The Neidpath Inn:
The Collins dictionary states: ‘A pub is a building where people can have drinks, especially alcoholic drinks, and talk to their friends.’
Although this definition is factually correct, it fails to express the real value of a pub to a small town such as Peebles.
There are those who would argue that the sale of alcohol does not have a favourable effect on many communities and households around Scotland. In many ways they are absolutely correct. But despite the complex issues that surround its consumption, the vast majority of people who enjoy a night out in their local pub do so in a socially responsible manner.
Our local pub can provide us with a place to relax, discuss and simply get away from it all. It can also serve to bring people together and foster a sense of community. You might find yourself discussing the issues of the day or even meeting people who can help you in your day to day life or even your work. You may even use the pub to host meetings or play music. You might enjoy some sporting competition (like darts, pool or dominoes) and maybe you enjoy the odd quiz night too...
In this era of mass media, television and internet the Pub has perhaps never been so relevant. It maybe even serves to keep us ‘grounded’ from the barrage of electronic information that we unwittingly consume every day from our homes and workplaces. It is a place where we interact with friends, acquaintances and strangers in a modern world that often seems to discourage or forget about human contact.
Ken Kennedy (Musician) illustrates this point perfectly, ‘On a Thursday night we get a chance to play music and talk with each other. It’s a great social night and even for the guys at the bar it’s a great backdrop to their evening too.’ Pete Sterricks (Landlord) also holds his own thoughts about the pub’s appeal to its customers, ‘The pub means an awful lot to the community. Whether you have been drinking in here for two or three months or even twenty or thirty years - some people come in to let off steam and some come in to socialise. It can be a part of people’s daily or weekly routine so I think it’s important that we have as many individual pubs as possible. It doesn’t really matter why you come in, it just matters that these types of places are here for people to enjoy.’
The Neidpath Inn moved to its present location in the Old Town around the late 1800s. It lies in the shadow of the Neidpath Castle – just 15 minutes walk up the road. The castle has a rich history dating all the way back to the early 1200s. It has been touched by many historical events and visited by many historical characters that include Oliver Cromwell and the Marquis of Montrose. But in its own way the Neidpath Inn also boasts of some surprise visitors (and regulars) over the years - members of famous rock bands such as Nazareth and Black Sabbath have connections to the pub as well as a few well known sporting personalities too.
The bar is itself is unpretentious. It is attended by many local people but always welcomes new visitors with open arms. ‘It has changed little over the years’ as Ian Litster emphasises, ‘What I particularly love is that the original wooden bar has not changed because a lot of places would just rip out these old types of bars. I started coming here 43 years ago in 1959. I was only 16 years old and we would stand outside on a Wednesday morning because that was my day off. We would wait for Billy Mutch (the landlord) to open up and I would go in with a chap who ended up being the best man at my wedding. We would stand there playing darts until it was time to go home for lunch, we may only have had a couple of pints but in those days it was a huge novelty to get served in the first place'.
Six other bars ply their trade in Peebles so I wondered how the Neidpath differed from them. Ian Litster seemed quite sure about why the pub feels so unique. ‘The thing that sets the Neidpath apart from the other pubs in Peebles is that it’s kind of ‘old worldy’. I started coming here because my first house was in the Old Town, so I was very close. It’s has loads of old characters who still come here but wouldn’t go down the street to one of the new ‘chain type’ pubs that exist now now in Peebles. It’s just such a homely pub and I like to go into a place where you know that you can have a good laugh. There may even be the odd swear word used but that’s part and parcel of a public bar. If you went into somewhere like Wotherspoon’s I would bet that somebody would get upset about the kind of ‘every-day banter’ which exists in traditional pubs.
Alan Duncan has worked in the bar for a remarkable 41 years. He is an extremely reliable witnesses to the pubs true character and story. ‘I would say that The Neidpath is friendlier than some pubs in Peebles. It’s just a good old fashioned pub really and I’ve always got on well with the landlords and the customers. I really enjoy the atmosphere in here. It has pretty much stayed the same for its locals and regulars; it is a very important place for ‘social intercourse’ and a blether.
Alan is a true gent behind the bar and a well kent face around the town. He is also a dab hand at making and distributing free bowls of soup to lucky punters every Thursday night at the music evening. But how did he come to work at the Neidpath I wondered? ‘I’m born and bred in Peebles so I have been here for 63 years. I grew up in one of the old pre-fabs in Kingsland Square and I had been drinking at the Neidpath for about two or three years before I started working here. As the place got busier I kind of fell into it and got asked to help out behind the bar - so it became official.’
Alan is far from nostalgic when he recalls the differences in opening hours that existed in days gone by. ‘I don’t think the Neidpath has changed a bit. But the licensing hours now are unbelievable compared to back in the 1960s. The pub would shut by 10pm, and in those days it would also shut between 2.30pm and 5pm in the afternoon. All public houses were closed on a Sunday so you had to go to a Hotel on if you wanted a drink. Just before I started to work at The Neidpath you needed to travel to either Innerleithen or Penicuik because the law said you had to be a bonafide traveller in order to get a drink. So it meant that you couldn’t go to a hotel in Peebles (if you lived here) because that meant you hadn’t travelled! We had some very strange laws in those days, so for example, folk from Innerleithen would come here and we would go down there - passing each other on the road as we travelled.’
There is no doubt that many of us hold an affinity to our local pub. So in the course of putting this piece together I truly hope that I am successful in providing you with a little flavour of the Neidpath Inn. Many of us regularly visit similar places where we find some sense of solace and relief from our daily routine, so although each bar is different - in many ways they are the same. They take us away from our daily routine to enjoy a drink, a chat, some music or even a game of pool.
A place to get away from it all.
The Neidpath Inn
25 Old Town, Peebles EH45 8JF
The Neidpath Inn offers a public and lounge bar. It also offers rooms to let above the premises and a 'secret' beer garden at the rear. The pub has a number of gaming machines, a superb Duke Box, Dart Board and a full sized Pool Table - the best in town! Live sports are shown in the bar on channels such as ESPN and SKY sports.
The Neidpath caters for many event events. Known locally as a great location for birthday parties, wedding parties and social gatherings: such as Pool and Darts competitions, Committee Meetings and Folk Nights.
All 4 rooms at the Neidpath Inn feature a flat-screen T.V and tea and coffee making facilities. Each room has an en-suite bathroom with free toiletries.
Meet the Landlord:
Pete Sterricks has been the Landlord at the Neidpath Inn for over two years. He grew up in nearby Eddleston and seems to be thoroughly enjoying his role managing the bar.
Although very little has changed aesthetically during Pete’s tenure he has tried several new initiatives to expand the horizons of the pub in general. At the time of his interview the Neidpath was providing genuinely great food over the weekend and although this has ceased for the meantime there are plans to begin this once again.
‘It’s been great because we have a really good and established local following that’s made life a lot easier’ explains Pete. ‘On the whole I didn’t think there was much point in changing what is not broken. It’s more important to build on it and attract as many new customers to the place without alienating the old ones.’
I also wanted to know a little bit more about Pete‘s thoughts regarding the way he would like to run the bar. ‘You don’t have the same amount of people living in close proximity to a pub as you might in somewhere like Edinburgh. So it is important that the pub maintains the image that the Neidpath has always had.
The pub is certainly unique to its regulars. That’s why they like it. I think everybody will see something in the pub for different reasons. Some like it because it’s on their doorstep and some like it because it’s a little bit out of the way. Because we are not on the High Street (beside all the ‘hustle and bustle’) we see our location as very much an advantage. This means you can be a little different in what you offer. From a tourists point of view it is also little quieter because we have the bedrooms upstairs. It’s really important that the place is not too loud (and over the top noisy) late on at night because we try to get on with our neighbours. So it’s vital that we don’t have lots of people outside the pub at 1am in the morning making a noise’.
Pete is clearly very focused in what he would like to achieve with the pub and it is also very refreshing to hear from a Landlord who is all to aware of the role that his bar plays within the local community.
The Neidpath Inn has been home to regular live music and, more particularly the Peebles Folk Club, for at least two decades. Kenny Simpson (organiser of the evening) explains further, ‘There was a folk club in the town when I first arrived here about 40 years ago. It was dotted round various drinking establishments. So this is the latest version of that same club and it’s now at a venue where the evening has survived for the longest time’.
I wanted to find out why the Neidpath Inn had managed to stage the evening for such a long duration. I was also interested to know about the kind of relationship the musicians have had with the various bar owners over the years. ‘There was no reason to choose this place initially because it was already successful elsewhere. But management in pubs tends to change and there are some who like music and some who don’t. Therefore it became a matter of elimination. We went round places that had taken folk pubs in the past and then came to the Neidpath who were very positive about what we were trying to do. It has remained so throughout all the managers who have come and gone over the years. They have all varied in their approach to the nights but every one of them has been happy to continue with it. Let’s face it, on a normal Thursday night there would hardly be anyone in here because it’s the worst night of the week - falling just before the weekend. So the fact that we are here definitely draws people in.’
Meet the Music:
Kenny Simpson is clearly an interesting and focused gentleman. He talks with great enthusiasm about the evening and he is also very clear about what the Folk Club represents to both him and its members. ‘There was one occasion where we invited Dick Gaughan to play. We were probably pushing the boat out a little bit too much because we had to pay him from our own money. But we decided to give it another try and then once again found ourselves in the same position with another guest. We came to the conclusion that although these were big names in the Folk scene, they were not really a big name with ‘normal people’. It was at this point we decided that we already had enough good musicians, skill and interest in the club amongst ourselves to continue with a simple format. So for the last 15 years or so this is the form that these nights have taken.’ The Neidpath Inn clearly means a great deal to musicians from the area and provides a valuable platform where music can be played and listened to. This is no mean feat when you consider how many establishments have ceased their commitment to live music both in Peebles and elsewhere.'
All musicians have to start somewhere as Kenny points out, ‘Our talent is local so that the whole night is set aside for those who want to sing and play without having a professional background. This helps to bring on people who might otherwise not get any experience of playing in front of a crowd. It’s an intermediary step between playing in your house and playing as a paid performer, in front of an audience. So the club lies somewhere in between. Many musicians have passed through this club and moved on to paid gigs.’
If folk music isn’t to your taste, the bar also hosts an Americana evening. The night alternates with the folk club every second Thursday and it has been running for the last three years. As another Kenny (Ken Kennedy) explains, it’s a genre that’s very hard to categorise. ‘About two or three years ago there was a group of us who wanted to sing Americana music. It’s a genre that is very difficult to define. I’m still not quite sure how to but it encapsulates almost everything including folk music. We have Stuart here that sings stuff from the 1960s – Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and the likes. We have Ally who sings the more traditional Americana songs and we have Scott who plays the Mandolin - alongside his son Sam who is a great Blues man.’
Ken is not a born and bred Peebles man. He first moved to the area, just down the road in nearby Eddleston. Being a late starter to music Kenny discovered the Peebles Folk club and has never looked back, ‘I came to this area in 1988 as a gardener. It was six miles away from here near Eddleston. I became involved in music about two or three years after that. I had never really played any instrument so I was quite a late starter. I think I was about 33 years old before I picked up any instrument, apart from the recorder at school. I was introduced to everyone by a great friend of mine - Douglas Downie. He managed to get me a Banjo because I originally had a passion for wanting to play it. I played the mandolin for a couple of years and then moved on to Harmonica and singing with my guitar. I was really passionate about it and absolutely loved it. A couple of years later Kenny Simpson started up this great Folk Club here and we never missed it. It is the pub in Peebles for folk music and Kenny is very welcoming with other types of music as well.’
So in many ways it's the Folk Club of Peebles that has paved the way for other evenings to enjoy a ‘musical chair’ round the table. But it is also pub that is held in very high regard by Kenny Simpson, ‘I would say that the Neidpath is a pub for the common man. There is no affectation in here. It is also a big space for us to perform in. We selected this place on the basis of positive management and also that it is a space that can accommodate both players and listeners. Peebles is such a small place and so it’s quite funny to say it, but it’s unusual because the pub is away from the town centre. It’s only across the bridge and up the hill again but it has that local feel about it that some of the town centre pubs do not have. It’s a pub for the common person and I don’t mean that in a majorititive sense. That for me is the bonus of this place. It’s a place I like to come to even if I’m not playing music’.
Don’t meet the Neidpath Ghost:
Some of you aspiring ghost hunters may have heard about the ghost of the old Cross Key’s Hotel. This now defunct establishment is currently home to Wotherspoon’s.
It is was said that on one morning around 10.30 am a certain Margaret Abbot was carrying a crate of milk up some stairs when she saw a strange old women climbing the stairs.
When Mrs Abbot asked other members of staff about the unusual lady, she received puzzled looks as the hotel housed no female residents at the time. They quickly realised that she had seen the ghost of Meg Dods who had previously been a landlady at the hotel.
So it appears that Peebles drinking establishments have a previous history regarding the supernatural and it also seems that the Neidpath Inn is no different...
Alan Duncan (Barman) has personally experienced some very unusual goings on after hours - and I don’t mean the sound of someone banging on the door trying to get a last drink. ‘I’ve personally never seen the ghost, but the whole Mutch family used to hear things. Dougie Miller who worked here for a long, long time used to be around working late at night - drying glasses etc. He said he could feel a presence and he would then turn round and nothing would be there. But he always felt a presence...
The one that I remember most though was when my son in law was waiting for me to finish work in the bar. He went to the toilet and came back. So I said ‘c’mon let’s go’. He was hesitant and asked, ‘but what about the guy in the lounge? He’s been here the last few hours. He’s standing beside the mantelpiece.’ I looked through but there was nobody there!’
My son in law was stone cold sober and swore that he saw someone standing there. There was also a guy called Dougie Miller who said he felt a presence here late at night. I always tell people that it must be the famous Neidpath ghost!’
So the moral of this story is... Finish your pint before closing time!
Much Ado about Billy:
Every pub has its memorable landlords and the Neidpath Inn is no different. Some Landlords (and Landlady's for that matter) may not be fondly remembered. Some may go quietly about their business and others make a bigger impact on their customers.
One such landlord of The Neidpath Inn (who falls into the latter category) was Billy Mutch. Billy was remembered for many reasons and not always the right ones. But he was a real character as Ian Litster fondly remembers, ‘Billy would take the piss out of utterly everyone. Some folk would get his humour and some folk just didn’t. If you knew his sense of humour he was a funny, funny man.’
Alan Duncan remembers working with Billy and recalls a few very vivid memories of the former Landlord, ‘It would be fair to say that Billy Mutch had a fairly 'dry' sense of humour. He was the landlord when I started drinking here. He was here for 25 years and I worked with him for 21 of those. Some of the older folk in the town will remember him well. He was prone to telling people to ‘go away’ in two short words if he didn’t much fancy the look of them. There was one time when an English guy came into the bar. He had been up walking on the hills and he was dripping wet. He camped up by the fire and took off his oil skins, leggings and boots. He then arranged them in front of the fire and ordered a half pint of bitter. He was promptly given the two word answer by Billy and he quickly put his clothes back on and did what he was told.’
Billy was said to leave the pub in somewhat ‘mysterious’ circumstances but one thing is for sure - he will definitely be remembered!
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION OF ISSUE 3 HERE!
During the late 1960s the Border co-operative movement decided on a series of mergers between various neighbouring towns. This sparked the formation of the Border Regional Co-operative Society but also lead to a programme of downsizing and cutbacks. "The co-op owned almost everything in Peebles at one time, as they did in many Scottish towns" says Ian Litster.
Visit People's History of Peebles on Facebook
Andy MacVannan take a historical stroll round the Scottish Border town of Peebles. Along the way he is often accompanied by local history enthusiast Ian Lidster. Delving deeper into the town's more unusual history he will chat with many of it's local inhabitants and discover what makes this little town so unique.