The Secret Drinker reviews the Clachnaharry Inn
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No braver decision was ever taken than the one that took us to the Clachnaharry Inn to assess whether this roadside boozer was any good or not.
Stale from a hard week of truth telling we decided to walk the 30 minutes from the centre of Inverness, to a place where you can almost see Beauly, for a dram and pint.
Fortified by a McDonald’s and swift pint and double in the centre we crossed the river and took a right at the Glenalbyn, courageously marching on into parts of Inverness in which I have never set foot.
Onward beckoned, despite the whining from my companion – “I am going to have to go back to the gym. Seriously. How far?” – but I would not relent, thinking only of what must be the best beer garden in the city.
I have passed it a million times on the train and was always entertained by what I think was a Border Collie giving ScotRail hell for "intruding" on its territory – well someone has to give them what for with the way things have been lately.
I made out that it was my stoicism as opposed to desperation for a pint and dram that kept us going, to rub salt in his feeble wounds, but in the end we breasted the canal and our objective was in sight.
A full 1.7 miles of fierce pavement, unbearable traffic islands, beautiful canal, a look at a property to let – “that would make a good pub” – across a railway bridge, round a corner and there it was, a sign on the door: Beer Garden Closed for a Wedding.
Tolstoy wrote about less tragic circumstances.
But we had made it, even if Huntly’s answer to Sancho Panza stumbled some feet behind yours truly “catching his breath”. I forged ahead and ordered two pints, two doubles, and looked to see if I could bribe my way into the beer garden. No dice.
First impressions were bad (beer garden closed) but second were immense.
The walk which I made such a song and dance about is fine from the centre, boring in the middle and then beautiful next to the canal – you are already relaxing by then and shaking off your cares.
Clachnaharry Inn is a superbly well appointed wee pub that instantly makes you feel at home. There are plenty of those little ornaments and fixtures that would be useless anywhere but in a pub and here add character.
It has a fireplace – I already know where I will be wintering this year – painting of a stag above it, bench seating along two walls, a smattering of tables across the floor, two cosy seats on either side of the door, which we headed for.
This to my mind is one of its strengths. If you lifted it lock, stock and barrel to the city centre you would be leaving a lot of the things that make it great behind.
First you would lose the regulars and the atmosphere of home.
The views would be gone from the beer garden (see below) and the feeling of being a real local would vanish.
It is right next to the train tracks and envious eyes peer out of the windows at those lucky enough to have a glass and time on their hands, and is that not what a pub is all about?
Let the world stop, put down your troubles – as they will still be there when you go back for them – and just enjoy life a little with people you care about, who make you laugh and who you make laugh too.
That is the real quality, though there are others, of the Clachnaharry Inn, and it is irreplaceable.
Pints were prompt and well poured, Belhaven Best and two double Grouse. It seems a strange thing but the dram glass seems to have fallen away of late, and you know it when you see it.
For those that don’t know much about whisky but want to appear as though they do, you get snouting glasses and things like stone ice cubes – if you put ice in whisky you are dead to me and I will never pour you a great dram from my hand.
But these ones were toppers, just the right size, just the right feel, and when even the glasses are perfect you know things are going right. Even if the beer garden is closed.
And we tucked in. Had a wee chat with the staff who were friendly and relaxed. They knew their jobs and despite it being a small pub there were three of them behind the bar at certain points.
That is how a proper pub should be run. None of this waiting nonsense. Someone should have your eye and indicate they are coming to you next and that is the sort of staff they were.
Lo and behold something amazing happened, the wedding party largely left, including a gentleman in a dusty pink velour suit which evoked both laughter and pangs of jealousy from yours truly.
I asked in that clawing way determined people have “...sorry, not to be a pain, but do you think, if it is not too much bother, that…we could sit in the beer garden” – yes, no problem. Bingo!
When the sun is beginning to go down and the evening is warm there can simply be no better beer garden in the Moray Firth area. And if there is, I haven't found it yet. There are some exceptional ones out west but they are cheating - what with the mountains and that.
The Clachnaharry's was spectacular, peaceful, brilliant, looking north to Ben Wyvis and over the firths.
Then suddenly Sancho Panza starts to feel the cold, so I bought a whisky to warm him up.
The Clachnaharry Inn is the best pub I have been to in Inverness, by miles. I mean if you were to give it a coefficient rating then it would be in first place and the next best – the brilliant Castle Tavern – would be in fifth or sixth.
It has literally everything I would want to see in a pub, starting from the perfect building which, Sancho said rightly, would be both cosy enough in winter and pleasingly cool in summer.
The Clach or the Inn, or whatever you want to call it, is a proper pub, properly run, properly populated by proper regulars, and there is little that hasn’t been thought of here.
I don’t do ratings or counts because they are simplistic and reductive and so many publicans and their staff try hard even when they don't hit the right notes.
If I did offer the Clach a score, though, it would get a Torvill and Dean 10 out 10. Superlative, and it easily achieves what it wants without making a song and dance about it.
What more can I say than it was worth the walk both there and back.