Haggis and blood pudding are Scottish delicacies. I’ve heard rumors about what’s in haggis. The rumors are true.
But I didn’t realize haggis is a breakfast dish until I visited Scotland. I tried it. Tastier than I thought it would be.
“Haggis is peasant food,” Vinny, our guide explained. “Cheap, greasy and nutritious.” When butchering sheep, he said, nothing was wasted. Farmers mixed up lungs, livers, hearts, windpipes and intestines (known collectively as offal), added suet, oatmeal and some spices, packed it all into the sheep’s stomach and boiled the living daylights out of it.
After our first haggis-tasting, Lynne and I went to the computer in the hotel lobby and looked up the recipe. Along with the gory details for preparing this delicacy, we found an article that advised chefs to pay absolutely no attention to those who tell you to drop a large rock into the simmering pot of haggis, then after a couple of hours, “throw out the haggis and eat the rock.”
Blood pudding was surprisingly good and apparently is also breakfast fare. The main ingredient is pig’s blood, along with pig’s liver, lard, breadcrumbs, oats and spices. Less intimidating offal than haggis, I’d say.
Notwithstanding haggis, the food in Scotland was fantastic.
We stayed in Fort Augustus, on the southwestern end of Loch Ness, for several days. Never saw the monster. Never expected to. Loch Ness is the largest loch in Scotland -- 23 miles long and 1,000 feet deep. In comparison, Lake Superior (the deepest Great Lake) is 500 feet deep on average, with the deepest part 1,335 feet. Loch Ness holds the same amount of water as all the lochs in Great Britain put together. Loch Ness’s water is a rich dark blue/brown because it contains concentrated tannin. Monster-perfect.
We spent a few hours at the Clava Cairns, a Neolithic burial site. We were able to walk around passage graves and standing stones dating from the Bronze Age (2500-1700 B.C.) Evidently Stonehenge (which I crossed off my Bucket List several years ago) is only unusual because of its size, state of preservation and perhaps a good public relations staff. Standing stone circles are a dime a dozen in Ireland, England and Scotland.
The Battle of Culloden (Scots vs. English 1746) eliminated the clan system in Scotland. The Scots, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, faced the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden, where the Scots demonstrated the Highland Charge, a battle tactic which featured a lot of threatening gestures, screaming and running full tilt toward the enemy. Alas, they were defeated anyway. The English victory led to what was dubbed “The Clearance” -- the end, for a while, of all those clans and their lovely tartans. Bonnie Prince Charlie was out; George II was in. We heard the details of the battle of Culloden from a dedicated docent, who stood far out on the actual field where the battle took place, in the rain, to tell the story and fire up our imaginations.
I saw something in Scotland I’ve never seen before – thatched roofs with rocks tied to the bottom. The rocks hung down a foot or so along the edge of the roof. They keep the thatch in place. Thatch is twisted strands of straw and is remarkable for its insulating properties – keeps the houses cool in summer and warm in winter. For some reason I am fascinated by thatched roofs.
Vinny talked about Scotland’s peat bogs. Peat is semi-rotted plant material formed in a wet environment. It’s cut in blocks, dried out and used for fuel. It’s also a treasure-trove of archeological material, he said. (I told you in Chapter One that he has a degree in archeology.) He said peat yields pollen, sacrificial items, tools, utensils, and the occasional bog body. Rich archeological fixin’s.
We looped around the Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides Islands, and observed its dramatic landscape – mountains of granite, basalt and limestone, lots o’ lochs, and ruined or abandoned crofts (farms) vacated because of The Clearance.
The final chapter of this series of blogs will include our day at Alnwick Castle, which was the site for filming the flying broomstick scenes in the first Harry Potter movie; and Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall (another personal Bucket List item.)