Join our Tour Directors in Celebrating Virtual Tartan Week from Home!
Posted April 3, 2020
Ahead of even golf and whisky, the instantly recognizable tartan reigns supreme as Scotland’s most significant national symbol. This checkered pattern (often mistakenly referred to as “plaid”) adorns scarves, flags, and of course, the famed Scottish kilt; and many generations-old clans claim a particular tartan as their family’s unique pattern.
Since 1998, April 6th has been recognized as National Tartan Day in the U.S., in celebration of the many contributions that Scottish Americans have made to our country. And while the traditional New York City parade has been canceled, the Scots won’t let that stop them from celebrating their heritage!
In lieu of a large gathering, the Scottish Tour Guide Association is hosting a Virtual Tartan Week all this week, so you can share your Scottish pride from the comfort of your own home! Post a few photos of you and your loved ones showing off your tartan, and tag any Facebook, Instagram, or other social media posts with #VirtualTartanWeek to join the celebration.
Odysseys Tour Guides Share Their Tartan Stories
We are lucky to work with an amazing group of tour directors from Scotland, all of whom are immensely proud of their heritage. Check out their photos and stories below for some firsthand history of the tartan, and insight into what the Scottish tartan means to them. And be sure to stick around to the end, where TD Andy Plews offers a fascinating description of the patterns of his seven tartan kilts!
Hello from one of the Scotland: Highlands & Islands Tour Directors! I have been an Odysseys Tour Director since 2015 and have had the delight of showing many Odysseys clients around Scotland. Those who have been on tour with me will know that I have an extensive range of tartan scarves & ponchos!
Tour Directors Susan, Joe, and Jane with Sam Heughan from the hit show Outlander
My family wears the Clan Lamont tartan due to our heritage. The menfolk wear the kilt for formal occasions such as weddings, informal occasions like the rugby international games, or, as in the case of my brothers, when travelling around South East Asia and Australia. It is amazing the amount of goodwill a kilt can get you!
Whilst I have a poncho and an infinity scarf in Lamont tartan, made especially for attending Tartan Week in New York in 2016, I tend to wear a wide range of tartans when on tour. One of my favourite tartans is the Isle of Skye tartan, usually worn on the Skye day trip on tour. Amongst the other tartans that I wear are Clan Taylor (there is no rule these days that you need to wear only your family tartan) and more modern ones like Highland Rose, Connaught, City of Glasgow, Stirling & Bannockburn and Highland Belle. There is such diversity in tartan patterns and if you don’t find one you like, why not design & register your own for your family, community or business!
Jane Roy, and her Border Collie Rubi, celebrating their heritage with tartans and scotch!
In this photo, I’m wearing the Fraser tartan, and Rubi is wearing the MacLeod tartan on her neckerchief. A bit of information on both:
Clan Fraser, founded in the 12th century, currently has two branches and two Chiefs: the Frasers of Lovat who are based around Inverness and the Frasers of Philorth in Aberdeenshire.
The Lovat Frasers have been made famous by the hero of the TV series Outlander, Jamie Fraser, played by Scottish actor Sam Heughan. The motto of the Lovat Frasers is “Je Suis Prest” – “I am ready”, and their emblem is a stag’s head. In the 18th century, many Frasers settled in Canada and the USA after the War of Independence.
Fraser tartan is famous for its bright red colour. This was the most expensive dye before the invention of synthetic dyes.
Dress MacLeod tartan is bright yellow, black, white and red and is one of the most distinctive Highland Clan Tartans, sometimes called “Loud MacLeod”. The Clan MacLeod also has two branches: the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris and the Macleods of Lewis. Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, the US President’s mother, was born in Lewis in 1912 before emigrating to USA in 1930.
The current Chief, Hugh Magnus MacLeod of MacLeod is the clan’s 30th Chief, residing at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Their biggest rivals were the Macdonalds of Sleat, who also lived on the Isle of Skye.
The MacLeods have a famous association with the Fairy Folk. Their greatest possession is the legendary Fairy Flag, which is kept at Dunvegan Castle. The holder of the flag is said to be able to defeat all enemies in battle.
Tour Director Kirsten Griew displaying her tartans
Tartan is so wonderfully and traditionally Scottish. Many people all around the world with Scottish ancestry are familiar with their family’s lineage and the tartans of their forefathers. Not everyone can claim a connection to a particular clan line, however, and that’s OK too. These days, there are plenty of tartans that are not specific to particular families, and many of the tartans associated with a family name are also open to all to wear. Even if you do have your own family design, you may find its colours are not ones that are especially suited to you.
Personally, I love some of the tartans that high street shops create and many of my tartan outfits are also serendipitous charity shop finds. In the pictures here, the only tartan I am wearing that comes from a traditional kiltmaker is the first – and that I acquired second-hand via a Cancer Research shop! Whether you have Scottish blood or not – get yourself some tartan and wear it with pride!
Tour Director Andy Plews wears his kilt with pride
I’ve attached a photo of my kilt collection (below), one of me in New York State at Clermont House for an event a couple of years ago (above) and another in a 16th century tunnel underneath St.Andrews Castle (immediately below).
I’ve always been fascinated in Highland dress, and Tartans in particular, since my cousin gave me his old kilt when I was about 12 years old.
I’m now a proud owner of seven kilts and as a Tourist Guide/ Tour Leader I get a chance to wear them regularly when taking groups around Scotland.
Quite often when I’m away on an extended tour like Scotland: Highlands and Islands, I pack at least two, as my guests like to ask about the different tartans and the history of Highland dress. This is perhaps why my suitcase is much heavier than my guests’, much to the displeasure of hotel porters and coach drivers!
Many people will tell you, “The kilt you should wear must be your family’s”…well my surname is Plews and, sadly, there isn’t a tartan for that name. So I’ve gone for, “If you like the colours and if there is a good story attached to each one, then that’s good enough for me.”
Tartan as we know it today in its fashionable sense really originated in the early 19th century. This was a time when anything Scottish was becoming hugely fashionable, helped by the books of Walter Scott and the poetry of Rabbie Burns among many. This combined with an increase of colourful dyes coming from overseas and the boom in the textile and weaving industries in Scotland brought a surge of popularity in all things Tartan.
Many of the original tartans or plaids that Clans would have worn were much more muted and less detailed before this era, due to the primitive looms and the scarcity of colourful dyes.
Nowadays, you can find a Tartan that can be as colourful or as muted as you like and there are literally thousands of registered patterns.
Andy’s seven kilts each tell a unique story
Here’s a wee description of the Kilts I have (from left to right). It’s worth noting that tartan colours all have to have a meaning to the family or place they belong.
Ancient MacGregor – The bright red and green make this Tartan stand out. I love the story of Rob Roy MacGregor who was like Scotland’s version of Billy the Kid or Ned Kelly! It was said he had fierce red hair and a temper to match. You wouldn’t have missed him had he been wearing something like this!
Cairngorm Coast – This is a brand new pattern from just last year and the only kilt to be made in it. I love the colours as I love the Cairngorm Mountain rang,e where I take many of my groups. It’s a tweed, rather than normal woven wool kilt, which makes it very heavy which is perfect when it gets windy in the Cairngorms!
Douglas (weathered) – As soon as I saw this new Douglas pattern, I had to get a kilt made from it. The name Douglas comes from the Gaelic Dubh Glas which means ‘Black Water’ this the black stripes in the pattern. They were a very powerful family here in Scotland and had close, yet sometimes violent links to the Royal Stuarts of Scotland.
Anderson – Such an iconic Tartan with the sky blue. Anderson simply means ‘son of Andrew’ like MacAndrew. St.Andrew is Scotland’s patron saint and with my name being Andrew this was a must to have! The light blue is like the original light Blue in Scotland’s flag – the Saltire. Most people who know a little about Tartans recognise this one, I’ve even had kids on the street ask me, “Hey, is that an Anderson you are wearing?”
MacNeil of Barra – This was the first ever kilt I bought and is the closest I can get to a family tartan. My mother’s side of the family were originally from the Outer Hebridean Islands and in particular a small Island called Barra. Most folk on that Island are called MacNeil.
This tartan has light blues in it to represent the clear shores around Barra and the yellow stripes are the golden sandy beaches the island is blessed with.
Buchanan (weathered) – The faded reds and greens in this kit allured me. The non-weathered version is very bright and, though beautiful, can be a bit like looking at a dozen set of traffic lights. The Buchanan Clan were based mainly around the Southern Shores of Loch Lomond, a place I love and take many of my guests. The name Buchanan was actually a land name which means ‘House of the Canon’. In Medieval times if you were granted land by the king quite often you would use the land name as your family name. The Buchanan Family were quite prominent throughout Scottish History. One of the most prominent was George Buchanan who was the tutor to Mary Queen of Scots then later to her son who was James VI of Scotland then later James I of England.
21st-century tweed pattern – Though technically not a tartan this a modern and quite popular pattern and style which you see many people wearing in Scotland. As kilts are becoming more popular to wear for younger generations (male and female) these 21st-century style kilts are being worn. I usually wear this one when taking hiking tours and it goes pretty well with a pair of hiking boots and a waterproof jacket!
There is so much to learn and discover about tartans. No matter whether it is a scarf, tie or full-blown 9-yard kilt there is always a Tartan for you.
I’ve helped many of my tour groups find Tartans to take home and love showing them the country they are from.
Celebrate your love of all things Scotland and tartan during Virtual Tartan Week!