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What’s your tartan?

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 20 April 2018
Related property: Tigh Mor Trossachs
What’s your tartan?

Sorry to break the news – but even if you claim noble (or ignoble) Scottish ancestry you haven’t actually got one, strictly speaking. The whole concept of different tartans being associated with different clans is a Victorian construct; an example of an invented tradition. However, as invented traditions go, this one certainly caught on.

Tartan – recognisable as such, and worn by Scottish soldiers – dates back to the early 16th Century, but back then did not denote any particular clan. Indeed, it was not uncommon for highlanders to wear a number of different tartans at the same time. Plus ça change!

It took a visit to Scotland by George IV in 1822 – the first reigning monarch to visit the country in 171 years – to kickstart the passion for plaid. The festivities surrounding the King’s visit were originated by Sir Walter Scott, who had founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh two years previously. Scott and the Celtic Society urged Scots to attend festivities “all plaided and plumed in their tartan array”. One contemporary writer sarcastically described the pomp that surrounded the celebrations as “Sir Walter’s Celtified Pageantry”.

Twenty years later, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Scotland, and became avid fans of the designs. Albert arguably went somewhat overboard, using the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets at Balmoral, while using the Dress Stewart for curtains and upholstery at the newly acquired castle. All checks, no balance; the place can’t have been very easy on the eye.

But what had steadily grown in popularity since Victoria’s uncle’s visit became a craze; and a codified one at that. Astutely enough, the Scots were quick to see the positives in the Victorians’ myth-building: a marketing opportunity if ever there was one. What with the registration of ‘clan tartans’ and plaid patterns adorning everything from clans’ coats of arms to shortbread tins, tartan today is as emblematic of Scotland as the bagpipes and the thistle.

And holidaymakers at Tigh Mor Trossachs are just 40 minutes away from the House of Tartan in Comrie, Perthshire – about 10 miles as the crow flies, but a rather longer, 26-mile drive on a circuitous route. Still, you’ll be driving through the glorious Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park; so it can’t be all bad!

Once there, you’ll be pleased to know that the HoT staff, while hugely knowledgeable, are not at all precious about who can wear what. If you are scion of a clan, and that’s the pattern you want, you’ll be in safe hands; but they’re equally happy to help you design your own tartan. And they’re well versed in the history of the fabric, and the different designs.

You can visit the House of Tartan website by clicking here.

Why should you visit? Because it’s a fun thing to do on a rainy day, and because you’ll learn something; but also because tartan is once again having a moment. Tartan patterns have been co-opted and incorporated into recent catwalk collections, mixed and matched according to the designer’s whim – very much like the highlanders of yesteryear (before it all got codified).

It would take a brave soul (or Prince Albert) to dress head to toe in tartan; but a little touch of tartan here and there – a necktie, perhaps, or a scarf – will set off an outfit nicely, as well as reminding you of a wonderful Scottish holiday. And you’ll be bang on trend!

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Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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