We were standing outside of the pub when we heard it.
We could just barely make out a piper on top of the hill in the distance. He was silhouetted by the beginnings of the sunset, piping on a stretch of Hadrian's Wall in Hexham.
Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans to demonstrate their power over the northern ‘barbarians’, most of whom were living in what would eventually become Scotland. What's left of the wall - an intermittent line of stones just a few feet high - barely hints at its former glory. Most visitors follow the southern side of Hadrian's Wall, but the piper was standing on the northern side and piping towards England.
Scotland is voting on whether it should go independent in September, so it's possible that the piper's performance had political undertones – though if his goal was to make a dramatic statement about the Scottish independence referendum, he didn't have much of an audience. It was 9:00pm and there were few tourists walking along this normally popular stretch of the wall. Maybe he just liked piping out over the rolling green hills as the sunset slowly bathed them in orange.
We walked up the hill along the wall so we could get a better look at the piper. The music grew louder as we got closer, making the whole scene seem even more dramatic and unreal.
“It's like he's a ghost from another time,” I whispered.
“A ghost that has decided to modernise,” my friend John said, referring to the fact that the piper was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt.
I lived in Scotland for eight years before moving to England, yet this was probably the most Scottish thing that had ever happened to me. When the piper launched into 'Flower of Scotland', my eyes watered and I felt like I had swallowed a tennis ball. Even though I travel to Scotland all the time for work, suddenly I missed it terribly. Not only the sheep-covered-hills-and-bagpipes Scotland, but the other Scotlands that tourists don't know about. The Scotland where it rains 250 days a year. The Scotland where chips on a buttered roll can be considered a decent lunch. The Scotland where pasty men strip off their tops at even the slightest hint of sun. The Scotland that makes swearing an art form.
I couldn't help but feel like I was on the wrong side of the wall.