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Our nearest town, Wiveliscombe, has a tartan. This is a recent development. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the idea of a Somerset town with its own tartan. I like Wiveliscombe (Wivey). No, it’s more than like. When we rented a house in Clayhanger, just across the border in Devon, it was also our nearest town. During the year and a half we stayed there, we developed a real affection for Wivey, which played a big part in why we chose to buy a house in the area.

It’s a friendly, rural town. But it is about as far removed from Scotland as you can get in Britain, both geographically and otherwise. In two and a half years, I haven’t heard many other Scottish voices. In fact, you can remove the ‘m’ from the ‘many’ in that last statement. There must be some – I did meet a wee Scottish woman in nearby Wellington once – but I definitely fall into the rare creature category. In a coffee shop in Taunton last week, a woman at the next table remarked on my accent. It was in a nice way, saying it reminded her of her grandmother. But it shows how uncommon a Scottish accent is.

On a couple of occasions there have been comments about me being a long way from home. Again, not in an unfriendly way. But they do single me out as not being from here. Mind you, Andy’s Stockport accent does the same for her. Ironically, the people who made these remarks didn’t have South West accents. Usually, they’re RP (what used to be a BBC accent) or from the South East. It’s an odd thing, Canterbury is about the same distance from where we live as Stockport is, and I’ve yet to hear anyone remark to somebody from the South East that they’re a long way from home.

Anyway, back to Wiveliscombe and its tartan. Popping up on my Facebook feed this week was notification of a Burns Night bash at food critic William Sitwell’s Supper Club, held at a farm not far from Wivey. It’s an annual event and previous photos show revellers in Scottish dress, so maybe there is more of a connection than I know. Even so, when I heard about the Wivey tartan, cultural appropriation popped into my head. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, Google’s definition is this: ‘The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.’

I understand why the term exists, but I’m not a fan of it when it creates divisive barriers, which it can easily do when it’s bandied about too recklessly and in an uninformed manner. Gastronomy and music etc. would all be a lot less interesting if it weren’t for cross-cultural influences. Sharing and learning about some aspects of different cultures should bring people closer together not push them apart. I learnt and benefitted from that philosophy when living and working in a multi-cultural area of Manchester. But I accept there are times when cultural appropriation isn’t, well, appropriate.

Why would a Somerset town feel the need to have a tartan?

Tartan didn’t originate in Scotland, but the patterned, woven cloth has become synonymous with the country. So much so, the wearing of it was essentially banned following the defeat of the Jacobites in 1746 in a bid to eradicate the Highlander way of life.

However, although it is primarily associated with Scottish clans, anyone can register a tartan. There are guidelines, but there aren’t difficult hoops to jump through. There’s a couple of really nice lines in the website that explain why Wivey has a right to claim its own tartan. The first is this: ‘Tartans aren’t only for families and clans. The tradition is really about honouring a community you belong to and love.’ Wivey ticks that box.
The second statement turns the idea of cultural appropriation on its head: ‘To wear someone’s plaid is a sign of respect and friendship … This is Scotland’s beautiful gift to the world.’ For me, that’s a lovely, open-armed sentiment.

Still, it doesn’t answer the question why Wiveliscombe would even want to create its own tartan? Looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, Andy and I popped into Secret Island in Wiveliscombe, a shop that showcases the work of local artists and craftspeople. It was the shop’s owners who floated the idea of a tartan in the first place, carrying out a poll on Facebook to decide what colours should be used. There, behind the counter, was the proposed tartan – a fine looking weave of blue, green, yellow and red.

When I complimented it, I finally heard the story behind its creation. The grandfather of the woman serving me was Sottish. Each New Year he’d stand in the town’s small square and play his bagpipes. It was a much-loved local tradition. One that’s been sorely missed since his passing a few years ago. As well as being a way of honouring Wiveliscombe’s community spirit, the tartan commemorates this popular, pipe-playing clansman. Apparently, and coincidentally, it even resembles his family’s tartan. That’s as good a justification as any for a tartan.

I knew there was a reason I felt an instinctive connection with Wivey.

The tartan picture isn’t Wiveliscombe tartan, it’s from my kilt.

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.


  • Kerry says:

    Thank you Jack for the lovely mention of my amazing Glaswegian Dad who played his pipes every year to see the New Year in. Warm wishes from Wivey.

    • Jack Montgomery says:

      Thanks, Kerry. I wish I’d seen (and heard) your father playing his pipes in Wivey. It must have been something. Have a great Christmas.

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