Have you ever wanted to experience dining like royalty across the centuries? Well, if so, then our latest blog post is for you. This week’s journey takes us to the Sheep Heid Inn which is nestled in the picturesque village of Duddingston (and still part of Edinburgh). Of course, it is no longer an inn, but is a renowned public house (or ‘pub’ for short). As a side note, there will be a future post dedicated to Duddingston village as it has quite an interesting history all on its own. But, for now, on to the main task at hand…
History, Legend, & Myth
What wouldn’t a good story be with out some legends to spice up the history, right? And the Sheep Heid Inn certainly has quite a few to make this tale intriguing and mysterious. Straight away, some of you might be wondering about the word “heid”. This one is simple to solve- it is the Scots word for “head”.
However, the date the Sheep Heid Inn was established is not so easy to answer. There is a sign located in the carpark (parking lot) at the rear of the Inn that states that it is, “Scotland’s oldest surviving public house” and that it was established in 1360. Now, there is a wee bit of debate as to whether this is true. The Inn’s website confirms that local historians claim that there has been an inn licensed at that location since 1360. Fair enough. Let’s continue our survey of the building.
According to Historic Environment Scotland, the main part of the Sheep Heid Inn building dates back to the 18th century. Nevertheless, there have been quite a few changes to the interior over the decades. For example, the bar (see the picture below), is Edwardian and quite a lovely design. In fact, when you walk into the main entrance, you enter at the bar.
The interior certainly has an historic feel to it as the ceilings are low, the space in the front dining room is quite cosy, and even the glass in the windows seems quite old. A stainless-steel tankard with an elk handle to hold the silver wear was one fun little touch on the table that added to the atmosphere alongside a couple of fencing swords on the wall. We were fortunate enough to be seated in this area.
Dog-Friendly & Delicious Food
A wonderful part of our experience was finding out that the Inn is dog-friendly. This quickly became apparent when a couple arrived shortly after us with their two adorable dogs- Stanley and Colin. The server kindly brought out two, small drinking bowls for the dogs who gratefully lapped up the water while they settled in under the table.
They were quite excited when I went over to meet them, and they proved too fast for my camera as shown in how the picture quality is a little blurry. Nevertheless, you can still see their joy as they posed for me. We are always happy to find dog-friendly establishments throughout Edinburgh; our wonderful Golden Retriever tour guide, Sawyer, likes to be able to visit people and be part of the action when out on the job. We are proud to say that many locations throughout the city are welcoming to dogs, and plan on writing more about this soon.
Not too long after our visit with Colin and Stanley, our food arrived. We decided to go with traditional pub food and both ordered the beer-battered, line-caught cod with twice-cooked chunky chips (fries), minted pea purée, and tartare sauce. It was quite tasty and we were happy with our order. We will definitely have to conduct further research and go back to try some of the other meals on the menu as there were quite a few interesting options- roasted pork belly and seared scallops is on the top of my to-do list.
Of course, Skittles, in this case, isn't referring to what some of you know as candy. Rather, it is the old school ten pin bowling game, and the Sheep Heid Inn has one of the oldest surviving alleys in Scotland. The alley is tucked away in the back of the building and is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the Inn.
The alley that exists there now is a lovely, Victorian sports hall that was built in 1882. Yet, Skittles has been played at this location for centuries. A few spectacular Scottish legends have visited the Inn to play a little of the game- none other than last week's blog post star, Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, James VI. In fact, according to the Inn, James was so pleased with his time at the Inn playing Skittles, he provided the Inn keeper with a gift. This gift was an elaborate snuff box made from a Ram's head which is rumoured to be how the Inn got its name. The Skittles alley is still functional and has been used ever since it was rebuilt in 1882.
The Queen and Kelly Clarkson
There have been other famous patrons of the Sheep Heid Inn over the years. Our friend, Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS), who has a habit of appearing in our blog posts also stopped by the Inn. Mr. Robert Burns (previously discussed in our Writers’ Museum post alongside RLS) was a guest as was Bonnie Prince Charlie.
More recently in 2016, the Queen, who rarely dines out, stunned her fellow diners when she popped into the Inn for a meal. Even U.S. pop star and The Voice (U.S.) judge, Kelly Clarkson, dined there in 2015.
Edinburgh: Accessible Historical Experiences
So, when you are next in Edinburgh, and looking to enjoy a delicious meal in a location filled with history, make sure you stop by and check out the Sheep Heid Inn. The wonderful part of Edinburgh is that wherever you go around the city and its environs, you can be a part of the history and experiences that make it what it is today. There is something for everyone, and you don’t have to be as wealthy as a queen to do so.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!