As Scotland basks in the heat of a so far brilliant summer, plenty of us will be thinking of our summer holidays. But as the recent weather proves, you don’t have to go far to enjoy a wonderful holiday, and visitors to our bonnie land can enjoy themselves too! Today we are going to look at a region of Scotland often overlooked by the fans of all things Highland and tartan related, the Borders. The southern part of Scotland has an incredibly rich history all of its own, and areas of outstanding natural beauty, from sandy beaches and rolling hills to craggy mountains and vast forests, are home to a plethora of amazing wildlife. The South-West is home to Dumfries and Galloway, and it is here our report will focus on some perfect ideas for a summer break!
The Dumfries and Galloway area is chock full of royal history, with no Scottish king more famous than Robert the Bruce himself! The king is best known for the famous Scots legend about him watching a spider building its web in the mouth of a cave, and continually failing until finally succeeding against all odds, and seeing this as a sign that the Scottish people must continue to fight against the English. Others nowadays will remember that he was a contemporary of William Wallace, as seen in the Hollywood film Braveheart – but what most people don’t realise is the nickname “Braveheart” actually refers to King Robert himself! Following his death in 1329, his heart was removed from his body and placed in a small silver casket. A close friend and ally of the Bruce’s, Sir James Douglas, wore this casket around his neck on a silver chain and rode into battle against the English, rallying the troops to his side in memory of their deceased king.
Read about Highlands Games
During his life, Robert the Bruce spent a great deal of time in Dumfries and its surrounding areas. From the dreadful murder of his cousin and rival for the Scottish throne at Grey Friar’s Church, to his first major victory on the battlefield at Glen Trool, to his last journey to the shrine of St Ninian at Whitburn much of the Bruce’s life centred round this southern corner of Scotland; and an amazing Trail of the Bruce can be followed in this area nowadays, with historians retracing the steps of his life between various locations of importance. The trail is split into sections, allowing you to tackle one portion at a time – or meander between them, ticking off monuments, castles and battlefields as you explore the rest of the region.
If you tire of exploring old buildings, ruins and museums though, Dumfries and Galloway also has much to offer in the great outdoors! The Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and Wetlands Centre is an excellent day out for all the family, offering walks among the Solway coast mudflats and flower meadows as well as comfortable towers and hides from which many different species of bird can be seen; from ospreys to barnacle geese. Or, for a more culinary experience, why not try the Cream o’ Galloway; where the kids can explore adventure playgrounds and gardens while you see how delicious Scottish cheeses and ice-cream are made, and sample some yourself!
Learn about St. Andrew
Of course, true romantics can’t spend time in this area without visiting the legendary blacksmith’s at Gretna Green! This small town lies just over the border from England, and in days past young English couples would hope over the border to pledge their troth as runaways, fleeing the stricter rules on marriage without parental consent for youths down South. Due to a quirk of Scots law, almost any person could conduct a marriage ceremony as long as two witnesses were also present, and so the town blacksmiths became known as “anvil priests”, marrying couples outside their shops using their anvil as an altar! Though the rules surrounding marriage have become much more regulated in modern times, Gretna Green is still a very popular wedding destination – hosting over five thousand ceremonies per year! Perhaps yours will be next…?
And to finally wrap up, you didn’t think we’d forgotten about Dumfries’ most famous son, did you? Of course not – who could forget that Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns himself, though born in Ayr, spent his final years in this beautiful Lowland Borders region! We have written much about the celebrations of Rabbie Burns’ life and poetry before, so suffice it to say that Dumfries is the place to be come January 25th! And indeed all year round Dumfries is a great place to learn more about this most influential of Scottish poets; Ellisland Farm where he lived and worked is now both a working farm and a museum to his time there with guided tours available, Robert Burns House where he died at the tragically young age of just 37 has been restored to show the day-to-day life of the writer and his family, and round the corner at the Globe Inn you can share a dram and some poetry at the Bard’s local pub! There are many other museums and monuments to Robert Burns in this region, and any fan of Scottish literature will want to make this pilgrimage a priority for their trip!
We hope this overview of just some of what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer has been useful to you – often the Lowlands are overlooked, especially by overseas visitors seduced by visions of tartans and Highland bagpipes, but the gentler landscape of South West Scotland has much to offer as well. As always, we hope to hear your perspective, and look forward to reading your comments below!
Returning once more to the ever-popular topic of tartan we now consider a few more modern designs, such as tartans which have been created to commemorate special events or raise awareness of a certain topic, and also regional tartans which have been adopted in areas with a strong Scottish diaspora community.
When creating a new tartan, the only restrictions on design are that it must not copy a tartan which already exists, in name, design, or intention. Therefore many designs have been registered which reference a wide number of concepts such as love and loyalty, or Scottish symbols such as the lion rampant, stag, or thistle. There are tartans celebrating whiskey, haggis, even Irn Bru and shortbread! Many of these are of course corporate tartans, designed and registered to promote a certain product or company. However others are registered as so-called “fashion” tartans, and though only one mill may have permission to weave the fabric, it can be sold to anyone for private use in garments and other textile goods.
One such new design is the World Peace Tartan, a beautiful blue and purple design which is very contemporary and which has been growing in popularity for the last few years thanks to its versatility for male and female wearers, and for its positive and hopeful message. The World Peace Tartan was created to promote a global message of peace, and the striking light blue in the design is representative of the presence, hope and potential of the United Nations organisation. The role Scotland plays in promoting world peace is represented through the Scottish thistle, with lines of purple and green. The red and black in the design have been chosen to remind us of the realities of war and violence, and finally the white running throughout the pattern symbolises peace and light, and reinforces the need for a new culture of peace among humanity.
As we can see from the globally relevant World Peace tartan, not only Scottish concerns are represented in modern tartans, with tartans aimed at the Scottish diaspora becoming more and more attractive and popular, echoing the modern tradition of providing regional tartans for those of Scottish birth but without family tartans. This is also a common practice in Ireland, where family name tartans are unknown and men wishing to wear the kilt, or cilt, will instead choose a tartan affiliated to their county of birth.
Likewise, America, Canada and many other countries with Celtic immigrant populations now have their own national and regional tartans, some of these very popular indeed. The Canadian Maple Leaf tartan for example was designed in 1964 and became so well loved that it was finally adopted as the nation’s official tartan in 2011. With its wonderful shades representing the varying tones of the maple tree’s leaves; green in the spring, gold in the early autumn, red at the first frost, and brown after falling, it is a common choice for Canadian citizens over and above the tartan for each province they could also choose.
By comparison, the United States America tartan is not quite so well-known; however this is unsurprising – as there are so many more United States tartans to choose from! Americans, whether of Scottish extraction or not, can choose from further regional choices celebrating the individual states, to vocational tartans such as the Leatherneck or Seabees designs, which honour the U.S. Marines Corps and the U.S. Navy respectively. Again in these cases, the tartans are not (yet!?) officially recognised by the U.S. military but through very popular usage have come to be strongly associated with it, and it is commonly accepted that only those with a strong connection, either current or ex-service people or their close family who wish to wear the tartan as a mark of respect, should display these tartans. With tartans now registered which celebrate jobs from fire-fighters, to paediatricians, to travel agents, or acknowledge personal interests such as sports and music, there truly is a design for everybody out there and any person interested in tartan and kilt wearing will be sure to find a design that speaks to them and they can feel a connection with, regardless of whether their own heritage if Scottish or not!
With such a wealth to choose from, it can be intimidating to decide which tartan you should settle on when purchasing a kilt or other tartan garment. For most people, a family tartan will be the first and foremost when thinking of investing in an important garment, such as an 8 yard kilt or a tartan wedding dress. However, there will always be opportunities to add a touch of Scottish pride or tartan flair to an outfit even when you don’t want to wear full Highland regalia. For these times a nice tie or waistcoat featuring the regional tartan celebrating your home, or commemorating a special holiday, a college or university tartan remembering your alma mater, or a fun design to show off your interest in a certain football team might be just the thing!
Let us know in the comments if you have found a non-clan tartan that holds a special place in your heart!