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There are certain things you expect to see when you travel to Europe. If you go to Paris you check out the Eiffel Tower. Head over to Rome and you naturally stop at the coliseum. And if you travel to Scotland, you'd probably feel like you missed out if you didn't hear some bagpipes. But as The Savvy Traveler's Adam Fowler discovered, you can't always hear what you want.

Piping Down in Edinburgh
by Adam Fowler

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The bagpipes: a part of Scottish culture, and a great attraction to visitors. But if you are planning to come to Edinburgh this year, you may be in for a disappointment, like this couple from Texas.

Edinburgh Castle

Wife: "We came to hear the bagpipes and there are no bagpipes in all of Edinburgh."

Husband: "We were told that they used to play here."

Adam: "And did you come especially to see the bagpipes?"

Wife: "Oh yes we did and we were disappointed they weren't there."

There's a strange, almost eerie silence on the Royal Mile and tourists have to make their way to Edinburgh Castle unaccompanied by "the skirl o' the pipes" because the pipers who traditionally busk here, or pass the hat, have been asked to pipe down. Locals who work nearby are complaining about the noise and demanding that the pipers find somewhere else to play. Most complaints are from the Signet Law Library where lawyers from the surrounding courts come to do their research. The director of the library is Jim Foster.


Foster: "There have been pipers busking outside here for a number of years of course. Bagpipes by their very nature were designed to be a stirring instrument but in the earlier years they used to pipe for perhaps an hour at lunchtime and at weekends.But as the years have gone by the busking has become more continuous from about ten o'clock in the morning right through until dusk and we really think it's time to draw a line in the sand, as it were, and sort this one out once and for all."

In response to these complaints the police have been clearing the area of pipers. For once I had to search through the streets of Edinburgh to find one and, when I did, he turned out to be as Scottish as apple pie. An American, over in Scotland to study, he had already been moved on once by the police and if he starts playing again he risks losing more than just one afternoon's takings.

Piper: "To the best of my knowledge we can be arrested and have our instruments seized or confiscated for up to six months. Thing is, this is what's paying for my college and a room and train fare and everything else, you know."

Adam: "You can understand that the people who have to work here all day, every day..."

No Bagpipes

Piper: "Ah, well, this is the big city and the tourists are here, this is the only viable growth industry left in this country is tourism and people come here from all over the world to see a piper, hear pipes. There's been pipers here on the square for decades."

But for now the pipes remain silent and the loudest noise on the street comes from disappointed visitors.

Tourist: "I think it's a bit sad but I'm a Celt myself, I'm Irish. So, I mean, I think we should have our culture in the street, and freely so that people can see it, even the children, our own kids seeing it. It's very important."

Second Tourist: "People from the United States come over here, in fact from all over the world, and I really like Scotland, but the pipers is a part of Scotland and we need to keep them."

The lawyers in the library may have found peace and quiet but the tourists know that this year, in Scotland's capital city, something important is missing.

In Edinburgh, I'm Adam Fowler for The Savvy Traveler.


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