I think I found out about this Scottish event some 11 years ago, remarking at the time that a “Scottish Gathering” in the wilds of Harpenden, near St Albans was rather unusual, but it seems to be fairly well established going back many years. I went simply as an onlooker for a few years but decided that I would take my tent and test out the waters to see how much interest there might be in having a kiltmaker around. The event usually has 5 -7 pipebands, a Scottish sports arena with cabers, hammers, weights, and haybales, often some dogs, geese, ferrets, and/or birds of prey. Lots of childrens’ entertainments, climbing walls, Scottish Dancing and Piping competitions, and a large selections of charity stalls, often a classic car collection and a good selection of military cadets who help enormously with the set up and tidy up at the end, so all in all a good family day out.
Very few visitors are kilted, but it is definitely an all age event.
It certainly proved worthwhile to take a pitch as I got 7 orders for kilts in the first year, so almost an embarrassment of riches, although that hasn’t been repeated over the last 7 years, sadly!
I think I have almost become a fixture at the event now as I’m the only kiltmaker and although I still get some orders a lot of my time is spent answering enquiries about which tartan/clan to wear. It is this task which has got me thinking about whether or no it is really worth my while to attend.
There have been the sensible to weird requests……such as my grandmother came from Scotland what tartan should I wear ( with no further information, not even name ) …. to “how dare you wear the Black Watch, it is private…. to the you are wearing the kilt wrongly – it needs to cover your knees, (I’m a kiltmaker I try and get it right!) …. Sometimes an identification from a fuzzy phone picture makes the owner incredibly happy and me as well! A recent one was , 2 years ago someone picked a tartan he liked, could I tell him what was it? I’m happy to report that I did vaguely remember and managed to dredge the little grey cells, finding a sample of it and getting an order for a new kilt, so it’s worth being patient!
The pitch fee is fairly small and I usually cover that with a few sales of hose and accessories, and often I get a few kilt orders, but it takes a whole day for two or three of us to man the tent, and I need a few days in advance to gather everything together, and an early start in the morning to get there. It’s not a straightforward decision as to whether to continue, most of the time I work on my own and it is a quiet and solitary occupation sewing kilts , so it is lovely to have exchanges with lots of people over a day. The comments are usually good natured, funny and friendly, some are deeply curious and meaningful and genuinely want more information, some actually are quite rude, aggressive and even accusatory. On balance it has always been enjoyable even if very tiring and I admit to liking being public, at least for a short time.
I’m fairly sure that I’ll book again for next year, not so much with the expectation of great sales, but with the idea that outreach is a good thing, and without being too excessive, the idea that showing tartan and kilts is a good thing. Purchasing a kilt is a large expense for most people and it takes time to be certain, so a year later on return visits clients are a little more secure in what they are after, perhaps it’s also reassuring for the customer that I am still around.
It’s a day out in the country away from the sewing room, and that is a very welcome change of scenery. I’m happy and able to do it, so in a very small way I helping keeping a little bit of Scottishness alive in the South of England!