An old Falkirk worthy once said to me: “The other buildings in Falkirk High Street are just there to hold up the pubs.”
A slight exaggeration maybe, but only slight, for as I remember from the 1960s there were a succession of watering holes, each one just a short stagger from the next, all the way from the Callendar Arms at the east end to the Royal Hotel at the west .
These two are still there of course although the Royal is no longer a hotel and has a new name.
But most of the others have long since closed their doors and given way to the massive bistros and pub restaurants which now dominate the trade.
For the dedicated drinker stepping out of the Callendar Arms the first stop on his crawl would be the Cross Keys Inn where Rabbie Burns stayed in 1787, followed by the short trip across the road to The Red Lion which occupied the bottom right part of the building used by Alexander’s Stores and is now Pound Stretcher.
These two pubs were quite roomy by the standards of the day but the next couple were anything but!
First came The Cat in the tiny shop occupied today by Greigs the bakers.
It had a fat black cat smiling down from the swinging sign above the door and those with a taste for fine wine could sample a glass of Vordo described as a “superior British sherry”.
Next was The Black Bull, opposite the Cow Wynd. It was a dark and mysterious place which sent out a strong beery whiff on to the High Street each time the small door opened.
Like almost all the pubs it was almost exclusively for men though I seem to remember it had what they called a ‘snug bar’ where women were allowed.
If our pub crawler was still game he now faced a major challenge.
The area near the steeple offered quite a big choice. There was the Steeple Bar itself and the Blue Bell up the close which still bears its name, as well as the Gaff in Tolbooth Street and the magnificently named Pie Office where it was said strange things happened to the unwary traveller! Not far away in Robert’s Wynd (where the Howgate now stands) was my own particular favourite place The King’s Head, known to us all as ‘The Heid’. Many happy hours were passed there and I can still remember the shock when it was damaged by fire and closed.
One survivor is of course the Wheatsheaf, in Baxter’s Wynd, which is Falkirk’s oldest pub dating back in 1797. It stood quite close to the Falkirk Herald’s High Street Office and was the place to find reporters doing their vital research 50 odd years ago.
The rest of the High Street was quieter.
The Railway Hotel which once occupied the spot where Burton’s is today had gone before my time as had the Crown Hotel, and the big shop fronts like Marks and Woolworth’s had removed many of the small closes and wynds where the old pubs had once plied their trade.
The Swan was still there opposite the Lint Riggs and it was the last before the Royal Hotel.
With his training thus complete our pub crawler was now ready for the real test, Falkirk Steeple to Bainsford Bridge. Now that was a challenge . . . and a story for another time.