Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Bite or be bitten.

Following several unfortunate incidents involving unwary tourists, Scotland's National Outdoor Edible Menace Training Centre, run by HaggSpotters UK (HUK), has beefed up its survival and culinary training program for hikers in danger of encountering the wild haggis.

The HUK facility provides a realistic but safe training venue where hikers and backpackers can hone their skills in a controlled environment.

Due to the common belief that the wild haggis is "only a myth", you might assume that this creature is no hazard, but you would be wrong. So very wrong.

While actual wild haggis encounters are both rare and random, they are all too real. This only increases the danger to an unprepared hiker suddenly facing the Legend of the Highlands.

"I was just out for a pleasant walk," says Alasdair Mangus of Giffnock in East Renfrewshire. "A wee stroll I was on and then there it was, clawing at the throat of me before I even knew a thing, is what happened." While Mr Mangus escaped with only minor scratches and a slight bitter aftertaste, it isn't always so.

Exact sighting statistics (let alone those on actual encounters) are unreliable at best, but HUK last year tallied over 7900 reports covering all known haggis habitat areas.

And the trend to extreme sports plus advances in outdoor gear bring out ever-growing numbers of outdoor enthusiasts in all seasons. Most, believing haggis to be nonexistent, a joke, or at worst a harmless rodent that goes dormant in winter months, are stupefied at the sight of a stumpy but muscular furry sausage leaping at them from behind a rock or across a snow drift.

Though haggis range in weight from two to only four kg., and have small blunt jaws set with short teeth, those teeth are quite sharp and the jaws are powerful. Bites become infected almost immediately, inducing hallucinations and causing victims to wander in ever smaller circles until they collide with themselves and self-annihilate.

Chances of survival diminish rapidly with time, so quick intervention is essential.

The technique taught at HUK is "companion cookery", in which unaffected members of a party quickly build a fire, capture the offending haggis, and drop it into a pot of boiling water. After about three hours of simmering the furry skin is peeled off, the haggis is carved into bite-sized bits, and served in its own broth.

Eating haggis follows the Theory of Affinity Medicine, or the "Hair of the Haggis" principle, in which the disease is its own cure. Conversely, the cure for consuming haggis is to let a live specimen bite out your throat.

Some survivors have described the dish as having "an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour", others vomit uncontrollably, and yet others refuse to let it pass their lips, preferring to die in peace.

Veteran hill walkers in haggis country now routinely carry transceivers tuned to a standard frequency they call "Neeps and Tatties" (for "nips and tatters", because of the typical carnage a haggis bite inflicts), or about 1270 kilo-whatis for you propellorheads. They recommend that every hiker carry a similar beacon to ensure the quickest possible rescue and treatment, or proper recovery of remains, whichever comes first.

"We can't forget that lives are lost on Scotland's mountains each year. The opening of the HaggSpotters UK training facility is a great resource for those heading into the great unknown. We teach people to plan ahead, check the weather, and bring proper cooking equipment," said Tilda Twaddle, HUK's culinary biologist. "Haggis tend to leap for the throat, which gives the perfect opportunity for a defensive swing with a cast iron frying pan, but this becomes second nature only with proper training, and with practice, both of which we provide."


Majestic haggis of the glens proves elusive for US tourists.

What Now? Meat training for winter strength.