The Island Dream photographic exploration

‘The Island Dream’ is an entertaining photographic exploration of the Scottish Hebridean islands, their isolation and fragility, their charm and allure, whilst meeting some of the islanders who have chosen to live ‘the island dream’.

‘The Island Dream’ follows the successful ‘An Eye on the Hebrides’ photographic journey and is personally presented by Hebridean Island Images, the photographic library especially aimed at providing high quality images of the islands of the Hebrides and west coast of Scotland, including the Outer Hebrides and Inner Hebridean Islands such as Colonsay, Islay and Jura and many others.

‘The Island Dream’ lasts for an hour and three quarters and looks at the appeal of the Hebrides for visitors and the way of life of the islands and the islanders in a series of audio visual sequences.

If you belong to a camera club or photographic society, or other organisation such as a local National Trust, garden club, etc. and would like to find out more about arranging a presentation please contact Hebridean Island Images through their website.

Several photographs from Hebridean Islands Images have been used in our Scottish Islands brochures over the years, greatly adding to the visual impact.

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Is this blog responsible for freeing American haggis?

You’ll know the sad story of the Scottish haggis kept out of the US for the past 21 years if you read the blogs below, especially Can Scotland make US stomach the haggis, America’s “most wanted” – no chance of parole?

But now, not exclusively announced on this blog, the great chieftain o’ the pudding race is packing its bags, brushing off its fur and getting ready to set sail for the shores of the land of the free.

Scottish American Societies are known to be sharpening their knives in anticipation, although there is some concern that Scottish smugglers (see above mentioned blog link) might have to retire from the bootleg haggis business.

I’d like to think that this wee ‘friend of haggis’ blog played a small and insignificant, but fun, part in re-establishing the reputation of the hairy haggis for the discerning American pallet. I can see it now, haggis burgers with heather ketchup washed down with whisky coming soon to a diner near you!

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that restrictions on the importation of certain animal products, imposed at the height of the BSE crisis in 1989, are being reviewed based on advice from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Does this mean that all American haggis lovers will no longer need to travel to Scotland? Fortunately not, as where else could you have a haggis picnic in the heather in your kilt in the middle of summer surrounded by deer with both mist in the mountains and sunshine on the loch, with wild salmon jumping and the gurgling stream beside you heading down the hills to end up in a whisky bottle.

Ahh, the very thought of it makes me tingle!  Now, where did I leave my haggis net?

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Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides stunningly featured by National Geographic Magazine

If you love really beautiful landscape photos, and especially with the dramatic background of the amazing Scottish islands of Skye and the Outer Hebrides, then you have to have a look at the National Geographic’s January 2010 edition.

Have a look at National Georgraphic feature on Skye & Hebrides

The feature contains stunning images and information featuring these wonderful Western Isles of Scotland which include Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra.

The fascinating article, written by Lynne Warren, and with cracking photographs taken by Jim Richardson, focuses on the special geography of the region and charts its fascination with visitors in recent history.

These include the 18th century Samuel Johnson, German composer Felix Mendelssohn and his companion Karl Klingemann in the summer of 1829 and English painter J. M. W. Turner.

There’s also a photo gallery which will leave you ‘oohing’ and ahhing’ and make you want to go (or return).

I loved it!

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Can Scotland make US stomach the haggis, America’s “most wanted” – no chance of parole?

Haggis, watch out, they’re coming for youWhoever thought you could have so much fun with haggis (see posts below, and I hope you checked out the picture titles, I particularly like them – hold your curser over the photos).

Obviously not the US customs, or more specifically the US Department of Agriculture.

Haggis may be the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race” but watch out for the “most wanted” posters hanging around your local American airport, public health enemy Number One.

Alex Salmond wonders if Edinburgh Castle could shoot a haggis out of its cannon to save him walking up the hill for it (but the turnips, what a mess).Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister (almost like the UK Prime Minister only not quite) is to appeal to the President of the land of the free to release the poor haggis from its 19 year incarceration (no charges have ever been proved against the poor creature).

Bush famously refused to eat haggis when visiting Scotland for the G8 summit in 2005, sparking mass protests across the fields (which had the unfortunate effect of scaring a passing haggis, perhaps the one that jumped off George’s plate?).  He said he had been fully briefed on the subject. The US government has banned haggis since 1989, saying it poses a risk of BSE.

Scottish Smuggler with horse packed full of haggis. “Ach, Doris, it’s an awful long way to go, and I’m getting hungry”It means that Scottish societies in the US must settle for “inferior versions” of the dish (so said a haggis fan in Scotland; I’m sure it’s probably not really true), or rely on smugglers who risk a £500 fine to bring the genuine article 3,000 miles across the Atlantic or over the border from Canada. Watch out for those sniffer dogs!

Britain’s independent Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also given haggis a clean bill of health. ”We see no reason at all why people cannot eat haggis safely.  I have no idea why the US chooses to say otherwise.  We have the strictest BSE controls in the world in place” said an FSA spokesman.

Do you think it was the haggis or the Irn Bru, or was he just lucky enough to be born like that?Scottish government guidelines say haggis is nutritionally sound enough to serve once a week for school lunches (perhaps that is why so many Scots have ginger hair, or maybe that’s the Irn Bru?).

Macsween, which produces about 500 tons of haggis a year (that’s a lot of haggis), says “that once Americans try a good quality haggis, they can’t get enough of it. When they ask how they can get more I tell them to have words with their president,” said Jo Macsween.

Stand up for haggis (especially when the bagpipes are playing and you have a whisky in your hand), release the wee thing and let it take its rightful place with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) on American dinner plates.

Or it might be easier just to jump on a plane and come here?  Dare you try a haggis?  Have you?  What did you think?

You could try haggis pakora in one of Glasow’s excellent Indian restaurants, deep fried haggis from one our fish & chip shops, haggis lasagne, haggis on toast, Tex Mac with haggis nachos (I think you’re getting the idea), or even vegetarian haggis with warm butter, bean & spinach salad (yes, it’s true, those are the ones that only eat heather, and very nice they are too).

Take two before haggisIf you’re nervous, make sure you have that whisky first!

Just for the record, I don’t believe that any American visitors have been refused entry back into the US with haggis in their tummy.

Bon voyage. Haggis away!

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Watch out, it’s haggis hunting season, and not a teddy bear in sight

If you go out to the hills today
You’re sure of a big surprise
If you go out to the hills today
You better go in disguise
For every haggis that ever there was
Will run away for certain because
Today’s the day the haggis end up as your picnic

No, it’s not a haggis, it’s just a teddy bear

The essential Guide, ‘How to Catch a Haggis’

Wild haggis are notoriously difficult to catch, being reclusive wee furry beasties that roam the glens of the Highlands of Scotland.

Central to the art is stealth. Like the deer stalker, the haggis hunter must be silent, invisible and without odour.

Fortunately, while the haggis has incredibly acute senses, these function over a very narrow range. Thus the haggis hunter has to be only a bit silent, a bit invisible and a little without odour.

Haggis, it has been said, have been known at times to run anti-clockwise around the hills, as their right legs are a wee bit longer than their left legs.  The traditional method involves hiding in the heather waiting for a haggis to wander by, then jump up and shout ‘boo‘ (or some other suitable Scottish uttering). 

You startle the poor thing, making it turn around to run away, but as its legs are of differing lengths, if it turns too quickly, it loses its balance and tumbles down the hill into your net you have strategically placed below.

The real skill lies in the tone and timing of the ‘boo’.  Too deep and it sounds like a Highland cow and the haggis will keep running past you; too high and you sound like a sheep that’s eaten too much heather, with the same result.

Traditional picnic whiskyFor your picnic you will need a bottle of whisky, tatties & neeps are optional, probably a bit messy, and a sharp knife safely tucked into your right sock (assuming you’re right handed) to do the necessary once your haggis is in your net.

And of course, perhaps most importantly, don’t wear a rustling raincoat over your kilt, traditional tweed jackets only, the haggis have sensitive ears.  A word of warning though, watch how you sit in your kilt, that heather can be a bit tickly.

Emergency haggisIf all else fails, bring a can with you.

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Another essential guide: ‘How to catch a haggis’

How to catch a haggis?  Well, first throw one up in the air … only kidding.

But really, I often get asked by visitors to Scotland, how do you catch a haggis (almost as often as, what do real Scotsmen wear under their skirts, sorry, kilts).

So how do we capture them?

As you are probably aware, the haggis is a notoriously elusive creature. It can run at speeds in

A reliable eye witness provided this drawing of a haggis.

excess of 5 mph, especially when chased by coachloads of hungry tourists or indeed by our specially-trained haggis-bashers.

A traditional brave haggis catcher (do you recognise him?)Wearing only their kilts, these brave men get up at 3 am every morning and disappear into the misty glens armed only with a bottle of the finest malt whisky and a large baton. Given the agility of the haggis, it would be a futile exercise to chase the beast around the hills.

Fortunately, like many other creatures, the haggis has a fondness for fine malt whiskies, and within minutes of sampling its favourite drink it is completely inebriated. The haggis topples over and rolls to the bottom of the hill and at this point the haggis-basher comes out of hiding and thumps it with his wooden baton. This may sound painful but the haggis, by this time, feels nothing.

This method of capture is so successful that it is only due to the spectacular breeding abilities of the haggis that it still survives in such large numbers.

For another haggis catching method (and my preferred option), see the blog post above.  I’ll leave it to you to choose your own preferred method.

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Oh dear, another burning story hits the haggis pan

A true story, allegedly.

“I mean, really, gosh, I had no idea”

Tony Blair is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness and greets one. 

The patient replies:
“Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin race,
Aboon them a you take your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm,
As langs my airm.”

Blair is confused, so he just grins and moves on to the next patient.

The patient responds:
“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.”

Even more confused, the PM moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:

“Wee sleekit, cowerin, timrous beasty,
Thou needna start awa sae hastie,
Wi bickering brattle.”

Now seriously troubled, Blair turns to the accompanying doctor and asks “What kind of facility is this? A mental ward?”

“No”, replies the doctor. “This is the serious Burns unit.”

Aach, you had to be there I guess.

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Have you listened to Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis”?

The majestic sound of bagpipes introduces a frugal dish – and so begins a Burns Supper, held on January 25th to celebrate the date of the Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birthday (1759-1796).

Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poetThe tradition originated in 1780, when Robert Burns founded the Bachelors’ Debating Club in Tarbolton for any “cheerful, honest-hearted lad, who if he has a friend that is true and a mistress that is kind, and as much wealth as genteely to make both ends meet – is just as happy as this world can make him”.  A sentiment that still seems to ring true more than two centuries later.

Burns’ Address to a Haggis” is a humorous and earthy poem and the raison d’être for the haggis taking pride of place on the menu of every Burns Supper. It was the poet’s tribute to what he clearly believed to be a great dish but with his customary rich language and vivid imagery it creates, he used it as a light-hearted vehicle to proclaim his love of his native land and its people.

You can listen to this spirited rendition of “Address to a Haggis” by actor John Gordon Sinclair by clicking on the link below.

Rendition of “Address to a Haggis” by actor John Gordon Sinclair

Goes to the BBC website, opens in a new window.  Click on the ‘play’ link to the right.  It definitely helps to have the written version in front of you as you listen!

There’s also much drinking of Scotch whisky at Burns Suppers which (so I’m led to believe you understand) makes the understanding of the “Address” so much more difficult, but apparently you don’t worry about it so much, instead, it helps let the rich words wash over you in a haze of literary genius.

A haggis ready for eating

“Address to a Haggis”

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
’Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

There is more ‘good & useful haggis stuff’ to come (I know, as if this wasn’t enough). 

And of course, the essential ‘how to catch a haggis’. 

Remember, haggis isn’t just for Rabbie Burns day, carve it carefully and it should last until Australia Day.

Have that dram, click on the audio link and enjoy.

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Scottish place names around the world

David Livingstone 1813 - 1873 From Livingstone in Zambia named after the missionary-explorer David Livingstone (you can visit his birthplace in Blantyre, that’s Blantyre in Scotland rather than Blantyre in Malawi!) to Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania (Lachlan Macquarie, one of the most popular colonial Governors of NSW), the names of famous Scottish explorers, scientists and missionaries have been used as place names right across the globe. 

Many other places were named by early settlers after a town, village, river or a mountain in Scotland to remind them of home. 

I find place names (and not just Scottish ones) can provide a fascinating trail of the history of exploration and emigration, reminding us of who has gone before, although sometimes I have to admit it’s too easy not to stop and consider where names might have come from.  The large number of place names around the world that have direct or indirect connections with Scotland is an enduring legacy of the history of Scotland and her people.

Edinburgh’s castle dominates the skylineScotland’s capital, Edinburgh, has sometimes been changed to Edinburg or Edinboro in the USA. The Gaelic form of Edinburgh, Dunedin, is found in New Zealand and places in Florida and Ontario. Edinburgh is also the name of the capital of the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha of all places.

Well-known examples of places abroad that were given Scottish names include several major cities: Houston, Dallas, Knoxville (Tennessee) & Albany (New York) in America, Calgary (Alberta) & Hamilton (Ontario) in Canada, and Brisbane & Perth in Australia.

There is also Nova Scotia in Canada, the French territory of New Caledonia near Australia, the Murray River in Australia, the Mackenzie Mountains, River and Bay in Canada, and the Falkland Islands, South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands in the South Atlantic.

At the top of a Scottish MunroThere’s even a Ben Nevis in South Africa, although the Scottish one (near Fort William and Britain’s highest mountain) was there first, I’m sure.  It’s a wonderful climb, one of 284 Munros in Scotland (our highest mountains, above 3,000 feet, named after the man who first catalogued them, Sir Hugh Munro).  However, that’s for another time.  

There are at least 550 towns, suburbs, villages, mountains, rivers and other topographical features in South Africa alone that have Scottish names, as do more than 200 localities in Metropolitan New York.

During the nineteenth century, many places were named for popular novels, poems and their authors. Of the Scottish examples, two writers stand out – the novelist Sir Walter Scott and Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.

A surprisingly large number of places were named for Sir Walter Scott novels and poems or characters in his novels, the two that occur most frequently being Waverley (Waverly in the USA) and Ivanhoe. Ironically, neither of these names is actually Scottish!

The Steamship Sir Walter Scott sailing on Loch KatrineYou can board The Steamship Sir Walter Scott, which has been sailing on Loch Katrine since 1899.  The beauty of the loch unfolds before you in harmony with the gentle rhythm of the steam engine.  The scenery captured the imagination of Sir Walter Scott, inspiring him to write his poem “The Lady of the Lake”.  It’s easy to see why.  Located in the lovely Trossachs in Scotland, it is just over an hour by car from Glasgow or Edinburgh. 

The name of Abbotsford can be found in Melbourne, Sydney, Dunedin, East London, Johannesburg, Philadelphia and near Vancouver. 

Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott’s homeAbbotsford is the name of Sir Walter Scott’s home in the Scottish Borders. I can recommend a visit, indeed the Scottish Borders is a lovely part of the country with a long history of struggles with England, atmospheric ruined abbeys and castles, bustling market towns and historic houses, of which Traquair House is probably my favourite (and it does have its own brewery!). 

The Borders is often overlooked, especially when time is short, but much can be seen in a day, perhaps as a side trip from Edinburgh by car.  There are also some lovely hotels to tempt you to stay. 

Melrose Abbey in the Scottish BordersMelrose, the Scottish Borders market town near Abbotsford, is found in at least 19 American States and is hugely popular as a suburban name, although I like to think not many of them will have such a picturesque view of a ruined abbey!

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“Scotland’s other national drink”

A can of Irn Bru In 1901 the Scottish company A. G. Barr developed a new caffeinated soft drink with a wonderfully radioactive looking orange glow, Iron Brew. Its formula remains a closely guarded secret – only two people in the company know it (the formula is kept in a bank vault) - but apparently it’s made “from iron girders”, hence the rusty colour, and great for young men who feel the need to add a bit of iron to their muscles.

In 1946, proposed new food labelling regulations (now where have we heard that before) stipulated that brand names should be ‘literally true’.  Barr’s Iron Brew did contain iron (from the girders of course) but was not brewed, so a new spelling evolved and Irn Bru was born.

Today it’s probably the best selling soft drink in Scotland, one of the few countries where another drink outsells Coca Cola, and is known as “Scotland‘s other national drink”, the other being whisky of course.  Personally I think of the experience as delightfully sweet bubblegum mouthwash. That’s not the whisky, in case you wondered. Irn Bru or whisky?

I have been known to indulge in a wee dram of both our national drinks.  Both offer a distinctive sensation for your tastebuds, one warms the cockles of your heart from top to toe, while the other delicately washes down your pie and chips.  Make up your own mind.

And don’t forget to try two other Scottish icons,  Tunnocks Caramel Wafers and Tunnocks Tea Cakes (they deserve their upper case status).  The Tea Cakes come wrapped individually in silver foil with groovy red radiating stripes and shout “eat me” as your mouth starts to salivate.  More tastebud sensations, and available nearly How do you eat your Tunnocks Tea Cake?everywhere including Saudi Arabia apparently (but why go there when you can eat them in Scotland?).

Have you had your Tea Cake and bubblegum mouthwash today?  Don’t leave Scotland without them.

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