A clandestine gathering of farmers, under the veil of darkness, head off into the distance, with just the silvery moon to brighten their pathway.

As Burn’s night is celebrated around the world, on the farm our guests are always curious to know more about the mighty Scottish haggis. Stories of great Haggis Hunting adventures, mixed of course, with a little dash of the necessary ‘Persabus spice’, roll from the Happy Farmer’s tongue.

Capturing a haggis requires real skill. It is a complex process of coaxing these charming little characters to jump, dive bomb, or simply climb, into jacket pockets, hence the reason why farmers have so many pockets in their jackets.

Pre-hunt preparations are key. It is imperative that the farmers’ jacket pockets undergo a thorough deep-clean. A process involving the careful and necessary removal of the baler twine, lambing gloves, nails, Stanley knife, cable ties and the sticky ‘stodge’, that maybe once resembled a sweet.

The best advice is to bin these, but make sure the farmer isn’t looking, otherwise there is a real danger of these farming treasures finding their way back from the bin to the farmer’s pockets.

Following the cleaning and disinfecting stages, the next step is to carefully place a mint or two, a sheepskin glove and a tissue sprinkled with a few drops of whisky into the pocket. Once completed these steps will ably place the Haggis Hunter at a distinct advantage and hopefully lead to a good Haggis Hunt.

This year’s Persabus Haggis Hunt was a huge success. Apparently, a little haggis told me, that with the CalMac ferry sailings being disrupted – due to so many staff having to self-isolate because of Covid-19 – the haggi were getting desperate to make their way across to MacSween’s and beyond for the necessary pampering, to be dressed and spiced, ready for the Burn’s celebrations.

So, there was huge relief and sheer joy among the haggi population at the first sighting of the farming contingent making their way up the hills of Persabus. A mad race ensued as they made their way into those pockets knowing that from there they would at last be off to enjoy all the excitement that a Burn’s Supper brings.

On the Persabus hill, with the Haggis Hunting season firmly upon us, it has been a busy time, with rather a lot of commotion on that hill. In the darkness of the night, you can just make out the occasional flicker of torch light and coupled with stories of farmers jumping out from behind the trig point and beyond, the Happy Farmer has been off on his quad bike looking for poachers, as hunting teams are found on their bellies, crawling commando style, through the rashes, hoping to ensnare one of these elusive creatures.

You see the Haggis on the hill at Persabus are thought to be among Islay’s finest, and if rumours are to be believed, this is partially due to the daily dram they are generously fed from the workers at the nearby distillery. A strategy adopted to discourage those greedy haggi from the casks, if it wasn’t for the long hibernation of this elusive creature, it wouldn’t just be the Angels’ share missing from those barrels.

The Haggis hunt itself is not a mission for the faint hearted. It requires skill and at times can be more of a treacherous, adventure, if stories of previous escapades are to be believed. There was the farmer, who, in his eagerness to be the first to capture a haggis, ended feet up and face down in a peaty bog, completely stranded and stuck tight.

So tight, that even a heavy rope and a hardy group of strong hands, all of whom had completed the necessary pre-hunt training, the tug of war at the Islay Show, could not heave the poor farmer from those muddy depths.

In the distance, the Happy Farmer could soon be heard revving old ‘Lizzie’, as ‘Rescue Plan B’ was adopted. Inspired by the wonders of the three-point linkage of his old grey tractor, he was sure swift action could save his ‘peated pal’.

However, with health and safety being paramount, plan B was firmly rejected. Finally, it was a case of ‘Raymond to the rescue’, as he flew past in his large modern tractor, the mechanical bucket finally reached down into the quagmire and one farmer was firmly hoicked from the bog.

Upright once more, and after an hour or so of being tied to a nearby fence post, with a couple of guy ropes for support, he was soon able to find those ‘wellied’ feet once more.

The first major hurdle of any haggis hunt is always the fence. The fence with that innocent wire running along the very top. A wire that sits patiently waiting. A wire that, with just one small tweak, has the capacity to send a quick sharp shock to those oxters and beyond, as those Highland heifers on the hill know only too well.

In the darkness then, you can only imagine the severe challenges this poses to the whole hunting team. A team that arrives, complete with clickety clackety joints, and several ‘sore spring hangers’.

They have legs that are not blessed for occasions such as these, as the lesser-legged members of the company at this point in the proceedings find themselves slightly ‘vertically-challenged’.

Luckily, on this year’s hunt it was a case of old-fashioned ‘coalie backs’ as the the Happy Farmer man-handled the team over that first hurdle and on into the night they went, thankfully avoiding the deep murky depths of that peaty bog.

Apparently in the past, when faced with the challenging electric fence, the Handsome Farmer had bent down and the lesser-legged team commenced with a game of ‘leap-frog’. A simple run and a jump, a leap over the back and soon farmers were hurtling through the air, positively flying across the fence, before landing, one by one, in that peaty bog.

That year the whole Haggis hunt got temporarily forgotten, as due to the quantity of medicinal drams taken along for emergencies such as these, those farmers quickly forgot the very purpose of their mission as those stories began to flow, with a song here and there, and then the beauty of a Burn’s recital.

Such was the hilarity, the singing and guffawing, that soon those inquisitive haggi were emerging from their burrows, with whiskers twitching, as they simply cannot resist the temptation of a bit of Burn’s poetry – that, and the prospect of nosing a particularly good Islay malt.

Soon, they were bouncing and diving into the warmth and comfort of those farmer’s pockets to enjoy the shenanigans of the evening’s entertainment, leading to a particularly successful hunt that year.

A very shy creature, a haggis spends much of the year in hibernation. However, in the depths of a murky January, they begin to emerge from their burrows, scampering out to play.

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Indeed, if you sit patiently and for long enough – especially if you happen to have a necessary ‘wee tipple’ of Islay’s finest ‘amber nectar’ to hand – just as dusk descends, you may come to realise that what you had previously mistaken for a clump of hillocky grass, does indeed have tiny twitching whiskers.

It is, on occasions such as these, that you may even get treated to the rare spectacle of the ‘dance of the hairy haggis’, as these elusive creatures can be seen frolicking, bouncing, and jiving their way across the golden hills of Persabus and beyond.

Fiercely ambitious and competitive, their aim in life is to be served alongside ‘neaps and tatties’ at the top table of the very best of Burn’s suppers.

They love good banter, great speeches, a ceilidh dance or two. They love the poetry, the kilts and the tartan, but most of all they love that spirit of communities coming together to celebrate, all of that mischief and fun.

If you've had your own Burns night, I hope it went well ... and if you haven't had it yet, have a good one!