Its official; Scotland is buzzing in 2014 and if you’re making the journey to the land of the loch Ness Monster, Ben Nevis and Grey Friar’s Bobby, bear these cultural tips in mind;
Don’t moan if you don’t spot Nessie – I don’t want to alarm you but newspapers are reporting that the fabled Loch Ness Monster has not been spotted for 18 months! This is highly unusual as Nessie has been sighted at least once a year since 1925. She was first spotted in the vast freshwater loch in the Highlands in 565 AD, and so far 1,036 total reports of sightings have been lodged. Smartphone cameras at the ready for 2014 – fingers crossed that Nessie re-emerges soon!
Don’t call it a skirt – Many of Scotland’s traditions date back nearly a thousand years and one of the significant cultural symbols is the ubiquitous kilt, which evolved from a long garment with an inbuilt cloak, to the shorter version we see today. The pattern and colour denotes a particular clan, with designs proudly sported by families over centuries. The kilt has also appeared on the catwalk, thanks to fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Don’t complain about the Bagpipes – Yes they are loud, but oh so rousing – you’ve not lived until you’ve attended a traditional pipers performance. The Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes are known across the world, thanks to their use in both the military and at cultural festivals. And the best way to get up close to said pipers? The annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo of course, which is held in the Scottish capital each August. The month-long spectacle, timed to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, plays host to music, dance and a pinpoint-precision display from the Massed Pipes and Drums. And don’t miss the World Pipe Band Championships at Glasgow Green this August.
Don’t skip the haggis – If you’ve never sampled this Scottish delicacy, then you’re in for a real treat! Onion, oatmeal and spices are mixed with sheep offal (known as ‘pluck’) and stuffed inside a skin casing, much like an overgrown sausage. Served with neeps and tatties (that’s turnip and potatoes to you), this is the perfect intro to Scottish culture. Haggis can be found across the world now, especially on Burns Night, which is held each year on 25th January in honour of the Scottish author and poet Robert Burns.
Don’t get into a heated debate about Scottish Independence – This summer sees the historical vote for independence in the national referendum on 18 September 2014. The second largest country in the UK (after England) votes in the landmark move which will determine if Scotland will become independent (again). Scotland first gained independence when Robert the Bruce fought and defeated the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. Scotland retained its independence until 1707 when it joined the UK.
Don’t expect everything to be deep fried – A few years ago Scotland had something of a dubious reputation centered around its cuisine. Opinions veered between the staunchly traditional fayre such as porridge and haggis, to the deep-fried sacks that made an appurtenance – deep-fried chocolate bars anyone? Thankfully local produce such as Scottish salmon, venison and beef is coming to the fore, thanks to local chefs Gordon Ramsey and Nick Nairn and the slew of up-market restaurants that grace the bigger cities.
Don’t forget to check out the cultural events in 2014 – Scotland’s cultural calendar is studded with traditional festivals, colorful events and deep-rooted national observances. And 2014 is bigger and bolder than ever before – thanks to the sports spotlight, courtesy of the Commonwealth Games, which Glasgow will host in July. Then there’s the Lochearnhead Highland Games, Festival of Music and Malt and Radio 1′s Big Weekend. alongside the annual Burns Supper, Hogmanay (aka New Year’s) and St Andrews Day, traditional celebrations are very much a part of Scottish culture. And did you know that ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is reputedly the second most popular song on earth, behind ‘Happy Birthday’?!
Don’t forget to sample some Scotch whisky – You can’t visit Scotland and not sample the local produce – after all, the ‘water of life’ has been distilled here since at least 1494. Highly regarded across the world, Scottish whisky is aged in oak barrels for at least three years, and can vary in alcoholic content, typically 40%, although much stronger brands can also be found!
Image credit: Amanda Slater CC ASA 2.0