Whether you are a full-time employee and your free time is limited to one or two days per week, or you are travelling, and the time you can spend in one particular place also runs out quickly, it’s almost impossible to discover the beauty of the whole country or even parts of it (such as Isle of Skye). Fortunately, the country of kilts enchants with places that are perfect for the people in the positions described above.
What kind of place do I have on my mind? The Isle of Arran!
When you step aboard the ferry to Arran you will start to experience a sensation known as ‘Island time’. The moment you set foot on Arran’s ground you will feel comfortable, a thousand miles away from the stress and problems of everyday life.
Scotland’s seventh largest island sits in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and Kintyre, this location means it is also one of the southernmost of the Scottish islands. At 19 miles long by 10 miles wide, Arran can be driven around in less than four hours. There is one more important thing when it comes to the Isle of Arran – it’s located close to Glasgow and Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, which makes Arran a popular and easily accessible tourist destination.
It is said that Isle of Arran is a “Scotland in Miniature”. Arran owes this proud name to its resemblance of the geology of mainland Scotland: sparsely populated and mountainous northern half and a flatter southern half. Therefore, visitors can enjoy the scenery of the country of kilts in one, relatively small island.
Still hesitate to go there? Then let me tell you what attraction you may miss.
Let’s take Brodick Castle for instance – its history takes us back to Viking times. The staggering setting makes the Brodick Castle even more like a fairytale: 200 meters from the sea, surrounded by hills and decorated with gardens. There are also many interesting things to see inside the castle. Among these, items of furniture dating from the 17th century, excellent paintings, porcelain, silver and also a collection of sporting pictures and trophies. The Country Park is full of waterfalls, gorges and wildlife. Look out for the red squirrels!
Arran’s terrain is perfect for walking, cycling and many other outdoor activities, no matter if it’s for a few days or long holiday. For golf enthusiasts, the Isle of Arran offers The Arran Golf Pass which entitles the owner to play one round on each of Arran’s seven popular courses: Brodick, Corrie, Lamlash, Lochranza, Machrie Bay, Shiskine and Whiting Bay. The perfect opportunity to wear your tartan trousers, or kilt if you like!
But if you prefer enjoying Arran in a more ‘dynamic’ way – climb Goat Fell! There are 5 routes to the highest peak of the island (874 m = 2,866 ft). The most popular, 5 km long path (around 3 miles), starts in Cladach and follows through the forested grounds, rhododendron bushes and moorland at the end. When you reach the peak, on a clear day, you may even see Ireland!
As I said before, the interesting geology structure of Arran makes it tempting and encouraging, especially for cyclists. This Scottish island is great for cycling on and off road alike. Crossing the island by bike is extremely exciting and provides breathtaking views. But remember, it is better to take the route from the north-west to south-east. Although, if you prefer extremely steep uphill cycling, you can always travel the other way around ; ).
The Isle of Arran doesn’t only suits tourists interested in physical activities, there’s more for the spirit. There is a smaller island just off-shore, called The Holy Isle, where you can rest mentally in the Centre for World Peace and Health. Under the care of Lama Yeshe Rinpoche a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master you may discover the Kagyu tradition. The Centre is open to visitors from March to October, for both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, no matter if you wear a kilt or not.
Not only great landscapes and interesting activities may convince you to visit the Isle of Arran. There is also something for cheese gourmets. The Scottish climate and geography are well suited to cheese-making. Nowadays, there are more than 20 cheese-makers across the country of kilts, and Arran is one of the most popular locations for this type of industry. Additionally to this, Arran has it’s very own microbrewery, the Arran Brewery creates a unique range of traditional beers, and with tasting sessions and tours available all year round, this may well provide the opportunity to enjoy a diverting afternoon and discover a new favourite pint!
Thanks to the A841 road getting around the Isle of Arran is a piece of cake. This follows a circuitous route around the island, sticking close to the coast, so the whole island can be traversed easily. The Isle of Arran is absolutely perfect for a one-day trip and, with so much to see and do, ideal for long holidays as well. Nothing will give you a better perspective than your own experience, so pack up your kilt and go! :).
As part of this series to discover more about Scotland I made it my mission to find out more about this unique piece of men’s Scottish clothing. After several years of wearing off-the-peg cheap kilts I wanted to learn all about this intriguing process and fully understand the (sometimes bewildering) array of options available to me before ordering my first made to measure kilt.
First of all of course – which cloth should I purchase? As I was having a handmade kilt I wanted a family connection and these links drew me to select a Fraser tartan fabric, but with so many different cloths bearing the Fraser name how was I supposed to decide which one was “right”? Looking into this revealed all and here are my two top tips for deciphering tartan names…
- Words such as Hunting, Dress, Wedding, and Old refer to different “setts”, or patterns. These often originated in circumstances where a different pattern was desired for social events and occasions. Clan is often used to show the standard pattern.
- Words such as Ancient, Weathered, Muted, and Reproduction refer to the shades used to dye the threads, and affect the colour of the tartan but not the pattern. Modern is the default.
After selecting my cloth (Fraser Red Reproduction) I began to look into ordering my kilt. Since the popularisation of the modern kilt, a number of aspects have become available for personalising your individual garment. I will not pretend to understand the minutiae of all of these aspects as kilt makers in Scotland train long and hard to attain the knowledge and skills they hold, and space here is limited, however the main points are as follows:
- Aprons – the flat front panels of a kilt which are wrapped from hip to hip.
- Apron fringe – a layer of fringing along the edge of the over- apron to provide a finished edge to the front of the kilt, some people choose not to have a fringe and some choose to have a very thick, long fringe, known as a triple fringe.
- Fell – the part of a kilt from waistband to the seat where the pleats are stitched into place to stop them flaring out over the rump, and to allow the rest of the pleated area to move and “swish” properly.
- Pleats – the kilt pleats are the most important defining feature of a traditional kilt, these appear at the rear of the kilt and, while the number and depth will vary depending on the amount of fabric being used, and pattern size of the cloth, they are an integral part of any proper kilt. Two pleating methods are used, knife pleats which all face the same way (kind of like a folding fan!), and box pleats. One box pleat consists of two knife pleats facing each other, giving a flat portion facing out. Of course kilts which utilise box-pleating generally have far fewer pleats than knife pleating!
- Pleating Pattern – kilts can be pleated to the stripe, or pleated to the sett. When pleating to the stripe one vertical line of the pattern is picked and this line is used to determine the folding point for each pleat. In the finished product the horizontal bands of the pattern are emphasised. The other method, pleating to the sett, will have pleats of varying depths as the aim is to preserve the pattern of the tartan across the pleated section of the kilt, so each pleat will have to be folded at a different point. This is a much more popular method of pleating in modern times.
- Kick-pleat – the purpose of the kick-pleat on a knife pleated kilt is to ensure that the pleats lie correctly on both sides, this pleat is smaller and faces in towards the last pleat, keeping it in place and giving an even look from the front of the kilt. The kick pleat is also the only part of a kilt which will have a hem, as this pleat is at a slight angle a curved section of less than half an inch is hemmed up along perhaps 3-6 inches of selvedge to ensure a smooth finish.
- Buckles – the average Scottish kilt will have either two or three buckles, usually three. The under-apron has one buckle which slots through and fastens on the left hip, the right hip has one buckle at the same height, and a second buckle just an inch or two beneath that. This extra buckle allows the wearer to secure the over-apron more securely.
- Sporran loops – two loops are often provided on the back of a kilt for the sporran strap to be threaded through and ensure the weight of your sporran does not pull the chain down and out of place.
I have now placed my order and expect to receive my finished kilt in just a few weeks. A hand-made 8 yard kilt, knife pleated to the sett, with double fringe, three black leather straps, two cloth sporran loops and a whole lot of Scottish pride*!
Now my next goal is to convince my good lady wife (by the way, I should tell her more about tartan for ladies) that a pair of matching tartan trousers for the golf range is essential. Although, to be quite honest, a good Scottish kilt is very versatile and can be worn to almost any event. Teamed with a rugby shirt and stout boots for hill walking (or pub crawling!), with a leather sporran and Argyle jacket for day-time smart events or dinner parties, or with the full regalia of Prince Charlie, cantled sporran, polished ghillie brogues and a whole host of other Scottish accessories for weddings, and black tie – the possibilities with a traditional tartan kilt outfits are endless and I cannot wait to try mine out when it arrives!
*If you are interested I have bought this kilt.