The faintly audible music of bagpipes in the distance altered my course and I set my meandering walk toward the main street of Fort Augustus. The town is small. Tiny actually. And all of the action takes place along the Caledonian Canal that feeds into Loch Ness. The canal is set up with a set of locks that boats use extensively to make their way from the houses upstream to the calm waters of the lake.
The locks are a huge attraction for the tourists and foot bridges are set up on top of the locks so that tourists can jostle for a spot, tilt the camera just right and aim for an arty shot. I never discovered a way to make the locks actually look interesting in the photo, but they are undeniably as popular as Loch Ness itself here in Fort Augustus.
As I approached the locks the bagpipes grew louder until I rounded the corner and there was a piper in full Scottish regalia piping out his heart to the small crowd of tourists.
Now, naturally this piper was piping specifically because of the tourists…because I doubt a normal person would wake up one morning and think, “gee, perhaps I’ll put on this getup and jam out by the single most touristy spot in town,” but that really didn’t take away from the cool factor, honestly. Bagpipes are one of those “dose” instruments…but who really ever gets much of a dose of great bagpipe playing? It’s not exactly a popular instrument all over the world.
I contended myself to pull out an apple from my bag and listen for a bit. The tourists ebbed and flowed past the piper to take their pictures and then continued heading up to the locks and the shops and pubs that line the canal. At one of his breaks the bagpiper came over to chat and introduce himself as Spud. The fact that I’m from Florida seems to spark a lot of conversation with Scots because they simply cannot fathom choosing to live in extreme heat layered with a significant helping of humidity.
During his next set Spud slipped in a couple of American nursery songs that had my head whipping up and laughter gurgling to the surface…somehow hearing “Skip to my Lou” and “Clementine” and other such songs played out of the bagpipes is amusing and entirely inauthentic!
Spud was a regular fixture in the town as he played there daily for the tourists and throughout the week I often aimed a friendly wave in his direction as I made my way to the tiny multi-purpose grocery store/café/ restaurant to pick up some dinner fixings.
This is one of the aspects I simply love about little towns like Fort Augustus, and previously Český Krumlov, just staying for an extra couple of days lets the town take on a whole new dimension and you feel welcomed instantly. The locals start to greet you with warmth and recognize your face even after just two or three days – longer than most people stay in popular day trip towns.