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Emotional Loch Ness

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If there is one occupation that equals that of being a player of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and Piper on Parade in particular, then it’s got to be ‘The captain of a Loch Ness Cruise vessel’. What a thrill to spend your days bobbing along on the world renowned and spectacular Loch Ness.

Piper on Parade had been invited to come along on board the Highland Free Spirits ‘Eilidh Catriona’ whilst it toured the Loch with a number of guests. The piper was to entertain with some fine Scottish music, give a talk on the instrument, including history surrounding Highland Dress, and for the teenagers amongst the group; indulge their interest in piping with a chanter lesson.

On leaving the berth at Dochgarroch and cruising slowly along the Caledonian Canal, Aldourie Castle quickly became visible nestled among some trees with its green lawn stretching down to the Loch side. It was a beautiful scene.

The piper took a stance on the open bridge and played a selection of slow Highland airs to set the atmosphere, thankfully it was not raining and not rolling (too much!) although as the canal widened and entered Loch Ness, Captain Garry opened the throttle, whereupon the piper feverishly clutching his feather bonnet and pipes beat a hasty retreat to the salon below where the atmosphere was more civilised for piping.

As we sped along it wasn’t too long before we glimpsed Urquhart Castle ahead, the view from the Loch was stunning. Time for some more piping as we slowed and circled below the ancient walls. It was great fun, with lots of opportunities for some photographic memories. Having listened to Garry’s Loch Ness Monster stories it was time for a spot of lunch and where better than in the nearby Drumnadrochit Bay. We didn’t so much drop anchor but switch off the engine and drifted a little.

Our steward for the day; Bruce, rustled up some smoked salmon and champagne and the piper began his talk which very quickly became a discussion. There’s nothing quite like audience participation; it makes the speakers task that bit more comfortable.

Food, champagne, talk & discussion completed, it was time to make our way back up the Loch.  Bruce tidied up as Garry started the engines and manoeuvred us in the direction of Dochgarroch. Piper on Parade broke out the practice chanters and had a great time enlightening the teenagers on the intricacies of The Great Highland Bagpipe music. You would think having a trumpet and viola player in the group may have made the task easier. Simple answer No! But hey, it’s all about the challenge. Needless to say the fun was in the trying.

It was a terrific afternoon and the panoramic setting was out of this world. The sound of the pipes across the water, and echoing off the ancient walls of Urquhart Castle with all its history was just magical, and not a little emotional for a number present.

Ps. Not a hint of a monster anywhere!


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Facetime Piping

Well it was meant to be a normal gig, but you are never sure until it happens. The brief was; some piping for Austrian and Dutch Motorcyclists holidaying at The Lovat on Lochness, Fort Augustus. It was their last night before returning home and so they wanted a traditional Scottish memory to take with them. Piper on Parade was ‘just the ticket’.

The piper turned up in all his glory; shiny brogues and highly polished medals and bling. He knew it was going to be fun as he was accosted the moment he stepped out of his car. Leather clad motorcyclists and their partners with numerous cameras and phones swarmed around. He had posed a dozen times before playing or finding the front door to the venue.

It turned out that the President of the Dutch Puch Motorcycle Club had arranged, as a surprise for his club members, Piper on Parade to call along and give a few tunes before dinner. So having managed to fight his way through the happy throng he set about tuning up, that didn’t stop the photographs. It seemed he just had to breathe and it was captured for posterity!

Once the pipes were ‘singing’ the group all stood around expectedly. The piper ‘struck up’ the pipes and began playing a few of the old foot tapping favourites! That’s when it happened, an immediate sea of phones in the air all lit up and waving about in Piper on Parades direction. It was like a One Direction concert! (not that Piper on Parade has been to one he adds quickly!!)

There proceeded to be a steady stream of photographs taken, numerous videos recorded, and the most surprising of all, numerous people had ‘Facetimed’ family and friends. They all wanted a good view of the Highland Piper it seemed, this resulted in phones being held close to his face, where his ‘blowing’ facial features were transmitted to happy smiling people in foreign lands, a most surreal experience for the Highland piper, and no doubt for those viewing the spectacle at the other end.

How times have changed, the audience may be global but the fun is just the same.

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Inspired thinking

Now as you know Piper on Parade blogs are usually about weddings and piping, but the Highland wedding Piper just had to say a few words on the following points which are equally as important when Piper on Parade is undertaking weddings and events, i.e. immaculate dress, excellent musicality and professionalism of the highest standard.

As a former Guardsman Piper on Parade takes not a little inspiration from his time in the Scots Guards and gets his “regular fix” from attending The Queen’s Birthday Parade on Horseguards, London. A parade he took part in on three occasions and was present at when the Queen rode out for the last time in red tunic sitting side saddle.

The Piper set off last week travelling via Edinburgh where he met up with his pal the Pickled Piper, and they then continued south to London.

Now London at this time of year can be a little balmy as is said i.e. sticky and humid, however Saturday dawned overcast but dry, great weather for the Guardsmen and Horses on parade, but a little cool when sitting for two hours, but no complaints, It was spectacular from the off, as the first guardsman arrived on the hallowed parade ground through and until the last horse trooped off.

The cumulative sound of the five Regimental Bands of the Household Division on Parade and latterly the Mounted band of the Household Cavalry added that extra emotional dimension to the whole affair. Stirring slow and quick marches to get the heart racing and the goose pimples standing to attention!

This was also Garrison Sergeant Major Billy Motts final parade before marching off into the sunset. This has been the man tasked with ensuring all the Royal ceremonial events in London go off without a hitch and are completed to the highest standards. It was therefore fitting that The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, his own Regiment were Trooping their colour in front of her Majesty.

Now in this day and age, when we are used to regular and constant change in both our everyday lives and in the work place, a Queens Birthday Parade is particularly refreshing. I say refreshing as in today’s world we are made to believe that refreshed requires an element of change, and that by constantly changing / updating we are somehow improving. This is not how the Guards look upon it at all, simplistically put “if it doesn’t require fixing why fix it?”

How can the finest exponents of foot drill, dress and military professionalism be bettered. It’s not about constant change, it’s about constant practice and discipline. The system has stood the test of time and produces exactly what is required.

I’ve often had it said to me, “you’re off to the Troop again? Don’t you get bored seeing the same old thing?” and my reply is always the same, “never, that is the point!”

Piper on Parade – Immaculate dress, excellent musicality, and professionalism of the highest standard, it comes with practice and discipline.

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The Early Bride

The drive Northwards from Ross-shire across the Dornoch firth is where it begins!

Travelling through Sutherland Piper on Parade always gets that warm sense of returning home. There are a number of quiet highland villages to negotiate along the way and key landmarks that stand out; Dunrobin Castle, and the “mannie on the hill” above Golspie to name two, before the winding road begins to climb up onto the Ord of Caithness and where there is a subtle change in scenery as the rugged windswept landscape appears in the distance.

Once clear of the Berriedale Brays, its stunning sea views all the way to Dunbeath, with its white castle perched on the cliff side. Then onwards to Latheron and inland across the flow country to Thurso nestling on the North coast, the most northerly town on the British mainland.

Now, Piper on Parade likes to be prepared and to arrive in plenty of time, and having found the West Church and the Park Hotel, (stumbled across the hotel as I arrived) It was time to relax and open the coffee flask.

So there the piper sat in all his bling and Russian braid by the Thurso river enjoying his coffee, taking in the Caithness air and pinching himself that he’s on a day out, had a lovely drive North about to play the Great Highland Bagpipe at a beautiful event. He thought to himself, isn’t life good. (My only regret; I should have started this business years earlier!!)

Being suitably refreshed Piper on Parade headed off to the church, where following a quick meet with the nervous groom tuned up in readiness for the guests to arrive. It wasn’t long before there was a steady stream in all their finery making their way up the church steps. The Piper gave renditions of The Braes of Killiecrankie, The Rose of Ananndale and Wings, amongst others to help them along. It was a somewhat blustery day, playing havoc with the feather bonnet, tartan ribbons and tassels, but the rain was holding back, which suited the Highland piper just fine.

Now, the following doesn’t happen very often, in fact Piper on Parade can’t ever recall it happening in his experience, and it may never happen again, so it is worth mentioning, but believe it or not the bride arrived 15 minutes early!!!!!! Yes, you heard right…. This resulted in a wait as the choir had a number of pieces to perform prior to the ceremony. It was great fun to witness the bride and the bridal party dance along to the singing in the church vestibule, before eventually getting the nod that the next number was their Q to glide up the aisle.

Following the service Piper on Parade piped the happy couple out into the sunshine and then made a dash to the hotel to pipe their arrival.  This couple knew what they were on, no long list of photos to be endured here, within 40 minutes the piper was playing them to the top table to be greeted by their cheering guests. This was a wedding that wasn’t hanging around!

Isn’t Caithness just the place to play the pipes.


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Dornoch Cathedral: cosy & warm

Becky & Jamie;  Dornoch Cathedral 23.5.15

There is no doubt about it, when it comes to warmth and that comfortable easy going way, then the folk of Sutherland have it.

Last weekend Piper on Parade was privileged to pipe at weddings in the far North. Spending Saturday in Sutherland and Sunday in Caithness, the two days were just magic! (there will be a Caithness update soon, I promise.)

The Piper set off mid-morning, making his way North and as he did so the weather eased to find Dornoch bathed in bright sunshine. The town was bustling with people, both local and visitor, and there was a lovely atmosphere around the Cathedral. It was going to be a good day to play the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Now as Cathedrals go, Dornoch Cathedral is not the biggest, nor is it the grandest, but what it may lack on that front it more than makes up for with cosiness and warmth, yes cosiness and warmth! For such a large and cavernous building, with sand stone pointed interiors you may think that it would lend itself to a feeling of gloominess or chill, but there is none of that. The glowing sand stone was the epitome of the Sutherland folk themselves warm and welcoming.

I reacquainted myself with the layout and decided on this occasion that I would play the brides entrance from the very centre, or cross of the cathedral. This too would assist the organist with the playing of the tune as in Dornoch Cathedral the organist always accompanies the Piper. The two instruments blending together makes for a wonderful sound, which echo’s around the ancient stone walls and beyond.

Now the only tune Piper on Parade could play on such an occasion would be; ‘Highland Cathedral’.

The Highland Piper kept the tempo that little bit ‘up’ as this was a bridal entrance, not a hymn singing, and having eye contact with the organist made for stopping at the appropriate moment that bit slicker.

After the ceremony The Scottish Piper gave a rendition of The Flower of Scotland which saw the bride and groom glide down the aisle in readiness to greet their guests at the cathedral entrance. It fair got the hairs on the back of the neck standing on end!

Following some pictures on Dornoch Beach, the party set of for the Royal Marine Hotel, Brora, where Piper on Parade having greeted the happy couple with Heilan’ Laddie and Scotland the Brave played them to their wedding cake for the cutting and then to their seats for dinner. What better than The Mucking o’ Geordies Byre and The Atholl Highlanders to get their guests on their feet, stamping and clapping.

It had been a great day in Sutherland, and that little bit special on a personal note being Piper on Parades home county!




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