I love visiting a shop that takes something humdrum and — because the shopkeeper is so passionate and knowledgeable — elevates it to fascinating new heights. Edinburgh has some fine kiltmakers and great whiskey shops, but my favorite store in town sold candy — or “sweets,” as they say here.
Naomi runs Lickety Splits — just a few doors off the Royal Mile — as a nostalgic throwback to Scottish childhood. Stepping inside, you’re greeted by a wall of glass jars filled with brightly colored treats. But if you take a few minutes to chat with Naomi, you’ll learn that each one has its own unique — and often fascinating — backstory. While England may be the land of Cadbury and Willy Wonka, the Scots seems to have a special knack for sweets.
Take Chelsea Whoppers. These little strips of chewy fudge dusted with cocoa powder were originally manufactured in Helensburgh, Scotland. Naomi loves to explain how, through a scandalous and still-grating series of events, it morphed into the Tootsie Roll in the US. Today, Scots who grew up on Chelsea Whoppers come to specialty stores like this one to track down the originals.
Another fascinating sweet is the Lucky Tattie, a flat, super-sweet disc dusted in cinnamon (resembling a potato — hence the name). Naomi explained that these are so packed with calories that long-distance runners eat one to get an extra boost. When you eat one, it’s like chugging an energy drink.
The list goes on and on. I love unusual flavors, and Naomi introduced me to several: Hard candies (called “rock”) that taste like clove, ginger, or rhubarb. (She has to keep the rhubarb jar closed, because otherwise it makes her whole shop smell like marijuana.) Little orange-and-blue-streaked candies that taste like Irn-Bru, the soft drink that’s unaccountably beloved throughout Scotland (and nowhere else). Saltire rock, a blue hard candy with a white Scottish flag. And “Edinburgh rock,” a more crumbly candy (like after-dinner mints) with its own wildly creative array of flavors.
And speaking of Willy Wonka, Scottish sweets makers really know how to name their treats: Parma Violets. Acid Drops. Humbugs. Soor Plooms. Fizzy Fangs. It makes “Milky Way” and “Twizzlers” seem dull in comparison.
Naomi is also a fascinating person — she clearly has her finger on the pulse of the neighborhood, and filled me in on the inside scoop behind touristy Edinburgh. For example, it’s well-documented that J.K. Rowling worked on her earliest Harry Potter books at The Elephant House, a café a few blocks south of the Royal Mile. But knowing the neighborhood, Naomi can see where she drew lots of inspiration from that little corner of Edinburgh. In the Greyfriars Cemetery a block away (made famous by the “Greyfriars Bobby” tale of a loyal dog) are headstones with the names McGonagall and Tom Riddell. The posh George Heriot’s School, a Gothic-turreted showcase just over the cemetery’s fence, was clearly an inspiration for Hogwarts. And a couple of blocks away is a street called…Potterrow. (Cue Harry Potter theme music.)
Lickety Splits also has a small art gallery. In the back room, Naomi makes broaches, pendants, and other jewelry from maps. Through her work with maps, she’s gotten to know places very well. When I told her I grew up in Central Ohio, she could visualize the state.
Leaving Naomi’s sweets shop with a bag of Scottish goodies, I realize I’ve done my favorite type of shopping: Affordable. Culturally broadening. And delicious. For the rest of my trip, each time I pop a clove hard candy or a sour ball into my mouth, I’ll remember Lickety Splits — and know I’m in Scotland.