Some unusual Scottish ‘Traditions’ – haggis hurling

Most people who come to study at Glasgow School of English know that haggis is the one food for which Scotland is most famous. For those who don’t know, a haggis (several haggis are pictured here) is a sort-of sausage, a minced mixture of sheep heart, lung, oatmeal and seasoning wrapped in a sheep’s stomach. It’s definitely not suitable for vegetarians, but for those who do eat meat it is very tasty indeed. However, not many of our students know that we do other things as well as eat it!

Haggis hurling is exactly what it sounds like – hurling (throwing) a haggis. Although it has been claimed to be an ancient ‘sport’, in reality it is a modern invention, going back to the 1970s when an advert was placed in a newspaper at the time of the Gathering of the Clans (historic family groups under the same name, such as the Clan MacLeod or the Clan Campbell) in Edinburgh. This advert announced a ‘revival’ of the ancient Scottish sport of haggis hurling. The intention was simply to see who can throw a haggis the furthest.

Nowadays, there is even a World Haggis Hurling Championship, with all the money earned going to charity. The ‘sport’ has strict rules: the haggis must be cooked and of a specific weight; it must be inspected to make sure it is a proper haggis, with all the traditional ingredients; and when it has been thrown it must remain intact when it lands.

The most recent annual competition took place in Ayrshire, south of Glasgow, at the place where Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, was born. This year it was in January and a new world record was set, as you can see in this YouTube video. Haggis hurling has become famous in different countries, with Canada and Australia also holding competitions. Even if you don’t manage to see haggis hurling competition taking place when you are studying in Scotland, you should (unless you are a vegetarian or vegan), try to eat it at least once when you are here!

Some unusual Scottish “Traditions” – the Moffat Sheep Race!

The town of Moffat in the Scottish Borders (south of Edinburgh and Glasgow and north of the border with England) has a long-standing association with sheep. The hills around Moffat have lots of farms with lots of sheep and there is even a huge statute of a ram (a male sheep) in the town’s Market Place.

A few years ago, it was decided to have an annual sheep race through the streets of the town and this has proved so popular that many visitors come to see it. As well as the sheep race, which you can see on this YouTube video, there is a farmers’ market where local produce is sold.

The sheep race with knitted jockeys on their backs and there are several races held before the winners in each of these compete in a Grand Final. The ‘jockeys’ are very colourful creations, as you can see in the video. Some people place bets on which sheep they think will win (which we think must be a real lottery!) and the whole event is a great day out.

This year’s Sheep Race is being held on the 13th of August and you can find more details on the official website and Facebook page.  If you would like to go to see the Sheep Race, Moffat is just over an hour’s journey from Glasgow



Some unusual Scottish “Traditions” – the Deep Fried Mars Bar

Most people across the world know the Mars Bar (see picture above). It was “invented” in 1932, in the town of Slough, England, by an American called Forrest Mars. Since then it has become one of the most popular snack bars or sweets (or candy bars as the Americans call them) in the world.

People in Scotland are famous for having a “sweet tooth” (this means we like sweet, sugary foods) so Mars Bars are very popular here. However, in 1995, a fish and chip* shop in Stonehaven, in north-east Scotland, decided to deep-fry Mars Bars and sell them to customers. This means coating the Mars Bar in batter (a mixture of flour, eggs and milk) and then frying them under very hot fat or oil (see picture below).

Although these Deep Fried Mars Bars attracted a lot of publicity in local newspapers they never really became very popular until they began to attract the attention of big newspapers and TV stations. The combination of sugar, chocolate and deep-frying means that they are VERY unhealthy (and very sweet and sticky). You can get them at a number of fish and chip shops, especially in Edinburgh, and while we wouldn’t actually recommend them, one probably will not do you too much harm. However, be aware that some fish and chip shops use beef fat to deep-fry their products.


* If you haven’t had fish and chips, most of our students love them!


Photos from Wikipedia

The honest truth about Glasgow School of English (according to our students).

When students and agents are considering which school of English to study at in the UK, they take many different things into account. They want to know: is the school accredited, is it in a big city, does it have a programme of events and activities, is it a cheap place to live and study and, of course, does it have a good reputation for the quality of its facilities and teachers?

It’s easy for any school to make claims about the city in which it’s based, or its programme of activities, but important as these are, the key factor in any decision to come to the UK to learn English is the quality of the school and the teaching it provides. Reputations are hard won, and equally hard to maintain.

Glasgow School of English has a full round of official inspections, but we also ask our students to fill in a quarterly survey, where they can be as honest as they like about their experiences with us.

Our last survey covers the first quarter of 2017, from January to March, and we’re delighted to say that we have received excellent reviews and comments from our students. The full details are shown below, but perhaps the most important one for anyone thinking about coming to learn English in Scotland is that 98% of our students would recommend us.

Some students added comments. A representative sample of these is shown below.

“The office staff are very kind.”

“My class size with 8-10 students is good”

“The location in Glasgow is perfect!”

“Thank you for everything.”

“It was a great experience to be here. Thank you and best wishes.”

“It was a pleasure to have met you and I look forward to see you again.”

“I appreciate the school. All was very well. I’m looking forward to come back.”

“I think I will come back in the future.”

“Here I met wonderful people who I’d like to keep in touch forever!”

“I’m really sad to leave! And I will spend 15 days travelling in Scotland. We had an amazing IELTS teacher (I got 7/9).


Korea to Cádiz – we have students from all over the world!

Hye Yeong Hwang comes from Seoul in South Korea. Julio Sanchez comes from Cádiz but works in Sevilla in southern Spain. Both of them are pictured here and are studying at Glasgow School of English. I met with them in the School and we had an interesting chat about what they think about Glasgow, Scotland and the School in general.

Neither had visited Scotland before, but Hye Yeong’s husband had studied for an MBA at Strathclyde University (probably the best Business School in Scotland and one of the best in the UK) so she came here six months ago and her English is improving a lot. Julio had only studied English for one year at school in Spain and has only been at Glasgow School for a week, but his English too is improving considerably.

Both of them agreed that one of the big attractions of Glasgow as a place to study is that it’s a lot cheaper than London and some of the other big cities in England. They also agreed that the teachers at Glasgow School are very good. Julio explained how his teacher is helpful, friendly and uses great examples to help him improve his English. “The hour in the classroom goes very quickly”, he said, “and that is because the class is interesting and fun”.

Hye Yeong agreed, telling me “my teacher is kind and friendly too and when I don’t understand a word she helps me learn it”.

Julio and Hye Yeong told me that when they studied English in their own countries, there was a focus on grammar rather than actually speaking. Here, they said, it’s great to be able to practise speaking in the classroom.

I asked what they knew about Scotland before they arrived. Hye Yeong said, “whisky and golf”! She plays golf and she knew that Scotland, and in particular St Andrews, is famous as the “home of golf”. Julio said the weather is “different” from southern Spain but he finds Glasgow a beautiful city and he has enjoyed visits to the Cathedral and to the Riverside Museum and Tall Ship. You can see pictures of these trips on our Facebook page.

Finally, I asked what they particularly liked about Scotland. Julio, who works in Physical Education, said he really liked the fact that no-one smokes outside. “In Spain, this is not enforced like it is here. It’s much healthier here and no-one drinks outside in the streets either”. Hye Yeong told me that she loves fish and chips, and also our black (blood) puddings!


Interview by Alastair Blair

The legend of Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster!

Do you think the Loch Ness Monster actually exists? In our last two blogs we provided some weblinks that suggest she might, but there are, of course, others who think that she is just a myth, kept going to help the tourist industry in northern Scotland.

Certainly, one of the most powerful arguments against Nessie existing is that we should found her by now. Although there are lots of people who have seen something, there is not any definitive sighting or photograph that conclusively proves she exists. However, it’s well known that humans have not discovered every creature that exists and that many of those still to be discovered live in the depth of the oceans. Loch Ness, while very deep, is hardly an ocean though.

A major scientific investigation in 2003, conducted by the BBC, could find no trace whatsoever of the Monster and concluded that “the only explanation for the persistence of the myth of the monster is that people see what they want to see.” A more recent report, on the website, thescienceexplorer, was not quite so certain, with its author saying that while she “would prefer it that Nessie be real … she probably doesn’t exist.”

However, we have news for all the scientists. Nessie is alive and well and has just joined Scottie and Bonnie, our other mascots, to add to the School’s marketing team. She’ll be making regular appearances in the future and accompanying Andrew Lennox, the School’s President, on his travels around the world to see students and agents. It just goes to show how little scientists know!

The legend of Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster!

Last week, we told you a little bit about Loch Ness, where the Loch Ness Monster, who is usually referred to as Nessie, is supposed to live. But does she actually exist? What evidence is there?

In your country what do you know about the Loch Ness Monster?  Does your country have a mysterious monster? Tell us about it.

Actually, there is quite a lot. The website records dozens of sightings over the last 150 years or so, both in the loch and also on the land alongside.

There are also a few famous photographs, allegedly showing a monster-like creature in the loch. One of the most recent, which can be seen here, was taken in 2011 and it is claimed it has been analysed by the military in the USA who said there is no doubt that it shows “an animate object in the water.” Could it be that Nessie really does exist?

Join us next week for more information on Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster.

An ESL professional’s view of Glasgow School of English

Anabella Chavez (seen here with Andrew Lennox, the President of the school) works for ESL, a major international agency in the world of English language teaching. She is based in Panama but recently came to Scotland for the first time, where she is studying for a few weeks at Glasgow School of English. Given her industry background, it was interesting to meet up with her and find out what she thinks about Scotland in general and the school in particular.

She began by telling me that she knew about our country through her job, as ESL send students to study here. She is particularly interested in our history and in seeing our landscapes. The romantic image of the Highlands, with their famously beautiful scenery, is something she wanted to see for herself.

When asked about her first impressions of Scotland, she said that, coming from Panama, there were two things that really stood out. Firstly, and most importantly, “It’s lovely to be able to walk almost anywhere and feel safe. Sadly, that’s not always possible in my own country.” Secondly, she noted that the weather was very different from home, saying that it was very hot in Panama while it was cool and wet here, and it took her a few days to get used to the Scottish climate.

As someone who has to make critical decisions about English language schools in her job, Anabella has found that Glasgow School of English is a very good one. She says the teachers are excellent and they prepare very well for each class. She explained that they go around the class and help each student individually and, rather than just telling you what to do all the time, they ask you to think about what you’re saying and try to work out the answers yourself, which she thinks is good way to learn and understand a language. Finally, she said that the other students are very friendly and it’s great to meet people from all over the world.

We discussed studying and living in Glasgow and, again, she said the fact that it’s so safe to walk around in has made the biggest impression on her. She had been told that Scotland was friendly before she arrived, but she has been really impressed by just how nice everyone is. Anabella’s English is very good and it helps that, as she said, “I’m not frightened of trying to speak English so I am happy to ask questions. Here, in Glasgow, people will help you or speak to you, even if they’ve not met you before.”

Finally, she said she would love to come back to Scotland again, perhaps to work here for a short time. Anabella finished our chat by saying, “I really do love the country and the people. It has been a great experience.”



The legend of Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster!

The legend of Nessie has been around for hundreds of years. One of the earliest sightings was on October 1871, when a Mr Mackenzie saw a ‘log-like’ object in the waters of Loch Ness. Since then, dozens of other people have seen ‘something’ in the Loch. But is she real – or just a myth?

There are lots of websites dedicated to the Loch Ness Monster. One of the most interesting is, from which we’ve taken a lot of information for this blog.

Loch Ness is a very large, freshwater lake (lakes are called lochs in Scotland). In fact, it’s so large that it contains more water than every other lake in the UK put together. It is 22.5 miles long and up to one and half miles wide, with a depth of 754 feet. It holds 263 thousand million cubic feet of water and has a surface area of 14,000 acres. In other words, it’s a VERY large place with lots of room for a monster to hide!

Join us next week for more information on Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster.








One of the very best things about learning English in Glasgow is…

Glasgow School of English has a wide range of students from all over the world. I recently met four of them – Omar Alqurnas from Saudi Arabia, Victoria Orlova from Russia and Corrado Fossati and Antonio Marrocco from north and south Italy respectively. Here were four bright, enthusiastic young people from very different parts of the world, all chatting away, sharing their experiences of their time at our School and showing just how easy it is for people from different cultures and backgrounds to get on with each other. If only the world’s politicians could learn from them! They all agreed that one of the best things about studying English abroad is that you meet such a wide variety of new people and learn about their countries, cultures and lives, and, of course, get to know about another new country – Scotland.

Loch Lomond

None of the four had been to Scotland before, but they had all been to England and some had studied at other schools of English there. I asked what was different about Glasgow School of English and the general view was that everything here is better organised. There also seems to be more care about the lessons in Glasgow School and there is a far greater emphasis on the quality of the teaching. Also, unlike some other schools, students with different levels of skill are not all put into one class. Instead, the test that all students have to sit before beginning their studies here ensures that each class has students who are all at the same level. For example, if, like Antonio, you are studying for IELTS level 7, you’ll be placed into a class alongside other people studying at this level.

We talked about the things they most like in Scotland. Corrado said that, for him, it’s the people. “They are really friendly,” he said, “and the Scots and the British generally are very welcoming and virtually everyone is honest, decent and well-behaved.”

Victoria agreed, saying she also thought the countryside and the landscape is amazing, especially around Loch Lomond. She had been there on a trip with the School and was really taken by how beautiful the loch and surrounding mountains are. The architecture here also impressed her and she really loved how clean the streets are in Glasgow.

Fish and Chips

Antonio said that one thing he would always remember is Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. “It is fabulous,” he said, “especially the famous Salvador Dali painting of Christ of St John of the Cross.” One other thing that he has come to love in Scotland is … fish and chips!

Omar said that for him it’s his friends. “When I studied in London and Manchester, it was hard to make friends, yet here everyone is so friendly and I have a lot of Glaswegian friends. They even got me wearing a kilt and when I posted the picture on Facebook all my friends in Saudi said – what are you doing wearing a skirt?”


Highland dancing: a lady in a kilt!

All four are graduates and all speak very good English. They all want to study further at university and intend to develop their careers into new directions, Omar and Victoria in languages/linguistics and Antonio and Corrado in finance. I’d say they all have a very good chance of succeeding in whatever jobs they go into in the future and if Glasgow School of English has helped them then we’ll be very happy to have done so.