Scotland is a melting pot of three cultures, the Picts, the Celts and the Norse. The Picts, who reach back into pre-history, kept the Roman legions at bay and were the reason Rome built Hadrian's Wall. The first Scots arrived from Ireland and established the kingdom of Dál Riata in the 6th century. The Scots and the Picts warred with each other for centuries, In the 9th century, the Vikings raided the coastlines of Scotland and established kingdoms in the northern islands. Their raids took a heavy toll on the Scots, but did more damage to the Picts who lost many of their warriors and slipped into decline. Intermarriage occurred between the Picts and the Scots and by the 11th century the Picts had been absorbed into the Gaelic speaking Scots. Today, their language is unknown and their stories are relegated to myth.
This union gave rise to a hardy people whose descendants have populated the world. Scotland has produced great scientists and engineers such as James Watt who perfected the modern steam engine and Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone. As well, Scotland is famous for its literary figures such as Sir Walter Scott who penned Ivanhoe and Scotland's bard, Robert Burns, who wrote Auld Lang Syne
Although modern Scots dress the same as any in any other western country today, most people associate them with their most famous garment, the kilt. In its earliest form, it was a length of material that was wrapped around the body and held in place with a belt. The word kilt means belted. The Great Kilt (right) is spread out on the ground over a belt and pleated in the back. The wearer than lies down so the bottom of the kilt is just above the knees, folds the kilt over himself across the front, and tightens the belt around his waist. The extra material above the belt is gathered together and slug over one shoulder where it is attached, usually with a pin. In cold weather, the upper half of the kilt can be pulled over both shoulders like a cape.
After the Jacobite revolt in 1745, England forbid all expressions of Scottish culture to include the playing of the pipes and the wearing of the kilt. However, in 1822 King George IV, on a visit to Edinburgh, signaled that Scottish symbols could again be displayed again. It was Queen Victoria who embraced all things Scottish when she came to the throne and began a renaissance of Scottish culture.
In modern kilts, the pleats are sewn in place and the material only extends below the belt. Kilts are made from many materials ranging from low end printed cloth to leather to denim. The most popular material is the traditional wool. The finest kilts consist of "the whole nine yards", that being eight or nine yards of wool. These higher quality kilts will cost from $700 to over $1,000. They are hand sewn using a person's specific measurements. Once sewn, the pleats are set by steam pressing with 80 pounds of pressure. A high end kilt can be easily recognized because the pattern is even all around and the pleats are a full finger's length in depth.
At formal affairs, such as weddings, a Prince Charles jacket and dress sporran are often worn with the kilt (left).
Today, the word tartan is used to refer to the pattern of plaid colours associated with a family, country, city, organization, etc. In truth, tartan is a type of cross weave that resists both rain and wind. A clan tartan is identified by its colours and its sett. The sett describes the exact order and placement of the different yarns that form a unique pattern. A weaver could take the count of the set for the Lamont tartan and use it with any desired colours, as long as the count was correct. However, it would only be considered a Lamont tartan if both the sett and the colours used had been approved by the Clan Lamont Chief.
It wasn't until Queen Victoria began to rediscover her Scottish roots in the 19th century that specific patterns became associated with particular families.
The practice of weaving plaid patterns dates back more than a thousand years and grew from necessity rather than esthetics. In earlier times, some cultures wove their cloth and then dyed it in a single dye pot, giving a consistent colour. The Scots dyed their wool yarn before weaving, in a process known as dyed in the wool, a phrase that has become synonymous with beliefs so strong they cannot be changed. A batch of dye would be made and a skein of wool run through it. As a result, the dye would become slightly less intense and when the next skein was dyed the colours would be somewhat subdued. Each successive run would become weaker and produce less colour. Instead of trying to match similar shades from a single dye pot, the different hues and shades were woven into a plaid. Because early dyes were vegetable based, the colours and patterns were far simpler than those seen today.
Although there is a movement in Scotland to create an authoritative registry of tartans, there is no such official body at the moment. Since the revival of Scottish culture in the 19th century, there have been many lists of family tartans. In the 1960's, the Scottish Tartan World Registry began collecting and organizing tartans for families, countries, provinces, charities, and many other organizations.
Canada has its own tartan, as do each of the provinces and territories.
Scotland and Ireland draw their traditional melodic roots from Celtic music, which can also be found in Normandy, Iberia, and Wales. The most readily identifiable Scottish instrument is the bagpipe, although Scottish music also utilizes tin whistles, fiddles, guitars, drums, accordions, and concertinas. Lamonts hold a special affinity for music through their connection with the Lamont Harp (c. 1500), one of only three medieval harps to survive today. It is housed in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Many Celtic tunes consist of dance music, such as the lively jig, the energetic reel, and the waltz like straspey. Scotland is also know for its ballads, many of which describe past battles and hard times. Scottish composers such as James MacMillian and Ian Whyte have written popular symphonic music. Rock bands such as Simple Minds and performers like Rod Stewart have created Rock classics. Scottish musicians also perform punk and rap. A new combination has emerged called Celtic Fusion that combines traditional and modern instruments and styles to create a new and exciting sound.
Who could think of Scottish food without conjuring up haggis. This much maligned dish is a wonderful comfort food and the centerpiece of any Robert Burns dinner. Traditionally, it is made by combining minced sheep's liver, suet, oatmeal, and spices, placing them in a sheep's stomach, and boiling it for a few hours. Today, specially designed bags are used instead of a stomach. Check our Links page for web sites that provide recipes. Scots are also famous for their Cock-a-leekie soup, shepard's pie, oatmeal, toad in a hole, oat cakes, scones, shortbread, and of course, Scotch whiskey.