Instatravellers: Introducing The First Piper

August 4, 2015 by Helen Winter

Instagram is filled with incredible travel photos, from stunning mountain landscapes, climbing cats, and drool-inducing foodie shots. But, Ross Jennings, aka The First Piper, has well and truly made his Instagram debut with his ingenious idea, which we and 9,427 other people, love!

Here, Ross tells us how he came up with the idea and what the rest of the world thinks of it.

firstpiper

I’ve always liked the idea of being the first person to do something…

But it was more of a fantasy than something I would actually try and execute, let alone something that would involve the bagpipes! I was cycling home after being at the 2014 Adventure Travel Show in London and it just popped into my head, ‘I’m going to be the first person to play the bagpipes in every country’. The more I thought about it the more I realised how much I’d already travelled with my bagpipes and how it had influenced my past adventures – it made me appreciate my slightly odd (and annoying) choice of learning to play them as a child. I started to travel more and my initial idea behind The First Piper quickly changed as I realised the journey was a lot more important than the goal. It’s very easy to take things away from the places you travel (photos, souvenirs etc.) but other than money, it’s rare that people give anything back – I now see it as a fun way of sharing a bit of my culture, a great way to make people smile and in general, a bit of an adventure facilitator!

Each country has its ‘top places to visit’ so I usually coincide my photo-taking opportunities with visiting these top sites…

I then plan whether it would be feasible (and respectful) to wear a kilt and play in these locations. Guide books are great but I try and get at least one personal recommendation as to where and when I should take pics, although it doesn’t always go to plan! At times I’ve met photographers who’ve helped me but most of the time it’s been trial and error with my self-timer and tripod.

Every picture I post I usually gets a lovely message from my friends or family saying how much they love what I’m doing, but I do get a mix of responses…

Some friends think I’m a bit nuts for doing it, but I think most of them expected me to plan some odd travel adventure in my lifetime. Although concerned at times, my family are super supportive and absolutely love the pics I send back – it’s thanks to them that I learnt the pipes and travelled with them when I was younger… but I don’t want to give them too much credit there!

Aye indeed, the bagpipes are difficult to travel with!

I can always tell when airport security is actually looking at the X-Ray machine because that’s when I’m searched. It’s been called a rifle, shisha pipe, cane and baton (which usually all cause a bit of a ruckus) but I’m yet to be barred from taking it on board! Flying out of Tel-Aviv I was threatened with a “full-body” search for trying to take it on as hand-luggage, but fortunately the look of fear across my face at the idea of my cavities being search was suitable enough to convince them I meant no harm with my bags…. or pipes.

Bagpipes are also pretty temperamental so I’ve always got to be conscious of heat, humidity and so on, to make sure they still work when they arrive, and combined with all my other kit it’s pretty damn heavy! A Sherpa would be ideal but my mates are yet to put themselves forward for that one. Any volunteers?

I’ve worked out that I’ve been travelling with my pipes since I was about 16…

But maybe that doesn’t really count. I suppose it started when I went to Tunisia in April 2014 as that was the first country I went to with the idea of The First Piper in mind.

I’ve just got back from Ethiopia…

Which was number 36 – only 160 to go!

It’s always difficult to choose your favourite country…

Without wanting to sound like a cliché, they all have their best bits. Tunisia definitely sticks in my mind because that was the first country I went to but Ethiopia now does as well, having just got back from there. I met a lovely Scottish lady called Susan Aitchison who owns the coolest restaurant in Ethiopia (Ben Abeba) and she couldn’t have been more welcoming.

It’s surprisingly easy to get people to pose with me…

I don’t want to sound cocky but usually people just ask me! Even in countries where people tend to be more camera shy or simply don’t like photos being taken I’ve been shocked at the different people who’ve asked for a pic!

I’ve had some pretty amusing responses to my bagpipes from every country I’ve been to…

But some responses in Tunisia always come to mind. It was definitely a surprise for any onlookers whenever I piped, but fortunately the bagpipes (mezoud – Tunisian bagpipes) are one of the national instruments of Tunisia so the surprise was always a good one. I did also manage to completely bewilder a bunch of Tanzanian ladies when I was in the Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania. They thought I was the ugliest/funniest thing they’d ever seen and I managed to leave them in stitches as they laughed me out of their village.

I mostly play Scottish bagpipe tunes which some people recognise, but most don’t…

Everyone always asks for Scotland the Brave, Flower of Scotland or Amazing Grace but I think I need to expand my repertoire to include a couple of contemporary songs – Calvin Harris on the bagpipes… definitely doable!


Follow Ross on his bagpipe adventures through his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. For incredible photos, follow Ross’ photography on Facebook and Instagram.


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About Helen Winter

I'm a passionate (see: obsessed) traveller. I love to explore a new country on foot; whether it's through the narrow streets of historic towns, or along ambitious hiking trails in a national park. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @winter_wanders