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  • A step back in time - Dunnottar Castle

    When you first catch a glimpse of Dunnottar Castle, you instantly feel like you are stepping back in time. This clifftop fortress is perfectly placed between the green and peaceful countryside and the wild and stormy North Sea.

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    This spectacular castle was besieged by William Wallace, it was once guardian of Scotland's crown jewels and was caught inumerous times in battles between English and the Scottish people. It is also often described as one of the most haunted in Scotland. The most famous ghostly inhabitant is a girl dressed in a green tartan dress, the Green Lady, who wanders around the brewery and has been seen by numerous visitors...

    The dramatic rock in which Dunnottar stands was once connected to the shoreline by a natural causeway, the Fiddlehead. However, to protect the castle from attack, the natural pathway was deliberately destroyed and a new, narrow access route was cut into the cliffs with blind corners which made it easy for archers to attack any unwanted visitors. As you climb up, the view becomes more and more spectacular, the coastline is wild and free from any traces of modern life.

    As you walk through the grounds of this magical castle and start thinking of all the events that unfolded throughtout the years, your imagination starts running wild and for a few hours you go back to being a child thinking of knights and princesses, medieval battles and dark stormy nights. No wonder Dunnottar Castle inspired Disney Pixar’s movie Brave.

  • James Bond's Scottish Connections

    Author Ian Fleming spent most of his childhood holidays at his Scottish grandfather's estate in Arnestdale in the Highlands, a place where he undoubtedly took inspiration from when writing his novels about the famous British MI6 spy. It is believed that 007 was based on Sir Fitzroy Maclean, a Scottish soldier, politician and writer.

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    In the novel, You Only Live Twice, it is revealed that Bond is the son of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond, of Glencoe. During his teen years, Bond is sent to Fettes College in Edinburgh, his father's school, to study.

    The Bond movies have also numerous Scottish connections. Sean Connery comes to mind as the most obvious one of course! Connery was born in Edinburgh and comes from a working class family. He starred in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. He received a Lifetime Achievement award at the 1996 Golden Globes and was knighted in 2000.

    The enchanting Eilean Donan Castle, located in the Western Highlands, can be seen in The World Is Not Enough, when it became "MI6 headquarters, Scotland" after the organisation's London base was damaged in an explosion.

    Glencoe was featured briefly in Skyfall as Daniel Craig and Judi Dench escaped north in an Aston Martin DB5. Other Bond Scottish locations include Gare Loch in The Spy Who Loved Me and Loch Craignish in From Russia With Love.

    The name's Bond, pet. James Bond.

  • What's so Special About Cashmere?

    There is nothing quite like the soft feeling of cashmere against your skin. Wearing a cashmere jumper or scarf makes you feel like you are wrapped in a fluffy cloud of softness and tenderness. However, what usually puts people off buying a cashmere item is it's price. Let's find out more about where cashmere comes from and why it is so expensive.

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    Cashmere is made from the hair of cashmere goats and one of the reasons why it has such a steep price tag is because the demand for it is much higher than its production. It is also finer, stronger, lighter, softer, and more insulating than sheep wool. Cashmere goats produce a double fleece, a soft undercoat and a coarser outer coating. In order to process the underdown, it must be de-haired, which is basically a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine ones.

    However, not all cashmere products are the same, which is why texture and prices can vary. Whiter cashmere, which obviously requires less dye, is softer as the fibres were not damaged as much during the colouring process. The region where the wool is originally collected from also influences on the quality of the product as not all goats have the same diet or are bred in the same climatic area. They are, however, mainly found in a region called Kashmir in China, Mongolia, India and Pakistan and it can take up to four years for a goat to produce enough wool to make a single pure cashmere jumper!

    Altough it is not cheap to buy, I would personally recommend investing in a cashmere item as it will last for years, will keep you warm and looking elegant, and make you feel like you are cuddling a soft puppy all day!

  • Scotland's Wild Goats

    The Scottish Highlands is a truly majestic place with endless miles of nothing but nature at its best, a place where you can relax your busy city mind and simply feel connected to Mother Nature around you. The Highlands is also home to a number of wonderfully diverse species, from birds of prey and land animals to sealife on the coasts.

    goatsOne of those is the Feral Goat, a descendant of the domestic goat, now a truly wild animal. They usually roam the hills in small herds and mate in the Autumn. They are quite timid creatures and usually walk off if you are lucky enough to approach them. These magnificent animals are a reminder of the area's turbulent past, as they descend from the livestock abandoned by Highlanders during the turbulent Highland clearances.

    They were first introduced in these lands around 5000 years ago by Neolithic farmers, and used as farmyard animals. Nowadays, they are widely distributed but often quite difficult to spot because of the way their coats have bred back to dark colours and their preference for grazing on steep and broken craggy hill ground.

    Some of the best spots to see them are at the wild goat park in Galloway Forest Park, Rum National Nature Reserve, Creag Dubh near Newtonmore, South Lochness-side, Ardgour, Mull, Ardnamurchan, North Morar, Strathfarrar and Dundonell, Kerrera off Oban, the Oa on Islay and Colonsay.

  • Scotland's Purple Thistle

    As many of you may know, the purple Thistle is Scotland's national flower. It was first adopted as the country's emblem during the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286). As legend goes, an invading Norse army attempted to sneak on Scottish shores unoticed one fateful night. One of the Norsemen, who was walking barefoot, had the misfortune of stepping on a Thistle, making him cry out in pain and consequently alerting the Scots of their presence. Sources suggest this happened during the Battle of Largs.

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    In honour of this victory, the plant became known as the Guardian Thistle and subsequently the national symbol of Scotland. The earliest official recorded use of the Thistle flower was on silver coins issued in 1470 during the reign of James III. It was then incorporated into the Royal Arms of Scotland in the early 16th century.

    Another legend associated with this prickly flower is that of the noble Order of the Thistle. King Achius is said to have founded the Order in the 9th century, consisting of 13 Knights including himself. The main emblems are the Thistle and St Andrew holding a saltire. Their motto is Nemo me impune lacessit (Latin for "No one provokes me with impunity"). Although it has had its ups, downs and changes throughout history, the Order is now firmly anchored in Edinburgh's St Giles Cathedral.

    Biologically speaking, this lovely flower thrives in most of the Scottish territories, especially in the Highlands. This proud and regal plant can grow to a height of five feet and has no natural enemies because of the vicious spines that cover and protect it. Just like the country it represents, it is of a dramatic beauty like no other!

  • Edinburgh - a haunted capital

    What tourists and visitors are sometimes not aware of, is that this beautiful city with romantic views and green landscape is believed to be one of the UK's most haunted locations. Edinburgh has a grizzly history of battles, grave robbers, serial killers and executions, not to mention the true story of the infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare.

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    There are endless stories to be told about ghost infested places, weird phenomena and spooky paranormal activities that happen all over the Auld Reekie. However, Edinburgh's Old Town is by far the most haunted part of the city.

    Edinburgh Castle is said to be most haunted place in all of Scotland. Inumerous paranormal occurrences have been reported, some visitors even claim to have seen a phantom piper, a headless drummer, spirits of former prisoners, even the ghost of a wandering dog...

    There is a series of underground tunnels that connect the castle to the Royal Mile, possibly even to the Palace of Holyrood House. Several hundreds years ago, when the tunnels were first discovered, they sent a piper to explore and navigate this underground city. He played the bagpipe so that his progress could be tracked by those above, however, all of a sudden, the piping stopped. When they sent a rescue team to look for him, they found no trace, he had simply vanished. No clue of what happened to him was ever found... Except for his ghost who to this day still haunts these underground tunnels, and his music can sometimes be heard near the castle and on the streets above the tunnels. Needless to say, these dark and damp passageways are nowhere you would want to wander in by yoursel at night.

    Other spooky places worth a visit if you’re looking to feel some chills down your spine are the Banshee Labyrinth, the White Hart Inn and Greyfriars Kirkyard.

  • Knitting – a Scottish Craft

    The first knitters in Scotland were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th centuries. Knitting then became an important occupation among the general population during the mid 17th and 18th centuries. There is an ancient rural tradition of spinning, weaving and knitting; entire families were involved in making sweaters, accessories, socks, stockings, etc. Knitting was sometimes the only way in which the inhabitants of poor regions were able to earn money. Little equipment was needed, it could be practiced by both men and women, and it was a skill that could be passed down the generations. Different areas had their own distinctive style of knitting and/or a particular garment for which they were known for.

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    Woolen sweaters were popular and important garments for the fishermen of the Scottish islands  because the natural oils in the wool protected them against the harsh winter weather they encountered while out fishing.

    However, over the years, the entire Scottish hand-knitting industry declined dramatically due to a variety of reasons, especially the loss of trade to the American Colonies and the increasing industrialisation of spinning and processing wool.

    One of the most well known examples of traditional Scottish kniting, which has been practised continuously by generations to this day, is the Fair Isle Knitting, which requires double-pointed needles , known locally as wires, along with a special padded knitting belt. This style of knitting uses a limited palette of five colours and never more than two colours in any one row, and most patterns consist of small motifs repeated across the piece. A small quantity of exclusive hand-spun, hand-knitted items are still made on the Isle, as well as a number of high quality hand-frame garments.

    Nowadays, there has been a revival in the popularity of crafts like knitting, crochet and weaving, especially in the Scottish Highlands. Also, knitting is one of the most relaxing and calming activities you can do. As they say, keep calm, and keep knitting!

  • Great Scottish Clans

    Great Scottish Clans

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    Most Scottish clans have their own tartan pattern, usually dating back from the 19th century, which is incorporated by its members into kilts and other clothing. Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by their founders, sometimes with an ancestral castle and clan gatherings. Let’s have a look at the history of some of Scotland’s most famous clans:

    Mackenzie

    At the height of their influence, the Mackenzie clan was the 4th most powerful clan in Scotland, with lands extending from the Isle of Lewis in the west to Ross on the east coast of the mainland. Their ancestry goes back to the 12th century. They acted as royal agents for a number of Scottish kings – being in effect the monarchy’s strong men in the north. The first castle to be associated with the Mackenzie clan is the enchanting Eilean Donan Castle. The home of the present clan chief is castle Leod in Strathpefer. Throughout history, they were loyal to the Stuart monarchy, supported Mary Queen of Scots during her brief reign and stood by the Jacobite cause after the Stuart dynasty was forced into exile. The four main tartans associated with the Mackenzie clan are: the Mackenzie, Mackenzie Dress, Mackenzie Hunting, and Mackenzie Millennium.

    Campbell

    The main Campbell territories are in Argyll, as well as across Angus, Ayrshire, Moray, Perthshire and even stretches down into Northumberland. The clan’s main seat is Inveraray Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne. However, many other castles across Scotland have Campbell connections. By the 13th century, they were one of the main forces on Scotland's western seaboard, thanks in part to their huge fleet of galleys. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, they emerged as one of the most powerful families in Scotland, with a wide sphere of influence and authority that stretched from Edinburgh to the Hebrides and western Highlands. Although mills produce many fabrics based on the Campbell tartan, the Clan Chief recognizes only four: the Campbell (more commonly known as the Black Watch), Campbell of Breadalbane, Campbell of Cawdor, and Campbell of Loudoun.

    Stewart

    The Stewart Clan is not just one clan but several major branches evolving from the descendants of various High Stewards of Scotland. The first and main seat of the Stewarts was in Renfrewshire. They were of Norman origins, migrating from Brittany through England to Scotland by the 12th century. They took the name Stewart as a surname, which was derived from High "Steward," the official name for the person in charge of the household and treasury of the King, many of which eventually became Kings and Queen of Scotland and England. The French variant Stuart is sometimes used in place of Stewart, there being no "w" in the French alphabet. Clan Stewart dominated Scotland from the Highlands to the Lowlands, from the Hebrides to the islands of Orkney and Shetland, as well as England and beyond for three and a half centuries. Apart from the royal house of Stewart, the three main branches of the clan that settled in the Highlands during the 14th and 15th centuries were the Stewarts of Appin, Stewarts of Atholl and Stewarts of Balquhidder. Nowadays, the Earls of Galloway are considered the senior line of the clan. The Royal Stewart Tartan is the best known tartan of the royal House of Stewart, as well as being the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II.

    MacDonald

    The Norse-Gaelic Clan MacDonald is one of Scotland’s largest clans. Their ancestors were Lords of the Isles and their main stronghold was at Loch Finlaggan on Islay where they held their court. The clan’s official seat is Armadale Castle but there have been many others associated with the clan, especially within the Isle of Skye. For almost 400 years they ruled the seas and built an empire big enough to challenge Scotland's kings. There are also numerous branches to the Clan, amongst others the Clan Macdonald of SleatClan Macdonald of ClanranaldClan MacDonell of GlengarryClan MacDonald of Keppoch, and Clan MacAlister. Nowadays, there are more than half a million MacDonalds worldwide and there are at least 27 different tartans associated with the clan.

  • Six Nations Rugby For Beginners

    The Six Nations Championship is the oldest rugby championship in the world and is without a doubt the world's greatest rugby tournament. The first game took place back in 1883 and was originally held between the four UK countries England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, France joined in 1910 and Italy joined in 2000.

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    Every team plays everyone one else once, and home advantage changes every year. If a team wins every match, they are said to win the “Grand Slam". On the other hand, if a team fails to win any matches, they are awarded the "Wooden Spoon." If England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland were to beat each of the other home nation teams, but not France and Italy, to make the full Grand Slam, they win the Triple Crown. England is the most successful team in the history of the tournament having won 27 times.

    Before the start of each game, the national anthem of both teams is sung by their players and supporters. "God Save the Queen", is used only by England. Wales and Scotland each sing their own national anthem. Ireland has both the Republic's anthem and a specially commissioned one for rugby internationals. "La Marseillaise" is sung by the French and "Fratelli d'Italia" by the Italians.

    Scotland have traditionally worn navy blue jerseys, white shorts and blue socks. Purple was later introduced to the traditional blue jersey, inspired by Scotland's national flower, the thistle.

    This year's championship kicks off with Scotland facing Ireland on Saturday, 4th of February in Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium. Bonus points will be awarded for the first time in the history of the tournament. A team scoring 4 tries will get 1 bonus point, as will a losing team who get within 7 points of the winners - with a special 3-point bonus for a team winning all 5 of their matches.

    Good luck to all the players and may the best team win!

  • Burns Night Clothing and Apparel

    What to wear for Burns Night depends very much on the type of event that you are going to attend.

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    For a formal event, the dress code is usually a Kilt and Prince Charlie jacket complete with all the usual accessories such as a Sgian Dhub, Sporran and Ghillie Brogues. The tartan of your kilt should represent the traditional pattern of your ancestor’s clan. If you're not of Scottish descent and want to wear a kilt, we recommend more universal tartans such as Black Watch or Royal Stewart. For those who don’t wish to wear a kilt, tartan trews are a suitable alternative. For the ladies, a full length Tartan Skirt can be worn with a matching tartan top or plain top. Another option could be a lovely evening dress with a Tartan Sash to give your outfit a Scottish touch.

    A more informal Burns Supper will not require traditional highland wear, how you dress is entirely up to you. You can choose to wear something with a subtle touch of Scottish fashion by wearing a kilt, or some garments made of Harris Tweed, a tartan bow tie or some ribbon.

    Have a look at the Burns Night Essentials page on our website to find everything you need for a fantastic Burns Night celebration!

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