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 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!

Traditional themes in Scottish Jewellery

Scotland has such a strong national identity our symbols are recognised worldwide! From the obvious themes such as thistles, saltires and tartan, to our varied animal life; Highland cows, grouse, stags (and of course, Nessie!), to more subtle hints such as delicate Celtic knots and traditional materials. All these themes and more can be seen in Scottish jewellery, and today we will look at the most classic of these, and how they are being incorporated into contemporary trends.

Traditional jewellery in Scotland is well known for often being made from Scottish Agate
sterling silver and featuring Scottish agate settings. Agate is the most commonly found semi-precious stone in Scotland – we have no mines for rubies or diamonds or emeralds – so agate stones were the Scottish equivalent, alongside amethyst, smoky quartz (known as Cairngorm stones for the location in Scotland where the majority of these were mined), blue topaz and sapphires. Agates are unique amongst gemstones, in that their colours, patterns and shapes vary dramatically from one stone to the next – indeed no two are ever exactly alike! Their opaque and vibrant colours and unusual patterns made them a sought after commodity, and they have been collected in Scotland for use in decorative items and jewellery since Neolithic times at least! The Victorians, in their mania for all things fashionably Scottish, oversaw a revival of the use of agates and some of the most beautiful pieces date from this era, with finely filigreed sterling silver settings highlighting the glowing stones to perfection.

In modern times, agate jewellery remains popular. Many of the older pieces are now considered to be very valuable, as large agates are far less common than they once were, and the craftsmanship and quality of the cut stones in antique jewellery is without comparison. Thanks to the bright, bold colours and shapes, agate jewellery can still be worn with modern clothing and look just as good as it did 200 or more years ago! Smaller nodules of agate are still quite common of course, and many modern pieces will see these turned into simple polished beads to be worn in a string.

Read more about The Picts

The next major trend in Scottish jewellery and many other Scottish decorative items in fact, is of course, Celtic knot-work! Any article discussing Scottish trends would be completely remiss not to look at these fascinating and enduring designs. For years, people have tried to interpret and apply meaning to these mysterious and complex patterns, with limited success – and certain designs have endured for centuries and are still in popular use today!

Pocket Watch, Celtic Knotwork, QuartzOne of the most instantly recognisable Celtic knot-work patterns is the triquetra or Trinity Knot. One of the simplest of the Celtic knot patterns, this design has three pointed loops and, like other knot-work designs, has no visible beginning or end. Christians may interpret this design to signify the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whereas Pagans often associate it with the triple goddess aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone, or Mind, Body and Spirit. Regardless, the general consensus for this design is a feeling that it represents the joining of three disparate aspects to create a greater whole. As with many Celtic symbols, it is often shown enclosed within a perfect circle; this device represents continuity and protection.

Another popular design which has endured through the ages is the Shield Knot. This is most often depicted as a quaternary design, meaning it has four corners, and may be round or square. As indicated by the name, this design is thought to be a symbol of protection for the wearer. In this design, each corner may be seen as representative of associated themes such as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, or North, South, East and West, or even the cardinal elements of paganism; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. With this added layer of complexity to the design, another layer of meaning may come into play. Celtic knots with closed paths (i.e. paths which can be traced) are considered to by symbolic of a journey, whereas Celtic knots with open paths (i.e. the whole knot appears to be made of one strand and a beginning or end cannot be discerned) are considered to represent eternity or infinity.

Read About Tartan Colour Meanings

In jewellery, these designs have been crafted from almost every material imaginable and have never gone out of style. From simple etched wooden pendants, to lavish and ornate gold and gemstone pieces, Celtic knots are everywhere in our lives. Often the first piece of jewellery a Scottish girl will own will be a Celtic knot-work cross or a triquetra ring. The designs themselves have rarely changed, they are truly enduring and don’t need to! They may appear as accessory designs to more modern patterns, or be outlined in sparkling gemstones, but Celtic knot-work is most definitely still a vibrant part of contemporary Scottish jewellery design.

Tartan on the Catwalk

As has happened for the last few years, now the cooler weather is coming in, warm woollens and vibrant tartans are back in the minds of fashionistas everywhere as they prepare their wardrobes for another long winter. Scotland’s renaissance in the world of fashion continues, with classic and comfortable designs rising in popularity after the last couple of years of punk rock style. Today we’ll look at a few of the top trends, and explain how you can get the look for yourself!

As we said, the harsh punk vibe of the last few years has mellowed out. But hints of this still remain (albeit in a far more comfortable and achievable sense for day-to-day wear). The grunge styles of the early 1990’s are making a nostalgic comeback and soft flannel or wool tartan shirts, skirts and dresses are perfect for this. Paired with tough biker boots and a leather jacket, even a hint of Scottish tartan style is enough to meet this trend, and it’s perfect for young women and teens!

cape plaidHowever, one of the biggest high fashion trends right now is the blanket cape. Popular in many shades and patterns, but most of all in bold tartan prints, this casual but stunning garment is perfect for cold weather events. All of the major fashion houses have come up with their own versions for this season, but we feel our classic lambswool designs are just perfect to provide a more economical alternative. On the other hand, if you truly want to indulge yourself, silky smooth luxurious cashmere is always an option, and Heritage of Scotland can guarantee to provide a traditional and correct tartan pattern which is not the main concern of many other fashion retailers. The blanket cape needs confidence to pull it off and may swamp a smaller figure so it’s perfect for layering with jeans and heels for coffee with the girls, or with a jumper and boots for walking on a crisp autumn day. You should definitely not wear it with an overcoat, for one; even Scotland doesn’t get cold enough to require that level of wrapping, and secondly; it will be guaranteed to overpower and add bulk rather than flatter your figure. If you are particularly petite, consider wearing a lavish tartan stole instead, or for girls check out the miniature versions of our capes! The key note is that unstructured, flowing layers are in style, and even better in traditional Scottish materials and designs!

Learn about St. Andrew

Regardless of which garments you choose, bold tartan patterns are set to be massively popular this tartan dressseason as well. Dress tartans are the perfect choice for this, with their white backgrounds and vibrant focal shades, they really jump out and demand attention. One of our favourites is the Stewart Dress, with its detailed grid-work of bright red and bold black; however there are dozens of patterns to choose from. DC Dalgliesh, a dedicated hand-crafting tartan mill who utilise traditional looms and apply exacting standards to create their gorgeous fabrics, have a range known as the Dancers Fancies – a selection of vivid designs inspired by traditional clan tartans such as Baird, Longniddry and MacPherson. These fancies are especially suited for dancers because they not only replace the backgrounds with white as in traditional Dress tartans, but also tweak the colours of the pattern lines, so one tartan might be available in four or five shades, from delicate purples to rich reds, fresh greens or jewel-toned blue, meaning that the dancers stand out on stage very clearly and the swishing fabrics of their skirts make for a wonderful display. These designs are also perfect to ensure that fashion-lovers can choose whichever colours suit you best and still wear a tartan that is meaningful to you with pride! Our favourite combination for bold picks this season would be a flirty billie kilt teamed with thick tights and leather boots for a sensible yet sexy ensemble to flash your Scottish heritage!

Read about Kilt Accessories

The subject of modern Scottish identity is a huge preoccupation for Scots at the minute and, as with all such things, when it becomes such a major focus it easily spills over to influence other parts of our lives. Between the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 2014 Year of Homecoming, The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles; Scotland has been thrust into the global limelight in a way not often experienced by this fantastic, yet modest, nation. All of these great events are of course being recognised through fashion, from the usual fare such as baseball caps and T-shirts, to stunning bespoke garments made using specially designed commemorative tartans. The Scottish Independence Referendum coming up this week has also seen the eyes of the world turn our way, and while a serious political event has naturally inspired more thoughtful reflection than fashion trends – it is also natural that such concentrated thoughts have led to a rather great focus on the Saltire flag of late! Whichever side of the political division you fall on, Heritage of Scotland is proud to support all Scots and much of our clothing, and even home-wares, feature the Saltire and Union Flags – for spirited Scots, blessed Brits, and everyone else who shares our wonderful nation!

We look forward to your comments as always, and can’t wait to hear how you will continue to include your Scottish pride in your winter wardrobe this season!

Glasgow – Scotland’s modern metropolis!

Doulton_Fountain Often when thinking of Scotland, outsiders only think of two places; the romantic wilds of the Scottish Highlands, or the winding alleys and friendly bustle of the nation’s capital in Edinburgh. But Scotland has more than one city, and in fact Edinburgh is not even its largest! That honour goes to Glasgow, an ancient settlement which has revamped and modernised over and over throughout the centuries to become the third largest city in the whole of the United Kingdom, and the Scottish centre for a wealth of industrial, artistic, and cultural touchstones. Join us in today’s blog to learn more about this impressive 21st century metropolis, and gain a deeper respect for the people who live and work there.

Read about the magic of Edinburgh City

Like many Scottish towns and cities, the area which is now Glasgow has been inhabited by humans since time immemorial – quite literally! Evidence suggests that for millennia, prehistoric human hunters and fishermen settled along the banks of the River Clyde. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Roman settlements were also establisUniversity Of Glasgowhed, and the Antonine Wall was built in this area – supposedly to demark the limits of “Caledonia”, as the Romans referred to the region of Scotland. The Roman plan didn’t exactly work of course, but some remnants of the Antonine Wall can still be seen in Glasgow to this very day!

The official founding of Glasgow was achieved by the early Christian Saint Mungo, in the 6th century. The establishment of his church at Molendinar Burn, where Glasgow Cathedral stands in the present-day, paved the way for Glasgow to develop as a religious centre and, by the 12th century, become a real place of power in the hierarchy of Scottish settlements. Following on from this, in the 15th century, Glasgow University was established, and Glasgow’s position was cemented; with a reputation for supporting religion, academia, and of course trade. For throughout all of these other changes, one thing remained a constant; the River Clyde.

The Clyde truly has been the lifeblood of Glasgow, and indeed its influence stretched far across Scotland. Famed for its influence over the Industrial Revolution in Scotland, with the Glasgow Clyde shipyards being known and respected worldwide, the river has actually been of huge importance for much longer than a scant couple of hundred years. From pre-historic times when simple fishermen gleaned their catch from its banks to support their families, to a trading port for all manner of exotic imports and essential exports, to allowing access to the Scottish interior across its broad waters and impressive length, the Clyde has seen it all. Facing to the west, and the Americas, the Clyde also became a hub for Scottish emigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many visiting Scottish-Americans enjoy visiting the historic parts of the city to imagine the places their ancestors may have been in the absence of being able to track down their true ancestral clan lands.

Learn also about how to make a kilt

By the 19th century, Glasgow was a shining jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Known as the Second City of the Empire (after London, of course), it by this point had a wealth of gorgeous architecture, firmly established trade and industrial businesses, libraries, colleges and universities, parks, museums, galleries, and churches – in short everything a modern and successful city could ever wish for. But this wasn’t to last forever. Following the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Glasgow’s decline was temporarily halted by the outbreak of WWII, as it invigorated the shipyards by providing much needed business building warships. However, this came at a heavy price, and Glasgow’s Clydeside region was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe throughout much of the war, destroying many of the cities buildings, inflicting death, injury or homelessness on thousands of Glaswegian residents. After the war, the shipyards went quiet again and continued their slow decline, and by the 1960’s it seemed as though Glasgow’s proud history was drawing to a sad end, with derelict structures covering huge swathes of the dockyards and city proper, and many impoverished Glaswegians being forced to live in crumbling tenement buildings, certain regions of the city began to suffer from a sometimes unfairly rough reputation.

However, already the proud and innovative Glaswegian people had set a plan to rejuvenate and reinvent their city once more. The Bruce Report, published by Glasgow Corporation Engineer Robert Bruce in 1945, was followed almost to the letter (only being changed to allow for some beloved older buildings which had weathered the war to be saved), and the city was transformed over the course of thirty years. The 1970s and 1980s seemed like a dark time for many Glaswegians as their city struggled to find a new purpose once it became clear that shipbuilding and trade could no longer sustain it, but all the while new and better housing was built, a new transport system was established, and many residents were helped to move out of the over-crowded city centre to make way for new businesses and service based industries to come in.

Mitchell_LibraryOver the thirty years since the completion of Glasgow’s biggest makeover yet, the economy and reputation of the city has once again soared. New modern architecture has been welcomed and buildings such as the Clyde Auditorium and Glasgow Science Centre sit happily alongside the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, surviving Victorian tenements (themselves revamped and improved), and stunning Mackintosh buildings such as the Glasgow School of Art. From religion, to academics, to hard-nosed business and industry, the Glaswegian people have once again risen to a challenge to their very identity, and now Glasgow is considered one of the most artistic and cultured places in Scotland, not to mention being a hub for athletes of all kinds. Famous of course for the Old Firm, Rangers and Celtic football teams, Glasgow has also recently hosted football events for the 2012 London Olympics, and then rose to the occasion only a few short months ago by hosting the entire XX Commonwealth Games, a huge success in showcasing not only the greatest Scottish athletes of the moment, but also Glasgow itself and showing everything the city and Scotland has to offer.

Artistically, Glasgow is now considered the very heart of the Scottish contemporary music industry, with scores of venues and recording studios throughout the city, as well as boasting the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which attracts students of all kinds of music and related subjects, and is the countries busiest performing arts venue. The Glasgow School of Art which was mentioned briefly before, is also an internationally famous establishment of higher learning and counts amongst its dozens of celebrity alumni Peter Capaldi, Robbie Coltrane and Liz Lochhead to name but a few!

Visitors to Glasgow are sure to enjoy any number of aspects of the city, from exploring its multi-faceted past and following the story of the indomitable Glaswegian spirit, to enjoying a vibrant and modern culture of music, theatre, fine restaurants and amazing architecture – not to mention the huge variety of festivals throughout each year covering topics such as comedy, fashion, visual arts, jazz, contemporary music, pipers, Scottish culture and homecoming and much more. Once again a Scottish jewel to show all we are capable of achieving, Glasgow is a truly modern metropolis, a cosmopolitan city rejoicing in its forward looking attitude while honouring its links to the past, and doing it all it can to continue to rise and succeed.

Scottish Children Games

Pieter Bruegel As summer comes to an end, parents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief that their little darlings are going back to school, and the long weeks of trying to find entertainment and fun for all the family are over for another year (let’s face it, while we all love this time, it can also be very stressful!). To celebrate your wee one going up a year, or even starting school for the first time, we thought it would be fun and instructive to reminisce about some of the best Scottish playground games, still popular amongst Scottish children today!

Many childhood games, such as hopscotch and skipping, are of course common across the world – but Scotland has some particular quirks unique to our bonny region with songs and games which have never been commonly played anywhere else. On the other hand, we have also been the originators of some games which have seen their popularity spread worldwide! So read on for some great ideas of games to teach your kids and share your Scottish pride from the earliest age.

Read about Scotland’s Commonwealth Games

Many Scottish games centre on songs or poems which are recited out loud while playing. These songs are usually sung in broad Scots regardless of the regional accent, and are most commonly chanted by girls. Some of these, such as Oor Wee School, have no particular relevance to the actions performed, but are just amusing rhymes – slightly outdated now, but still enjoyed by new generations of Scottish children as they skip with a long rope (with two children “cawing” or spinning the rope and one or more skipping), or clap in intricate patterns with their friends;

Oor Wee School

Oor wee school’s the best wee school,

it’s made of bricks and plaister.

The only thing thats wrang wi it,

is the baldy-heided maister.

He goes tae the pub on Saturday night,

he goes tae the kirk on Sunday.

And prays to God tae gie him strength,

tae belt the weans on Monday.

Other rhymes are much simpler and indicate the actions the players are attempting; the perfect example of this is Plainy Clappy, a game played by bouncing a ball off of a wall or pavement.

Plainy Clappy

Plainy! (bounce and catch the ball)

Clappy! (bounce and clap before catching)

Roll the reel! (bounce and roll hands together before catching)

Tabacky! (bounce and clap hands behind back before catching)

Right hand! (bounce and catch using right hand only)

Left hand! (bounce and catch using left hand only)

Low skiteesh! (bounce and lace hands together to catch underhand)

High skiteesh! (bounce and lace hands together to catch overhead)

Touch your lap! (bounce and touch knees before catching)

Touch your toe! (bounce and touch toes before catching)

Touch your heel! (bounce and touch heel before catching)

Touch the ground! (bounce and touch ground before catching)

Wee burlaround! (bounce and clap in front and behind before catching)

Big burlaround! (bounce then spin on the spot before catching)

Both of the games described above are most commonly played by girls, and while they do so, boys are more likely to be playing “fitba’” or “keepie-uppie”, which are of course very common wherever football (or soccer, for our American friends) is popular. However, there are Scottish games which wee laddies are often found playing as well! Bools is a popular Scottish game played with marbles, between two players. The first player throws a “bool” a few yards away, then the next must try to land his as close as possible. If it lands within a hand’s span, he collects his opponents bool, if not, both marbles remain in play. This continues until one player has run out of marbles, or forfeits the game.

Children GamesBoys also tend to enjoy the more physical playground games, such as De’il Tak’ the Hindmaist, a simple running or cycling race. At the end of each circuit, the child who came in last place is declared to have been taken by the devil and must sit down and stop participating. The winner overall is the last child standing. Jig Ma Handie is another popular game which is very active, enjoyed by both boys and girls. This is a variation of the common game Tig, but instead of whoever is “IT” simply tagging their victim, they must grab their hand and not let go, the child grabbed is now IT and must catch someone else in the same manner, dragging the first person behind her. This goes on and on, creating a chain of children running together to help catch more people, and the winner is the child who manages to evade capture for the longest.

Learn about Bagpipes History

As you can see, many Scottish games are very simple, requiring very little in the way of equipment – just a few skipping ropes, a ball and some marbles is enough to spark off the imaginations of bairns (or weans!) and set them on a path of learning and fun. Scottish playgrounds have long been incredibly active, fun and imaginative, and the many songs and poems that can be heard chanted out often teach children a lot about the history and culture of their homes, for example Burke and Hare about the infamous Edinburgh graverobbers;

Doon the close and up the stair;

Mind yir back for Burke and Hare.

Burke’s the butcher; Hare’s the thief;

Knox the man wha buys the beef.

Or The Wee Kirk, a satirical rhyme about the Disruption of 1843, during which the Church of Scotland experienced a schism which resulted in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland (known colloquially as the “wee frees”);

The wee kirk, the Free Kirk,

The kirk wi’oot the steeple.

The auld kirk, the cauld kirk,

The kirk wi’oot the people.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog, and we especially hope you will consider teaching your children some of these games and rhymes if they don’t already know them! Playing games which honour and recognise the traditions of their culture can have a huge impact on kids, and we certainly look back fondly on our childhood memories of all these games and many others. As always, we welcome your comments and hope to hear about even more children’s games, both Scottish and from the wider world!


Ayrshire – The Best Destination For Summertime

As a great Scottish summer draws to a close, we have one last stop on our tour of Scottish holiday destinations; the beautiful and historic county of Ayrshire. With verdant hills, gorgeous beaches and exciting islands to explore, Ayrshire is a haven for nature enthusiasts of course. But this south-west corner of Scotland has much more to offer as well. Read on to find out more about the castles, golfing, museums, and music of this wonderful region!
PrestwickAlthough Scotland as a whole is known as the Home of Golf, Ayrshire is the birthplace of the world’s oldest, and still most prestigious, golfing tournament; the Open Championship. Originally hosted at Prestwick Golf Course, the Open is now played on either the Turnberry or Royal Troon courses, which amongst them have seen some of the greatest moments in golfing throughout their histories. From the first ever recorded hole-in-one of 1868, to Tiger Woods’ record breaking 8-stroke margin of victory in 2000, the Open Championship is a hot-bed of golfing achievement. As a spectator or a player looking to soak up some of the atmosphere and excellent playing conditions enjoyed by the golfing greats, a visit to Ayrshire is sure to provide you with endless enjoyment.

Learn about Isle Of Skye

It’s not only the Big Three of golf courses which Ayrshire hosts of course; there are many, many other world-class courses throughout the region. One of the newest of these is the course at Rowallan Castle, set in the beautiful surroundings of the 13th century estate from which it takes its name. If the rest of your party aren’t so keen on golfing, this would be a wonderful opportunity for them to spend some time exploring the grounds and buildings to learn more about the history of the Campbells of Rowallan.

There are many castles and other Dundonald Castle historical buildings of note in Ayrshire of course, among them the famous Dundonald and Turnberry Castles, each the home of Scottish kings. Though partially ruined, Dundonald Castle remains a magnificently impressive stronghold perched high on a hilltop, and can be fully explored and appreciated by visitors who can learn all about the castle’s history as the cradle of the Stewart dynasty, and its erection as a celebration of King Robert II’s ascension to the throne in 1370. By contrast, the older Turnberry Castle is completely in ruins, destroyed by the king who was born there, and dreaded to see it fall into the hands of the English. Robert I of Scotland, better known as Robert the Bruce, ordered this site decimated in 1310, and the castle was never rebuilt. After centuries of erosion from the wind and sea which assail it from three sides, hardly anything remains, but visitors can still explore the area to learn more and appreciate the size and strength the original structure must have represented.

Read about Highlands Games

Ayrshire is not only the birthplace and home of kings, but also of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns, along with many other notable Scots. From pioneers of science such Alexander Fleming – the discoverer of penicillin who revolutionised healthcare in the early 20th century – to inventors such as John Boyd Dunlop – whose pneumatic tyres arrived at a crucial time for the burgeoning automobile industry. Even more recently, Ayrshire has been the home to one of Scotland’s most popular rock bands, Biffy Clyro, and the town has a vibrant musical scene culminating in the annual Live at Troon festival each September. Live at Troon has its own Fringe Festival which spills across all of the town of Ayr, featuring Scottish bands, musicians and comedians as well as much more.

MV KylesWhen you’re not soaking up the sights and sounds of the festival though, consider visiting some of the excellent museums and art galleries spread across Ayrshire. Two personal favourites as a step away from the traditional fusty cabinets full of dusty relics and small-print placards are the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine’s harbour, and the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum. The maritime museum is an eminently practical exhibition, giving visitors the opportunity to learn a huge amount about the fishing industry which was the regions lifeblood for generations by exploring machinery, tools, boats and much more, as well as touring the tenements flats where workers lived, and boarding the MV Kyles – the oldest Clyde-built boat still floating. By contrast the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is something of an escape, a step back into a time long since passed. This museum preserves and maintains its collections in traditional island buildings and seeks to teach visitors about the way of life on one of Scotland’s largest islands. Arran lies just off the coast of Ayrshire and is easily accessed by ferry. With a history stretching all the way back to the Bronze Age, Arran has a huge amount to offer, and their small and eclectic museum manages to fits a surprising amount of historical, geological and zoological knowledge into such a small space!

Read about Orkney

Ayrshire truly is a wonderful place to visit to learn more about Scotland’s lowlands. If you’ve left it to the end of summer and still not taken that trip to Scotland you were planning on, this region offers so much to see and do you can easily pack in a huge amount of history, culture, and fun into a short space of time! If you haven’t been yet…what are you waiting for?! And if you have, we look forward to hearing about your favourite parts of the experience in the comments!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival

Military TattooThe Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been a regular part of the amazing Edinburgh Festival since 1950, and continues to draw huge crowds of proud Scots, and enthusiastic visitors every single August. From comedians to classical music, Shakespeare to street performers, Edinburgh really does have something for everyone during the summer! But the Tattoo remains the most spectacular of the traditional entertainments provided, and it is this awesome display of military and traditional music we shall focus on today.

Military tattoos are not a uniquely Scottish event, in fact the word “Tattoo” in this sense is derived from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe”, meaning “turn the taps off”, commonly heard in military bars and pubs at the end of trading. The British military based in Flanders in the 1840s soon adopted the phrase in their own fashion, and the Corps of Drum or Pipes and Drums would play the “taps to” signal each night, to let local pub landlords know it was time to send the soldiers back to their lodgings. By the late 18th century modern style barracks had been introduced, and full military bands were common, and the “taps to” signal finally evolved into the Tattoo as we know it today – a ceremonial form of entertainment performed to indicate the end of the day.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

The main Edinburgh International Festival has taken place every year since 1947, though the Tattoo only became an official part of the ceremonies in 1950. This decision was precipitated by a small Tattoo played at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, with a show titled “Something About a Soldier” during the 1949 Festival. It proved so popular that the following year saw the Tattoo go onto the official festival line-up, with a programme of eight items attracting an audience of around 6000 people seated on wooden benches in front of Edinburgh Castle. This humble beginning is of course a far cry from the amazing spectacle which takes place these days, with over a thousand performers from all corners of the globe, amazing fireworks displays, and a total audience of almost 220, 000!

Part of the charm and appeal of the Edinburgh Tattoo is of course the location; edinburgh military tattoo castleEdinburgh Castle has been a symbol of the city skyline for centuries and is part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, and the Tattoo takes place directly in front of its most striking aspect, on the Esplanade. The Castle is unusual among its peers as one of the only ancient castles to still have an active military garrison, albeit one used mostly for ceremonial and administrative purposes. In addition to supplying a useful and historically relevant staging area, Edinburgh Castle provides an amazing backdrop to this special event; one of the best loved traditions of the Edinburgh Tattoo features a flood lit lone piper playing a traditional Lament to the memory of fallen comrades from a spot high on the Castle battlements.

Learn about St. Andrew

The other most important aspect of the Tattoo is of course, the performers themselves! The Tattoo retains a strong martial aspect, attracting kilted Highland dancers and military bands from all over the UK and overseas eager to participate in the line-up. Bands from the Royal Air Force, British Army, Royal Marine and the Royal Navy make up the main service, interspersed with other performers such as Highland dancers and steel drum groups, and military bands are also present at the massing of the pipes and drums at the Tattoo’s climax, which is in itself a strongly military ritual which takes the same form every year. The end of each show will see the massed pipes and drums march back onto the Esplanade to join the military bands, at which point the National Fireworks Edinburgh Military Tattooplayed by a member of the Royal Marines or British Infantry. At this point, the aforementioned lone piper will play his poignant refrain, and the whole group of performers Anthem and Auld Lang Syne will be played. Then the flag will be lowered from the Castle as the “Sunset” or “Last Post” bugle call is will march off the esplanade and down the Royal Mile to a medley of popular Scottish songs.

This year’s performance is set to be one of the best ever – it is a Year of the Homecoming for Scotland, where we reflect on what our home means to us, and work to strengthen the bonds with the Scottish diaspora living globally, and the theme of the Tattoo this year is quite fittingly; Our “Home, Friends and Family”. Coming straight off the back of what looks to be a very successful showing for Scotland at the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, during one of the best summer’s Scotland has seen for years, spirits are bound to be high for the whole of the festival period. So as we revel in these wonderful sights and sounds just a few short weeks from now, we encourage all of our friends and family across the world to set their eyes to Scotland once more and appreciate all the glory and talent on show at the 65th Edinburgh Military Tattoo! As always, we welcome your comments and input and look forward to hearing your tales of memorable Tattoo experiences gone by, or plans to visit this year!

Scotland’s Commonwealth Games

commonwealth gamesThis year Scotland is preparing to host the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – the first time since 1986 that the Games have come to Scotland! As the opening ceremony draws closer, read on to find out more about this fantastic four-yearly sporting event between the prime athletes from all over the Commonwealth of Nations!

The Commonwealth Games as we know them today however, have only existed since 1978 – though they have existed in various forms since 1930 when a Canadian man, Melville Marks Robinson, organised the first British Empire Games to take place in Ontario. Back then the Games were much smaller than today, with participants from only 11 of the Commonwealth Nations – and ladies were only allowed to take part in the swimming events!

Following WWII, the British Empire began to break up and the Commonwealth of Nations was established with the understanding that all the member nations would now be recognised as free to govern themselves and treat one another as equals. This focus on equality has led to the Commonwealth of Nations (which still counts almost one third of the world’s population as members) working together to tackle issues such as poverty, racism, democracy, peace, health and human rights. The Games has acted as a way to bring all of these sometimes disparate nations together every few years and provide a source of fun and pride in our common bond!

Read about Kilt Accessories 

Nowadays of course, the event has grown and grown, and the XX Commonwealth Glasgow 2014 LogoGames are the biggest yet; in fact this year’s Games will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Scotland! Teams from 71 nations will take part in 261 events in 17 sports to make up a truly inspiring and exciting week of athletic and sporting displays. For a small nation with (ahem) not exactly a sterling reputation in the world of sport, Scotland has always performed strongly – helped of course by our status as one of only six nations which have been part of the Games since its inception. With over 350 medals won in total, almost 100 of which were gold, Scotland is ranked as the seventh most successful country in the Games, in fact we’ve won medals at every single Games ever held! And of course we have some of the most dedicated and brilliant sportsmen to have made this happen! One Scottish competitor, Willie Wood, was the first participant ever to compete in seven Commonwealth Games, though the most successful sportsman was shooter Alister Allan, with a magnificent total of 3 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze medals won. Others such as Chris Hoy, Susan Jackson and Steve Frew have also brought glory to their home nation and are now part of Team Scotland, acting as ambassadors and enthusiastic supporters of the new generation of hopeful athletes.

One of the most charming traditions of the Commonwealth Games is the Queen’s Baton Relay. This has taken place in the lead up to every game since 1958, and involves the Head of the Commonwealth (currently Queen Elizabeth II) writing a message to the people of the Commonwealth and sealing it inside a baton, which she then entrusts to the first of many runners. Each runner will hand off to the next as the baton travels from England to the host nation, where it finally arrives during the opening ceremony. The final runner then hands the baton back to Queen Elizabeth (or her representative should she not be in attendance), who retrieves and reads out her message to officially open the Games. Since 2006, the baton has travelled through every single participating nation before reaching its destination (before this only England and the host nation were included), and a new baton is designed for every Games. This year’s design is inspired by Scotland’s natural resources and industry and scientific prowess, featuring elm wood and traditional boat building techniques of construction alongside a cutting edge titanium lattice. Uniquely, the Queen’s hand written message is visible through the lattice, but unreadable due to being surrounded by LED lights, and the baton is locked using a two-part puzzle mechanism; solving the first puzzle ensures each nation is gifted with a granite gemstone souvenir, but the secret to the second part which allows access to the message will not be unveiled until the opening ceremony.

Read about Isle Of Skye

Tartan Bow TieThe final runner of the Queen’s Baton Relay will of course be dressed in the official Team Scotland sportswear which centred on the colours blue, navy and white to echo the Scottish flag, with Saltire and lion rampant motifs throughout. In addition to these, the Team have parade uniforms which of course incorporate our beloved tartan fabric in a very unique and eye-catching modern design. Although this particular tartan is exclusive to Team Scotland members, the medal bearers and other non-sportsperson officials will wear The Official Glasgow 2014 tartan. This special and beautiful design was created by a 15 year old Scottish school pupil, Aamir Mehmood, to represent the national colours of Scotland and the multicultural nature of Scotland and the Commonwealth of Nations. Luckily for all of us, this tartan is available to the public via House of Edgar, one of Scotland’s oldest and most prestigious woollen mills, and can be made into a wide range of beautiful garments and accessories such as shawls, hats and – of course – Highland kilts!

So as Scotland gears up to cheer on our great athletes in these special Games, how will you show your support for your favourite team? We look forward to hearing comments from our friends and allies across the Commonwealth and in the spirit of the Games themselves wish all the teams the best of luck!