Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm…
…You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!
Robert Burns, 1786
We’ve all heard of the meal haggis – the savoury pudding with oats and onions served on every Burns Night. You can even find it in the supermarket these days. But what about the animal?
Wild haggis (Haggis scoticus) lives freely in the Scottish highlands, where it is hunted for the famous traditional Scottish dish of haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). It is a strange-looking creature as on one side of its body, its legs are longer so it can move more easily through the mountainous terrain. This way, there are two types of haggis – ones that can run clockwise (longer legs on the left side) and ones that can run anti-clockwise (longer legs on the right side). They have evolved with a thick mane to keep them warm during the colder months. This type of evolution means they are very easy to be caught by predators and they cannot mate between the different types. If they do, the offspring is very unstable and even easier prey! They usually run at night and to catch one, you need to run towards it head-on as they cannot turn so easily. Hunting wild haggis has become so popular that there are special local haggis hunters called gillies. The hunting season begins on St Andrew’s Day (30th November) and lasts until Burns Night (25th January). When travelling to Scotland, those dates are the best to find yourself a haggis and even keep one as a pet!
Of course, this is just a humorous theory, that everyone loves so do not attempt to find one in the Highlands during the night!
What other legends do you know about the haggis?