Scottish bagpipe maker turns skirl to profit

A SCOTTISH bagpipe-maker who made his first set of pipes using parts from a washing ­machine is now selling his instruments to a global market from his Highland base.

Ross Calderwood aims to produce 30 sets of pipes every year from his new workshop
Ross Calderwood aims to produce 30 sets of pipes every year from his new workshop

Ross Calderwood started ­creating his pipes as a hobby while working as an engineer at Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, England.

He has now decided to concentrate working full-time on his Lochalsh Pipes business and the 48-year-old predicts trebling his production to 30 sets a year after building a new workshop. He is also reaping the rewards of improving his website.

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Mr Calderwood’s handmade creations have made such an impact they are selling around the world, including to customers in the US, Austria, Brazil and Germany.

He said: “I never imagined when I was working for a construction company in Cumbria 18 years ago that I would be running my own company making bagpipes. I was working at Sellafield and staying in lodgings with a pal who decided, after speaking to me, that he wanted to start playing the bagpipes. I have been playing since the age of eight and he wanted me to teach him. Our landlord at the time had a lathe in his garage and, as an engineer, I decided I would try my hand at making a set. There was loads of stuff in his garage and I used parts from a washing machine and some bits of spare timber to make my first one.”

Since then he continued to make bagpipes for friends, but demand became so much he thought it could be the makings of a new business.

He now has a full order book from pipe enthusiasts from all over the world who are looking for unique and specially crafted bagpipes. Mr Calderwood added: “I’ve spent years perfecting my products and only began selling my pipes after local musicians approached me. Through word of mouth, I began to get more and more orders until I had to set up Lochalsh Pipes to cope with the demand.”

He has had assistance from Business Gateway and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to build up the firm, adding: “The new workshop is wonderful and will allow me to take the business to a new level. Waiting times will be shorter and it will enable me to experiment with ideas. It’s a very exciting time for Lochalsh Pipes. I hope to carry on expanding and nurturing my business so it can reach its maximum potential. The support and growth gave me the confidence to turn Lochalsh Pipes into a full-time business, which will treble production.”

Mr Calderwood moved to the Balmacara with his wife Jayne and established a bed and breakfast in the village. His wife will continue to run their ­guesthouse.

He makes smallpipes, border pipes, reelpipes and one-off commissions. All are based on classic historical designs and are made from indigenous Scottish woods including Scottish-grown timbers and natural materials which he sources locally. They sell for between £600-£1,000, although special commissions may cost more.

Alistair Danter, area business manager, Business Gateway Skye, said: “Ross is a great example of someone who is reaping the rewards of turning a hobby into a business.

“We have supported Ross in a number of areas but mostly with his growth plans.”