We left Glasgow Scotland on a rainy morning and drove up Loch Lomond on the west side of the lake. We stopped in a little village because we saw a sign that read “Hand Made Kilts” on a fence – and who could drive by without stopping? After parking the car, we went up a wee path to a gate with a second sign that read:
Be Ye Man- Be Ye Wummin
Be Ye Cummin – Be Ye Gaun
Be Ye Early – Be Ye Late
Tae Shut the Gate!
The stone cottage had to have been hundreds of years old as the door was about 5 1/2 feet high. A young girl welcomed us to her workshop and she was hand pleating a kilt on a large table. She was pleating a MacDougal tartan and then pinning the fabric. The trick, she told us, was that when the fabric was pleated, it still had to show the exact plaid as when it was laid out flat! She asked if I wanted to give it a try, and it took me forever to get two pleats correctly pinned and basted! (No wonder kilts are so expensive!)
We watched for awhile and she told us that the ancient tartans were from whatever vegetable dyes were available in each region, hence the more faded ancient colors. The modern tartans are dyed darker and brighter using modern dyes. The word “tartan” refers to the “lay” of the plaid or how it is organized. So a clan may have several different colors of kilts, but they are all woven in the same plaid pattern. A fascinating morning. As we left the village we noted a third sign that said “Dead Slow Children Playing” and we chuckled about that for a long time.
We crossed the Rannoch Moor in a drizzle. A moor is a barren, desolate and mostly treeless landscape with few homes. This is an ancient place, almost sacred. As we came down off the moor into a valley, I could swear we heard bagpipes! Really! Now this was starting to be spooky. I rolled down the windows and I did hear the pipes. We rounded a bend and there was a young man, in full piper’s dress playing by the side of the road! The echo down that valley was simply haunting. We pulled over and listened for awhile. A college student looking for extra money, he was fully aware of tourists coming off the moor! We left several dollars in his case and continued into Glen Coe, the sight of the MacDonald Massacre in February, 1692.
The Scots at that time were under the thumb of English rule and were forced to house British soldiers who were patrolling the area. The members of Clan MacDonald of Glen Coe were unhappy about the situation, but had no choice. In the middle of the night, 120 soldiers rose and slaughtered 42 people and then another 40 women and children froze and starved to death when their homes were burned. The soldiers later said that the MacDonalds were slow to pledge allegiance to the new king, hence the massacre. This was all explained to us in a very modern museum at the site where the homes once stood. The glen is one of the most memorable places we have ever been.
We turned south to spend a couple of days in Oban on the western shore. Oban is a seaport with ferries going to the islands, a pretty good fishing industry, a glass factory, and the famous Oban Whiskey Distillery. I went on a tour of the glass factory and my husband went on a whisky tour. I came out with a hand cut crystal decanter and he came out with the whiskey!
Our home for two nights was a great little bed and breakfast run by a retired teacher who had lived in Oban all her life. She was a wealth of information about the area and I could have spent days with her! And she made the best apple pie.
The next day, I was wandering around town and saw a sidewalk sign at the community center that said “Northwest Rhododendron Society” and the door was open. Well, I have rhododendrons, so in I went! A gentleman came up to me with a welcome – in perfect American English. “Wait a minute” I said, “where are you from?” Remarkably, he’s from a town about 20 miles from where we live in Washington State! The world is, indeed, a very small place. After a great visit with the Society members and their hosts, we compared travel notes and sadly ended our stay in Oban.
I guess the moral of this story is to never be afraid to stop and talk to people. Ask questions, be polite and appreciative of their towns and culture and you will be welcome everywhere. But especially in Scotland.
Photo By Garry Knight via StockPholio.com