Hampshire Mum – Highland Fling

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We had decided on a trip to Edinburgh back in the summer and suddenly there we were, two travelling chums and I, in a beautiful apartment over looking St. Giles Cathedral.

One chum was well-versed in all things Scottish as her Mum is from Aberdeen and, having traced her family tree, discovered she might well be distantly related to our other chum! So through the wonder of genetics they both have Scottish blood.

But you see, I’m not some American who was once given a pair of tartan socks for Christmas and now believes herself to be the rightful heir to an estate in the Outer Hebrides, although I wish I were. No, my grandparents were also from Aberdeen and although I have many relatives dotted about the Highlands, sadly I’ve met none of them. I love haggis, tolerate certain malts and can affect the Scottish accent- aye I can- so I figure that makes me a wee bit of a Scot.

My great-grandfather was a MacLean and, being keen to discover all about my clan, I purchased the ‘Guide to MacLean’ which told me everything I needed to know. The tartan is a rather fetching blend of reds and russets with a hint of green; my ancestral home is the Castle of Duart, positioned prominently on the Isle of Mull, and a potted history of the clans reports of various skirmishes with southern Sassenachs. If all I could take home was a scarf in MacLean tartan then that would have to do for now.

On the Royal Mile in the third, or perhaps fourth, tartan emporium we searched, there was an abundance of tartans of every type…. except MacLean. The search for my ancestors’ tartan was proving beyond difficult. It would be so much easier if I’d been born a Buchanan! Their prolific tartan was available in everything from a kilt to a tea cosy. The man behind the counter gave me a steely stare. I swear he was sharpening his claymore and muttering something about soft southerners. My two travelling chums found it all highly amusing.
“Maybe you’ve got it wrong? Perhaps the colours are red white and blue, like Macleans toothpaste!”

We gave up playing hunt the tartan and went off to Edinburgh Castle instead. National pride is evident wherever you go in Edinburgh. It’s a tough pride that has been fought for and hard-won. Nowhere is that made clearer than on a visit to the Castle, perched on its volcanic plinth, the guardian of the city. The military history made us rather uncomfortable, and by the time we’d read yet another report of slaughter by the English, we felt a wee bit queasy. I pulled my Top Shop Black Watch tartan scarf, (well any port in a storm), tighter against the elements and we slunk off for coffee and cake. Soft southerners, indeed. Still, all was not lost. From our café vantage point it became clear that Scotsmen have a little something about them too, striding down the Royal Mile, kilts swishing around muscular legs in the chilly breeze. It gave us quite an appetite.

As we tucked into supper that night, the most beautiful grouse, haggis and salmon – well it had to be done- I came over all fanciful. I imagined myself studying art in Edinburgh, living in a tiny flat, eating porridge with salt for breakfast and snuggling in a bed with a MacLean tartan blanket, (if I could ever find one!), draped over it. Bliss!

It’s never too late to embrace one’s heritage I reckon, so my Scottish dancing and caber-tossing classes start in the New Year! So a Happy New Year and Hogmanay to you!

Sandra Pagan.

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