Keeping the pipes singing for monster in the deep: Piper MacKenzie's workplace has fine views over Scotland's most famous loch. Oliver Gillie reports

IAN 'SCHIMPF' MacKenzie played his bagpipes as he walked with steady steps across the courtyard of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. The tune was Schimpf Mackenzie's march, composed for him by an old friend from the Queen's Own Highlanders.

Mr MacKenzie, the first official piper to be employed by Historic Scotland, the government agency in charge of ancient buildings and monuments, has begun his tour of duty at the 16th-century castle. Whether the sun shines or a chill north wind blows, Mr Mackenzie must keep his fingers moving and his pipes singing for the monster in the depths of the loch.

'Rain is a problem,' Mr MacKenzie said, with thoughtful understatement. 'The humidity affects the reed and I have to keep retuning the pipes.'

The pipe has four reeds to be tuned - three drones as well as the main reed in the chanter. The instrument, a Henderson nickel and ivory mounted, is more than 100 years old but beneath the tartan is a modern waterproof bag to keep out the rain. But Mr MacKenzie's traditional woollen cloak is not waterproof and when it becomes sodden there is no peat fire to give him cheer. He must make do with a small radiator in a shed discreetly concealed in the castle moat.

Mr MacKenzie has a large repertoire of tunes, sad and cheerful, which he knows by heart. Many were learned over 30 years in the Army where he became known as Schimpf (meaning insult) because, as a young man in Germany, he was known for voicing strong opinions. Schimpf's march is played in homage to a friend, now dead, who composed the drum accompaniment.

Apart from deciding on his repertoire for the day Mr MacKenzie has delicate decisions to make about what dress he wears. Should it be the Mackenzie of Seaforth kilt in honour of his regiment, or the Cameron kilt worn by the Queen's Own Highlanders, or perhaps his own tartan, the clan MacKenzie? And should he wear the Glengarry, a smart cap decorated with regimental staghorns, or his Lovatt green bonnet, and should he wear the sealskin sporran or the dress sporran with goat hair and silver embellishment?

His choice for ceremonial occasions is the MacKenzie of Seaforth and he wore it proudly as he walked to the top of the castle tower, built by John Grant of Fenchie, Lord of Urquhart. There he played 'The Mist Covered Mountains' and 'The Auld Wife in the Mill Dust' as French and German tourists gasped with delight.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas