The Hairy Coo Tour – a freely good way to explore Scotland

Lily Baker takes the scenic route


I have lived in this glorious, rich with history country for nearly four years and I am somewhat hesitant to admit that I have scarcely explored it, only leaving the capital a handful of times. However, I am swiftly expanding my horizons and have booked a trip to Lochinver, a idyllic village on the West Coast of Scotland and home to the world famous pie shop, Lochinver Larder- after all, I am now a sucker for a mac and cheese pie. In the meantime, I recently went on ‘The Hairy Coo’ tour; a free Edinburgh based tour service which runs on tips and donations.

As the Sunday sun rose over Edinburgh Castle, I set out to meet my quirky driver-guide Paddy on the Royal Mile, intrigued and anxious to see what a free tour of the Lower Highlands had to offer. He wasn’t hard to miss and was leaning on a vibrant orange and lime green hairy coo tour bus checking in his passengers as they stepped on one by one.

Paddy knew the winding roads like the back of his hand and had an outstanding wealth of Scottish knowledge to share with the bus full of eager learners. He was a true Scotsman and his charismatic tone told the tales of the land in a gripping and humorous way. Between his bursts of wisdom, he would play songs from famous Scottish artists such as Belle and Sebastian and The Fratellis, staying true to his roots. As we rode through Scotland’s lower towns and trails, ultimately in search for the countries most iconic animal, the highland cow, we stopped at a number of destinations.

First, the world famous structure ‘Forth Bridge’, which towers over the Firth of Forth estuary. Next the National Wallace Monument near Stirling which stands on the summit of Abbey Craig. The outstanding views of the surrounding landscape were photographed by stunned tourists. After Paddy took us to Doune Castle, home to a Game of Thrones set. I took an enjoyable walk around its quaint, historic village peering into the tiny windows of pebbledash houses merely twenty-five feet off the ground. I had lunch in Callander where I tasted my first mac and cheese pie- love at first bite, washed down with a pint of Tennent’s, of course. The mountains and glens of Trossach were perfectly reflected on to the lochs still waters, like a sheet of mirrored glass sweeping over the land. My surroundings looked like a watercolour painting in Autumnal shades. Around the next bend we caught site of the highland cows, lying majestically in their muddy home. They too saw their fellow orange sister roll and park up behind the wooden fence, hurled themselves up and stampeded towards us. Paddy dished out slices of brown bread and we fed our new hairy friends.

I had spent my day immersed in Scotland’s culture and I am fascinated and hooked by its beauty. To end the enthralling day I took a walk around part of Lake Katrine, pondering over the charming and delicate places I had explored. Scotland is one fine country and I am thankful for Paddy, and the fellow Scotsmen who established the wonderful ‘Hairy Coo’ tour company, for guiding me through the Lower Highlands. We arrived back to the Royal Mile at dark and as I stepped off the bus to the sound of bagpipes, I felt proud to live in Scotland.


Feeding a highland cow


Visit the page to book a tour

Stories We’re Made Of


A kelpie as portrayed by Theodor Kittelsen in Bairn on White Horse

Scotland has a rich history of folklore and mythology. From the iconic Loch Ness Monster, to the grim stories of Sawney Bean, here is a look at some of the most famous tales to come out of the country.

No piece of Scottish folklore is more iconic than the Loch Ness Monster. Also known as Nessie, the monster is referred to as having a long neck and multiple humps. Its iconic appearance was solidified in pop culture with the famous “surgeon’s photograph,” published in the Daily Mail in 1934 and proved to be a hoax 60 years later. Although this is the most famous “sighting” of the monster, tales of its existence date back to the sixth century. The first mention of the creature can be found in the Life of St. Columbia by Adomán, although that version of the monster resided in the River Ness, not the loch.

Although it is the most famous example, the Loch Ness Monster is far from the only creature said to be hiding in Scotland’s lochs. Other supposed water dwellers include the Lomond Monster of Loch Lomond, Loch Lochy’s Lizzie who has been sighted sporadically since 1929, and a water horse said to reside in Loch Arkaig. However, none of these creatures have become fixtures of pop culture like Nessie. Throughout the years, many expeditions have tried to find evidence of these sea creatures, but none have been successful.

Few tales in Scottish folklore are more gruesome than that of the notorious cannibal Sawney Bean. Alleged to exist sometime between the 13th and 16th century and residing in a cave between Girvan and Ballantrae, he and his incestuous family of 48 reportedly murdered and ate over 1000 people. Despite mounting fears, they stayed hidden by only attacking at night, meaning it took years for them to be caught. Today the legend of Sawney Bean is a popular part of the Edinburgh tourism industry.

While, many believe it to be a true story, there is little evidence that Sawney Bean and his clan existed, with newspaper articles from the era making no mention of him. Because of this, most historians believe the tale to be a work of fiction. Despite this, it has earned its place as a staple of Scottish folklore, being adapted and retold many times throughout the years. Most notably, it served as the inspiration for Wes Craven’s 1977 horror classic, The Hills Have Eyes.

One common thread throughout Scottish folklore are the many mythical creatures said to roam the country. Among the best known are Kelpies, water-dwelling shapeshifters who often took the form of a horse. In their human form they were said to retain their hooves, and many believed they partook in human sacrifices. Another group of creatures called the Blue men of the Minch, were often referred to as “Storm Kelpies” These human-looking creatures were said to sink ships and drown sailors, although many today believe they originated as a personification of the sea.

The history of Scotland’s folklore is vast and varied. Tales of monsters, cannibals and mythical creatures have dominated our stories in the past. As we have moved into the information age, it is unclear how our folklore will advance with it. Who knows whether children of the future will be spreading these stories as truth, or if a quick online search will debunk any future myths.

Scotland, a welcoming land

These are hard times for the future of immigration in the UK, Europe and the Western sphere in general. The Brits have decided to leave the union and one of the main reasons is immigration; thousands of refugees are dying in the Greek freezing cold to be part of the EU dream; and Trump’s future immigration policy does not sound promising at all. However, there is a tiny nation in the north west of Europe which is determined not to accept the general xenophobic derive and is willing to take advantage of what foreigners can contribute to its society.

Scotland has sometimes set a difference in the union. As a response to an article on The Guardian stating xenophobia against Swedes in the UK, Nicola Sturgeon commented: “[this is] a good moment to remind EU nationals living in Scotland that you are welcome here and we want you to stay.”

According to an article on the BBC from 2014, professor Robert Wright points out that despite Scotland having more tolerance to immigration in comparison to the rest of the UK, the amount of immigration in ratio to the UK is smaller, hence not comparable. Three years on, Scotland has seemed to prove its resilience and openness towards immigrants through policy; such as free education for European students, pro-immigration stance within Brexit and the efforts made by the Scottish Government to aid refugees into the country.

“Increasingly, the Scottish Government will celebrate the contribution of migrant groups,” says the Edinburgh University historian Wendy Ugolini. The fact that migrant communities have been or are part of Scottish society is thanks to political efforts, rather than an open mentality of the public.


In the decade 2003-2013, overseas immigration doubled in Scotland and since then it has done nothing but grown. Taking into account that during the First and Second World Wars and the foreign communities that settled here, Scotland is a nation where many second and third generations of foreigners inhabit.

“The influx of thousands of foreign soldiers [during the WWII] had a dramatic impact on local life, and the spirit of a shared cause, combined with much goodwill, soon began to overcome the barriers of language and unfamiliarity”, the blog Polish Scottish Heritage quotes.

Ugolini states that “during the 20th Century we reached an idea of multiculturalism, and [perceived] diversity as a positive thing.”

However, she says; “what is interesting is that hostility towards immigrant groups always sleeps lightly, and that there is always the potential from the members of a migrant community to be perceived in some way as outsiders or as not belonging to the fabric of society.”

Migrant groups in Scotland, as in most nations, create groups for themselves and their culture. “Gathering in communities is an effort of foreigners to integrate to their new homelands, rather than isolate themselves from locals”, says the president of the Catalan Centre of Scotland, Erola Pairó. “In terms of others understanding our culture, traditions and mentality, it is a personal comfort and safety to have a community that you relate to and identify with, at your reach.”

Spanish are the fourth largest group of immigrants from Europe coming to Scotland, behind Romania, Poland and Italy. According to National Insurance Number Allocations to Adult Overseas Nationals’ Quarterly Report form June 2015, there was a 62% increase of immigration from the year before, of which 76% originated from Europe. Although statistics of the same report for 2016 report a slight decrease in immigration, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear in the New Statesman in October 2016 “we are one Scotland. We are home to all those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”

Things to do to celebrate Burns night in Edinburgh




  1. Burns for Beginners

Location: Edinburgh Castle

Date: 21st – 25th January

Event info: Family event in which a performer impersonating Burns will be discussing some of the poet’s most famous work

More info:


  1. Burns Unbound

Location: National Museum of Scotland

Date: 22nd January

Event info: The Auditorium and Grand Gallery will be hosting a day of free activities providing fun for all the family. Events will include storytelling and live performances from Scottish folk musicians

More info:


  1. Burns Night Tour

Location: Real Mary King’s Close

Date: 25th January

Event info: On this exclusive evening tour guests will be taken back in time, beneath the Royal Mile as they learn about Scottish history

More info:


  1. Burns Supper

Location: Bread Street Brasserie

Date: 27th January

Event info: A traditional four course Burns’ Supper will be delivered by a piper in traditional attire with live music from Scottish musician Bruce Davis

More info:


  1. Burns Night Ceilidh

Location: Scottish Café and Restaurant

Date: 27th and 28th January

Event info: The night will kick off with a three-course dinner before dancing the night away with a ceilidh and live band. Help will be on hand with guests being guided through each dance

More info:


  1. Tam O’Shanter: Telling the big tale

Location: Scottish Storytelling Centre Training Venue

Date: 20th January

Event info: Explore the poet’s narrative as guests gain an understanding of the poet’s    defining work

More info:


  1. Burns Night Supper

Location:  Whiskibar

Date: 25th January

Event info: Award winning MacSweens Haggis is on the menu featuring the venues whisky cream sauce. Traditional Scottish fiddle band will be playing live

More info:–2017.html

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