A staggering number of pubs in the High Street!
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 end.
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 and where the plaque recording the visit was beautifully restored as part of the THI project a couple of years ago.
A short trip across the road stood The Red Lion which occupied the bottom right part of the building used by Alexander’s Stores and is now Poundstretchers.
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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 Greggs 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. In its early days, before my time, it seemed to have been 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 it did have 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 (now called the Tolbooth Tavern) and the magnificently named Pie Office where it was said strange things might happen 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 within its walls 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 said to be Falkirk’s oldest pub dating back to 1797.
It stood quite close to The Falkirk Herald’s High Street office and was the place to find reporters doing their research before they moved out of the town centre.
The rest of the High Street was a bit quieter.
The Railway Hotel, which once occupied the corner where Burton’s stood until last year, had gone before my time as had the Crown Hotel further down.
The big shop fronts like Marks and Spencer’s and Woolworths across the road had removed many of the small closes and wynds where the old pubs had once plied their trade though The Swan Inn was still there opposite the Lint Riggs.
It was the last before the old Royal Hotel.
With his training thus complete our pub crawler was ready for the real test, Falkirk Steeple to Bainsford Bridge. Now that really was a challenge!