After spending about a week in Scotland, I must say that the Scots are some of the friendliest, feistiest people on the planet. The folks I met don’t take life too seriously, and they enjoy poking fun at each other (and visitors, too). Going to pubs with friends, drinking beer or whiskey, singing and playing musical instruments, and laughing easily, are woven into their culture as colors are woven into their tartans.
One evening we walked down a side street and popped inside a tiny pub. At one table were three kilt-wearing bagpipers, laughing together, with many empty glasses of beer on the table. Burly men, they looked like rugby players or warriors in Braveheart. We walked to a small back room with a piano and one by one, amateur musicians showed up for a come-one-come-all jam session. A harpist and a button-box player pulled up chairs to our table, explaining in a thick accent the lyrics to the songs, particularly the racy ones. All told, there were maybe a dozen men and women playing toe-tapping traditional Scottish folk tunes. When the kilt-wearing men got up to leave, they walked right into the little room with the musicians, and with mischievous grins they blasted an ear-splitting bagpipe farewell until the fiddlers pleaded them to stop.
Those bagpipes are constructed from sheep stomachs, and the kilts woven from sheep’s wool. Sheep are all over the bright green hillsides, making their mark in music, clothing, and diet. Beautiful cable-knit sweaters, Harris tweed suits, hefty blankets, and plaid scarves are made from wool. Many traditional Scottish foods are based on sheep or lamb. Like haggis. It’s a must-eat in Scotland. I asked a Scot what went into a haggis recipe, and knowing I was a tourist, he said straight-faced, “Why the pudgy haggis animal that runs around in the woods, luv!” It’s actually made from sheep parts: heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with oats, onions, and seasonings, then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. It tasted surprisingly good! Lamb stew is common. Scotch broth isn’t broth at all. It’s a hearty soup with lamb, root vegetables, and barley.
I stayed at a sheep farm in the remote Scottish Highlands for several days, surrounded by one grassy hill after another. In this rural area, the Tigh-an-Truish pub is the only watering hole for many miles, and all ages gather here – truly a Public House. The centuries-old pub was filled with young men, old men, grannies, kids, and lots of dogs. Locals welcomed us to watch an Scotland-England football (soccer) game, shouting their team on in Gaelic. The pub has quite a history: In the 1700s, after Scottish men crossed the nearby bridge to the island, they stopped here to change from pants into their kilts. For several generations, the Brits outlawed kilts, bagpipes, and Gaelic to try to get rid of the clan culture, but the feisty Scots kept their traditions when no one was looking. Haggis wasn’t on the pub’s menu, but I had the best fish and chips in years. Young and old, they truly were great Scots.