It’s tricky, isn’t it, knowing what to bring home with you to remember your holidays? We have just come back from our own wee trip to the Alps, and with shops bursting to the brim with cuddly toy marmots, deliciously ripe cheeses and cow bells, it’s a wonder we didn’t get stopped at Customs for noisy, smelly (yet remarkably cute) sins against the Swiss. In the end we bought a few postcards. But it led me to thinking: what would be the perfect souvenir of Scotland?
Tartan, Nessies & Highland cows
Something in tartan perhaps. A kilt (though an authentic one might break the bank)? A cashmere scarf (ditto – but probably worth it!)? Or what about a cuddly green, strangely dragon-shaped Nessie (well no one has come up with an authentic portrait as yet, so who are we to say what she may or may not actually look like?).
A cute Highland cow always makes a good souvenir of Scotland for the younger people in your life – and as it happens, even I have one that comes with me on all of my tours. She’s called Henrietta. It’s a long story. She was recently joined by a red squirrel, still to be named…
There are other options though – and what could be more unique than something you have made yourself? One of the most celebrated aspects of Scotland’s culture is its arts and crafts scene. Meeting our crafts people is something that is becoming increasingly accessible, be they jewellers, carpenters or weavers. It brings you closer to us, the Scots, our land and our culture. And it gives a little back to the local communities you have been travelling through.
Besides which, wearing an authentic piece of Orcadian silver or eating porridge with a spoon whittled by a local carpenter once you get home will be a daily reminder of your wonderful trip to Scotland. And believe me, it’s not until you have foot-pumped a weaving loom for a mere minute that you really appreciate the time, effort, love – and sweat! – that goes into every swatch of hand-spun Harris Tweed found in the shops.
I have also watched in awe as a supremely talented young man crafted a traditional Scottish harp, a clarsach, in front of some of my guests last year.
You may not have time to make a whole clarsach – far less the room in your luggage – but what about something that not only looks good, but also celebrates the wildlife and landscape you have been travelling through?
Make it yourself!
I was very lucky to attend a workshop run by Bryony Knox, a gifted metalworker based in Edinburgh, and also (a little exciting!) a small-screen celebrity after appearing on a BBC TV show challenging traditional crafts people to live and create as their forebears would have done in the 19th Century.
The objective of the workshop: Make a hare in a day. Not a hair, a hare. Of the bouncy, furry variety. I should say that there are other options to make a mouse in a day, and we have plenty of those around Scotland too, but I have been a fan of the elusive mountain hare ever since I finally saw one straying across a highland road a few years ago.
It had been a harsh winter, but with a sudden thawing of the snow, the beautiful white hare, still in its winter coat, was a stark contrast against the dark surroundings of the damp hillside. Not the camouflage it might have hoped for against predators in the sky, but a life-saver in this instance as I had plenty of time to grind to a halt and watch its long ears disappearing over the heather with an elegant lollop.
Back to the metalworking class – what a fun way to spend the day! Bryony is an excellent teacher, displaying the patience of a saint after – PING – yet another fine saw blade snapped across the work bench. The five of us in the class had never met before but with an assortment of full length aprons provided, initial reticence turned to giggles almost immediately – particularly when I donned the kind of frills I haven’t worn in 30-plus years.
Most of us worked with the tin and copper provided, but with advance planning it was also possible to create a silver hare – I liked to think of it as summer versus winter coats.
Happily patterns were also provided, though there is still the opportunity to create a personal swirl or two, and just wait until the blowtorch comes out – closely supervised, I may add…
And the end result? It now sits, proudly, upon my bedroom dresser.
A unique souvenir
Now if that isn’t a perfect unique, authentic souvenir of Scotland, crafts and wildlife combined, I don’t know what is!
To create your own hare in a day, or perhaps your own traditional whittled wooden spoon or fired clay bowl, or even your own Scottish scene in home-dyed felt from a local flock of sheep (yes, everything is possible)… Why not ask us to add a crafting experience to your very own bespoke tour?
Unlike our Swiss experience, your very own souvenir of Scotland could be a lot more than a few postcards!