Scottish History and Culture

Married in a Tartan Dress

bella tartanThe warmer months are coming, and so is the wedding season. As it’s considered to be one of the most important days in one’s life, it’s usually carefully planned and thought-over in every way possible. If you or your partner has Scottish ancestry, it might be a great idea to get married in a Scottish style!


The groom’s outfit is a quite complicated one, but the one that shines the brightest is of course the bride! There is a vast array of wedding dresses on offer, but the one for a Scottish Wedding should be special. Traditional whit or ivory might suit you well, but what about a tartan dress? Which pattern should you choose? When to start planning? What about the guests?

Read about Tartan on the Catwalk

tatan setAt kilted weddings, both the bride and the guests wear the tartan of the groom. It was thought of as a sign of respect and honouring his clan, but nowadays it’s not as obligatory as it used to be, especially at marriages between a Scottish bride and a foreigner. There are a variety of options – every guest can come wearing their own tartan, and the bride’s “transition” from one family to another can be marked by a traditional ceremony of pinning the tartan. The member of the groom’s family, usually the groom himself or his mother, pin a rosette or a sash in her new clan tartan to the wedding dress. Today it is sometimes done the other way round – if a groom with no clan is being accepted in the bride’s clan.

The other option is wearing one of the universal tartans – there are plenty to choose from. Each one has its own meaning, so you may do a little digging into the subject and choose the one that suits you and your partner best. In fact, you can even design your own tartan. It’s a pricey choice (if you hire a designer rather than make your own pattern, this can cost around £1,000, but it’s the weaving of fabric that is usually the most expensive undertaking), but on the other hand – you may be establishing a new tradition for your family, and besides having your own pattern is always an original choice, designating family identity and being a one of a kind souvenir from this special day. The tartan might be used also as a nice accent in your flat or house – the accessories in the family tartan will make your home look cosy and warm like nothing else.

Bring back the memories of The Royal Wedding!

bustierBut what about the dress itself? There are plenty of designs available here too. The 2015 trends vary – according to the brides.com portal, on one hand we have over the shoulder necklines, on the other – tulle in every possible form. The colours also tend to be unconventional – the pastel versions of every kind of colour seem to be appropriate this season, especially soft browns and blues. The other interesting trend is wearing a cape – and that’s a perfect way to show off your clan adherence! The trend opposite to the over the shoulder necklines is the collar – made of see-through fabrics or in the form of a strap around the neck, exposing the shoulders. This glam style is also in fashion, being a tribute to elegance, while at the other end of the catwalk we can watch dresses in a totally relaxed and nonchalant style, being appropriate for a beach wedding or if you want to have a ceremony in a less formal style. The other styles that seem to have the fashion gurus’ approval are deep V’s, cutouts, elements made of short dressfeathers, flouncy sleeves, turtlenecks, laser-cut floral patterns, crop tops, fringe, metallic fabric, corset bodices (another great idea to combine with your tartan!) and sheer skirts. As you can see, there are a huge range of styles to choose from – and the tartan patterns fit perfectly into many of these. If you want to show off your heritage, the kilt and Scottish-related shops are worth visiting – they might have your perfect tartan dress, but… you’ll have to be patient. These dresses are usually at least made to order, if not to measure – and that means that it takes time to prepare them and you should leave extra time for fittings once the dress arrives. What is more, if you did design your own tartan, or your clan’s pattern is quite rare, you have to bear in mind that it’s again the process of weaving that will take most of the time (it might be even several months), so if you are considering this option you have to make up your mind quickly and order the dress in advance. When ordering a brides dress, you may also consider buying the whole wedding outfit, with a matching kilt for the groom and all the accessories. It is usually a bit cheaper since it’s a set, so it may be a bit of relief for your budget.

Read How to Make a Kilt

Remember that the dress doesn’t have to be flashy and catwalk-like – if you prefer a more modest style and like making practical purchases, you can always wear a simple, knee-length tartan dress. This solution has many advantages – it’s significantly cheaper, the dress can also be worn during other occasions, and the whole outfit is certainly more comfortable. This can be perfect if you have a small ceremony for the closest family and friends.

Whichever dress you choose – you have to feel good while wearing it, be yourself and be proud of your Scottish heritage!

What is the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky?

flask 1Whisky or whiskey? Some of you may think it’s just a matter of orthography, but there is a distinct difference between these two drinks. The controversy will be brought up surely during the Saint Patrick’s Day – when both Scotch whisky and Irish whisk(e)y will be amongst the top beverages throughout the world.

Saint Patrick’s Day’s origins are blurred, but the celebration is mainly associated with Ireland, as Patrick is their patron saint. There is actually a whole narrative about him becoming a Christian and a priest, which can be found in The Declaration – a document believed to have been written by St Patrick himself, describing the way he became the man who evangelised Northern Ireland. The other customs associated with the celebration also refer to legendary events from the saint’s life – wearing green clothes and shamrocks is associated with a legend in which Patrick used the shamrock to describe the notion of the Holy Trinity to the Irish Pagans.

Read about the Orkney

t shirt 1The celebrations are held on 17th March because that was the day when Patrick died. The biggest festivities are organised in Downpatrick, where the saint is allegedly buried. The drinking custom is said to be connected with another legend. Patrick bought a measure of whiskey from an innkeeper – but it certainly wasn’t full, and Patrick took the opportunity to teach the man a lesson that would make him more generous. St. Patrick said that there was a demon in the inn’s cellar that could not be banished because it fed on the innkeeper’s greed and lack of generosity. The man was horrified and changed his attitude – after some time, Patrick returned to find that the man now filled the glasses fairly and was good and honest. So Patrick took the inn-keeper to the cellar, where they found the devil skinny and starving – Patrick banished the demon away and said that everyone should have a sip of alcohol during his feast day to commemorate this. Whatever the origins were – the tradition of beer and whiskey drinking stays strong. So, which whisk(e)y orthography is correct, what are you actually drinking and what is the difference anyway?

Read something about the Picts – you may be in the 10%!

whisky setWhiskey is generally the name for a liquor most commonly of Irish or American origin. Whisky is a term associated mostly with the Scottish version and the liquors produced in Japan (although the word Scotch belongs only to the liquor produced in Scotland). What is more, the Scottish version is distilled twice, while the other ones are distilled three times, which results in a smoother taste. Much of the confusion arises from the fact that the spelling ‘whisky’ is the only one accepted by the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits in the USA. On the other hand, The New York Times names everything ‘whiskey’ – whatever the origin of the drink. The confusion becomes even bigger if we count in the misspellings such as ‘wisky’ or ‘wiskey’, and the fact that the Japanese and Indian versions are, like Scotch whisky, spelled without an ‘e’. But the deeper into the production process we look, the more differences can be spotted between the Scotch and other whisk(e)ys, however spelled or pronounced. The shape of the still used for production in Scotland vary much more than in the distilleries in America or Ireland, so the Scotch scents and flavours are more diverse. Secondly, the Glenfiddich_Distillery_stillsScots use peat to dry the malted barley – which gives a stronger and smokier flavour than the one achieved in the US and Ireland, where wood and other fuels are used. Thirdly, Scotch is made only with malted barley, while other whisk(e)ys may be made with the addition of some other types of grains. In fact, history and economics decided this; barley is quite an expensive grain, so cheaper and more readily available ones are mixed together with it in many non-Scotch whisk(e)ys. What is more, the American climate and soil is different from that found in the British Isles, so settlers had to use different methods to grow their grains and distill the liquors – hence the difference in taste and general character of the finished drinks.

Read about Scottish Linguistics

The differences, similarities, types and distillery characteristics are all quite confusing. Whatever the actual spelling is, we recommend checking what suits your tastes best. Whisk(e)y isn’t about the spelling – the national Scottish drink is a big part of the British history, and now it has become a trademark for both Scots and Irish people worldwide. Wherever you are – we hope you’ll have a sip of nice, genuine Scotch on 17th March!

The Charm of Chanonry Point

As spring is approaching, slowly but steadily, it’s the best time to plan your first weekend trips. If you live in Scotland or by chance you will be in the Highlands soon, the first sunny days are a perfect excuse to visit the dolphins of Chanonry Point!

Chanonry_Point2006-07 Chanonry Point, also known as Gob na Cananaich in Scottish Gaelic, is a spit not far away from Fortrose, quite near Inverness. The place is famous for frequent visits of sea fauna, including above all bottlenose dolphins, seals and porpoises, and a whole lot of different bird species. The views are best in the summer and during the salmon migrations, as the dolphins and other creatures have plenty of food and are willing to chase it spectacularly to the delight of crowds watching them. They are the main attraction and the whole place revolves around them. The University of Aberdeen has an important research spot there, and regular research is carried out in collaboration with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which also operates the Scottish Dolphin Centre at the mouth of the River Spey and the Dolphin and Seal Centre near North Kessock. If you want to admire the dolphins off shore, there are several companies that will take you on a cruise. There is even a Dolphin Space Programme – members of this scheme are obliged to ensure they do not disturb the creatures, so if you care about the dolphins’ peace, it’s better to go with a company who is a partner of the programme. Before you go, also ensure you check the tide details – the best ones are quite low, but with a bigger difference between the lowest and the highest point. Those details can be verified at the research spots, and there is of course a gossip network during the summertime.

1024px-Chanonry_Point2005-05 The dolphins are charming animals, but there are many more attractions in the neighborhood! This is especially the case for those who enjoy military and historical pursuis. Just across the Chanonry Point you’ll find Fort George – one of the mightiest artillery fortifications in Britain and Europe. Visiting the Fort is an outstanding chance to learn about 18th century weapons. Fort George was designed to be impregnable, and was built to prevent Jacobean unrest – which never came. Nevertheless, the Fort is still used by the army, and visitors are also welcomed. They say that you can see the dolphins from the ramparts and that the view is amazing!

Speaking of Jacobean unrest – Culloden Battlefield is also nearby. The Battle of Culloden was the biggest one during the Jacobite rising, and took place 16 April 1746. The Jacobean defeat was the end of dreams to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British Throne, with around 2000 Jacobean fatalities. Today, there is a tourist centre nearby, and there’s an exciting award-winning interactive exhibition to enable you to enter the 18th century battle atmosphere and tactics. The place has also a souvenir shop and a restaurant.

1024px-Cawdor_castle2 If you haven’t had enough of fortifications, we encourage you to visit Cawdor Castle – built by clan Calder (the original spelling of Cawdor) in the 14th century, and passed to the Campbells in the 16th century. The castle is associated with Macbeth – the title character is the Thane of Cawdor – although the castle itself was built around 300 years later. The castle is probably best known for its famous gardens – planted in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s also a legend – the castle is said to be built around a horn tree, later classified as a holly, which can be seen up to this day in the castle’s dungeons. For the amateur aficionado of sophisticated sports – there’s also a golf course nearby. If you want to visit the castle do remember that it’s inhabited (the late Thane of Cawdor’s widow is the current owner and resident for part of the year) and the castle is only opened for visitors from May 1st till October 4th each year.

For those who value calm and sea breezes more than battlefields and forts – there’s the Chanonry Point Lighthouse. Built in the 19th century, it was designed as a one man facility, but now it’s operated automatically through Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in Edinburgh. The tower is 13 meters high, and is one of the best places to observe the dolphins playing. There’s also another feature – the keeper’s cottages built in the Egyptian style, as preferred by the designer, Alan Stevenson, at that time.

Chanonry Point and its surroundings have every trait of a perfect weekend destination if you’re looking for a fine Highland trip. The attractions are easy to get to due to the proximity of Inverness, and buses and coaches operate often. The trip to see the dolphins is definitely high on our list of places to visit in 2015!

Scotland’s National Rugby Squad

The great annual rugby celebration is approaching! The Six Nations Rugby Championship, that has been taking place in various forms since 1883, and organised under its present title since 2000. Nowadays, the participants of the games are Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy. It began as The Home Nations Championship, and was played by the national teams of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, before later becoming the first international rugby union tournament. The history of the countries participation is quite intricate – for example, the inclusion of Ireland as one nation means that both Republic of Ireland and Northern Irish players take to the field together on the same team, France was once expelled from the tournament, and Italy joined just 15 years ago, which is when we began to call it the Six Nations tournament.

Read about a History Of Murrayfield

This year’s Scottish squad was announced on January 20th 2015. The information was long awaited, as the first match of the Scottish team is scheduled for February 7th with France – only a couple of weeks from now! The match will take place at the Stade de France, located in Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris. The match will certainly be an interesting one – we hope it will be a beautiful comeback after last years’ defeat… and all the past defeats – as the Scottish team has managed to win against France only once in our last fifteen games with them!

Scottish Rugby Team

The other matches for Scotland are scheduled for February 15th (versus Wales), February 28th (versus Italy), March 14th (versus England) and March 21st (versus Ireland). The Scottish team seems to be somehow unlucky during the Championship – the only country we have beaten more than we have lost to is Italy. The situation isn’t dramatic – but there is nothing to be proud of either. During the 120 tournaments Scotland has taken part in so far, our team has won 14 times (England and Wales – both 26 times), had 3 Grand Slams (England – 12), 10 Triple Crowns (England – 24) and… 32 Wooden Spoons (meaning that Scotland was beaten in every single game they played during the tournament). But don’t worry, Ireland has “won” more Wooden Spoons than even us, with a whopping 36!

The statistics are not in Scotland’s favour, but the team seems to be ambitious and determined. The squad, announced January 20th 2015, as quoted by The Guardian, is:

Forwards: Hugh Blake (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Geoff Cross (London Irish), David Denton, Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Richie Gray (Castres), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Rob Harley (Glasgow), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Jon Welsh (Glasgow).

Backs: Mark Bennett (Glasgow), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Alex Dunbar, (Glasgow) Dougie Fife (Edinburgh), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow), Peter Horne (Glasgow) Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, captain), Sean Lamont (Glasgow), Sean Maitland (Glasgow), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Glasgow), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Tim Visser (Edinburgh).

Learn more about Six Nations Championship

Scottish Rugby Team LogoScottish Rugby Team LogoThe players like Hidalgo-Clyne, Toolis, Blake and Watson are quite young – all under the age of 25 – but, as the coach has emphasised, are persistent and have a will to fight for the best score possible. It might be a difficult task, as 4 of the opponent teams are higher in the league rankings than Scotland, but in sport the impossible is nothing. The squad might surprise us yet – and Dan Parks (a former Rugby Union player) thinks that the team has a strong chance to be in the top three this year. As some of the usual, experienced players won’t be present on the field, the young blood might be a breath of fresh air and guide the squad to victory. These other players were ruled out because they didn’t have impressive achievements last season or are recovering from injuries and surgeries. As the commentators underline, the young players have done much during last year’s games to be selected to the squad. The omission of certain players, such as Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie, is hard to understand, as they are considered to be reliable and very good on the field, but the coach seems to be betting on youth and determination.

All we should do right now is keep our fingers crossed and support Scotland during the tournament! We wish the players lots of luck and determination, and, of course – the title of champions!

Essential ingredients of Burns Supper

The 25th of January is a special day for every Scot! It is the anniversary of Robert Burns’, probably the most famous Scottish poet, birth! Rabbie Burns, The Bard of Ayrshire, Robden of Solway Firth or simply Scotland’s favourite son – is undoubtedly a national hero to many, and one of the most important figures in Scottish history.

Robert_Burns_1Burns Suppers are a tradition with many possible aspects – they might be extremely formal and elegant celebrations of literature, but may also take the form of wild parties with whisky flowing! Whichever seems more appealing or appalling, the supper has some highlights that can’t be omitted – and that includes both poems and victuals. The first event of this kind was established after the poet’s death and was celebrated by his friends in Ayrshire. Originally the commemoration date was 21st July – the anniversary of Burns’ death. A few years later, when the first Burns Club (once a men-only club formed to cherish the poet’s memory and Scottish culture in general, nowadays women are also welcomed in most of them) came into being, its members decided to organise a festive supper on the day of Scotland’s favourite son’s birthday. The first few birthday suppers took place on the 29th of January, but after the discovery of documents in Burns’ hometown parish the correct date turned out to be January 25th, and that’s the date Burns Suppers have been held ever since.

Read more about Ayrshire, Robert Burns’ hometown

So, what are the essential ingredients? The most important one is probably you and your friends, but you’ll also need a piper (or some recordings of Scottish music), haggis, Scottish whisky, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and – of course – some Rabbie Burns poems! There is a certain schedule that this event traditionally follows, and several very interesting traditions that are kept. The Burns Supper should have an official opening, with a speech from a host, and the guests will say Grace before eating, usually The Selkirk Grace in the Scots language. When the main course is ready to be served there will be The Piping of the Haggis, which is the ceremonial presentation of a haggis to the table accompanied by bagpipe music and a recitation of Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis. During the recitation of specific verses the host sharpens the knife, and cuts the haggis open from one side to another. This is the most important moment of the evening, although the whole ceremony is still far from its end. After the meal, while guests sip coffee (or, more likely, Scotch whisky!), the next speaker gives a talk about the life and
poetry of Burns (for even though newcomers might have the impression that it’s all about the haggis, this is not the case and the poet is still in the spotlight!). There will be a round of toasts made, and a discussion afterwards. The first toast is made to Burns himself, and followed by a Toast to the Lassies, made by one of the male guests. This toast was originally intended to thank the women who had prepared the supper but were not permitted to attend it, but now, as women also take part in the suppers (and do not necessarily prepare the meal), the speech has become an entertaining summary of the speaker’s views on women. It is usually followed by a Response to the Laddies, which is made by a female guest in the same spirit as the Toast to the Lassies. Afterwards, the guests are invited to perform Scottish songs as solo performances or in groups. Popular choices include Tam O’Shanter, and others – especially if the words are written in the Scots language. Later, when the supper comes to an end, there is a closing ceremony which includes a thank-you speech made to the host and a rendition of Burn’s national classic Auld Lang Syne with all the attendees dancing and embracing one another.

Read more about Scottish Whisky

HaggisWhen it comes to the dishes besides haggis, neeps and tatties – what else should you serve? Haggis is of course essential, but it can take some getting used to for modern palates and you might wish to only have small taster plates of this dish as a starter for your first Burns Supper. When looking for inspiration for traditional alternatives, you can’t go wrong in considering a warming Scottish soup. Cock-a-leekie soup or Scotch broth are two of the most popular choices and are very easy to learn to make. The choice of the main course is up to you, but we recommend something with a Scottish twist to avoid a lack of cohesion in the menu. We personally advise a roasted turkey (also known as a Roastit Bubbly-Jock) using a traditional Scottish stuffing recipe, or a recipe using Scottish haddock or langoustines such as Cullen Skink. For dessert, again this will depend on what you anticipate as the needs of your guests. For a light and creamy sweet consider Raspberry Cranachan with it’s delicious toasted porridge oats and tart raspberries setting off the whipped cream to perfection. Or if you think they’ll need something more substantial to soak up all the whisky, you may find your answer in a dense and rich Clootie Dumpling, packed with dried fruit and served with thick homemade custard!

The above is the most traditional schedule, which of course is loosely adapted by the Scots all over the country and overseas. Nowadays it has become quite popular to dine out in restaurants – not everyone has the time or skills to prepare such a special meal on their own. If you prefer a less formal atmosphere and Scottish music with a modern twist – there are plenty of concerts and events commemorating Robert Burns in a relaxed atmosphere. The biggest celebrations are held in Dumfries, which was the hometown of the poet, in Edinburgh and, surprisingly, in London. Whichever option you may choose – we raise a glass of Scotch with you to celebrate the memory of Rabbie Burns and we wish you a wonderful night!

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh

It’s Hogmanay time! Even though London was hailed the most popular city-break for New Year’s Eve, if you want a Scottish celebration – Edinburgh is the only place to be! Prepare for 3 days of music, fun, fire and lights – one of the biggest New Year parties in the world!

1280px-EdinburghNYEThe etymology of the word Hogmanay is obscure, although there are some hints on its origins. It may come from Norse, Goidelic (Insular Celtic) or French. In the Norse language, the haugmenn or hoghmenn mean the hill people – probably elves or trolls, and the celebrations were supposed to banish them back to the sea. The Goidelic version derives the word from Manx hog-un-naa or hob dy naa, which referred to Hallowe’en, and the French one – to the New Year gift or the celebration itself (aguillanneuf). Some other sources state that it might come from Gaelic og maidne (new morning), Flemish hoog min dag (day of great love) or the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath (holy month). Whatever the origins are, which we may never truly discover, Hogmanay in modern times is a massive celebration that gathers thousands of people and is an unforgettable experience!

The fun begins on December 30th with the Torchlight Procession, starting at George IV Bridge and heading to Waterloo Place and Calton Hill. Last year there were 35 000 participants! The procession ends with a stunning firework show that can be admired from every side of the city – a truly astonishing view (some even say that taking part in the Edinburgh Hogmanay Torchlight Procession is one of the 100 things you have to do before you die!).

Read about Scottish Whisky

During those days, you may take part in many cultural and artistic events. Famous musicians, often Scots themselves, are often invited to give concerts – during previous celebrations you could listen to, among others, The Proclaimers, Biffy Clyro and Calvin Harris. This year you may dance with Lilly Allen, The Twilight Sad and Young Fathers. Remember that the concerts are not free, so get tickets in advance while they’re still available! If you prefer more contemplative ambiance, there is a Christmas carol concert held in the candlelit St Gile’s Cathedral – this will surely be an unforgettable and beautiful event, especially considering the setting and atmosphere!

When the clock strikes midnight, you’d better know the words of Auld Lang Syne! This has become a tradition not only in Edinburgh or in Scotland, but across the whole of Britain. There is a custom that the people singing form circles and start to dance, so don’t be surprised to see this on the Edinburgh streets this year! At the end, everyone usually cross their hands at the breast, then approach the middle, reestablish the circle and turn around to stand with the face outside the circle while still holding the hands of their neighbors. Auld Lang Syne is quite old, believed to be written (or, at least, written down) by Robert Burns, and the average English speaker probably will need a few of the older Scots words translated to understand what they are singing about! The song is a popular selection for the celebrations marking the ends and new beginnings, and is also popular during funerals, graduations, and of course, the celebrations to commemorate Robert Burns.

Read more about Robert Burns

The Scottish traditions are strong among the people of Edinburgh– and the best proof is an annual outdoor New Year ceilidh! If you want to welcome 2015 with traditional Scottish music, dancing and delicious Scottish food, this is the best choice – and as this is a total sell-out each year, again take care to purchase your tickets as soon as possible if you want to participate! This year’s attractions feature Jimi Shandrix Experience, Hugh MacDiarmid’s Haircut and The Smashers.

If you feel a little hungover after over-indulging during the festive period, the best remedy might be the Loony Dook! Dook is a Scottish word meaning to dip or bathe, and this fun event involves taking the plunge into the cold waters of the Firth of Forth. The Loony Dook took place for the first time just 29 years ago, yet it has grown into one of the most well-known and popular New Year celebrations in Scotland. The participants often jump into the cold waters while wearing funny costumes, or raise money for charity via sponsorship, so the Dook attracts many onlookers – if you’re not keen on the idea of taking the plunge yourself, watching others do so might also be fun (but will certainly be less cool, literally and figuratively).

If you don’t find the Loony Dook appealing, there is another great and free event for the New Year – Scot:Lands. This is a journey through Edinburgh’s Old Town, where you’ll find specially prepared concerts, activities and hidden attractions! Taking part is absolutely free, but due to the high number of attendants last year, registration is required so sign up quickly!

Edinburgh has a lot to offer during these special days – no matter if you want to have fun on the streets with loud music or you prefer more traditional and calm events. Whatever your preference, the city as a lot to offer – and a Hogmanay City Break might be your best New Year experience ever!

When To Wear A Fly Plaid?

A fly plaid was originally part of the large piece of cloth called The Great Plaid (Féileadh Mòr). The roots of that garment reach Roman times, and the most “archaic” version was the tunic and a cloak (a “brat”) worn by Celtic warriors. Later on, when wool was more accessible, the cloak grew in size (up to 9 yards!) and became gathered up, belted and finally pleated. The additional length made it possible to drape it over a shoulder and use it as a kind of a shawl and hood. It could also be used even as a camping blanket – the size didn’t only indicate the wealth of the wearer, it also enabled multi-functionality. As centuries passed, The Great Plaid eventually lost its practicality, got smaller again and took shape of the small kilt – the fèileadh beag – with the fly plaid evolving into the separate garment that we know today. However, one of the most troubling questions is: when to actually wear it?fly plaid

The opinions differ. First, you must learn how to wear a fly plaid! It’s not only about draping it correctly and being careful with the pins – you should develop an actual “sense of flying”, as the name of this cloth wasn’t given without a reason. Certainly you wouldn’t like to knock all the glasses from a table with one clumsy move, would you? Let’s just say that wearing a fly plaid requires a certain amount of skill, and you simply have to get used to having it on. Try to practice where to pin it – if it’s not done properly, you’ll be forced to fiddle with it all evening, which is both annoying for you and inelegant. You may use a sizeable pin or run it through an epaulette if you have one to make sure the fly plaid is secured and always in place. You may also try pinning it to the waist or tucking it into the belt at the back to prevent it from whipping around, tangling or becoming a menace to unattended stemware!

The next consideration is the dress code for particular events. One of the most popular comments on this issue is that a fly plaid is suitable for the so called “black/white tie events” – the most formal and elegant ones. A fly plaid is a popular choice to finish off the Scottish outfit at your own wedding – undoubtedly a groom is one of the two most important people on that day and a fly plaid won’t be regarded as over the top. But remember that for daytime weddings it is advised that only the groom can pull this look off – even the best man should wear something more modest. During other events it is advised to be careful – it’s easy to have an “exaggerated” or old-fashioned look. If you’re going to attend some kind of an official celebration, perhaps contacting the organisers with a question about the expected attire would be a wise move. This is the case especially if you are not a central figure during the actual event (coming back to the wedding issues, it would be a serious faux-pas to sartorially outshine the groom). You may hear the opinion that the fly plaid is much too formal by contemporary standards unless royalty or the Nobel Prize Awards is involved, or even that the fly plaid looks a bit like a costume accessory of the idealised Scottish outfit. Regardless of these opinions though, the fly plaid is a well-established part of Highland clothing, and you must judge for yourself the appropriateness of wearing it in any given situation.

Read about the Tartan on the Catwalk

And what is our advice on what not to do with a fly plaid? It certainly is not frequently seen as an everyday garment. If you’re wearing a casual kilt it will look bizarre to pin a large tartan cloth to your shirt, not to mention it will probably be extremely uncomfortable! Remember that casual kilts have been designed to make them easier to wear, they are tailored with less fabric and therefore are lighter – there is no point in ignoring their design and pairing them with inappropriately formal accessories! There is also a dispute over if the fly plaid is acceptable when not kilted, but simply worn as an accessory with trews. Some have given it a try, but others regard it as too extravagant and associate the fly plaid with proper Highland kilt outfits only. There are certainly differences between fly plaid etiquette in the UK and the USA; Americans are likely to wear it to events that Brits would view as too informal for that type of attire.

The discussion over whether to wear a brooch is also lively. As wearing a brooch is very popular in the States, it  has grown in popularity in Europe. However, in more traditional circles it is sometimes regarded as suitable only for the ultimate formal occasions, being too flashy to look good at more somber events. The suggested alternative for these cases is to use a plain pin, hidden in the folds of fabric, to secure your plaid, or to simply thread it through your jacket epaulettes and adjust as needed to keep it in place. Sometimes you may also stumble upon the so called day plaid – also known as the Laird’s Plaid – which is simply folded lengthways into a rectangle and slung over the shoulder, without any brooch attached. It also shouldn’t be tucked into anything – just flapping loosely. These are not seen frequently, but are occasionally worn to less formal events where the wearer is playing an important role, such as Highland Games or Clan Gatherings. As is hinted at in the day plaid’s alternative name, these are often worn by Scottish lairds or clan chiefs at these events.

If you like the overall look, but you are not attached to the idea of wearing a fly plaid itself; a day plaid may well be a safer and more versatile option. They are certainly less formal, and a day plaid can be put on along with an everyday Scottish outfit, they are marvelous with a casual or semiformal jacket, such as a tweed argyle!

Read about How To Make A Kilt

To sum up, the best way to decide what to wear and what to avoid, is to ask the organisers or past attendees about acceptable attire and figure out the details of your outfit from there. But, as you might have noticed, everyone has their own idea of what is elegant, so don’t get too bogged down in listening to other people! If you are assured that wearing a fly plaid will not be a breach of good manners, simply make your choice from the available options so you yourself feel attractive, comfortable and confident. There are also various help books covering the issue of fly plaid etiquette – reading one of these might be helpful too. The plaid in all its forms has a rich past in Highland wear, and the potential to set off an outfit beautifully if worn under the right conditions. Elegance, formality and tradition are the key words for wearing a fly plaid – and ones which you should never forget!

St Andrew’s Saltire – The Legend of Scotland’s Symbol

 The Scottish Flag – Saltire, also known as St Andrew’s Cross – is an homage paid to Scotland’s patron saint. The symbol’s roots reach deeply into the past and the moment of St Andrew’s unusual crucifixion being the most important. It is still argued as to whether or not the symbol also has an earlier pagan significance, but regardless, it’s one of the most recognised symbols around the world, even outside Christian nations.

St Andrew the Apostle, according to the New Testament, was the brother of St Peter and a disciple of St John the Baptist beforemartyrdom_of_andrew he joined Christ and adhered to his teachings. After Jesus’s death, he decided to bring the gospel to the pagans. He travelled far – it is said that he preached in Scythia, and later in Kiev and Novogrod, he also founded an ecclesiastical see in Byzantium. As the legends state, he was martyred in the city of Patras, situated in today’s Greece. St Andrew was crucified on a diagonal cross, because, as it is told, he felt he wasn’t worthy enough to die in the same way that Christ did. A similar story is told about his brother Peter – he is said to have been crucified upside down due to the same desire not to mimic the method Jesus’s crucifixion. Historically, the diagonal cross which became associated with St Andrew might just have been a more popular “tool” for executions in that region of the Roman Empire. But how did Andrew the Aspotle become the patron saint of Scotland, if he had never even visited the country?

Read about Scottish Linguistics

According to legend, it wasn’t Saint Andrew himself, but his bones. The relics were brought to Britain between the 8th and 10th centuries. They may have come with St Regulus (Rule) from Patria who, legends say, wanted to spread the Gospel as far West as he could, and crashed on British shores. St Regulus gave the relics of Andrew the Aspotle to the king of the Picts, Óengus mac Fergusa. But this version has one serious problem – St Regulus lived in the 5th century, and Óengus in the 8th. Regardless of the truth however, relics attributed to St Andrew did at some point in history reach the Fife coast, near the village of Kinrymont, where later a church and the city of St Andrews were founded.

Another story refers to the battle of Athlestaneford, fought by the Scots and Picts against the Saxons. King Angus of the Picts is said to have vowed that if he won, he would appoint St Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. He is said to have seen a blinding light, and later to have had a dream that he would defeat the larger army of Saxons under the sign of a cross. In the morning, he saw a Saltire Cross in the morning sun; another version states that those were the clouds that formed a shape of the crux decussata – the same one upon which St Andrew was crucified (and of course – those were white or grey clouds with the blue sky in the background – hence the story behind the Saltire flag of Scotland). King Angus won the battle, and the Saltire has become a national symbol ever since. This story is strikingly similar to the legends surrounding the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor, is believed to either had a dream or seen with his own eyes the sign of the cross in the skies, along with the message in hoc signo vinces – “with this sign you will conquer”. The sign is described as a Greek letter Chi (that has a form of a Latin letter “X”) traversed by Rho (similar to Latin “P”), and today is known as a chrismon, one of the most recognisable Christian symbols.

Read more about the Picts

St_Andrews_from_Regulus_tower_-_geograph.org.uk_-_254003The Scottish Saltire is believed to be the oldest flag in Europe, hoisted first in 1512. It was used as heraldic arms at first, and originally was silver and blue – silver is usually represented by white on flags. Since 2003, the blue in the background is officially Pantone 300 from the international colour coding system. The Saltire was likely an official Scottish symbol before the beginning of the 11th century, and in the 13th century St Andrew on a diagonal cross appeared on the Seal of The Guardians of Scotland (heads of the state during the first interregnum). Later, at the end of the 14th century, St Andrew was depicted on the coin of the realm.

Scotland has also another flag – known as the Lion Rampant, and recognised as The Royal Flag of Scotland. The flag legally belongs to the King or Queen of Scotland, but today might be used by any British monarch. The name refers to the illustration on the flag – a striking red lion posing on his hind legs with a flashy yellow background. As historians say, it might have been used for the first time in the 13th century or even a little bit earlier, and might have been previously known as The Lion of Bravery.

The history of the Scottish Saltire is a mix of hagiography and facts. Wherever a grain of truth is hidden in the legends and however historical facts traverse them, it is a wonderful lesson of Scottish culture through the ages. As St Andrew’s Day approaches (30th November), your national flag history is worth knowing!

Upon that night, when fairies light – Halloween roots and traditions in Scotland

The nights between October and November have always been considered special – the Celts associated this time with the spirit world and death, and it is thought the night was celebrated to recognise what the early Scots perceived as the years end. The festival Samhain, as it was known among Celts, or Samhuinn among the Scots, also has roots in common with the name given to the month we know as November (Mì na Samhna in Scottish Gaelic).

Halfway between summer and winter, it is a time when nature is literally dying, proclaiming the winter season when fertility and 1280px-Pumpkin_Halloweengrowth would halt. The present name – Hallowe’en – is a contraction of “All Hallows Evening” or “All Hallows Eve” – the day before All Saints’ Day celebrated in Western Christianity. People around the world seem to share a strong conviction that the “veil” between worlds of the living and the dead is thinner than usual at this time, and that it enables the exchange of some information. This kind of festival is common to almost all peoples in the northern hemisphere, and variants are observed from Mexico to Europe. Although customs differ, the idea is pretty much the same; that supernatural forces are present in the world during this time, and should be respected. This motif is also recorded in poetry – the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (also known as Scotland’s Bard or Scotland’s Favourite Son) wrote a piece known simply as “Halloween” in 1785 and described some of the folk traditions and customs linked with the festival.

Read about Robert Burns

The whole idea of Halloween is considered to be pagan, and there is strong evidence to support that belief. However, one of the most widespread mistakes related to this, is that Samhain was a Celtic deity of the dead – no such god was ever worshipped, and this tale is probably an 18th century invention or mistake made in ethnography. Nevertheless, there are some stories about a character named Samhain or Sawan – but he is presented rather as a hero than a deity, and it is likely that he was named after the festival, rather than the other way round. The whole thing may have originated from an attempt by Col. Charles Vallency, who tried to prove the fictitious Armenian origin of the Irish people, or from a book by Godfrey Higgins, who believed the druids to be descendants of the Vedic tradition. The very first mention of the “god” Samhain might have been traced to the beginning of the 18th century, but this has not yet been definitively proven. Regardless it can be recognised that the name Samhain should be taken as a reference to the festival itself, and not as an allusion to any mortal or divine beings.

Learn more about supernatural – Unicorn is a national Scottish animal!

The modern celebrations of Samhain became controversial because of many factors, primary among them being the early Catholic Church, which associated the festival with the cult of satanic forces and condemned the traditional elements of Hallowe’en that they considered to be evil, such as divination or communication with spirits. Paradoxically, All Saints Day, which is believed to also have its origins in pagan customs, was defended as purely Christian tradition that has nothing in common with heathenism.

Snap-Apple_Night_globalphilosophyNevertheless, the whole contemporary image of Hallowe’en has led to the common belief that it is somehow connected with occult practices. The black cats, witches and ghosts which are so popular as decorations and toys, can be perceived as a way of mocking the fear of death – but also as a way of secretly worshipping them. Things have become even more confusingly problematic in recent years due to a rise in the popularity of neo-paganism and Wicca, whose adherents consider themselves as heirs or at least followers of ancient Celtic (or generally pagan) traditions. Modern witches, wizards and heathens, whose spirituality has nothing to do with any kind of devil or death worship, sometimes feel ostracised because of the popular misconceptions about their activities, and the media tend to focus on them a great deal around Hallowe’en as opposed to any other time of year. Covens (Wiccan gatherings for the purpose of performing rituals) and divination practices look impressive and controversial, as they use popular symbols in the context of witchcraft. But what tends to be omitted is the fact that these symbols have a different context or even meaning – taken from the heathen past and now forgotten, or created anew.

Many Scottish traditions that have survive to the present day have also been modified – pumpkin jack-o-lanterns were originally turnips, a shandy Dan (a dummy of an old woman representing a witch) burnt in a bonfire is replaced by Guy Fawkes on November 5th, “dookin for apples” is only a funny game when we no longer remember that apples used to be considered a sacred fruit, and dressing up to scare the evil spirits away has become a joyful festival for children to pretend to be their favourite cute or funny cartoon characters! Even though the meaning of customs, beliefs, and the whole ambiance around Hallowe’en has changed; tracking down the elements of ancient Scottish cultural heritage may be a fascinating way of discovering one’s own identity as a Scot. Know your roots!

Scottish Linguistics

Flag of ScotlandIt’s not only the Scottish accent which sets us apart from other parts of the United Kingdom – for as any true Scot knows, Scotland actually has many accents; from the lilting burr of the Highlands to the famously difficult to understand twang of young Glaswegians! For such a small country, we do have a huge amount of regional variance in accent, but our spoken dialect is broader still – offering a shared experience of the English language which differs in sometimes small but always significant ways from British Standard English. Our dialect, Scottish English, is further enhanced by borrowed words from the two languages of Scotland. Gaelic is the ancient tongue of the Highlands, but the language of the Lowlands, simply known as Scots, is recognised here too. Although it is closely linked to Standard English, it is not always mutually intelligible (think along the lines of the links between Norwegian and Danish!), and though it used to be considered simply an extreme dialect of Standard English, it is more and more being recognised as a separate language nowadays.

Most Scottish native’s speech will exist on a continuum, with the Scottish Standard English of most schools and businesses at one end and the broad Scots of relaxed conversation at the other. Although an individual may err more to one end or the other, in practice most people will switch between various forms of dialect or even between languages depending on the situation they find themselves in. This is common across the world, but we of course feel that Scotland has some of the greatest and most interesting quirks when it comes to casual and idiomatic language!

Read About Tartan Colour Meanings

Newcomers or visitors to our shores might at first be confused by some Scottish utterances. Everyone has heard of the old standards “Och aye the noo” or even “It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht” but unsurprisingly these aren’t actually commonly heard and might only be pronounced by a Scot for the amusement of new visitors. Today we intend to show you some of the phrases and idioms you are likely to hear in Scotland, for your instruction and delight, and to ensure you can keep up with the locals wherever you end up!

One of the best known dialects of Scots is the Doric. This is commonly spoken in the Northeast of Scotland (in areas such as Aberdeen and Moray) and is often joked about even by other Scots because it sounds very much like the international stereotype of a Scottish person. Many of the phrases and words used in this region have entered the common lexicon of Scotland, though the pronunciation does vary of course. The term furry boots does not actually refer to warm winter footwear, but is a play on the Aberdonian pronunciation of the common Scots phrase “whaur aboots” meaning “where about (is it)”! Other common words or phrases include “Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye” (“Whatever is meant to happen to you, will happen to you”), “Ah’m stappit fu’” (“I’m very full” – often heard after a good meal) and the very expressive exclamation; “Yir aywis at the coo’s tail!” (“You’re always running late!”).

Read about Kilt Accessories

Other words and phrases the Doric is well-known for that are rarely heard elsewhere. These include the term “loon for “boy, “mineerfor hullabaloo, and “nickum for “mischievous” (especially a child). So, if you hear the phrase “That nickum loon caused a richt mineer, the wee scunner.” you will now know that an adventurous young boy has been making a nuisance of himself!

Often to Scottish people, it can be difficult to realise that not everyone can understand what we areScotland map saying at all times. The Doric examples above are fairly extreme–they might be used naturally in conversation with another Doric speaker but presumably not with someone obviously unfamiliar with the dialect, but for many Scots it isn’t so clear-cut. Residents of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s capital and biggest cities respectively, are so used to being around tourists we can sometimes forget ourselves and find sentences like I got into an awfie rammy wi’ ‘at nippy sweetie fi doonstairs” (“I got into an awful argument with that bad tempered woman who lives in the flat below mine”) spilling out to completely the complete bemusement of non-natives. That example is Glaswegian, but Edinburgh residents have the same problem, with requests such as Gies a deek o’ yir paper? (“Can I have a quick look at your newspaper”) or That radge is totally reekin’”(“That strange person seems to be very drunk.”) often being misunderstood.

Glaswegian is particularly well known for its speakers talking very fast and slurring their words together, as well as using colourful double negatives or contradictions such as Come oan, get aff! (literally, “Come on, get off” but really meaning “Please stop, get off me”) or “Gonnae no dae that!” (“Please don’t do that!”), which can add to the confusion but also makes the speech pattern instantly recognisable, and it is regarded fondly as the dialect heard in television shows such as Rab C. Nesbitt and Chewin’ the Fat.

Read about Isle Of Skye

A region of Scotland which differs greatly from the rest in terms on speech is the Orkney and Shetland Isles. These lie off the extreme Northern coast, and Shetland is in fact closer to Norway than to most Scottish centres of population! As a result, the Scottish English spoken here has many words and grammatical structures which are remnants of Norn, the Scandinavian language originally spoken in this region, and can be difficult for even other Scots to understand. This excerpt is from a poem by Christine de Luca, a well-known Scottish poet who often writes in Shetlandic;

 

Santy cam in trowe da lambie-hoose door        Santa came in through the lamb shed door

whaar Magnus wis neebin his lane.                     Where Magnus was nodding off to sleep alone

‘A’m needin dy help, fur een o my deer                               ‘I’m needing your help, for one of my deer

is snappered an med himsel lame.’                       Has stumbled and made himself lame.’

 

I hope this short primer on the Scots language and common dialects has been useful. Of course no single blog post could possibly cover the breadth and depth of Scottish language – with a strong history of poetry and literature as well as a reputation for our sense of humour, language is a rich and vital part of the Scottish culture. We’d love to hear from you in the comments about your favourite Scottish words or sayings, but for now, goodbye and we’ll see ye efter!