TravelTraveler Magazine

Bagpipes in North Uist

In New York City, your waiter is always an actor—In Scotland, they’re all musicians, or better yet—pipers.

By night, David Provan (age 18) serves guests at Langass Lodge on the Isle of North Uist (yust). By day, he studies (and plays) the bagpipe at the University of the Highlands and Islands, which has a campus at Lewes Castle on the adjacent Isle of Benbecula.

Originally from Ardrishaig, in Mid Argyll, David had very little expectations when he moved to the Outer Hebrides to pursue his BA in Applied Music, but he was pleasantly surprised.

“Just look outside,” he smiles. “On a good day in the Isles, you’re not on North Uist. You’re away in the Bahamas somewhere—white sands, completely clear turquoise water—it’s brilliant.”

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David Provan, 18, who works at Langass Lodge in North Uist, studies bagpipes at the nearby University of Highlands and Islands. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

“And the music! The piping out here is the simply best you can get.” David admits that some days the isles are “very quiet” compared to the Scottish mainland, but that the music and culture are so vibrant, there’s always fun to be had.

“The Gaelic out here is gorgeous—it’s an ancient and delicate language and I’m really wanting to learn it.”

David’s been playing the bagpipes (seriously) since he was fourteen, and since beginning his studies, has picked up the small pipes—a handheld instrument powered by a pair of hand-held bellows.

“The bagpipe is such a versatile instrument, there’s still so much to be done. We’ve only really started experimenting with it recently,” says David. “I’m excited to see where we’re at in twenty years’ time.”

So where should visitors to Uist go to experience music? “Hotel Creagorry—on the Isle of Benbecula,” says David. He calls it a “busy hub of music” and notes that on Wednesday nights, the students from the nearby university play from six until ten, “but you’ll catch music most other nights as well,” like fiddle, bagpipes, whistles, and Celtic drums.

Having missed the Wednesday night gathering, I asked David if he wouldn’t mind playing a bit on camera, and he kindly obliged me, showing me the range of instruments he can play, including the whistle, which he only picked up in the last month.

To see a young person so in love with his own culture was remarkable, and I was impressed by David’s appreciation of the past.

“The Scotsman running about the hills, chasing the haggis—as funny an image as that is—that’s how it was a couple hundred of years ago,” he tells me, sharing how today’s Scottish culture is just as relevant and strong as back then.

“Scotland has made its wee impression on the world—it’s a wee hardy race,” he smiles, and then picked up his pipes to play me another set of tunes.