Macsween’s Haggis Bible proves a haggis is for life, not just for Burns Night

As the uber-Scot Sir Sean Connery once asked whilst playing an immortal Spaniard, who was actually an ancient Egyptian, in the film Highlander, ‘What is a haggis?’

HaggisAs the uber-Scot Sir Sean Connery once asked whilst playing an immortal Spaniard, who was actually an ancient Egyptian, in the film Highlander, ‘What is a haggis?’

Well, first here’s what it’s not. It is not a small animal indigenous to the Highlands of Scotland and, therefore, does not have legs of any length. It has not been hunted to extinction in the wild and is not, as a result, the subject of an intensive WWF-funded breeding programme at a safari park just outside Auchtermuchty. And it is not – WE REPEAT, NOT – only to be eaten on Burns Night.

Macsween Haggis Bible, TheWhat haggis is is delicious, easy to cook, i.e. microwavable, fantastically adaptable and vegetarian-friendly (for 25 years and counting). Just ask Jo Macsween! Scion of the legendary haggis makers, Macsween of Edinburgh, Jo is a food lover and blogger and a passionate and enthusiastic ambassador for haggis. Never afraid to mix it up, she’s always on the look out for new ways to cook with it. Hence a brand new book on the ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race’ – The Macsween Haggis Bible.

If you want the lowdown on the perfect traditional Burns Night fare, then look no further, but there’s more to haggis than tatties and neeps and tartan. If you’re having a fancy bash how about SOS canapés? Or stir things up at dinner with veggie crumb cake with crème fraîche or haggis bobotie. It’s an everyday ingredient that you can dress up as haggis Benedict, dress down as haggis nachos or see if they even notice with something as innocent as haggis lasagne. Head over to our website for a free recipe.

Animals Beyond the Call of Duty

Edin ZooIf you find yourself at Edinburgh Zoo, and you can tear yourself away from the pandas, we heartily recommend heading to the Rainforest Room in the Education Centre for a fantastic exhibition called ‘Animals Beyond the Call of Duty’. The exhibition aims to tell the story of animals in war, and includes two very close to Birlinn’s heart.

BamseBamse was a St Bernard dog who served aboard the Norwegian mine-sweeper Thorodd during WWII and became a global mascot for the Royal Norwegian Forces and a symbol of freedom and inspiration for Allied troops throughout Europe. He was a familiar and much-loved sight around his adopted home of Montrose, shepherding his fellow crew members home after nights out, travelling on the local buses and even intervening to save a man overboard and a victim of a robber. In 2006 a statue of Bamse was unveiled in Montrose and his life story was told in Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr.

WojtekJust as brave and cuddly as Bamse, if even larger, was Wojtek, a 500-pound cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking brown bear who was adopted as a cub by the Polish Army in Iran also in WWII. He became an enlisted soldier so he could accompany his comrades onboard ship to Italy – bears weren’t allowed on boats – but he did more than just keep morale up with his cute antics. During battle, and under fire, Wojtek carried heavy shells to the soldiers operating the guns without flinching. After the war Wojtek joined other Polish exiles in Scotland, finally retiring to Edinburgh Zoo where he never failed to get very excited at the sound of Polish being spoken. Aileen Orr, whose grandfather met Wojtek on active service, tells his remarkable story in Wojtek: Polish War Hero.

Zoo event Bamse Wojtek

LTR: Angus Whitson, Aileen Orr, Andrew Orr

Aileen, Angus and Andrew all took part in a special event to launch the exhibition, talking about Wojtek and Bamse and their lives.The exhibition itself is kindly sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Consulate General to celebrate the links between Scotland and Norway and the 40th anniversary of a penguin at the zoo, ‘Colonel-in Chief’ Nils Olav, being adopted by the Norwegian Kings Guard. It runs until 31st August, and copies of Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero and Wojtek: Polish War Hero are available to buy at the zoo.

Alexander McCall Smith at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2012

They seek him here, they seek him there but in August it’s a pretty safe bet that Alexander McCall Smith will be at home in Edinburgh. ‘Home’ being the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square, mind you, as he appears not once, not twice, not even three but four times! And you still need to get in quick to get a ticket …

Sunshine on Scotland Street Web


With a brand new 44 Scotland Street novel,Sunshine on Scotland Street, on the blocks, there’s a lot to talk about – has Bertie managed to escape Irene, are we really seeing double or are there two Bruces, how will marital bliss affect Cyril and his gold tooth, to name but three.


UPDATE: Alexander’s three adult events are now sold out. Returned tickets might be available from the Box Office, please contact 0845 373 5888 or

Saturday 11 August at 6.30 p.m. (now sold out)
Wednesday 15 August at 1.30 p.m. (now sold out)
or Thursday 16 August at 6.30 p.m. (now sold out)

Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill

And for younger readers there is a special event on Tuesday 14 August at 3.30 p.m. when Alexander will be talking about the latest case for a very young Precious Ramotswe, Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill.

The weather might not be great at the moment, but when Alexander McCall Smith is around it is always sunny. Book your summer sun now!