepers, never has it been more true than in Scotland. Here you can find some of the best retailers in their fields, from cheese to whisky and clothing to butchers.

The shops often have long histories, once serving their local communities, but these days the focus is both local and global. All the shops offer a wealth of experience and the well trained assistants are always one hand to help if you are stuck.

Royal Mile Whiskies 379 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1PW Tel: +44 (0)131 225 3383 Web: On Edinburgh’s much walked Royal Mile, sandwiched between countless shops selling cashmere and kilts, you’ll find a small shop with a worldwide reputation.

Royal Mile Whiskies was established in 1991 and has grown steadily in range and reputation ever since. Today it is widely known as one of the world’s great specialist whisky merchants, and has won Whisky Magazine’s ‘Retailer of the Year’ more times than is frankly polite.

This can be attributed to Scotch whisky’s growing status globally, but is mostly down to the passion and enthusiasm of owner Keir Sword and his team. Keir was already working at the shop when he bought the business back in 1997, and since then has expanded the business via an excellent web and mail order service, and by adding a second premises in London in 2002.

The shelves of Royal Mile Whiskies groan under the weight of thousands of bottles, mostly malts. All the big names are here, plus plenty of rarities and oddities from around the world, priced anywhere between £20 and £10,000 or so. All of the staff are enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the subject, but not patronisingly so, and will happily lead you through the world of whisky.

Iain J. Mellis 30A Victoria St, Edinburgh, EH1 2JW Tel: +44 (0)131 226 6215 Web: ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’, but it’s the cheesemongers we should really be thanking, without them how would we get our fix? And as far as cheesemongers go, Edinburgh’s Iain J. Mellis blows all others right out of the water.

Iain had been working in the dairy industry for 15 years before he decided to open his own shop.

In 1993 he found the perfect site: a small, damp, cave-like premises halfway up Victoria Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It was an ideal location; a place that could be kept cool and damp without too much trouble – perfect for storing cheese.

Since then he has opened a further five shops, two more in Edinburgh as well as Aberdeen, St Andrews and Glasgow and has firmly secured his position as a pioneer in the supply of gourmet cheeses from all over Scotland, England, Wales and Europe.

As you’d expect, the staff at Iain J. Mellis are extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to guide you through the bewildering selection.

But be warned – if you’re a cheese addict, be prepared to come away laden with some very odorous packages. It would be wise to avoid public transport on the way home.

Johnstons of Elgin Newmill, Elgin, Moray, IV30 4AF Tel: +44 (0)1343 554 000 Web: From the banks of the River Lossie in Speyside, Johnstons of Elgin has been creating the finest woollen and cashmere cloth, clothing and accessories since 1797. Since then, the company has been owned by just two families – the Johnstons and the Harrisons. Today the ownership of the company still rests with direct descendants of the Harrison family.

In its early days the mill produced hard-wearing tweeds, designed to withstand life on the hill and the Scottish weather. In later years Johnstons of Elgin expanded dramatically to become one of the most sophisticated weaving and knitting plants in the world.

The process begins in the farthest reaches of Mongolia, where the raw material is combed by hand from the downy undercoat of the rare Cashmere goat. From there, the fibre is shipped to Johnstons mill where it is dyed, teased, carded, spun and hand finished by the latest generation of Elgin craftsmen. It is the only mill in Scotland to take cashmere from fibre to fabric, and is the relied upon manufacturer for international fashion brands and Saville Row tailors alike.

But this is more than just a shop; it’s an important piece of Scotland’s industrial history.

Visitors can take a free tour of the mill, the last remaining vertical woollen mill in the United Kingdom, as well as explore the heritage centre, and stop for lunch in the coffee shop.

House of Bruar By Blair Atholl, Perthshire, PH18 5TW Tel: +44 (0)1796 483 709 Web: ‘The Home of Country Clothing’ is widely acknowledged as Scotland’s most prestigious, independent store.

Opened in 1995, by Mark Birbeck and his wife Linda, House of Bruar began as a small quality clothes and food shop and quickly developed into a major, luxury Scottish brand name.

Today it is still run as an independent family business, and welcomes more than one million visitors through the door every year.

It is a unique shopping experience, for sure – stuffed to the gills with luxury clothing brands and an exquisite food hall.

The gentleman’s department is done up like a hunting lodge, all leather chairs and log fires which makes you feel as if you should be sipping a whisky while browsing through 30 different sorts of moleskin trousers.

The ladies clothing department is a cornucopia of cashmere, plaid and shooting tweeds, punctuated by designer handbags and shoes.

62 Scotland Magazine | Issue 58 Anstruther Fish Bar 42-44 Shore Street, Anstruther, Fife, KY10 3AQ Tel: +44 (0)1333 310 518 Web: If you’re thinking a chip shop looks a bit out of place in an article about the best Scottish retailers, then you’ve obviously never been to the Anstruther Fish Bar, arguably the finest chip shop in all of Scotland.

It’s owned by husband and wife team Robert and Alison Smith, who bought the business in 2003 and work the fryers together with their three sons.

In 2008/2009 it won the extremely prestigious title of Fish & Chip Shop of The Year, beating countless entries from all over the UK. Today, in the busiest summer season, the shop will sell in excess of 7,000 fish suppers a week.

The secret of a good fish supper, says Robert, is to use only the best quality fresh fish, potatoes and batter. Most fish shops use a pre-prepared batter that will last all day, Robert hand mixes a fresh batter for each batch of fish (which sometimes means he’s mixing up to 40 batches every day). The main attraction, fishes such as haddock, lemon sole and halibut, are all from local, sustainable sources.

They don’t come much fresher than that.

Diners can chose from the pleasant 52-seater restaurant, with its fantastic views over the Firth of Forth, or from the benches on the pretty harbour front opposite the shop, where you can watch the local fishermen landing their catch.

Crombies of Edinburgh 97-101 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3RZ Tel: +44 (0)131 557 0111 Web: Crombie’s first opened in its doors in 1955, when local health inspector Alex Crombie realised he could do a much better job than the kind of premises he visited on a day to day basis. Today it remains in the family, and is run by Alex’s son Sandy (now 71), and grandson Jonathan, who believe strongly in the four principles that Alex started: ‘quality, cleanliness, service and value’.

Sausages are the speciality of this Edinburgh butcher, and there are more than 40 varieties from which to choose, such as: Whisky, Hog & Wild Thyme; Pork, Spicy, Mango & Ginger; and Pork & Wild Porcini Mushroom. The haggis are also extremely popular, derived from a recipe dating from 1920 when Alex Crombie began his apprenticeship as a butcher aged just 14.

In the days of vacuum packed, anonymous meats from supermarket shelves, it is traditional butcher shops like Crombie’s that deserve the very highest appreciation. As Alex’s slogan back in the 1950s stated: “You can live without Crombie’s sausages, but what a life!”

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