Scotland

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!

Scottish Art – The Most Popular Pieces

With such beautiful landscapes surrounding our every moment, it’s no surprise that Scotland has a long and rich history of creating amazing art. In today’s blog we are going to look at four pieces which we feel exemplify the history and skills of Scottish artists, so join us to find out more about the pieces inspired by this wonderful country, and where you can go to see them yourself!

Stirling torcsAs with most societies, the history of Scottish art goes all the way back to prehistoric times. Though we are not as lucky as some societies to have found many paintings from this era, we do have some wonderful examples of metal work dating from the Iron Age! Among the most famous of these are the Stirling torcs – a collection of intricate gold necklaces made by twisting the metal into spirals and other patterns. These are important not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but historically as well. Of the four pieces found, only the two ribbon style necklets are confirmed to be of a design commonly known in Scotland around this time. Another, broken, torc displays an intricate beaded effect to its surface, in a pattern only previously seen in jewellery from south eastern France, but the final torc is the most visually striking of all, with eight strands of gold wire woven together and terminating in intricately stylised discs, uniquely showing influences from both Mediterranean crafts of the Bronze Age, and more traditional Iron Age elements local to prehistoric Scotland. As jewellery, these torcs may be seen simply as mundane items, but of course gold has always been regarded as precious, and the roundhouse in which the torcs were found indicates they may have been left as an offering to the gods worshipped by Iron Age peoples, so these pieces are likely to represent the best and most beautiful of what this society had to offer. These are now held in collection by the National Museum of Scotland, and while they are not always on display, similar items can be seen year round at this great treasure trove of Scottish art and life.

Read about Scottish Highland Games

Moving forward through history and away from the artistic merit of “everydayRosslyn Chapel objects”, stone carving has also been a very important part of the culture of Scottish art for a long time, especially in the context of religious art. Pictish stones and Celtic crosses with intricate knot-work are two of the best known examples of carved stones in Scotland, along with Rosslyn Chapel. The carvings all over the interior of the chapel at Rosslyn are unbelievably detailed and extensive – even if you have visited before it is practically guaranteed that a return trip will provide a whole new selection of details to pore over. Many of the designs have clear Christian meanings, such as a Nativity scene with its flight of angels heralding Christ’s birth by playing bagpipes, or a Masonic influenced depiction of Satan bound upside down – but others seem to be influenced by earlier pagan legends, such as the Green Man carvings which can be found throughout the building. The Chapel is as mysterious as it is beautiful, with carvings of American plants previously presumed to be unknown in Scotland at the time of carving in the 1400s, and strange box-like structures which have recently been posited to be a method of musical notation there is a wealth of secret knowledge here waiting to be discovered.

the penny weddingThe National Gallery of Scotland too is a wonderful place to visit to soak up some culture, with stunning art from all over the world. But it too has some particular Scottish treasures of course, among them The Penny Wedding, a painting by Alexander Carse dating from the early 1800s. This large scale painting shows a typical Scottish wedding of this time, and the artist has taken a great deal of pleasure in showing off some of the Scottish customs and everyday life at this time, such as the guests passing round a hat to collect money for the newlyweds, shepherds removing their tartan bonnets to say Grace, and exuberant country dancers in the centre of the frame. This kind of social genre of painting has provided us with a wonderful snapshot into the events of daily life in Scotland around this time of huge upheaval and change, as the rural population began to move around and city living became far more common.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

Finally, let’s bring ourselves right up toVettriano, Singing Butler the present with a relatively new, but already much admired contemporary artist; Jack Vettriano. Especially beloved to us as he is after all a local lad from just up the road in Methil, Fife, Vettriano has a natural and modern style which has proven to resonate deeply with many people, even those not usually interested in art. The Art Gallery and Museum in Kirkcaldy is lucky enough to have two paintings by this modern master; a portrait of an elegant lady and a self-portrait of the artist himself. Vettriano’s early works were in fact inspired by the contents of this gallery, as it was among the only access he had to fine art as a self-taught young artist, so it is especially interesting to compare his pieces to the art surrounding it! He is just one of many contemporary artists living and working in Scotland however, and works by many others can be seen at the National Gallery, along with another Vettriano self-portrait from a later stage in his career.

We hope you have found this blog interesting, and this little taster of Scottish art has whetted your appetite to go out there and find more beautiful paintings, sculptures, carvings and more to love and appreciate! Of course we could not cover everything in such a short post, so we look forward to reading your comments about your own favourite pieces and where to find them!

The Charm Of Dumfries And Galloway

Dumfries and GallowayAs 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 Robert the brucecousin 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…?

Robert BurnsAnd 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!

Unicorn – Scotland’s National Animal

unicorn paintingAs regular readers will know, we truly believe that Scotland is a magical place filled with all the wonder and beauty of its Celtic past. But this passion for mythology goes further than usual in Bonnie Scotland – even our official national animal comes straight from legend! The fantastic unicorn is a powerfully symbolic creature and the selection of this special creature as a symbol for Scotland tells us a lot about the character of the Scottish people. Today, let’s look closer at the history of the unicorn, its symbolic meaning, and why it was chosen to represent our wonderful nation!

Unicorns, and unicorn-like creatures, have existed in myths across the globe for thousands of years – appearing in writings and art from locations as exotic and far apart as Greece, India and Ethiopia. In its original descriptions, it is portrayed as just another unusual type of animal – albeit one with strange abilities! One such description comes from the Alexandrian merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes, whose states in his writings on the flora and fauna of 6th century India that the unicorn was a fierce beast who, when cornered, would jump from a cliff rather than allow itself to be caught, landing on the tip of its horn to prevent injury to its body! During this time depictions of the unicorn in art and sculpture vary from being very similar to the one-horned horse image we are used to seeing today, to showing creatures that clearly have far more in common with goats, antelope or even oxen!

Read about Scottish Highland Games

During the Middle Ages, unicorns became strongly associated with the virtues of purity, joy and healing and nurturing influences.Coat of Arms of Scotland As a result, they were commonly used in medieval artistic depictions to signify the presence of virgins, especially the Virgin Mary, in the artwork. One specific legend of the time stated that only a noble young virgin could catch a unicorn, and that the otherwise fleet-footed and freedom-loving creature would be so enraptured by such a maiden, that it would go to her willingly and fall asleep with its head in her lap, causing it to be captured. Also around this time, the medicinal use of unicorn horn, a substance known as alicorn, became popular in certain circles, with proponents claiming that the powdered horn, with its qualities of purity and healing, could cure illnesses and be used to detect poison. Of course, as we know now that unicorns are mythical, these substances were not actual unicorn horn, but probably ground narwhal or rhinoceros horn.

Learn about Isle Of Skye

The Celtic mythology of Scotland recognised these qualities of the legendary unicorn as well, and the wild freedom, proud intelligence, pious purity and courageous beauty of the creature seemed to sum up the Scottish people very well! From the fifteenth century onward the unicorn begins to appear in royal documents as a symbol of the nation, first on gold coins, then as a central image on the Royal Coat of Arms. Originally this showed two unicorns as flag bearers, one holding the Saltire and the other the Lion Rampant, but, as a nod to the union between Scotland and England, this later changed. The new version of the coat of arms still showed a unicorn holding a St Andrews flag on the left, but its twin on the right was now replaced with the English lion, holding aloft the flag of St George.

Hampton Court UnicornThe unicorn as it is depicted as a symbol of Scotland is not just a horse with a horn however. In a nod to the earlier illustrations of the beast, the Scottish unicorn has a horse-like head and body, but the beard and cloven hooves of a goat, with a tufted tail like a lion. Additionally, the unicorn is bound by a golden chain round its neck which winds all round its body. This device in heraldry informs the viewer that the beast depicted is seen as wild and dangerous, as the unicorn was in ancient times. The fraught relationship between Scotland and England throughout the generations however, gives this an ideal (if accidental) additional symbolism for the Scottish people, who have long had a history of fighting for their freedom.

Read more about The Picts

This constant battle between Scotland and England was immortalised in a children’s poem titled The Lion and the Unicorn, making further reference to each nation’s most recognisable symbols. But despite the unicorn still being chained in the heraldry, many people of Scotland still hope to one day break the golden bonds and take back true freedom for this nation. Others don’t feel this is necessary, and are happy with the status quo with our neighbours and friends – but regardless of political leanings is it easy for everyone to agree that the unicorn is a perfect and beautiful emblem of Scotland; proud, beautiful, strong and brave!

10th Birthday of Heritage Of Scotland

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary since launching our online flagship, www.HeritageOfScotland.com, we want to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes facts and titbits that make this such a great company! In this very special blog you’ll learn all about Heritage of Scotland itself; from the products we supply, to our fantastic staff, and how we continue to grow and develop for our future!

Since our beginnings in the street markets of Edinburgh it has been our mission to bring high-quality Scottish goods to the masses. We soon had several shops in both Edinburgh and Fife, catering to a variety of markets from souvenir shops, to kilt outfitters, to specialised high-end stores selling luxury cashmere and Scottish jewellery. But it was the launch of our website in 2004 which really helped us to achieve our dream of reaching Scots globally, and the more our company has grown the more we have been able to offer. We believe everyone should be able to follow their heart and remain true to their heritage, no matter where life takes them, and so we are incredibly proud of the huge range we offer worldwide. As one of the biggest Scottish home-ware and clothing retailers we have something for everyone; from casual party kilts to handmade 8 yard masterpieces, from funny T-shirts to stunning wedding gowns, all aimed at everyone from preteens to pensioners!

Read About Tartan Colour Meanings

Our success of course is thanks to this huge range of products; we have offerings from every level of the market and are proud to say that we feel we have been instrumental in ensuring anyone can afford to honour their heritage, no matter what their income. But the jewel of our collection is of course the close relationship we have with amazing suppliers and craftsmen all over Scotland! We not only supply products from the biggest names in Highland wear such as Lochcarron, Thistle Shoes and Art Pewter, but also support many small companies and even individual artists to reach a worldwide client base with their authentic and passionate creations. Two of our favourite small suppliers, working in very different mediums, are Gwenda Watt of Needleworx, and Mark Turner of Mark Andrew Turner Photography. Gwenda lives and works in Stirlingshire creating beautiful tartan cushions with quirky Scottish silhouette designs such as Scottie dogs and Highland Cows, and Mark is a hugely talented young photographer now living in Bristol but retaining his passion for recording rugged Scottish landscapes with sensitivity and atmosphere.

Even since gaining our online presence, thingsJohn Morrison Edinburg have changed a great deal in the world of technology.  People are more connected than ever before and we are now active of a number of platforms, using eBay and Amazon to support our retail sales, but also getting to know our customers on a personal level through social media. We love to keep our followers up to date with the latest deals and products via Twitter and Pinterest (who can resist all those gorgeous photo boards!), but Facebook is our most well-loved forum for connecting with people and attaining our ultimate goal of promoting Scottish culture across the globe! We hear from our customers daily, and the customer service team love to see the photos people share with us – putting a face to the name of someone they may have been speaking with for a number of weeks is a great pleasure, as is seeing our products worn to some of the most important events of a person’s life; from tiny babes at their Christenings, to young men in their Prom kilts, blushing brides in tartan finery and much more!

Learn More About Tartan For Ladies

Through Facebook, and this very blog, we have been able to share information about all aspects of Scottish life; our wildlife and special places, myths and legends, real history, and our vibrant and proud present. In bringing people together we are also forging bonds within the Scottish diaspora itself; nothing is more heart-warming to us than seeing a comment from someone searching for their long lost family and clan and noticing that several other followers have replied to encourage and guide their fellow Scot. Likewise, we feel so lucky to be in a position of success which allows us to share our good fortune with others, offering prizes and experiences through our online competitions to promote and support Scottish creativity and cultural appreciation.

So what does the future hold for us? No one can ever know truly, but with our new venture into weaving at our very own mill in the heart of Edinburgh finally coming to fruition, and several other exciting projects in the works, we feel confident that we will continue to grow and serve the needs of our fantastic customers all over the world. Happy birthday to us, and here’s to the next ten years!

Bagpipes History

Love them or hate them, it can’t be denied that bagpipes are the quintessential sound of Scotland. In this blog post, prepare to learn more about these “instruments of war”, used to celebrate, commemorate and even intimidate, throughout much of Scottish history!
Bagpiper in EdinburghAlthough bagpipes are thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, possibly dating back as far as 4000 BC, the instrument spread throughout Europe during the early part of the second millennium AD. Unsubstantiated claims for their use in Scotland date from around 1300, but the first concrete evidence of “warpipes” being used in their traditional role on the battlefield comes from writings about the Battle of North Inch in 1396. This early association with the military has always stayed with the bagpipes; their penetrating notes were used to unsettle the enemy, and communicate with allies. The unique construction of bagpipes means that the high pitched and VERY high decibel shrills and skirls emanating from them can be heard for several miles, and with their aggressive tones they quickly supplanted the horns and trumpets which had been previously popular.

Modern pipes are made of four main sections; the blowpipe, chanter, bag and drones. Traditionally, the bag would have been made from a full animal pelt, in the distant past goats, sheep, even cows and dogs were used to make this part of the bagpipes! In modern times, thankfully it is more common for synthetic materials to be used for the bag – with a fabric covering often made from tartan – either the official band tartan, or the regional sett, or for soloist pipers their own clan design. The bag is a reservoir for air blown by the piper; as the bag is continually squeezed under the piper’s arm while playing the air is forced out through the drones to create sound. Five sticks emerge from the bag, three drones, a chanter and a blowpipe, and we will look at the role each of these plays now.

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The blowpipe is used to inflate the bag; the pipe will prefill the bag before he starts to play then continue to keep filling the bag while playing. The blowpipe is usually made from hardwood though the exact wood type varies, and new techniques in the manufacture of this essential part of the instrument mean that pipers can fill bags more easily – leading to a smoother sound and more ease of playing. Unusually for a wind instrument, no reeds are played by the mouth directly, the blowpipe is just a filling device, and the reeds are contained within other areas of the pipes.

Also made from hardwood, the Great Highland Bagpipes has three drones – two tenors and one bass. Essentially, the drones create the music when the pipes are played; each one has a reed contained within and they can be tuned to different keys. As the air escapes the bag a constant low “droning” noise is heard, the distinctive noise of the bagpipes and the reason for this part’s name! When the bag is squeezed harder, more air escapes, increasing the volume and pitch of the drone, with the tone differing depending on the piper’s finger position.

The chanter is the most well-known part of the bagpipes, and is essential for player input. Held by the piper in both hands, the Angel playing bagpipeschanter is a long stem drilled with holes acts as the finger-board. As the player moves his fingers to cover or uncover the holes, the airflow within the instrument changes and the notes differ, just like with instruments such as the clarinet or flute! It was traditionally made from Scottish woods such as holly or laburnum, then later from exotic hardwoods such as cocuswood or ebony, though nowadays synthetic materials which are easier to maintain are also popular. Chanters can also be purchased with a mouthpiece attached, separate from the bagpipes themselves, as practice instruments.

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Using a practice chanter can be essential for new players. Playing the pipes properly is a whole body effort – you must blow air into the pipe constantly, squeeze the bag under one arm at a controlled level to ensure the air is escaping at the desired pressure, and keep up with precise patterns of covering and uncovering the holes of the chanter to create notes – all while keeping the drones balanced on your shoulder and making sure no part of the unwieldy and large pipes slips or is dropped by accident! Understandably, this is very difficult to master all at once, so practicing just on the chanter allows the piper to thoroughly learn the finger movements required without the pressure of managing everything else all at the same time. As they gain more experience they can move onto using the full pipes, though many pipers will return to the practice chanter when learning a new piece of music until they are confident of their performance.

Bagpipes are often played in Scotland as part of an ensemble of pipers and drummers. All the pipers play the Great Highland bagpipes and provide the melody and complexity of the music, with the mixed drum corps providing the rhythm from a selection of snare drummers, tenor drummers and one (or occasionally two) bass drummers. Musically, the band follows the direction of the pipe major, though when on parade the drum major may be responsible for leading the band on their route and keeping time with a mace. The pipers almost always play traditional arrangements, but the drum scores are often composed by the drum major himself – and the drummers are judged not only on performance, but also on how well their drumming complements and suits the traditional sections played by the pipers during competitions.
Pipe band in the CanongateIt is in pipe bands that the bagpipes military roots can be seen most clearly; with drums and pipes being truly historic in their use on the battlefields, to provide direction or convey commands, to boost morale or to strike terror into the hearts of enemies. All battalions of the Highland Regiment still have pipers, and the practice has also been adopted by many other Regiments, not to mention civilian entities such as police forces, fire brigades or universities.

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As a solo instrument the Great Highland Bagpipes are also popular, from christenings to weddings, ceilidhs or funerals, even in modern times no Scottish life event is complete without a piper. Soloist pipers play an especially important part in traditional weddings, where they will often compere the event to keep things running smoothly (especially during the speeches!) as well as playing the bride down the aisle, providing accompaniment as the happy couple leave the church or registrars, and again when they enter the reception to be welcomed by their friends and family.

As Scotland continues to develop and grow into a strong 21st Century nation, the bagpipes continue to be a vital and vibrant part of its citizens lives; traditional soloists are everywhere, in our personal lives, working in partnership with Highland dancers, or even busking on the streets of our beautiful cities. Pipe bands bridge the traditional and the modern with innovative drumming and amazing displays of virtuoso technique. Even more encouraging, the pipes have been adopted by modern musicians in rock bands – or rather rock music has been adopted by pipers! With groups such as the Canadian Real MacKenzies, or Scotland’s own Red Hot Chilli Pipers blending electric guitars and punk vocals with the traditional sound of the bagpipes, it can truly be seen that this instrument goes from strength to strength and is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most defining features!

Isle of Eigg – Great Destinan For An Easter Break

As we approach the Easter season, we thought we would take a different approach and tell you a little about the Isle of Eigg (pronounced “egg”), part of the Inner Hebrides and a great place to visit – perhaps especially at this time of year!

Map Isle of EiggEigg is famed for its outstanding natural beauty, and is one of the largest of the Small Isles which pepper the Scottish west coast. With remnants from Pictish and Viking cultures, and protected wildlife including otters, whales and a plethora of rare and beautiful seabirds, Eigg has a range of amazing experiences and opportunities to offer its visitors. Not to mention of course, the 83 permanent residents of Eigg themselves; who, through the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, help to guide and shape the future of their community in a sustainable and ecological fashion, winning many awards for their approach to life and from whom we can learn a great deal!

The isle is a natural haven for visitors, with its famous Singing Sands beach – a beach where the sand is made of quartz shards which make tuneful noises when walked on, and An Sgurr, the largest section of exposed pitchstone in the UK giving a great opportunity for an easy-going hill climb and rewarding views of many surrounding islands, and even the Lochaber mountains back on the mainland! There are also many beautiful caves, some with their own legends and history attached, such as Massacre Cave where, it is rumoured, almost the entire population of the island was wiped out due to clan wars between the MacDonalds and MacLeods – and not forgetting Kildonan Graveyard, where you can see ancient Celtic carvings and learn more about the resting places of all the different types of people who have inhabited this special place.

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Bird watching can be a reason in and of itself to View of the mainland from Eigg visit Eigg; with over 130 species of birds regularly recorded in the islands each year there are more species of bird than total number of humans! From the breeding populations of raptors such as owls, kestrels, falcons, and the Scottish national bird, the Golden Eagle, to migratory species such as JacK Snipes and Whinchats, to even rarer visitors such as the Glossy Ibis spotted there just over a year ago, assumed to be from Spain or France! But on the other hand, naturalists who are more concerned with flora than fauna will also find much to interest them. One of Eigg’s nicknames is the isle of flowers, so called because of its dazzling array of wild plants. For such a small island, it has a great cross-section of terrains, and from woodland scrub, to marshy plains to the sea-cliffs a huge variety of plants spring forth – from beautiful orchids to fragrant bluebells to rare alpine sandworts. The sea life too is amazing to watch; dolphin and minke whales frolic with seals and can be regularly viewed from one of the boat tours available from the port at Galmisdale, but if you’re very lucky you may even witness a visit from an orca, basking shark or the unusual sun fish!

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View of galmisdale and an sgurr  Much of life on Eigg focusses on maintaining this wonderful wealth of natural beauty, visitor cars are generally not permitted on the island and most people encourage walking and cycling – though an island minibus is also available for longer journeys, sharing the journey with others of course gives you a chance to cut down on fuel consumption and meet new people! In addition to the switchover to their electricity coming from entirely renewable resources, such as the sun, wind and water, Eigg residents are also leading the way in switching to solar water heating, programs of excellent insulation for all buildings, recycling, consuming local and organic foods wherever possible, and many other green initiatives! Their work as a collective has been recognised with several official awards and now visitors can choose to have a residential holiday at the Earth Connections Eco Centre, and learn more about how to live in an ecologically sustainable way, though of course there are campsites, bed and breakfasts and self-catering options as well. And for the more adventurous of you…don’t forget that wild camping is legal in Scotland and independent campers are welcome on Eigg, so long as proper respect and care is shown to the surrounding area and residents.

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We hope that this description of one of Scotland’s most beautiful island gems has inspired some of you this Easter, and you will consider visiting this gorgeous location some time – or one of its cousin islands; Rhum, Mull and Canna. As always we welcome your comments, and hopefully we will hear from some of you who have been lucky enough to spend some time in the charming Inner Hebrides.

Worldwide Influences On Kilts And Tartan

Scottish kilts have a reputation that spreads across the globe! From adventurous ancestors, Scots have now put down roots worldwide and the diaspora has a strong presence in nations as diverse as Australia, Italy, the United States, Poland and Canada! But we haven’t only influenced other nations with our characteristic national dress and reputation for great hospitality – they too have influenced us. The kilt, and Scottish culture in general, is vibrant and modern; always changing in this fast-paced world, and always willing and able to adapt to new situations. Perhaps it is for this reason that kilts remain so fashionable and popular into the modern age!

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kilt, CamouflageOne often noted aspect of outside influences on the Scottish kilt is in design variances. Men don’t always want to wear the full, traditional version of the kilt, especially to casual events. Taking notes from American style jeans and military fatigues, utility kilts are fast becoming a popular alternative to the typical tartan kilt. Usually made from a plain coloured canvas or cotton fabric, utility kilts often feature elements such as stud fasteners instead of buckles, box pleats as standard (whereas for tartan kilts, knife pleating remains more common), and even side pockets to negate the necessity of wearing a sporran! Originally most commonly seen in black, and popularised by punk and goth fashions, utility kilts are now available in a range of shades such as khaki or tan, and are in fact very practical garments – allowing for high intensity or dirty activities such as playing sports, hiking, manual labour, and many other things, without worrying about ruining a precious or expensive garment as the traditional kilt tends to be!

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Utility kilts are often cooler than traditional ones as well, an added bonus for kilt hot climates or strenuous activity; but many people do still prefer that traditional kilted look. The Scottish diaspora in these hot places have found that using lighter fabrics than the expected 16oz worsted wool can relieve them considerably, and make it possible to wear the important tartan designs that are so meaningful to clansmen and women worldwide. Most commonly men will opt for 13oz wool, or a medium-weight polyviscose fabric as a smart and breathable alternative, although in East Asia and other very hot locations, 10oz wool, cotton and silk tartan fabrics have all been used for men and ladies to display their Scottish heritage. This has meant a change in how the kilt and other garments are worn of course, as very light fabrics cannot really be used to make kilts – but waistcoats, sarongs, even turbans! have all been made in tartan patterns to allow those with proud Scottish links to show their affiliations no matter where they are!

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The tartans used in kilts and other garments are hugely important too of course. A hundred or so years ago very few patterns were in use, and by far the most common tartans to be seen were clan or “surname” tartans, linking a person directly to their family of birth. While clan tartans are still massively popular in the present day, many people can no longer trace which clan (if any) they precisely belong to, and might only know of a vague and distant genealogical link to Scotland. Due to this, tartans relating to one’s district, vocation, hobbies and many other aspects making up one’s personality are growing in popularity – with more and more of these registered every year. Naturally, these are especially popular among emigrant Scots who wish to adopt traditional dress while honouring the land that is now their families home, and may have been for several generations. The United States especially has a long list of American-specific tartans, many states have an official design registered for their district, likewise for the armed and emergency services, and many other corporations, universities and clubs are following suit.

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Isle of Skye ModernIn fact, one of the most popular “universal” (can be worn by anyone) tartans was not designed in Scotland;  Isle of Skye is a beautiful design honouring the rugged landscape of Skye, but was in fact designed by an Australian (who traced her lineage back there and loved the island so much she eventually moved “back home”). World religions too are represented, with tartans designed to illustrate the faiths of Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish Scots (among others) all being available. The way in which tartan, that most striking example of Scottish design, has been used to portray and represent all these wonderfully diverse different groups of people truly does show how varied and widespread Scottish influence has become, and in turn how Scottish culture and tradition has been shaped and influenced by the different cultures and countries which it has touched.

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Do you have a fond memory of a time you influenced or were influenced by Scottishness abroad? Or perhaps you have a story about your life as part of the diaspora, living, possibly even born, outside of Scotland – while holding onto your heritage? As always, we look forward to your comments!