Experience Authentic Scotland
Scotland’s inventions are familiar to the whole world– who hasn’t heard of the bike, the telephone and (jumping a few centuries here) that most trusted of drivers’ guides, the highway cat’s eye? But Scotland’s many revolutionary trickeries don’t stop with gadgets. It’s actually the nation’s stunning wealth of culture that makes it such an exciting place to be – and where better to start than Edinburgh?
Auld Lang Syne, one of the most regularly sung songs in the English-speaking world (eclipsed only by Happy Birthday and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow), is indelibly linked with the beginning of a new year. A traditional Scottish ballad, the words of its modern form are the work of Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s literary heroes whose birthday is still celebrated every year. Where more appropriate to experience it than hand in hand with your friends, singing along with thousands of others at the Princes Street Hogmanay party? If Burns was alive no doubt he would be one of the festivals’ ambassadors: bohemian,talented and passionate in equal measure. There is something magical about a nation who chooses to gather around the table and the dance floor, every January, to celebrate the life and work of an eighteenth-century poet. Thousands of Scots – friends, families, work colleagues – prepare the Burns supper celebration every year, a night-long event packed with humorous speeches written in Burn’s style, songs, copious amounts of food (including the very local Haggis), toasts to the Lassies and Laddies and of course the Address to a Haggis, the ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!’ are all to be found, and invariably add up to a fantastic evening.
Scots have a bit of a reputation for extreme foods of the fried variety, unfairly so (fried pizza, anyone?). Modern Scotland is an exciting place to eat and buy fresh produce – many of Britain’s up-and-coming chefs are currently working in the country. Edinburgh alone currently hosts five Michelin-starred restaurants, a phenomenal ratio for a city of only half a million inhabitants. Edinburgh comes second only to London in the number of cafes and restaurants per capita. So remember to bring a healthy dose of appetite. And if you really want to tap into those world-legendary tales of exotic Scottish fare, make sure you sample the local haggis, an ingenious and creative concoction of sheeps innards, onion, oatmeal and spices all wrapped up neatly in a sheep’s stomach. Trust us: nothing can make you happier on a cold winter’s day. And if the locals try to pull your leg with tall tales of wild haggis beasts roaming through the Highlands, just smile and try to play along. View restuarants in the Old Town here.
Few visitors come to Scotland without having a wee dram o’ whisky. This is the place where the stuff was invented after all (if you stand on top of a hill with a brisk wind blowing on your face you begin to understand why...). There are fantastic places in Edinburgh to savour the best malts: the Scottish Malt Whisky Society is the equivalent of an encyclopedia of whisky, stocking the best varieties that come from all sorts of weird and wonderful independent distilleries all over the country. Regarded by many as the best in the world, there is no shortage of places in Edinburgh to experience some good quality Scotch. Scotland’s national drink plays a central part in the Hogmanay tradition of first-footing. The first person of the year to set foot in another’s dwelling brings the homeowner a gift, which more often than not is whisky. It’s difficult to find a more unmistakably Scottish practice, or indeed a more agreeable one. When in Scotland for New Year, be prepared. Remember to carry a bottle on you!
Of all Scottish musical practices, it is the bagpipes that have been most lovingly adopted by the world at large. Like flowers in spring, pipers find their way to the busiest thoroughfares of Edinburgh during the sunnier months. You can’t miss the drama and entertainment contained in the large-scale performances put together by the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, with hundreds of pipers coming together in celebration of military musical traditions. Every night the show comes to a close with a moving solo performance by the Lone Piper. Simply unmissable. And last but not the least comes the Ceilidh, traditional Scottish dances which are very much alive and well and continue to be embraced by all. Scots like nothing more than dressing up in kilts (well, the men that is!) and it’s a true testimony to the country’s exciting passion for their own roots that people of all generations get together for an evening of song and dance. Standard piecessuch as the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant are always on the menu, but don’t let a lack of knowledge put you off - most good organisers happily take you through the steps first! If you don’t fancy such an exhausting experience, there are also a number of pubs in the city where you can relax and listen to local musicians playing traditional folk melodies. This community tradition is still just as warming today as it was centuries ago.