Scots piper on his desire to be the first to play in every country

WHEN Ross OC Jennings started playing the bagpipes aged 13 after a school assembly demonstration, he couldn't have imagined that his skill and enjoyment of the pipes would lead to travelling the world.
Picture: Ross in Qatar, contributedPicture: Ross in Qatar, contributed
Picture: Ross in Qatar, contributed

Ross explains: “I was 13, it was a Friday morning assembly and I was at boarding school in England and they surprised us one morning assembly with a piper. Everyone kind of groaned apart from me. I was really excited, then they offered us ten free lessons and I though why not? And it baffled me that no-one wanted to give it a go.”

“After about a year, like many things, I hated it as it was really difficult and I got teased a fair bit for it. You know that it’s like at school, children are savage, so I wanted to give it up but I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t.”

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With his parents living in Shanghai Ross’s ability to pipe was unusual, meaning he ended up playing at events such as Burn’s Night, whisky tastings and black tie balls, which lead to him being able to save some money for travelling.

Picture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributedPicture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributed
Picture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributed

“I’d often go back and often be the only piper in Shanghai, where we lived, and it was quite nice having that novelty” Ross says.

Ross then took up piping again after attending the University of Edinburgh and it was during this time that he attended an Adventure Travel Show and delevoped the idea of being the first person to pipe in every country.

“I was at university in Edinburgh where I didn’t play much, which I regretted so once I was finished I picked the pipes up again and went to this adventure travel show. It had all this adventurers doing wicked things. I thought ‘I want to do something like that’ so I went home and Googled ‘has anyone ever played the bagpipes in Antartica?’ because I thought it’d be a cool thing to do. Then a picture popped up of a guy playing the pipes, standing next to a penguin in 1921 and I thought oh s***, I’ve got to do the whole world now!” laughs Ross.

“Once I decided that was what I was going to do, I called my parents who were annoyed at me and told me not to be so ridiculous, but I handed in my notice and booked a flight to Tunisia.”

Picture: Ross in Vietnam, contributedPicture: Ross in Vietnam, contributed
Picture: Ross in Vietnam, contributed

It was Ross’s upbringing that lead, in part, to his love of travelling but also his keen interest in piping and Scotland. “My parents lived in the Middle East, in Bahrain, and moved to Thailand and then China where they have been since 1986, so I was at international school there.

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When you grow up abroad you kind of latch onto the cultures of these places where you’ve never really lived but know through stories your parents tell you. I mostly associated with Scotland as my mother is from Kirkcudbright. My father is Irish and he’s a bit miffed that I never associated with my Irish roots” Ross laughs.

His website The First Piper, which includes his blog and other social media such as instagram, has gone from strength to strength and earned him a travel blog award this year.

Picture: Ross piping at the Taj Mahal, contributedPicture: Ross piping at the Taj Mahal, contributed
Picture: Ross piping at the Taj Mahal, contributed

“The award I just won has helped a lot to raise awareness of what I am doing. It was with Flight Centre and completely unbeknownst to me they included me in their photo-blog competition. A friend saw it and told me and I thought maybe I could win, so I started posting about it on social media and contacting friends and family to vote for me and I won it, I couldn’t believe it when I did” says Ross.

With a growing social media following, invites from companies to sponsor his travel and a reciprocal deal with Edinburgh kilt company Kinloch Anderson (Ross always wears one of their kilts and now writes blog posts for them), the piping star could be described as an influencer but there’s more to what he does while exploring the world: “I did initially like the idea of being an influencer...if someone wants to fly me somewhere and have me take photos then I’ll definitely do that but it’s not just piping related performance stuff that I am focusing on. There are other things that I work on. One is my travel photography, which will be totally different to the bagpipes and the kilt. Another is social media - I will try to work with a tourist board like Dubai Tourism, who were really good. The last thing I do, which is probably my favourite is talks and seminars at international schools. That’s really nice as I get to go in and meet students. From this, my absolute favourite thing is to go into a local school. I was able to go into a couple of bilingual schools in China which was nice. I got to try out, for the first time, a seminar in Chinese, which was slightly difficult!”

And what about the future? Ross is ‘only’ halfway through his challenge, having visited 60 countries so far. Will Scotland beckon him home once he’s done?

“I base myself between Edinburgh and London. Edinburgh more so just because London is so expensive! It’s really nice being back in Scotland as my parents are both retired and are heading back to Dumfries so it’ll be nice to be closer to them. But once the whole thing is done, I don’t know when that’ll be, maybe five to ten years, I’ll defiantly base myself in Scotland full time” says Ross.

Picture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributedPicture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributed
Picture: Ross getting assistance from a member of the Qatari pipe band, contributed

As for his travels: “My next stop is Germany, but not to pipe. I’m going to visit my brother! Then this summer, I am definitely going to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania...and the rest of it is not planned yet.”