Detectorist Celebrates Burns Night

24 January 2017 — 20 Comments

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

Small Logo

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.

Kilter Stick

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.

© Ian Murray

THE HAGGIS

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.


Artist’s Impression of a haggis

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.

HUNTING

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.

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The Burns Supper

Wednesday January 25th is Burns Night, a memoriam to Scottish poet Robert Burns and the haggis plays an important part in the celebration …

POSTSCRIPT

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:

Haggis recipe ‘should be tweaked’ to beat US import ban

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For the latest on the Jersey Hoard please click HERE

Photo Credit ORCHID Jersey

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For the latest on the Lenborough  Hoard please click HERE

John

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20 responses to Detectorist Celebrates Burns Night

  1. Still smiling about Ian Murrays post. Someone with too much time on his hands me thinks.

    • Interesting reading, though!

      • Absolutely the most informative read on haggis hunting I have ever read. It is amazing that schools down here in England do not have the haggis subject on the curriculum, after all, it is we who taught the Bonnie Lads/Lasses how to cook neaps and tatties.
        Some parts of Cornwall are now supplying haggis chocolate bars, now that the preservatives
        have been found to work properly.

  2. Great stuff John. Definitely one of the most thorough haggis summaries I have seen, and. as an aged Scotsman myself, I was still able to glean new information from your post.

    Such articles have never been more valuable as we now have so many different foreign nationals among us who will never have heard of the wee beastie, and I know for a fact that the current educational curriculum no longer includes the Haggis, our national icon, as a subject for study. Sad, but true.

    Much appreciated,

    Bob Paterson.

  3. John that was really a interesting post, Ive heard of haggis but didn’t know what it was

  4. The ‘haggis’ must related to the ‘sidehill gouger’ found out this way John.. Very secretive and illusive critters for sure

    Micheal

  5. Thanks John another very interesting article which will expose substantial information about the wild haggis of the Scottish Highlands for the uninitiated, I may try this cooked delicacy this Friday night when our local gentlemen’s club have their annual Burns Night supper.

  6. In my brief stint as a chauffeur I took a very high profile lady to inverarnan hotel for a look around and coffee where they have a mock up of a haggis and convinced her they were running wild round there.

    She eventually said “I’m so surprised to find out they are a real creature”

    To which I replied “all the gullible people say so”

    I got a wee dig in the ribs for my trouble luckily we were on good terms 😉

  7. Fair fa’ your honest sonsie face, John! Cheers! :0)

  8. Haggis are they still a protected species.

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