The Real Scotland: Traveling in the Highlands

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Highlands country house. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland
Highlands country house. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

Following this forced emigration and the spread of Ireland’s potato famine into Scotland, the rural Highlands were nearly deserted.

This history of defending their homeland and their honor against a parade of intruders instilled the Highlanders with an intense pride that continues to be displayed in a variety of ways.

The system of clans (Gaelic for “family” or “offspring”) had its roots in the sixth century. As various regions came under the control of chieftains, other members of each clan adopted the name of their leader.

While the original clan system came to an end in the mid-nineteenth century, pride in the common name has lingered. Today, it’s expressed primarily through spirited competition at the Highland Games and in opportunities to don traditional dress.

Highland clan members as long ago as the thirteenth century were identified by the brightly colored plaid material that served as clothing. At that time, it consisted of yards of tartan, which the wearer spread out on the ground, folded into pleats and wrapped around his body.

From that evolved the kilt, the skirt-like attire that is so familiar today. It still is the mode of dress preferred by many Scotsmen for ceremonial and formal occasions.

The complete outfit is an elaborate, lavishly decorated affair that includes traditional adornments. For example, the handbag-like spurn, which is worn around the waist, still is commonly made of leather or animal fur. A small dagger called a skean is tucked into the top of high stockings. According to legend, warring clan chiefs, meeting to work out their differences, hid small knives there in case the gathering grew unfriendly.

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