I dismount the bus on Bridge Street with a sigh of approval. After an hour’s long bus journey from Aberdeen, we had arrived at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel. An impressive hulk of Scottish Coastal Vernacular. With its slate roofs, lead flashing, black and white tiling, timber sash-windows, and simple granite construction, The Kilmarnock Arms Hotel marks an important landmark on Aberdeenshire’s coastline. And of course, a foundation for Bram Stoker’s Dracula which took inspiration from the ruins of Slain’s Castle, nestled on the edge of the coastal cliffs.
I’m greeted with the scrutinising stares of the ambivalent locals. As if sharing the same scrutiny, the pale beige rendered and pine-paneled walls are deceptively welcoming. An ageing dartboard and weathered slot machine dominate the corner opposite the bar. A dull rattle and bleeping hum fills the background as a gambler tries his luck.
Smatterings of old, Art Deco posters of the local golf club coat the walls. A large bay window, offering less of a view in, and more of a view out to the road central to the village, permits sunlight into the space. Yet, still those eyes stare through me, as if to someone of infinitely more interest. It was only now that I realised that the England vs. Wales rugby match was being played. I am a ghost who barely registers on the way to the front that represents the bar.
The local bar at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel would appear as a worn, formidable place. A refuge for the weathered and traditionally unwelcome. But even the most foreign of travelers are greeted here. For it is not the bar itself which makes a person feel at home. It’s the people. The barmaids are friendly, and the locals accepting.
Scottish bars and pool houses are famed amongst their own for their stand-off attitude. Yet they are the most welcoming and inviting places an individual can find on their travels;
‘‘Fit Lyk?’’ she chimed in plain Doric – how are you?.
‘‘Nae bad, yoursael? I replied, returning the gesture.
‘‘I’m fine tah! Fit can I get yi? came the response.
After supplying and paying for the drinks order, I returned triumphant with a cluster of glasses in my grip. The customary exchange of thanks ensues, replaced with an-almost-holy chant of ‘‘cheers!’’ sounding from our table.
Bars and pubs are viewed as part of the British fabric. To the point where a village without a pub is little more than a smattering of houses between lesser towns. The Kilmarnock Arms offers a warm refuge against the battering of the North Sea. A shelter reflected in the warmth of the building, and the emotion of the staff.