Ode to Scotland

Did you know Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn?

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve’s like the melodie

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

  A red, red rose – Robert Burns

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

Did you know Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn?

It’s Burn’s Night and did you know, I have a bit of Scot in me. The name Garland lived among the Pictish people of Ancient Scotland. Garland means ‘triangle land’. I feel my inner William Wallace thundering about. ”FRRRREEEEEEEEEEEE-flowers when you sign up a friend using your code”.

Bagpipes, whisky, tartan and the kilt are just a few things that come to mind when thinking of Scotland but for me it’s all about fauna and flora. The thistle, the heather, the good old bog myrtle.

Picture of heather in Scottish landscape
Scottish perfection

History of Burns Night

On the 5th anniversary of Robert Burn’s death in 1801, Burn’s mates decided to throw a dinner party to honour him. Like most good dinner parties it was a raucous, drunken affair. It was so fun they decided to make it a tradition.

Bringing in the haggis
Bringing in the haggis

The order of the night

Burn’s Night starts with ‘piping in the guests’. It usually involves someone playing the bagpipes looking like they’re near about to explode. Then there is the ‘brining in the haggis’ (the bagpipes start up again). The haggis, resembling a giant brain on a platter, comes charging in with its host in tow and everyone ‘ooooo’s’ and ‘ahhhhh’s’. Finally the ‘Ode to a Haggis’ by Burns is recited many more toasts and speeches. During all of this it is only respectable to down a generous dram of whisky every couple of seconds.

A thistle, symbol of Scotland
The Flower of Scotland

Legend of the thistle

Ever why wondered why Scotland chose the Thistle to be their symbol? There is no historical evidence why it was chosen, but there is a legend of how it came about…

During Alexander III reign from 1249 to 1286 an army of Vikings being led by King Haakon intended to conquer a party of sleeping Scottish warriors on the coast of Largs in Ayrshire. In order to be more stealthy and get nearer to the Scotsmen the Vikings removed their footwear. Unfortunately, one of King Haakon’s men stood on a prickly plant and yelled in pain. This woke up and alerted the Scottish clansmen of invaders. Needless to say it was the Scots who won that day. From that moment the prickly purple thistle became the Guardian Thistle and was adopted as the symbol of Scotland.

White heather
Magical white heather

More myths and legends

When you think of heather you think of the lovely purple haze and not maybe white heather. Legend has it that in the 3rd Century AD, Malvina (daughter of the legendary Scottish poet, Ossian), was betrothed to a Celtic warrior named Oscar. Poor old Oscar died in battle, and when Malvina heard the news she was heartbroken. The messenger who delivered the bad news also delivered a spray of purple heather that Oscar had sent as a final token of his undying love for her. It’s said that when Malvina’s tears fell onto the flowers in her hand, they immediately turned white, This magical transformation prompted her to say:

‘although it is the symbol of my sorrow, may the white heather bring good fortune to all who find it.’

Today white heather is considered to be very lucky for a bride who adds it to her bouquet.

Scotland's national animal
Scotland’s national animal

And finally back to why the unicorn

A fictitious creature may seem an odd choice for a country’s national animal, but perhaps not for a country famed for its love for, and long history of, myth and legend. The unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.

In Celtic mythology, the Unicorn of Scotland symbolised innocence and purity, healing powers, joy and even life itself. It was also seen as a symbol of masculinity and power. Not quite what I think when I think a unicorn but you know, each to their own.

I’ll leave you now with a final word from Robbie.


On a bank of flowers – 1789

On a bank of flowers, in a summer day,
For summer lightly drest,
The youthful, blooming Nelly lay,
With love and sleep opprest;
When Willie, wand’ring thro’ the wood,
Who for her favour oft had sued;
He gaz’d, he wish’d
He fear’d, he blush’d,
And trembled where he stood.

Her closed eyes, like weapons sheath’d,
Were seal’d in soft repose;
Her lip, still as she fragrant breath’d,
It richer dyed the rose;
The springing lilies, sweetly prest,
Wild-wanton kissed her rival breast;
He gaz’d, he wish’d,
He mear’d, he blush’d,
His bosom ill at rest.

Her robes, light-waving in the breeze,
Her tender limbs embrace;
Her lovely form, her native ease,
All harmony and grace;
Tumultuous tides his pulses roll,
A faltering, ardent kiss he stole;
He gaz’d, he wish’d,
He fear’d, he blush’d,
And sigh’d his very soul.

As flies the partridge from the brake,
On fear-inspired wings,
So Nelly, starting, half-awake,
Away affrighted springs;
But Willie follow’d-as he should,
He overtook her in the wood;
He vow’d, he pray’d,
He found the maid
Forgiving all, and good.

Not interested in tasting haggis? Why not try some flowers instead. Flowers delivered to your door for only £24 a pop!

Featured photo by Simon Migaj

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