Glasgow man wins baby gannet-eating competition

AN OIL RIG worker has become Scotland’s latest world champion – at eating pickled baby gannets.

Peter MacCritchie took just 3 minutes 44 seconds to demolish half a guga. Picture: Mike Merritt
Peter MacCritchie took just 3 minutes 44 seconds to demolish half a guga. Picture: Mike Merritt

Peter Macritchie took just 3 minutes 44 seconds to demolish half a guga – as the delicacy is known – and a stipulated 400 grammes of potatoes.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Glasgow, was just one second ahead of Willie Macritchie, who is no relation, from Ness in the north of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where the first World Guga Eating Championships were held.

Eight competitors, including one woman, Amelia Macdonald, contested the strangest of world championships.

The guga – known also for their overpowering odour during cooking – were boiled in a local woman’s home before being brought to Ness FC Social Club.

Originally it was hoped to have 20 competitors but the difficulty in sourcing such a large number of gugas, which are highly prized by locals, proved beyond organisers.

All bar one of the contestants drank milk – which is supposed to aid the meal’s digestion. The one exception was Ms Macdonald, who opted for lager.

The gannet chicks are hunted on Sùla Sgeir, a rocky islet 40 miles north of Ness.

And before a crowd of 40 spectators on Saturday, Peter Macritchie was crowned champion.

Mr Macritchie, who was born on Ness, said: “I never thought I would become a world champion at anything.

“The last time I ate guga was last year. I had a little bit of trouble finishing because I ran out of milk. I think I could go quicker and if I am here next year I would like a chance to defend my title. Guga is an acquired taste – but I like it.”

Ness is the last place in the UK where young gannets, known in Gaelic as guga, are hunted for their meat.

The hunting of seabirds was outlawed in 1954 in the UK, but the community of Ness on the Isle of Lewis continues to be granted the only exemption under UK and EU law allowing them to hold the annual hunt.

Every August, ten men from Ness set sail for Sula Sgeir, a desolate island far out in the Atlantic.

The men live on the island for two weeks, sleeping amongst ruins left behind by monks over a thousand years ago. They work ceaselessly, catching, killing and processing 2,000 birds using traditional methods unique to the hunt.

The head organiser of the unusual event, Donald Macsween, said the real prize was “the honour and the glory of being world champion”.

“We applied to the Guinness Book of Records to enter and ratify the attempt but they never replied,” he said.

“We relaxed the rule over eating the skin because it was a bit of a stumbling block for some people. We also struggled over getting the gugas – we could only get hold of eight, half gugas because people do not want to part with them. But we will be more prepared next year.

“The guga is an important part of our heritage and history and very much a part of who we are in Ness. We are very proud of the guga.”