My recent blog about Spam spawned a surreal post on one forum about the haggis, especially as a form of meat. One poster said in its defence: Haggis is fine as a lot of goodness by using the lungs, heart and liver with oatmeal and onions. Not a bit of mechanically extracted or steam blasted meat anywhere nor any added chemicals.
I was reminded of a long-gone guest post by my good friend and ex-detectorist Ian Murray (aka Magician), who is an expert on the subject. I think that it’s worth a reprise for all those who missed out the first time and for those detectorists who see one in the field and fail to recognise the little beastie! I understand that they have been seen south of Carlisle and even on a roundabout in Brighton, so keep your eyes peeled.
IAN’S STORY – GUEST POST
Due to the weather I was unable to get out on the fields, so for want of something to do I decided to sort out my ‘grot box’. One of the items I rediscovered was a strange hook-like object that I had found about 18 months ago.
I had meant to clean it up, but it was forgotten. Now, and with closer examination, I found a rather small logo that intrigued me. It was time do a little research and consult my friend Mr. Google.
What I discovered was that the logo was the mark of a ‘Highland Haggis Hunter’. The more I read the more I wanted to find out.
I’d unearthed the remains of a kilter stick, a short implement with a hook on one end and a small pick on the other used primarily to hold the hunter steady whilst on a hill. The pick end is rammed into the ground and the hook is then looped through the sporran belt. The usual stance is for the uphill leg to be bent and the downhill leg to be held out straight, allowing the hunter to remain upright.
Sometimes the tactic fails to work, the stick becomes unhooked and the hunter rolls down the slope. This is where the term ‘out of kilter’ originated.
The most famous of the Highland Haggis Hunters is a clan called MacILT whose hunting tartan has diagonal stripes in a mixture of heather and moss shades. The stripes are set a similar angle as the steep slopes where the haggis is found. The war-cry of these hunters is ‘UP MacILT’ which is Gaelic for Long Live the Clan!
Most highlanders are tall. However members of the MacILT clan are very small in stature as this helps them to blend in with the surroundings when hunting. The picture below shows an adult member of the clan in dress tartan. I have been unable to find a picture of their hunting tartan.
The haggis is a small mammal with long hair and is said to be the origin of the original sporran. This dates back to the time when the highlanders used to strap lunch to their belts before venturing out on to the hills.
I have been unable to obtain a picture of a live haggis as they are very shy and move very fast. During the winter months the hair turns white and curls very tightly. This is protection against the cold and camouflage when out of their burrow. The summer coat is a blend of gorse and heather colour and the curls drop out.
Apart from the long hair the most distinguishing feature is the length of the legs so the haggis can run around the hillside without falling over. Those on the right are very short and are called the upside. Those on the left are long and are called the downside. You often hear highlanders mention the fact that for every upside there is a downside. A good haggis hunter will be able to tell which contour line a haggis lives on, just by looking at the length of its legs.
Haggis hunting is done in pairs. One person goes up the hill with his kilter stick and the other remains at the bottom with a sack. The man up the hill (often called the top man) kneels down in the heather and forces the spike of his kilter stick into the ground, then hooking it into his sporran belt.
The secret bait is then dangled from beneath the kilt onto the track When the haggis runs around the hill to catch the bait, the top man catches it and with a shout of ‘Up MacILT!’ turns it around.
The haggis, now unable to stand up due to the short legs being lower on the hill, rolls rapidly down. The man at the bottom then finds it easy to lift the disorientated haggis and place it in the sack. Sadly, haggis hunting is in decline due mainly to the popularity of the Burns night suppers and dwindling stocks. All attempts to breed in captivity have failed.
Due to extensive research this has proved to be one of my best finds. Edinburgh museum is after this artefact for display but the British Museum is holding on to it until they discover how this interesting artefact was found in a Buckinghamshire field.
Wednesday January 25th is Burns Night, a memoriam to Scottish poet Robert Burns and the haggis plays an important part in the celebration …
Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, has been banned in American for nearly fifty years. I don’t know why. 🙂 See this BBC report of November 2015:
For the latest on the Jersey Hoard please click HERE