Why I do it: Rachel Bucknall, owner of The Bridge Inn, The Ship and The Crusoe

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

When we headed up to Fife to inspect The Crusoe, it gave us a chance to talk to Rachel Bucknall, the owner of the seafront pub and two other beautiful inns - The Bridge Inn just outside Edinburgh and The Ship, a few minutes’ drive up the coast from her latest venture. She told us about taking the leap, ditching the freezers, winning awards and keeping the personal touch.

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You own and run three pubs now, where did it all begin?

The Bridge Inn [in Ratho on the outskirts of Edinburgh] was the first one. I knew it because my grandmother used to live just the other side of Ratho and my husband Graham and I moved there ourselves in the early 2000s. We were just glad there was a nice pub in the village, nothing more. Then one day, we’d been away and we were getting driven back from the airport and someone said, just offhand, that the Bridge Inn was on the market. It became a mindworm, it was all I could think about. 

Stay at The Bridge Inn >

Did you have any experience with running pubs? 

No! I’d cooked in London and Graham was in banking and had an IT company but we were totally new to the game. We’d lived in Sydney for a bit and I always loved the pubs there, which are often pretty unassuming but then have these tremendous food offerings out the back. 

So you just went for it?

We got a couple friends, one a restaurant owner in Edinburgh, to come out, take a look and, we thought, tell us we’re mad, but they actually said, “you know, it’s not a terrible idea.” So, in a bit of what I’d have to call a midlife crisis, we went to work. 

How did it go at first?

It was a massive renovation job. When we took over, all the bedrooms were full of freezers, which tells you a bit about the food at the time. But that was pretty standard for pubs in Scotland back in 2010. I’m not saying we were trailblazers, but we were part of that early shift towards pubs becoming places with great food and more hotel-style rooms. We threw ourselves into it and won our first award in the same year. 

So, no more freezers?

No, we had a walled garden in Ratho where we kept pigs and grew our own veg. Even now, with three sites, we do as much in house as possible – baking, growing, rearing. It’s about using local wherever we can. At The Crusoe, the lobster boats moor up right at the quay right outside the pub and the chefs go out and walk the catch straight into the kitchen. 

Stay at The Crusoe >

Is food the focus of what you do?

In one sense, yes. Food is the thing that draws people in from around the area. You have to balance that with the role of the pub in the community. The Ship is lucky in that it has the famous beach cricket team. The other sites get a bit jealous of how much press they get from that! The Bridge Inn has a huge garden and The Crusoe used to have the pier, but we need to do a lot of repair work on that before it can be used by the village again. The other important thing for me is the rooms. 

Stay at The Ship >

Why is having bedrooms so important?

It gives a heart to the building, having people there for breakfast, I think. It’s never dark and closed. It leads to those nights where everyone’s chatting at the bar – staff to guests, guests to each other. It makes it more than a place to stay. At The Bridge Inn, you’re so close to Edinburgh, so people can pop into town, at The Ship you have the lovely harbour views and at The Crusoe the sea hits the wall right under the bedroom windows. People get a full experience of being here when they stay.  

Are there any more locations you’ve got your eye on?

Not for now, no. While Graham and I aren’t the day-to-day managers anymore, we’re fairly hands on and we like the personal touch that brings. If we took on more, we’d be spread too thin and it would lose something. Three is more than enough work for now! 

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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