A WORLD OF TRAVEL NEWS AND DISCOVERIES
‘Piping at the Old Man of Storr in Scotland was out of this world. The weather was pretty bleak (classic Scotland), but it cleared up for a bit and I was able to play a few tunes. The ring around the Storr formed a natural amphitheatre, so you could hear me all the way down the valley.’
Few people include bagpipes on their packing list, but for Ross OC Jennings they have been a mainstay of his travels to more than 60 countries. We caught up with the man who has a plan to pipe in every country of the world:
Where has been the most satisfying place to play the bagpipes?
So far, the Middle East has been the greatest place to play the pipes. Everyone seems to absolutely love it – it’s probably something to do with the fact that bagpipes come from that part of the world. Oman, Jordan and many other Middle Eastern nations have their own adaptations of bagpipes, so it’s fairly ingrained in their folk culture and modern pop culture too. I was piping at the Inland Sea in Qatar, which marks its border with Saudi Arabia, when a ginormous 4WD launched over a dune behind me. The car skidded to a stop and out popped a Qatari man. He shouted ‘Yalla! Again!’ I piped up again and he calmly said, ‘They’re slightly out of tune.’ It turns out he was part of the Qatari pipe band. He then proceeded to tune the drones as I played again.
Have you had to make any changes to your usual approach?
The bagpipes (and kilts) aren’t suited for all climates, so I do have to mix it up. In South Africa we went shark diving and I’d been given the go-ahead to pipe on board – (apparently loud noises are great for attracting great white sharks). I had already suited up, so I decided I’d just throw on my kilt over the top and pipe away. Not the easiest! When I visited Latvia midwinter, it was so bloody cold that my pipes totally seized up. It was made even worse by the fact that I had worked up a bit of crowd after taking a few cheesy snaps in Riga’s Old Town. My fingers were frozen and my face was so numb I could barely feel it, so when I started to pipe I just couldn’t get anything out. I scuttled away to shouts of ,‘You’re not Scottish!’ Next time I visited a country in midwinter (Slovakia in January this year) I was prepped with a ski-suit and all means of wintery kit.
What’s the most ambitious place on your short-term must-visit list? Hands down, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite online advice and media coverage, it’s not totally off limits, but it’s a fairly volatile place. I toed the border with my brogues and kilt when I visited Rwanda in 2014, and I’ve wanted to visit the DRC ever since. Find out more at thefirstpiper.com or follow Ross’s adventures on @thefirstpiper
Ross with his bagpipes on the Isle of Skye. ABOVE FROM LEFT Singapore, Laos and Armenia