Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Birth of A Tartan

March 12th, 2006

THE  CATALYST  for the design of the Whitson tartan was a telephone call from Hollywood, USA which I received one perishing cold November evening in 1983.

The caller was an American Whitson who explained he represented a film company which was proposing to remake the film “Brigadoon”, the whimsical and thoroughly implausible story about a Scottish village which comes to life once every hundred years. He was shortly to be coming to Scotland, and he hoped to meet Scottish kin.

In the course of several lengthy telephone calls we got onto Whitson family matters and whether there was a Whitson tartan. Well, at the time there wasn't.

The tradition in my family is that three Viking brothers sailed across to Scotland from Norway in their Viking longship and landed at Footdee (locally Fittie) at the very mouth of the River Dee at Aberdeen. They liked what they saw, and stayed. One found his way down to Berwickshire, and families there with the surname Whitsum can claim to have good red Viking blood flowing through their veins. The village of Whitsome is also believed to originate from the same source.

Another brother moved to the area of the River Tay, and over the generations the surname Whitson appears in some numbers in the Perth and Blairgowrie areas, and also in the County of Angus. And the third brother travelled to Galloway on the west of Scotland, and was the forebear of families there with the surname Hewitson.

Like any family tradition all of this can be dismissed as romantic speculation, but the name first appears in a document in Scotland in 1140 when Thomas Quitson signed as a witness to a deed in St Andrews.

Bear in mind that for a person at that time to be able to write, and certainly to be of sufficient consequence to witness a deed, he was in all probability a landowner. To have transformed from blood-drenched Viking to worthy Fife farmer could have taken some number of years, if not several generations. And the year 1140 falls well within the period of Viking immigration and settlement in Scotland which ended with the Battle of Largs in 1240.

So it is certainly not romantic speculation to suggest that there have been Whitsons in Scotland for some 900 years, and if we hadn't got our own tartan by 1983 then the time seemed right to design one. And I took the view that a home-grown Whitson was best suited for the task.

The opportunity to take matters a step further occurred soon after, when my wife and I were returning home to Montrose after a weekend break at Kenmore on Loch Tay. It is at Kenmore, on the loch shore, that each new salmon fishing season in Scotland is heralded by breaking a bottle of whisky across the bows of a fishing boat. This traditional offering by salmon fishers of a dram to the gods, is a plea for  tight lines' and good sport throughout the season.

‘Whom the gods wish to destroy they first introduce to salmon fishing’

However we had not been there to fish, but to escape briefly from our parental responsibilities, while a kind ‘adopted auntie’ looked after our three young children.

Our homeward journey took us through the village of Comrie in the heartland of Perthshire where, at the time, the Museum of Scottish Tartans had been established by the Scottish Tartan Society. Here was the perfect opportunity to start the ball rolling for the design of the Whitson tartan.

We were greeted by the then Director of the Museum, Dr Micheil Macdonald, and we explained the reason for our visit. Apparently red and green are the two main base colours for any tartan, and we had to decide which ground colour we wanted. We knew so little about it, we didn't know.

My family have a record of public service and I wondered if this could be reflected in a tartan. It just shows the versatility of the cloth that the answer was an immediate –  Yes'.

The Black Watch Regiment, now sadly amalgamated into the new Royal Regiment of Scotland as from 28 March 2006, was our district regiment and certainly reflected public service and more. The sett of the Black Watch tartan is made up of black, green and blue threads, and if we based our ideas for a Whitson tartan on the Black Watch, the ground colour would be green. Well, why not – there was no better reason to choose a red ground.

I had matriculated a coat of arms in 1980 and the colours represented within it are Azure/blue, Argent/silver and Or/gold. Azure equated with the blue in Black Watch tartan; could the other two colours of the coat of arms be represented too? Again the answer was –  Yes'.

Lastly we wondered if the three Viking brothers could make a guest appearance. We should have known the answer before we asked the question!

Micheil called a Danish friend who was a member of the Tartan Society, and asked her if any particular colour was associated with the Vikings. Red, we were told, was the Viking colour. Hardly surprising, really, when you think of the bloody legends that have grown up around them.

Next, a handloom sample of the proposed design was woven by Peter Macdonald, son of Micheil. On the wide green band of the Black Watch tartan was imposed a white (argent) line with black guards – a protective thin line on each side of the white – and then, on the black band, came the red stripes – one for each of the three Viking brothers.

We all, my wife and I, and our daughter Cait who was helping us, thought the original stripes were too thin and lacked impact. When we showed the trial design to my mother her immediate response was – “It's a Whitson tartan. It needs a touch of the sun.”

So Peter wove a second sample with wider, more distinct red stripes, and also a yellow stripe to represent the sun. Yellow and gold (Or) seemed synonymous for this purpose, so we had been able to use the final colour from my coat of arms.

I am  a member  the Scottish Tartans Authority (see link to their site www.tartansauthority.com) and a good representation of the Whitson tartan appears on their website. Over the years it has been admired and favourably commented on, and as a family we are pleased with what we produced   We are grateful for the help and advice we received from the old Scottish Tartan Society.

I  went to the long-established traditional tartan weavers MacNaughtons of Pitlochry, as they were known then, to get the first, and subsequent, lengths of Whitson tartan woven. It was an exciting moment when I collected the bale of cloth and took it off to get the first Whitson kilt made up for myself. Since then all of my family have been measured up for kilts and skirts, and I have added a waistcoat (weskit), a pair of trews and a pair of tartan knickers (or plus-twos) to my wardrobe.

Look on the links page for the link to www.houseofedgar.co.uk which is MacNaughton's weaving company. Also click on www.highlandscene.co.uk for  Highland Scene' in Montrose, who made up the first Whitson kilts.

Tartan is a subject that, in my experience, stirs the most unlikely passions in the most unlikely people. I support the historical importance of the old setts and designs, especially those recorded by Lord Lyon and elsewhere as the original clan or family tartans. But the outpouring of tartanalia when King George 1V visited Edinburgh in 1822 rather gave the game away about the significance of tartan in many Scots' minds (particularly Lowland) following the repeal of the Act of Proscription in 1782.

By that point tartan had become largely, in my view, something of a sentimental memory. It had only really maintained its significance as a rallying point for the Scottish soldiery, in much the same way as they rallied to the regimental colours. The indecent haste of even clan chiefs to find a  traditional' clan tartan in which to present themselves before their Sovereign, made it clear that the intent of the Act had been successful. But, spurred on by Sir Walter Scott, tartan was ready to make its comeback.

Since childhood I've regularly worn my kilt for celebrations, occasions and funerals. My first, very short, kilt was in green Scott tartan, and in thrifty Scottish tradition it was a hand-me-down from my cousin. It has a small sett, suitable for a small kilt, and is still in the family and has now been worn by our own grandsons. It's got several more generations of life left in it yet!

The alternative for me was Macbeth tartan, in recognition of my father's mother who was a Miss Macbeth from Kirkwall. It has a bigger sett and as I grew taller it became more suitable for me to wear. Our son Robert  takes great pleasure in wearing his grandfather's last Macbeth kilt – they are just such practical and hardwearing garments.

Now, of course, we don’t need to agonize over which tartan to wear, as we have our own family sett.

Other than in old photographs taken before I was born, I never saw my father wearing trousers until several months before he died. Then the weight of eight yards of material proved too much for him.

Just before the outset of the Second World War he had two kilts made in anticipation of clothing rationing – he foresaw the lifetime of a kilt as much longer than that of a suit.

From then on the kilt was his only garb for his daily business, for fishing, shooting, deerstalking, sailing, gardening, taking tea or pouring a dram for a guest – it mattered not what he was doing. In hot weather and in cold, in rain and sun, he wore the kilt. Asked if he would play in the parents' cricket team against my prep school X1, he readily agreed so long as he could take to the field wearing his kilt. To my intense relief – I was about twelve years old and very conscious of what was proper – another parent was able to fill his place.

I recall so well, in the old Tartan Society days, announcing to a crowded assembly, that  tartan is just a fabric design'. The gasps of outrage and growls of disbelief at such a perceived heresy quite surprised me. For many people then, and I'm sure for many people still, tartan represents a history and romance that far transcends  just a fabric design'. My tartan gaffe was some twenty five years ago, and I've seen and heard enough in the intervening time to realise that the remark was probably a tad insensitive!

Don't think that I belittle tartan in any way. I love the history and romance, and I believe we've woven both into the Whitson tartan. I shouldn't have wanted to design our own one if I didn't feel good about wearing it and promoting it. I'm proud to wear it and to be seen wearing it – it's another strand of my inherent Scottishness. I'm sometimes startled by some of the modern interpretations of tartan dress, but that's just an age thing. Like everything else tartan, and how it's worn, must evolve or interest in it will wither.

Whether or not tartan is  just a fabric design', it's a glorious declaration of identity, and no other nation has come up with anything comparable. The wearing of tartan has also become very much more inclusive. It's unusual now to hear anyone insist that specific tartans can ONLY be worn by people of that name or its septs. I'm sure that, in the past, lots of people who would have loved to be part of the tartan family were discouraged by such judgements.

I believe that if Mr Hussein or Miss Zeigler admires the Ogilvie Dress or the Lindsay tartan, or indeed any other, and fancies wearing it, it is the greatest compliment to the tartan itself   And it should be encouraged at every opportunity.

Copyright (C) Angus Whitson 2006 – Man with two dogs

Written on Sunday, March 12th, 2006 at 3:59 pm for Claivers.