Burns in the Highlands
Next Wednesday is Burns Night, the anniversary of the birth of probably the greatest ever Scotsman and an occasion of some importance to Scots around the world. It’s a special evening where old friends gather, eat, drink and remember through speeches the genius of a poet who did more than anyone else to define the nature of just what it is to be Scottish.
It’s a special time to visit Scotland and an evening you will want to participate in whether it’s by cooking a haggis to eat at your holiday cottage or by attending a formal Burns Supper. January on the islands can be bracing and invigorating, if you are lucky enough to be around at this time then there is only one place to go to get your haggis. Macleod’s of Stornoway have won countless awards for their black pudding but also make the best Haggis west of the Minch. A traditional recipe and fresh local ingredients mean that you will not be disappointed, especially if paired with some machair potatoes and some carrageen for desert. An Abhainn Dearg with nothing more than a spot of water would be the most appropriate accompaniment and the best way to pay tribute to the genius of the great man himself. Riof Ocean Cottage is an easy drive away from the distillery and is fabulously equipped for preparing supper for your guests.
In 1787 and already a successful writer Robert Burns embarked on a tour of the Highlands in order to find inspiration. His journeys were documented in his journals which are now on display at the Robert Burns Museum. One of the places he visited which had a long lasting impression on him was the Falls of Foyers near the south shore of Loch Ness. This spectacular natural attraction remains as impressive as it was when Burns immortalised it in verse over 200 years ago years ago. At this time of year it is particularly ferocious with thousands of gallons of water cascading down into an atmospheric pool. As you walk down the well maintained path to take a closer look you will see lines of Burns verse carved into the rock. House by the Loch sits perched on a hillside not far away, a great base for exploring the many attractions of the immediate area. It’s also only a short journey from here into Inverness where Eden Court Theatre this year is hosting The Big Burns Stramash, a week of themed activities and events for all the family.
Burns famously loved a dram and in his poem “Scotch Drink” he laments the closure of his favourite distillery at Ferintosh on the Black Isle. You can still go for a walk around the ruins of what was in its day the most successful in Scotland, selling more whisky than the rest of the country put together. The good news is that Whisky production in the area has recently started again with the Glen Wyvis Distillery just over the water. Although you will have a number of years to wait for a dram to be ready Glen Wyvis gin is available in limited batches. The view from the decking at Skylarks in Ferintosh takes in Ben Wyvis itself and is a great place for watching the sunset with a freshly made, locally sourced G&T. We think Burns would approve.
One of Burns most famous songs is My heart’s in the Highlands, it’s an evocative anthem for displaced Highlanders across the globe. A visit to the mountains and straths he depicts is an inspiring and rewarding experience. Somewhere like Bruiach House would be fantastic for a Burns supper. Not only is it close to Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Cannich, it can easily accommodate up to 10 people in comfort. The massive lounge contains an upright piano and there is more than enough room for traditional dancing once sufficient haggis and whisky has been consumed.
Another famous Burns poem is Twa Dugs which takes the form of a conversation between a hardworking sheepdog and his best friend, the pet of an aristocrat. Burns was indeed very fond of his collie who he named Luath after the dog from Ossian’s epic poem Fingal and this poem was his attempt to immortalise his faithful friend in verse. It can be frustrating, not to mention expensive, to have to leave your four legged family member in kennels for the holidays so fortunately the Highlands are the ideal destination to take your dog with you. Meall mo Chridhe has its own kennel, accepts two dogs and is close to the beaches and mountains where you can go on epic walks.
The ritual of Burns night is a glorious thing, but for some at the cutting edge of contemporary cuisine it is a starting point rather than the end. Using tradition as an inspiration rather than a template overseas chefs have for years been experimenting with dishes such as chilli haggis pakora or vegetarian haggis fajitas. In one of the most widely reported culinary innovations of recent years the Cromarty Brewery, in collaboration with The Anderson in Fortrose produced for Burns night only, a Haggis flavoured beer featuring pepper, mace, coriander and nutmeg. Despite their individual reputations this was unfortunately an innovation that didn’t quite catch on. A meal in the Anderson with a pint of Cromarty Red Rocker is however a treat that can be enjoyed any time of year. Dolphin House is a short walk away, very handy if you are also tempted by the award-winning selection of whisky available.