Bucket List Entry #9: The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo

I’m not sure that anyone does pageantry like the Brits. For one thing, some of their spectacles have been going on longer than many nations have been in existence, and for another, they take place in the setting of Britain, the country with a history that dates back well over two thousand years.

The Tattoo isn’t one of the former: it’s only been going on for just under seventy years — a veritable child compared to, say, the coronation of the new monarch.

But of course, the Tattoo takes place in front of the storied Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest buildings in the Western world, and the theme this year was “Splash Of Tartan” which harkens back to the mid-17th century, when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Scots were defeated at Culloden, whereafter the wearing of the tartan was forbidden, bagpipe-playing was banned, the Scots were disarmed and the Gaelic language was suppressed.

So of course, the official welcome this year was given in Gaelic, a ceremonial toast of whisky was taken by the guest of honor — a British officer who served the drinks to the clan leaders:

…and then came the massed pipe bands, playing, amongst others, the mournful Skye Boat Song:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye;
Carry the man who was born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

I am not a man with Scottish roots, and in fact there are many things about the Scots of today that I deplore; but even I had a tear running down my cheek.

I talked about my previous Bucket List item (tea at the Ritz Hotel), which I enjoyed for so many reasons; but the Tattoo was unbelievable. Everyone who goes to Britain in summer — during the month of August — should make a point of going. The crowds are immense, the atmosphere electric; and when the ceremony finishes with the Lone Piper playing his melancholy melody atop the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, I promise you that you will never forget it.


  1. I’m sorry to see the Tattoo promote and you fall for the SNP’s propaganda. The Jacobite rebellion was in significant part defeated by other Scots. Indeed, it was more a Catholic vs Protestant battle than one for Scotland.

    Culloden is just south of Inverness and well worth visiting. You may be surprised at how small the battlefield was.

  2. Edinburgh’s one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever been to. On my second trip there, once an older gentleman confirmed a friend and I were Americans, he practicallyled us the entire way to a cemetery with a statue of Abraham Lincoln in it, before going about his business. (The statue topped a memorial to Scots who had died in the American Civil War.)

    I am of Scots descent and although I haven’t seen the Tattoo, I’ve been to the Illinois St. Andrew Society’s Highland games several times. At the end of the Games the award prizes for the best competitors (pipe bands, dancers, athletes) and all the bands participating march onto the grounds together. The always play a few tunes, but one is always “Amazing Grace”. Depending on how many bands are there, you may hear two to three hundred pipers playing at once through one verse, then a lone piper playing another, then finally all the pipers playing once again. Every single time it sends shivers up my spine and brings tears to my eyes.

    One day I’ll have to get back to Edinburgh and see the Tattoo/

  3. I was there Thursday night and you nailed it. The uniforms, the music, the whole majesty of it all was extraordinary. A thing I will never forget.

  4. Saw it about four years ago. You are right on the money. There is absolutely nothing like it. I saw the one in Halifax last month. Totally different – lots of non-military acts. Well done, but Edinburgh is one of a kind.

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