We stroll through cobbled lanes, past lovely cafés and pubs. Tall medieval buildings line the streets where cars drive on the left and the usual hustle and bustle is going on. No doubt: Here in Edinburgh, Scotland’s long history is present at the turn of every corner – it seems, quite literally, to be hewn into the light brown sandstone. Und here in the Scottish capital we also begin our road trip with the Hymer motorhome on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. Thanks to its contrasts, Scotland’s second largest city immediately casts its spell on us. Cosy small town or liberally-minded metropolis? – Edinburgh simply does not want to make up its mind. In fact, this is probably what makes the city that around half a million Scots call their home so very fascinating.
This synergy of old and new, tradition and modernity is something we also find among Edinburgh’s citizens. Occasionally, the world-famous emblem of Scotland can be seen among the crowds: the kilt. This knee-long pleated skirt is traditionally worn by men – namely in tartan, the check pattern of one’s own clan. One day however, Howie Nicholsby became bored with all the checkered kilts. At some point, so he says, every kilt looked the same to him. The 39-year old works as a kilt designer. By now, he is considered as a Scottish fashion legend. “I simply like experimenting,” the bald-headed man with the designer stubble states with confidence.
Blue skirt with matching jacket, green woollen socks and boots – even in Edinburgh, Howie’s style is noted. The Scotsman completely renounced trousers some 16 years ago. We, too, would like to know what it feels like for a man to wear skirts and so we follow Howie into his shop “21st Century Kilts”. On the inside, the inconspicous grey house surprises its visitors: Colourful pieces of fabric cover the walls, Howie’s eyes wander over new designs made of tweed, leather and jeans. “I like combining a multitude of materials,” he says. No kilt here is like any other, every piece is unique. This is is Howie’s response to the supposedly boring plaids.
Equanimity is a typical Scottish attribute. We simply do not concern ourselves with anything too much, be it fashion or anything else.
It’s our turn now: Noel chooses a grey model. Nowadays, kilts are often only worn on special occasions, such as weddings, our host tells us. But Howie provides men with an alternative to trousers in everyday life, too: “My kilts sit on the hips rather than up on the waist. Plus, they have practical pockets.” Customers should also be able to work in them, he thinks. Demand is very strong for kilts in pinstripe patterns, he relates.
Howie comes from a family of kilt makers. His parents taught him the fundamentals of craftsmanship in this tradition-steeped business. “But at some point, I did not just want to be the son of the boss any longer,” he reflects. Inspired by the eccentric British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, at the age of eighteen, Howie began to follow his own path. His goal was to revolutionize the kilt. “My father was not always pleased with my provocative ideas,” Howie admits pointing to some skirts with light projectors on them.
The great outcry arose after Howie’s first appareance at “Men’s Fashion Week” in London. Critics dismissed his modern designs as a “disgrace for Scotland’s traditions”. “They said: A kilt made of hemp is no real kilt,” Howie tells us. He counters: “A kilt does not necessarily need a tartan. Even if it is woven in other patterns, it will remain an expression of our national identity.” By saying this, he expresses exactly what many Scots feel – the customers of “21st Century Kilts” are willing accept long waiting times now. Even international stars have discovered Howie: On the photos in Howie’s shop we recognize singers Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz as well as actor Vin Diesel, among others. Despite his success, Howie keeps his feet on the ground. The father of two, laughing at himself, asks us to join him for a beer. He explains: “Equanimity is a typical Scottish attribute. We simply do not concern ourselves with anything too much, be it fashion or anything else.”
We have grown fond of Edinburgh. Nevertheless, we would like to see more of the Scottish mainland and meet more of its people. So we get back into our Hymer and leave the city. As we look outside, we soon realize that the landscape is changing fast: It is becoming greener and vaster. We reach the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and leave our motorhome near the lake. In the distance we recognize snow-covered peaks, green islands are floating in the water. In this tranquil place we have an appointment with Ali Horne.
Ali is a quiet guy with a friendly look on his face. With the hood of his orange-coloured raincoat tightened over his head, the young Scotsman sits down next to us and looks at the water full of awe. Fine wafts of mist are floating above the lake giving it a mystical appearance. Ali seems just as impressed by the panorama as we are – even though places like these belong to his everyday life: He is a landscape photographer and travelling to the most beautiful places on the planet is part of his work. However, his home country is particularly close to his heart, says the 24-year old.
We take a canoe trip on Loch Lomond. The weather is rough, waves are beating against our boat. “I started taking photographs around the age of 11, when my Mum bought me my first camera,” Ali reflects. He started taking pictures of school events and on public holidays. Until he travelled to the US in 2014, he still thought of photography as a hobby. Then Ali began to publish his landscape photographs. And he suddenly realized that he had hardly any photographs of his home country.
Since then, Ali has been travelling the whole of Scotland, always in search of the most beautiful subjects. “I have always been interested in vast landscapes, coastlines and mountain ranges. I love the scale of these places, and how you can feel so small and insignificant in their presence.” We leave the wobbly canoe and hike up a small hill. Ali does not get irritated by the drizzle, step by step, he fights his way through the mud. The Scotsman laughs: “The weather may not be the best, but fear not as the views will make up for it!”
Photography taught me to respect and appreciate nature and wildlife and to never take anything for granted. Something will always turn up if you keep persevering.
Ali’s job often seems simple, almost like a holiday. And yet: His work as a photograper is anything but effortless. “There is not a strict 9 to 5. It can be busy or quiet, depending on the time of the year.” For even though Ali has inspired countless people with his photographs – there were times when there was a shortage of orders and consequently of income. “Of course, there are setbacks when you don’t get some client work you were hoping for.” Therefore, Ali works part-time at a marketing agency. But he still wants to spend most of his time on his photography: “It taught me to respect and appreciate nature and wildlife and to never take anything for granted. Something will always turn up if you keep persevering.” With Ali’s words in the back of our minds, we go back to the Hymer and set off to learn more about Scotland and its people.
Ali Horne originates from Glasgow and is a successful landscapephotographer and instagrammer: Even though the Scotsmen has seen many parts of the world, he is particularly fond of his home country. Here are Ali’s five insider tips for the most beautiful places in Scotland’s – not only, but also for taking photos of them: