The haggis: Scotland’s most elusive wild animal, one that can jump six feet in the air and goes straight for the throat, according to the hunters that track the bat-faced, Peter Stringfellow-haired beasts ahead of Burns night. ‘Is that a haggis!?’ I screech at my guide. ‘No, that’s a dog,’ he says, adding that this is going to be a long walk.
A year into my Scottish residency and having had an extremely unsuccessful Burns night in Glasgow during my first month here (a date with a Scot more interested in watching himself on YouTube than finding me any kind of haggis supper) I’ve decided to come straight to the source this year and catch my own. Or try to – because it’s no mean feat.
An event that’s been taking place for ‘centuries’, the humble haggis hunt, has since taken a luxury turn, with many of Scotland’s swankiest hotels hosting hunts as part of their Burns night celebrations. These hunts, I’m told, are traditional in the north of Scotland but are now taking place all over the lowlands (to much scoffing from highlanders). Some, like the once extremely popular community hunt in Selkirk, where the haggis is toasted on Selkirk Hill and the Haggis Polka dance is performed outside Argos, have fallen victim to post-pandemic bureaucracy. So these elite versions of the group hunt are taking their place.
My first stop is Cameron House, the five-star hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond where Davy, a tartan-trewsered haggis hunting expert, is giving me my first lesson in the wily creatures that make up an integral part of any Burns night supper. Rabbie Burns, as he’s fondly known, died on 21 July in 1796 and a year later, seven friends got together to celebrate his life with a sheep’s head and haggis slap-up.