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All things hiking Explaining Scotland Gear advice

Can you imagine hiking or mountaineering in a Tweed suit?

That’s how they used to do it.  Here is an image of Sir Hugh Munro himself, styling a fetching tweed trouser on the snowy Highlands mountainside.  Not exactly Gore-Tex technology but, for decades prior to the 1970’s, Tweed was the activity-man’s gear of choice.  Certainly man vs. mountain.
tweed suit

Full on tweed suit – on trend in those days!

You cannot be more true to tweed than the Harris.  Defined in the Harris Tweed Act of 1993 as cloth that is “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides”.
tweed badge

Authenticated tweed fabric from Harris must contain this badge or it is not guaranteed Harris tweed

Where does the name come from?

The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, it being primarily woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern.  It’s a rough, woolen fabric with a flexibility due to the close weave.  The patterns can be striped, herringbone or tartan.  The wool yarn is dyed before weaving to enable the multiple combinations of pattern and colour.
 
Whether myth or truth, the tale of the name came about by chance. Around 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm about some tweels. The merchant read the handwriting incorrectly, assuming that the name was taken from the river Tweed, that flows through the Scottish Borders, and the items were advertised as Tweed.  The name stuck!

Why is tweed so important to the islanders?

The sheep fleece has been used for centuries to provide comfort and shelter.  Then came the skills and equipment to separate the fibres; to comb the fleece, spin to produce wool yarn and weave into fabric.
Records states that surplus cloth was frequently used as a barter eventually becoming so important that it was considered a currency amongst the Islanders; paying rent in lengths of cloth or blankets.
By the end of the 18th century, this was a staple industry for crofters. Finished handmade cloth was exported to the Scottish mainland and traded along with other commodities such as dry hides, goat and deerskins.

Trademarking

As popularity grew, legal protection of the tweed was essential.  The trade mark, the Orb, was granted in 1911.  Over the years the practices changed, there were disputes over the definition.  The true Harris Tweed is made by all Islanders of the Outer Hebrides – Lewis, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, as well as Harris.  The decision being that the tweed was made in exactly the same way in all those islands.
 
Tweeds are an icon of traditional Scottish informal outerwear, the benefit of the material being durable and would provide a warmth against the wind of the mountainside.  I’m not so confident in the snow – I’m guessing the fabric could get heavy and would dry slowly but I think the men were far hardier ‘back then’.  Of course, the female mountaineer was not the done thing in the 20s and 30s.
tweed clothing

How mountaineering gear has changed through the ages – from tweed to gortex.

Popularity of tweed

Fast forward nearly 100 years, the demand skyrocketed in 2012.  Previous production was an average 450,000 metres in a year but in 2012, the weavers and mills of the Harris Tweed industry produced one million metres of Harris Tweed!! The highest production figures in 17 years.  That is just shy of enough fabric to reach from John O’Groats in the north of Scotland to the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast line.
tweed today

Tweed in fashion and accessories as you’ll see today.

Harris Tweed remains a sought-after fabric used in both High Street fashions and on catwalks in couture collections and the increase in popularity has led to the training of a new generation of weavers to meet production demands.  A fantastic continued tradition and island industry.
A visit to the Outer Hebrides is an eye opener!  Tour the local weavers shops or factories is just one activity that these stunning islands offer.
One of the cultural highlights of our Western Isles Wilderness is a visit to see a Harris weaver at work.
Check out our other blogs about the western isles:
Visit Hebrides – the western isles
Top images of the Hebrides
FURTHER READING
National Georaphic on how Tweed became a symbol of Scottish culture

Everything you need to know about the humble Highland coo!

A visit to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without catching a glimpse of the ginger-fringed and friendly Highland coo! These lovable and docile creatures are a famous picture-postcard icon of our country, but they’re more than just a pretty face. Being the nature enthusiasts that we are and regularly having the chance to see these beauties roaming freely, we thought we’d answer some regular coo FAQs!

Why do Highland cows look so different to regular cows? 

They’re a far cry from the short-haired black and white dairy cow, and that’s because these hardy souls evolved to put up with the wind, rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures that come with living outdoors through a Scottish winter. Though the classic ginger fringed cow is the star of many selfies, they actually come in a variety of colours – blonde, black, brown and a mixture! They have two coats, one longer outer coat to protect them from the elements, and a downy undercoat to keep them cosy. While most cattle would take warm shelter in harsh weather conditions, our highland coos are comfortable setting up for a night in an open shelter (called a fold). Their famous fringe (called a dossan) and long eyelashes protect their eyes from the weather and pesky midges. 

Check out VisitScotland’s Coo Cam and say hello to Thelma, Louise, Cairistiona, Breagh and Janima from Kitchen Coos and Ewes in Dumfries and Galloway and Swanston Farm in Edinburgh.

Why do they have horns?

Both male and female highland cows have horns. Although they look intimidating, they’re used to forage for food or to dig through the snow in winter – so a very tough look for a far more innocent use! You can tell a male and female coo apart by their horns. Male horns will generally come out parallel to the ground and turn up or forward slightly at the ends. Females have longer, thinner horns which have much more of an obvious curve. 

Where can I meet a Highland Cow?

First recorded in the Scottish Highlands (as early at the sixth century!) – they were named after their origins. Nowadays you can find the Highland Coo dotted all over Scotland, including the islands! VisitScotland have created a handy guide of all the places you might spot a Highland coo as and when COVID restrictions allow, from the northern tip to the borders of the country. Your safest bet would be the Highlands, and for the true rural Scottish wildlife experience we highly recommend setting up base in the Cairngorms and taking a few days to explore. Our Highland Wilderness Trips are famous for sights of deer, rare birds, badgers and of course the gorgeous Highland coo too!

If you’re keen to see a coo our recommendations would be to join us on a visit to Lynbreck Croft (to be included on the Highland Family Adventure and Cairngorm Discovery tours) or check in with Rothiemurchus estate on their coo tours for your rest day activity. There are also coo viewing opportunities when we do to Harris (Western Isles Wilderness), Skye (Superlative Skye), Knoydart (Wild Knoydart) and Torridon (Classic Torridon) – so  almost everywhere we go!

highland coo

One of the local residents observes the tourists disdainfully from his/her comfy abode.

 

If you love the Highland Coo/Cow we highly recommend following Lynbreck Croft on Facebook.

 

Looking back through our photos taken during 2020, it doesn’t seem to have been that bad … but at the time, there were moments.

We’ve put together a wee video of the highlights. Hope you enjoy having a look.

 

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