Like a lot of people my early drinking experiences were with mass produced fizzy lager and (I'm sad to say) the occasional alcopop - Hooper's Hooch anyone !? Having lived in Monifieth on the outskirts of Dundee and gone to The University of Dundee, I belatedly discovered the Fisherman's Tavern (aka The Fish) in Broughty Ferry (aka The Ferry), almost on my doorstep. I think I initially went in with a group of friends on one their father's recommendation (we must have been growing up ever so slightly to even think about taking the advice), chose an Orkney Dark Island almost at random from the blackboard and was *completely* amazed. How could there be such aroma, and such incredible taste from a beer ?! And that was it - we were regulars every weekend for over 5 years, I return there whenever I'm back in the area and even now, it's probably the pub I feel most comfortable in on the entire planet. This time I was back for a couple of days during the Jubilee holidays and so decided to go for a gentle walk from Monifieth to The Ferry, with the (very slight!) possible chance of ending up in The Fish.
View Broughty Ferry in a larger map
Nowadays (after probably decades of absence) there is a more than decent real ale establishment in Monifieth and fortuitously it is literally only 'down the road' from the family home - this is The Milton Inn.
It's gone through quite a few iterations in recent years but is now run by Mark Barton who used to own the Taycreggan Hotel in The Ferry. It's a large stone-built building with the non-hotel area comprising a bar area with comfy seats, papers to read and a lot nice exposed brickwork, a somewhat 'sunken' snug/lounge and a partially screened off dining area - with the food being excellent and very popular. You can tell that Mark is an ex-service man - he and his manager Ash run the bar and dining service with a firm, but friendly hand - no ordering or serving screw-ups are allowed here! Mark's introduced real ale (as well as holding a charity-led Beer Festival last September) and it seems to really be going down really well judging by the turnover they have. On today were Deuchars IPA, Cale 80/-, Old Speckled Hen and Gowfer's Gold from Angus Ales - this is their golden hoppy ale (with some citra hops in there to enhance the bitter-fruit aroma) and is probably my favourite Angus Ale along with the Driver Dark stout. Mark and the staff really ensure they serve the beers in great condition and the choice is also pretty good - in previous weeks the Milton has featured beers from Fyne Ales, Kelburn and the new MòR Brewing in Kellas, just outside Dundee (which I unfortunately missed - damn!).
Outside at the back there's a really nice long decking area and a fabulous beer garden at the bottom of some steps which almost stretches down to the Dighty burn - it's great place to be when the sun shines.
I then headed down to the coast road between Monifieth and Dundee. After having started on this road you have a couple of choices. The most direct option is to continue along the main road straight into The Ferry - in this case you can stop at The Cambustay (previously The Kittiwake), now a Mitchells & Butlers Vintage Inn.
The other option for the walk is to choose the more picturesque route and cross the main East Coast railway line at the Monifieth/Broughty Ferry border at Balmossie. This allowed me to walk along the raised beach area (common to many Scottish east coast towns & villages) to the Esplanade at Broughty Ferry (note there is also an option to walk from The Cambustay to the Esplanade over a footbridge, so you don't miss out too much of the coastline). All along one side of the east end of the Esplanade is the Barnhill Rock Garden, an impressive (and free) public 'park' with many varieties of plants, trees and shrubbery (also great for playing those long games of hide-and-seek!).
Further along the Esplanade I passed a development of new luxury flats where The Sands disco/nightclub used to be (later incarnations were called Buddies and Jacques, I think). This was the place to go as an older teenager in the 80's and 90's - there are far, far too many stories that could be told about this place!
Almost adjacent to the flats is another relatively new development, a very popular dining establishment called The Glass Pavilion, today bedecked in Union Flags and bunting for The Jubilee - good to see.
I remember when this was a olde-fashioned bathing shelter and refreshment kiosk, selling drinks & ice-cream in the summertime, but it became a somewhat sad, derelict building for quite a few years. Now the same red-brick art-deco facade has been kept, but both the glass frontage of the bar/restaurant and the outdoor seating offer spectacular views across the 'silvery' Tay to Tentsmuir and further to St Andrews to enjoy your ice-cold beer or coffee.
Heading out from The Glass Pavillion the end of the Esplanade gave me great views along the beach to Broughty Ferry Castle, now a museum (again with free entry) with a great outlook from both the Castle Tower and the surrounding Green across the narrowest stretch of the Tay to Tayport.
Entering The Ferry proper from the Castle I passed a small harbour area (mostly unused nowadays, except by a colony/flock of swans) until coming to the mooring point for the RNLI Lifeboat, still one of the busiest in the UK.
Directly opposite this facing the shore is the Ship Inn (once featured as the homecoming local for a fishing boat crew in a Tennents advert). Thankfully the Ship now does real ale and I went in for a quick look around.
It's pretty narrow, and filled with all sorts of interesting nautical bric-a-brac, but there are still a decent number of seats and tables downstairs and through the back. The friendly barmaid allowed me to try a couple of the beers (Deuchars IPA, Orkney Red McGregor and Taylor Landlord - all in decent condition) and then wasn't at all perturbed when I ordered a coffee (a long Macchiato, ooh-err), since I had to be driving later in the day. It's a nice friendly place with the brewery mirrors and mermaids keeping (my eyes) entertained whilst I finished my coffee. Food downstairs is pretty basic & filling (fish-n-chips, burgers, baked tatties etc...), but upstairs is an absolutely excellent restaurant specialising in seafood - it's a great place to have a function or a romantic meal.
It was now a short walk around the corner of Fort Street to the Fisherman's Tavern (tip - there is entrance from the right side of the Ship Inn through an alley-way which can be very useful if the main bar is packed). The Fish is the only Scottish pub to have been in every edition of The Good Beer Guide (it wasn't in the first edition which was limited to English pubs) and won the National Pub of the Year award in 1993. Back then it was really only a 2 roomed pub with a low ceilinged bar (now thankfully not smoke-tar brown) and a lounge/snug with a separate serving area - both areas are still pretty much the same today. With the addition of the next door building another large lounge has been added as well as a dining room to make a fairly large pub.
Beers originally came from local Scottish micros (I remember having my first Harviestoun beer here, a Ptarmigan, which tasted of grapefruit (in a beer - wow!) and also from all over the UK - there was never a problem in getting an interesting, tasty beer. A number of years ago the owner (Jonathan Stewart - a legend in the Dundee pub trade) obviously had 'an offer he couldn't refuse' and sold The Fish to Belhaven/Greene King. Thankfully they haven't really done anything too drastic to the place, perhaps added some decorative touches, increased the food range (lunches are really good), so it's still really comfortable, full of nautical memorabilia, and the staff are great at serving a mass of clamouring, thirsty folk. They've also kept the Thursday night acoustic/fiddle music session and the Beer Festival on the late May Day holiday weekend in the outside walled garden with all proceeds going to the RNLI - lots of kudos for this.
It's still a great pub and a great place to have a drink in, but after all this gushing praise there are a few qualms (which I don't normally like to air - I always try to be as positive as possible). What I have seen over the last few years is a few more Belhaven/GK beers coming on (not at all surprising, this is a business at the end-of-the-day), and this seems to have come with a more conservative choice in the guest beers. Today there was GK IPA, Houston Challenger, SN Spitfire, Wells Bombardier, Angus Driver Dark and Williams Fraoch. It's an OK selection but I'm guessing they all come the Belhaven/GK guest list (even the Angus Ale) - again from a business point-of-view you can see why and that's quite acceptable (thankfully at the RNLI Beer Festival there is a more diverse selection). What I have also noticed in my last couple of visits, which is somewhat more disappointing, is that the quality of the beer has dipped somewhat. The Fraoch I had today was almost completely flat, not really fresh at all (even though it was fairly new on), and had none of the sweet, floral, heather aroma & taste that it should have. It was OK, but for a such a great pub, it should be far better than OK. My friends who are still in the area have noted this as well and have started to leave The Fish before the evening is up (almost unheard of in years gone by), and instead head out to either the Royal Arch in The Ferry (which seems to have a better selection of guest beers) or go to Monifieth where the Milton Inn definitely has better kept beers. It's a bit of a worry and I therefore left the place from the doorway in the back bar & snug nursing a slight tinge of disappointment, but still in the hope that their standards will soon be as good as ever. I'll certainly send Belhaven/GK a link to this blog and see if any response is forthcoming.
Bus: Broughty Ferry Library to Monifieth (Strathtay 73C or 73D)