The shortlist of must-visit Scottish shops
An explanation revealing the secret to discovering the best U.K. stores, and links to other guides, follows below.
1. Campbell's of Beauly, Beauly.
2. Stewart Christie & Co., Edinburgh. My favorite shopping experience of the trip.
3. Johnstons of Elgin, Speyside + Edinburgh.
4. Highland Stoneware, Lochinver + Ullapool.
5. Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh.
After trudging through a New York winter, it may seem absurd to board a plane and jet to temperatures below the long-awaited East Coast spring, to pack sweaters in your suitcase just as you're able to expose skin outside.
The crowd-allergic introvert knows that heading north in the spring rewards wise travelers with prolonged daylight - over seventeen hours - wildflowers in bloom, pristine air, lambs in the fields, sweet baby arugula, vacancy at the most comfortable hotels, and a breeze palpable enough to keep city kids off the trails.
Why Scotland in May? I like real tea and fresh seafood (not served together, you guys) and was, you could say, enthusiastic to learn more about scotch.
Mobs crowd Scotland in summer, reasoning that one should visit a cold climate at the height of its warm weather. They are met with tens of thousands congregating on the basis of the same logic: causing traffic on Scotland's single-track roads, parking lots filled to capacity at the trail heads, and a feast of bared skin for seasonal midges swarming above the shrub.
Beyond the allure of langoustine, scotch, spectacular drives, and proper black tea, I was especially keen to explore famed Scottish textiles.
As profiled in the Financial Times:
Many of the most celebrated international luxury- fashion houses rely on Scottish rather than Italian mills for their fabrics. Some of the relationships go back decades; others are new and founded on innovation as much as on heritage and tradition. But all are forged on the understanding that Scottish cloth is unique. It is said that this is down to “something in the water”, as the soft-water springs that go into the world’s most highly prized whiskies also help textiles hold their texture in a completed garment.
I'll now confide my secret tip for finding the most special shops in the U.K.: visit the Royal Warrant website and comb over recipients by category.
For my American friends, businesses receive an acknowledgement of excellence from either The Queen, her husband The Duke of Edinburgh, or her eldest son Prince Charles if one or any combination of those three individuals have patronized the business for at least 5 years in "an ongoing trading arrangement."
The Royal Warrant website answers intimate questions that one would presume would be secretly guarded. In the spirit of transparently celebrating British craftsmanship, the Royal Family reports where they shop and what for. You'll find a precise encyclopedia of where The Queen buys her cheeses, wines, handbags, hats, tea, bras, socks, china, boots, many horse necessities, cosmetics, etc.
Businesses can and do lose the Royal Warrant - including the privilege to brandish the crest over merchandise and store locations - if their products drop below par, or if the owners abuse the intimacy of their connection with the family, as in the case of The Queen's lingerie fitter.
4/5 shops listed below are holders of the Royal Warrant: Campbell's of Beauly, Stewart Christie & Co., Johnston's of Elgin, and Valvona & Crolla.
Campbell's of Beauly
Day 1 we landed in Edinburgh and drove 5 hours northwest to Scourie, a tiny village for the gentleman fishing enthusiast. Along the way we stopped at Campbell's of Beauly for their classic country outerwear.
After I paced the store in overwhelm for about 30 minutes, we settled down to the pleasurable task of identifying gifts and selecting pieces for ourselves that would be wearable for the remainder of our stay in Scotland.
I chose rusty red tartan cashmere stoles (pictured above near the bottom center) for my mom and mother-in-law, and Peter walked away with a stunning navy Harris tweed jacket, perfect for dinners ahead.
Campbell's comprehensive offering in every category (men's and women's) could make this your single shopping destination of a Scotland visit, if you need to condense.
We were assisted by a lovely store associate who explained various cuts of men's jackets and gave helpful input into sizing. There's truly almost too much of a good thing in the store; you'll appreciate an expert Scottish voice to narrow the choices.
Stewart Christie & Co.
Picture this: a blustering rainy day in Edinburgh, proper Harry Potter weather, we escape into the comfort of Scotland's oldest bespoke tailor. A couple's purchase is carefully handwritten into a giant book as thick as the Oxford Dictionary, ancient and yellowed, presumably to track the acquisitions of loyal families for their future reference. Another customer stretches his arms out as a tailor measures adjustments for his wedding kilt.
If your Scotland trip begins in Edinburgh, make Stewart Christie your first day's priority. You'll hopefully have enough time to choose a fabric (good luck, there are hundreds of mesmerizing swatches) for something custom made, fitted, and ready to pick up before your return flight.
Peter and I ended the trip in Edinburgh, so we perused the ready-made options. Very fortunately for me, Stewart Christie recently expanded into women's wear, which you'll find downstairs. I picked up a red cashmere turtleneck, now one of my most treasured pieces.
Sweaters are available in several cuts and twinsets. The sweet store associate who assisted me explained that knitwear colors are introduced seasonally, previewed on rolls of swatches so that ladies may order their cashmere in advance. (What a life.)
Johnstons of Elgin
The only store on this list from which we did not purchase something, but! it's a must-mention for their 220-year history and high quality. Peter and I couldn't fit Speyside into our trip, however if you do find yourself there for whisky tasting, check out the Johnstons of Elgin factory tour. According to Vogue's Speyside guide, visitors to the mill can observe craftsmen dying and spinning cashmere.
With stores around the world, including a charming spot in Nantucket, you don't have to visit Scotland to add their fine cashmere to your wardrobe. Johnstons' global presence does reduce the magic - less of that special, one-of-a-kind experience perceptible in Stewart Christie.
Proceeding a visit to the beach and strawberry rhubarb pie, we dropped by the Highland Stoneware studio in Lochinver village. A small retail corner quietly sits in the midst of an extensive studio.
Ceramists lean over wheels, glazers sip tea and laugh together as they paint sheep onto mugs, men in heavy aprons place greenware into the kiln, and the operation marches on as you're left in peace to look over their special work.
Admittedly pottery isn't the most convenient souvenir to haul back (they will ship), however I couldn't leave behind the above pebbled bowl. Highland Stoneware collaborates with geologists to source glazes from Scottish rocks, capturing the Highlands in hues of native heather, thistle, and heath.
We purchased two small bowls that continue to remind me of our trip. I still ruminate over the darling sheep tea set that I regrettably had to leave behind, perhaps to be collected on a future expedition.
Valvona & Crolla
The place to stop if you're weary of heavy fish and chip meals. Though it may seem odd to visit an Italian deli in Edinburgh, navigating to Valvona & Crolla is worthwhile for fresh fruit and veg, a broad selection of cheeses, and delicious boxes of shortbread. The Queen orders their cheeses for her holidays at Balmoral.
Peter and I decided to enjoy our unexpectedly spacious Edinburgh hotel room and picked up supplies for a fresh dinner by the fire.
If beginning your Scottish road trip from Edinburgh, definitely stop here to load up on gourmet car snacks.
Buly 1803 Scottish Lichen
A friend of mine fabulously chooses a unique perfume for every vacation to entrench a scent memory in her brain and ensure instant recollection with the whiff of the bottle.
Inspired, I ordered Buly's Scottish Lichen body lait, a unisex scent that evokes the Highlands through green moss, "the scent of the upright stones of Hyperborea, dotted with the lichens’ reddish-brown froth. The tartness of the cold grass fur on the hills’ shoulders, the mosses frosted with dew – the pollens sticking to the belly of dawn are left out to dry in the salty wind from the Hebrides."
Peter and I wore Scottish Lichen daily, inhaling its fragrance while we drove through fields of heather, hiked among spring lambs, and sat down for afternoon tea at little shops by the beach. Back in New York, I'm able to slather on a little Buly and those memories bubble to the surface.
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