Best of British: 60 things that make Britain great

Imagine you're cut off in a far-off land. What longings would be uppermost in your mind? Here we celebrate those aspects of life that make our islands distinct and beguiling.

10. The sporran

Kilt and fur sporran close up from Halifax shop, Nova Scotia, Canada. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

From a belted leather pouch to a fur-tassled beaver mask suspended from a silver cantle, the sporran (Gaelic sporan—purse) is the best-known accoutrement of the kilt, that instantly recognisable badge of Scottish identity. Originally worn by Highlanders at all levels of society, the kilt and the tartan from which it is made have a long and complex history freighted with issues of status, image and political allegiance. Institutionalised by the British Army and romanticised by Walter Scott and Queen Victoria, Highland regalia became increasingly associated with formal dress—a flamboyant plumage accessorised with sporran, sgian dubh, claymore, powderhorn, shoulder plaid, ornate brooch, belt buckle and Glengarry bonnet. Today, the kilt has become fashionable again, reinterpreted by fashionistas and urban youth to appeal to a broader circle, so that, once again, it transcends all class barriers and social conventions.

‘Where’s the coward that would not dare to fight for such a land?’
(Sir Walter Scott)

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