Hag·gis n. \ˈha-gəs\ A traditionally Scottish dish that consists of the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep or a calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the animal.
Yum, n’est-ce pas? I was determined with a capital D to have me some haggis when we went to Edinburgh, Scotland in August last year.
It was the perfect month to visit the city as August to early September is the time for a trifecta of festival goodness: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The first two contrast each other beautifully in that the EIF brings in prestigious and famous performers, while the Fringe has the unknown, soon-to-be greats. Hugh Laurie (yes, Dr. House), Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), comedian Stephen Fry, and Emma Thompson used to perform at the Fringe in the good old ’80s.
And no, the Military Tattoo doesn’t have anything to do with tattoos at all–it showcases performances from regiments and groups all over the world on the beautiful grounds of Edinburgh Castle. ‘Tattoo’ comes from the closing-time cry in the inns in the Low Countries during the 17th and 18th centuries – ‘Doe den tap toe’ (‘Turn off the taps’).
The Fiancé and I enjoyed walking through the streets, where the performers were out and about promoting their shows.
Edinburgh Castle, the setting for the Tattoo, is not to be missed either. It looks majestic against the city skyline.
According to our tour guide Edinburgh is also known as “Auld Reekie” because in the space where the gardens are now in the above photo, there used to be all sorts of disgusting slop (including human waste, and the occasional human body). It stank to high heaven. Thankfully, in the 1700s the filthy loch was drained and cleaned, and trees planted.
Now we can enjoy beautiful views of the city and the gardens below from the castle’s lofty perch.
There is no shortage of lovely, old castles in Scotland. We took a day trip north and the weather was beautiful.
First stop was Doune Castle where scenes from the ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ were filmed back in 1975. Remember that scene with the French soldiers and coconut-carrying swallows? Heehee.
We also made our way to the National Wallace Monument, located in the midst of the Abbey Craig woodlands. The tower commemorates William Wallace who was popularized by Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart.’
While we didn’t get to see Nessie in Loch Ness, we went on a boat ride on two other equally stunning lochs (or lakes): Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine.
According to our trusty Top Ten book, Loch Lomond is the largest surface of fresh water in Scotland. Loch Katrine, on the other hand, is the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s poem, ‘The Lady of the Lake.’
Around Loch Katrine is the Great Trossachs Forest, with paths for hikers to go on nature walks. What caught my attention was a sign warning hikers against urisks, creatures which I’d never heard about before. Urisks are small people like pixies or fairies. According to the signposts in the park, “urisks are usually friendly, but easily upset. Disturb them at your own risk!” They sounded like the nuno sa punso in Philippine folklore.
On our way back to the city the tour bus dropped us off a shop that sold hot food, drinks, and souvenirs. I was reminded of our tours in China and Thailand, when the tour operators used to stop by shops like these and encourage the tourists to buy stuff.
What was different, and what I loved about this particular shop, was its exhibition outside. A cute sheepdog was giving a superb demonstration on how to herd ducks into a neat file–it was even making them walk into pens and over ramps.
The shop also had an animal charity out front where they were collecting donations for the birds.
Our tour bus also stopped by a pen with mahogany brown Highland cattle. They looked very grunge-y.
I finally had my haggis at a small cafe in the city. It even came with a small Scotland flag stuck at the top. I don’t recall it tasting particularly like anything–it was just like having a nice side of ground beef.
At least I finally got to tick it off my list of ‘must-eats.’
There were a lot of things I still wanted to do in Scotland, all mainly nature-based: go on a trip to the Isle of Skye, hike the Glencoe landscape, walk in the Cairngorns. I hope to be back someday, and next time, it’ll be the whisky I’ll be keen on trying.