A Little Anecdote… Meeting Spud the Scottish Bagpiper

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The faint lilt of a bagpipe rode the gentle breeze as I wandered to the main street of Fort Augustus. The town is small—tiny actually—and most of the action takes place along the Caledonian Canal, which feeds into Loch Ness. This is a busy passageway through the area since the canal connects several of the main Lochs (lakes), and uses an intricate locks system to safely move boat from into the calm waters of Loch Ness.

Although the legend and myth of Nessie is one key reason people visit this area, it’s also to see the locks and take in the sights and things to in Fort Augustus. Foot bridges span over the canal’s locks and tourists jostle for spots, especially when a boat moves through!

Tilt the camera just right and aim for an arty shot.

Fail. I have yet to discover a way to make the locks actually look interesting—I encountered this in Panama’s Canal Zone as well—but they are undeniably as popular as Loch Ness itself here in Fort Augustus.

Spud the Piper in Fort Augustus, Scotland in 2009
Spud the Bagpiper piping awa for the summer crowds in Fort Augustus

Meeting Spud, Fort Augustus’ Bagpiper

The bagpipes grew louder the nearer I made it to the central tourist area until I rounded a corner. There before me was a piper in full Scottish regalia piping out his heart to the small crowd of tourists.

And while the intellectual part of me understands that the piper was piping specifically because of the tourists—because what normal person would wake up thinking, “Gee, perhaps I’ll put on this outfit and jam by the single most touristy spot in town”—it didn’t detract from the cool factor. Bagpipes are one of those instruments that most people (outside of Scotland for sure) rarely hear live. And that’s a shame because it’s beautiful.

I settled into a cozy spot on the grass near the bagpiper, content to much on an apple and listen to him play. Tourists ebbed and flowed past the piper, many snapping photos and tossing him a few coins before heading to the locks and shops and pubs lining the canal.

During one of his breaks, the bagpiper introduced himself to me as Spud—I would come to learn that he is a well-known bagpiper! We got to chatting and Spud felt the way many feel upon learning I am a born and raised Floridian: bewildered that I lived in such densely layered heat and humidity. I continued listening and relaxing—at least until Spud slipped in a couple of American nursery songs into his next set! That had my head whipping up, laughter bubbling out. Hearing “Skip to my Lou,” “Clementine,” and other such songs from his bagpipes seemed both anachronistic and highly amusing!

Spud plays bagpipes regularly in Fort Augustus, most every day during the high season, so 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 dinner fixings. And on my last day, I spent several hours listening and relaxing while waiting for my bus out of town, which is how I ended up in the hitchhiking debacle!

Debacle aside, the interactions with Spud, the grocery store owner, and others is an aspect I simply love about small towns all over the world. Fort Augustus is one; I loved Český Krumlov most recently, and long before that I stayed an extra week in Luang Prabang just to soak in the good vibes. Staying a bit longer than the “must-see” things require lends new dimensions to what can seem touristy and one-dimensional.

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