How to hunt a haggis, and why you’d want to

Every year around this time, the Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh runs a competition for sighting of the elusive mythological creature known as the haggis, which is said to roam in Scotland. You can join in this through checking out ten haggis cameras the paper has set up at its Haggis Hunt site. You can win prizes… but before we go further, should you be reading this on New Year’s eve, go take a look at the shot of Edinburgh Castle, where if the timing is right you’ll be likely to see fireworks, and check out the camera at Stonehaven, where you might see balls of fire being hurled into the harbor.

The ten haggis cams offer interesting shots at any time, though. At George Square in Glasgow it’s been fun to see a festive holiday carnival, including a ferris wheel in lights, and now you can watch as the festival is taken down, the strings of light come off the statues, and the square returns to its daily life as part of Glasgow city center. You could look for haggis (no worries, you will recognize one instantly) among the shoppers and tourists along the royal mile in Edinburgh or out in the far flung haggis diaspora of New Delhi, India. The camera angle at Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland’s northwest moves about now and again, so you might see a close up of the castle itself, a shot of houses on a nearby hillside, or a view of snowy mountains beyond the castle. As to the prizes, the competition runs through Burns night on 25 January (several of the cameras stay active the year around, though) and you could win hotel stays, rounds of golf at the historic course at St. Andrews, and perhaps packets of haggis flavored crisps, also known as potato chips.

Reading about those chips, you might be saying to yourself:

I thought haggis was something to eat? It is. Basically it’s the innards of sheep or beef mixed with oatmeal and spices and boiled. There are vegetarian versions too. The connection between the mythological creature and the dish comes in for a take it with several grains of salt explanation at the Haggis Hunt site.

So people in Scotland eat haggis all the time then?
No. Some do not eat it at all, and for some it’s a very occasional dish. While it by no means appears on every restaurant’s menu, in the neighborhood where I stay in Glasgow, I can walk down the busy shopping street and pass a fast food place which has haddock and chips, burger and chips, and haggis and chips on its menu board. There’s an upscale bakery a few shops down which often has mini haggis pies — pie crusts about two inches in diameter filled with haggis — in its display. Across the road there is a pizza place, with haggis among the many choices for toppings. At the grocers, you can get haggis in a tin any time of year, and especially in January as people are getting ready to celebrate Burns night, vacuum packed bags of both meat and vegetarian haggis for you to take home and prepare start appearing. Haggis as a tv dinner, both meat and vegetarian versions and accompanied by traditional sides of neeps and tatties — turnips and potatoes — gave me a good laugh the first time I saw it. Sightings of these, too, are more common around Burns night.

Okay, so what is the connection between Robert Burns and haggis anyway? and why is haggis so popular in Scotland?
Robert Burns was a farmer in his adult life and grew up on a farm, so he likely ate his share of haggis in eighteenth century Scotland. The best known connection, though, is Address to a Haggis, a poem Burns wrote. It’s actually about the independent character of the Scots and a call to national pride, with haggis as a metaphor. National bard, national pride, and history put together equal pride in a national dish.

As you are checking out the haggis cams or contemplating making your own dish of haggis, you might also want to

learn more about those fireballs and what else goes on in Stonehaven
get a heads up on a music festival coming up in Glasgow
choose music of Scotland to listen to
hear musician Julie Fowlis speak and sing in Scottish Gaelic, a language few of her fellow Scots, and fewer still around the world, still speak and understand

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