Meet the man aiming to bagpipe in every country

Travel bloggers may be 10 a penny these days but only one is attempting to bagpipe in every country as he goes

Helen Coffey
Friday 19 May 2017 17:22 BST
Ross Jennings has notched up 60 nations so far
Ross Jennings has notched up 60 nations so far (Ross Jennings)

Clad in a traditional kilt, knee-high socks and a crisp white shirt and clutching a set of bagpipes, Ross Jennings makes a refreshing change to mainstream cookie-cutter travel Instagrammers with their identical, perfectly filtered snaps and beach blond hair. For while his pictures follow the beautiful, wish-you-were-there trend, there is an element of the absurd to them.

Here he is holding his kilt down so he doesn’t end up flashing on the windy coast of Portugal. There he is grinning on a pair of skis in Slovakia, still dressed in his kilt and sporran. There he is in Qatar, playing on a sandy white beach and looking bemused while a local man tunes his pipes for him.

Jennings’ journey started in 2014, when a trip to an adventure travel show in London inspired him to impulsively quit his job and travel the world. The aim? To be the first person to play the bagpipes in every country.

“So far I’m up to 60,” he tells The Independent. “Combining two things, travel and bagpipes, with a world record, seemed like an ambitious enough idea. However, I very quickly realised the record wasn’t the most important part. My reasons have changed since I first started – it’s the experiences and encounters I have along the way that fuel my desire to keep going.”

Of these experiences, playing to a nature reserve was among the most memorable.

“I was in Nairobi and asked if I could visit a giraffe sanctuary with my pipes,” says 27-year-old Jennings. “Two minutes of playing and I’d managed to assemble an audience of giraffes and totally empty the neighbouring sanctuary. They came close enough to feed!”

Visiting countries, popping on traditional Scottish garb and giving a few blasts on the bagpipes might seem like a gimmick – simply a cleverly crafted USP for Jennings to snare his almost 20,000-strong following on social media. But for the Edinburgh-born piper, his modus operandi gives him a unique perspective on the places he travels to and the people he meets there.

“For some reason whenever I pipe, the bagpipes open up this exchange where people seem to feel more open with me and consequently I’m more open with them,” he says. “The kilt-bagpipe combo has a brilliant knack of breaking down barriers and getting me in situations that I wouldn’t have otherwise been in.

“Three years ago after piping in the Vatican, I was swiftly removed by a group of armed police, but the mood wasn’t aggressive, rather inquisitive – and even ended in a couple of group photos! I still keep in touch with one of the guards that I met as well.

“In Bahrain, I often found myself being asked for photos by women in the full abaya and niqab, which I’m told is not too common.”

Clearly his innovative way of seeing the world has captured people’s imaginations – he was recently crowned overall winner in Flight Centre’s 2017 Travel Blog Awards for his travel and photography site, beating out stiff competition.

The bagpipes can be something of an acquired taste, but according to Jennings reactions to him and his instrument have been largely positive. He says: “Other than the guards at the Temple of Heaven the other day in Beijing, I’ve not really had a negative reception. Many people I meet are aware of the bagpipes’ existence, but they are still shocked by how loud it is. The reactions have usually led to smiles.”

People in the Middle East have been the biggest bagpipes fans, says Jennings. “Bagpipes supposedly originate in the Middle East so everyone you bump into absolutely loves the sound. Whether they already like the Great Highland pipes (aka GHB, the most well-known pipes) or whether they love the numerous types of ‘Arab pipes’ (Gerba, Jerba or Mezoued) and are familiar with the sound, I’ve always been welcomed with plenty a ‘yulla’ and ‘mashallah!’

“In Qatar earlier this year, I was piping by the inland sea when a 4x4 launched over the dune behind me. Out stepped a Qatari man who approached me as if to tell me to stop. I finished up my tune, looked up at him and he said, ‘Yani! Your drones aren’t tuned correctly, yulla, again!’ He proceeded to stand behind me and tune the drones as I piped. Turns out he was one of the pipe majors for the Royal Qatari Pipe Band!”

Wearing a kilt in Qatar makes for a sweaty performance, but it’s essential for the showmanship element of Jennings’ quest. “When you’ve got about 8ft of wool wrapped around you and you’re piping in 35 degree heat with 100 per cent humidity it is not too pleasant. When I practise I tend not to wear my kilt, but for performing it’s a must.”

In these troubled times, the only issue that arises from travelling with bagpipes is getting through security. “I always put them in hand luggage,” says Jennings. “They’re a temperamental instrument with plenty of wood, which means humidity and heat aren’t too kind. Carrying them on board has its complications, and I usually allow for an extra 30 minutes just in case. I’ve had many a confused security team question its purpose. ‘Is it a shisha pipe?’ gets asked a lot, or ‘What type of medical instrument is this?’. Which usually leads to an amusing interaction...”

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