Regulars lose their heids over pub's refit

IT is believed to be the oldest surviving pub in Scotland, a traditional ale house that has been serving customers for more than 650 years.

The Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston is popular with locals and visitors to the Capital alike for its old-world charm, and regulars are up in arms over plans to refurbish the historic interior of the bar.

Pub chain Mitchell & Butlers, which owns the inn, has applied for permission to renovate the building, raising concerns it could lose its unique character.

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The plans include complete refurbishment of the interior and exterior, with the removal of a fireplace, movement of partition walls and alterations to seating. Two new windows would also be added, bringing more natural light into the bar, and the toilets would be completely remodelled.

The company insisted it merely wanted to improve what the pub had to offer, but Duddingston councillor Ewan Aitken said he feared the changes by Mitchell & Butlers, which runs dozens of city pubs including the Greyfriars Bobby, would permanently ruin the character of the pub.

"My concern is that this is a big company who think they know best for a small community and they have absolutely no sensitivity to local heritage," he said. "This is the oldest working pub in Scotland and they want to make it part of a chain.

"This is accountancy-driven thinking and not community-based thinking, and what the Sheep Heid works on is community. That's why it works, because people feel part of something, part of a historic succession of 650 years of an evolving community and they want to come in and rip that out, so it matches their brand.

"They say it's too dreary but it's not, it's got that intimate atmosphere people really like."

A spokeswoman for the pub, Katharine Holland, said its owners did not intend to change its character: "We want to refurbish the pub and the plans for what we'd like to do have been submitted. We're now awaiting a decision.

"The Sheep Heid is an iconic pub and we don't want to lose that. We do want to preserve its heritage and character. We're making it better rather than changing it, but it needs more than a lick of paint."

Secretary of the Duddingston Village Conservation Society, Lindsay Crofts, said the group would watch the refurbishment closely to see that it did not damage the building's historic ambience: "As a committee, we've had a look at the plans, and I can't say that there seems to be anything very drastic being done. I haven't had an opportunity yet to speak to the chain and we will want to talk to them to make sure that this very special place doesn't lose its character."

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The inn was said to be a favourite watering hole of James IV, who liked to play skittles there and, as a mark of gratitude, presented the landlord with a stuffed sheep's head.