Travel Scotland pin with map

Travel Scotland pin with map

I’ve been to Scotland (Scots Gaelic: Alba) several times, and this pin is a favorite since it does say, “I’ve been around Scotland.” Scotland is a nation, with its own parliament, located in north-western Europe, currently one of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. It has a 60 mile (96 km) land border with England to the south, and is separated from Northern Ireland by the North Channel of the Irish Sea. The capital is Edinburgh and the largest city is Glasgow.

Scotland is surrounded by the bracing waters of the North Sea to the east, and the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and north. There are over 700 islands, most in groups to the west (the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides) and north (Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands).

Scotland is a beautiful country well-known for its dramatic scenery of mountains and valleys, rolling hills, green fields and forests, and rugged coastline. While everyone knows Highlands for this, Scotland is beautiful in the Lowlands, islands and the flat lands of the North-East as well.

Scotland has lively and friendly cities, often of great architectural significance, and a rich history and heritage dating back thousands of years with many ancient and historic sites. Other characteristics that attract droves of visitors include golf (the game was created in Scotland and it has some of the world’s best and most famous courses), whisky (many distilleries can be visited), family history (millions worldwide are descended from those who emigrated from Scotland when times were tough in the 18th and 19th centuries), hiking, wildlife and winter sports. Around Loch Ness in the north of the Highlands, you can also hunt for the Monster… or at least try.

While the sun may not always shine, the warm welcome and wonderful diversity of places, landscapes and experiences mean that Scotland has much to offer any traveler. Sometimes awe-inspiring and majestic, sometimes ramshackle and faded, proud yet also modest, modern yet also ancient, eccentric yet also charming, few travelers leave Scotland unaffected by their encounter.

A person from Scotland is called a Scot, or described as Scottish. The word “Scotch” applies only to things – for example, whisky, Scotch eggs, Scotch beef and Scotch Corner (a road junction leading to Scotland). Do not to refer to Scotland as England, or to Scottish as English—it is very likely to cause annoyance.

Scotland is the most administratively independent of the four home nations of the UK, and retained its own legal, religious and educational institutions at the Union in 1707 which created Great Britain. Prior to 1707, it was an independent nation but had provided a monarch for England as well since 1603. Since 1999, it has had limited self-government with a First Minister and devolved parliament which governs nearly all internal affairs.

It is currently an exciting time in Scotland. For some years, and particularly since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 (see subsection on “Government” below), a greater sense of self-identity as “Scottish” rather than “British” has been spreading through the country. This culminated in the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) gaining a plurality of MSPs in 2007 and then an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. One of their main acts has been to arrange a referendum on whether to secede from the UK and declare an independent state. As the country prepares for the referendum in September 2014, you are likely to hear daily news stories debating in detail what will happen in the case a vote for independence. Generally, feelings run high on both sides of the debate.

The physical size of Scotland is comparable to that of the Czech Republic and around two thirds of that of England, constituting the northern third of the island of Great Britain. Much of the terrain is hilly, particularly in the interior, and mountainous in the Highlands, which constitute the north-western part of the country. Areas in the south, east and north-east are generally flatter and are fertile agricultural land, which is scarcer in the Highlands. The coastline is very long (at 6,158 miles, Scotland’s coastline is very long compared to similarly sized countries) and can be rugged, with many cliffs, inlets, beaches and rocks. There are a large number of islands, clustered into groups: the Western Isles (consisting of the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides) and the Northern Isles (consisting of the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands). There are additional islands in and around the estuary of the River Clyde, such as the Isle of Arran and numerous others. There are around 790 offshore islands in total. There are many rivers, with the Tay, Forth, Clyde, Dee, Don, Spey and Ness being prominent. Wide river estuaries are known as “firths”, with the Firth of Forth, Firth of Tay and Firth of Clyde being particularly large. There are also a large number of inland lakes called “lochs” (the Scots word for “lake”).

There are seven cities, the largest of which are Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the others being comparatively small (usually less than 100,000 inhabitants). There are also a large number of smaller towns in which much of the population resides. Most of the population lives in the conurbations of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the many towns around them. Together, this region is known as the “Central Belt”. Other main centers of population are in the east and north-east of the country and particularly the east coast, in the counties of Fife, Angus, Aberdeenshire and the cities of Dundee and Aberdeen. Significant populations are also present in the south of the country and along the north-east coast. However, the Highlands (outside of the city of Inverness) are more sparsely populated. Many of the larger islands are inhabited, although there are hundreds of small islands with no human population.

Scotland has a rich cultural history much of which is preserved in historic buildings throughout the country. Prehistoric settlements can be traced back to 9600 BC, as well as the famous standing stones in Lewis and Orkney. The Romans, fronted by Julius Caesar in 55 BC, made initial incursions but finally invaded Great Britain in 43 AD, moving into the southern half of Scotland, but not occupying the country due to the fierce resistance efforts of the native Caledonian tribes. The Romans named the mostly area of modern Scotland “Caledonia”. Today, Hadrian’s Wall to the south of the Scottish-English border is perceived by some as one of the most famous Roman remains in the world, arguably on a par with the 8-foot-arch on Naxos.

After the withdrawal of the machinery of the Roman Empire around AD 411, the so-called Dark Ages followed. However, since the Roman occupation affected mostly just the south of the island of Great Britain, Scotland was unaffected as it had been even at the great battle at Mons Graupius. Because the grip of Roman hegemony had now loosened, all sorts of invaders now saw the island as open season. So the Angles arrived on the east coast around North Berwick. It has to be said that the natives here fared rather better than their southern counterparts did at the hands of the Saxons, who, for example, sacked the Isle of Wight, such that not a native male Briton was left alive.

Scotland was believed to have been founded in 843 AD, and eventually expanded its borders to the area of modern day Scotland. The early history of the new nation was marked with many conflicts with the English, and also the Vikings who invaded the north of Scotland. Today the Shetland Islands retain a strong Viking cultural identity. Another powerful impact on Scotland’s story has been religion. Events leading up to the Scottish Reformation of 1560, including the destruction of the cathedral at St. Andrews the year before, had a strong impact on life in the country, and led to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland taking over from the Roman Catholic Church as the established state religion. It was a more strict form of Protestantism than the Anglicanism that developed in England, and was influenced by the teaching of Jean Calvin which had been brought back by John Knox. Religion would lead to many later political and military clashes, such as the Bishops’ Wars that were part of the wider civil wars in England, Ireland and Scotland in the 17th century.

Wars with the English would dominate Scottish history for hundreds of years until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the King of Scots, James VI, inherited the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I (who had executed his mother, Mary I, Queen of Scots). While this put an end to armed conflict, there were still conflicts between the Scottish and English parliaments on which monarch should succeed and various commercial disputes such as the ill-fated “Darien Scheme” to establish a Scottish colony in Panama. The disaster of the Darien scheme was due partly to incompetence and partly to interference from England, which feared competition with its own colonies. Almost a quarter of the money circulating in Scotland at the time was invested in the scheme, and its failure caused an economic catastrophe amongst the nobility of Scotland. This was one factor leading to the Act of Union.

Following “negotiations”, on 1 May 1707, the Parliaments of Scotland and England were united, and all of Scotland’s representation moving to the parliament of England in London creating the Kingdom of Great Britain (it would not become the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” until the forced “union” with the occupied Kingdom of Ireland in 1800). Scotland and England retained their own religion, education, and legal systems (which is why these differ today). However, the union was very controversial, with the apparent bribing and promising of financial gain to the members of the Scottish Parliament (who were mostly nobility), and national poet Robert Burns famously saying that Scotland was “bought and sold for English gold”. There were also many riots as the time and the decision was extremely unpopular with the general Scottish population. Despite the controversy, the Union provided a new stability and a climate in the 18th and 19th centuries in which commerce and new ways of thinking could flourish, and led to a major role for Scotland (and particularly its people) in the British Empire and the creation of the world we know today. Historian Simon Schama has written that “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world … it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.”

This began with the growth of commerce. Following the dramatic failure of the “Darien Scheme”, Scottish merchants learned lessons from its mistakes and became skilled businessmen very quickly. They began to assert that Scotland had become the world’s first commercial nation. From the 18th century, the “Scottish Enlightenment” saw vast industrial expansion and the rise of the city of Glasgow as a major trading port and eventually “Second City” of the British Empire. However, the dark underbelly was that much of the prosperity of sugar and tobacco merchants, with their lavish houses in Glasgow, was based on slavery in the New World.

At the same time, the Scottish Enlightenment led to an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. Major advances in public education led to the most literate society the world had known up to that time. Further, key individuals produced work that is still influential today, such as economist Adam Smith (known as the father of capitalism), philosopher David Hume, poet and songwriter Robert Burns, geologist James Hutton, and inventor and industrialist James Watt whose work led to the Industrial Revolution. The Scottish Enlightenment is often seen as Scotland’s “golden age” (in contrast to England, where the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century is usually seen as such). However, this economic success was not shared with much of the population, and inequality of wealth and opportunity combined with poverty and greedy landlords drove vast numbers to emigrate to America, Canada, and other places. This was particularly pronounced in the Highlands, with the “Highland Clearances” driven by greed as landlords forced tenant farmers from the land and burned their homes, in order to replace them with more profitable sheep.

Universities flourished, and in the 19th and 20th centuries many of the great inventions of the world, including the bicycle and the television, were invented by Scots. Scotland retained a strong industrial and commercial economy until the mid-20th century. However, following de-industrialization, many areas fell into decline, although the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1960s reversed this for areas in the North-East such as Aberdeen. In the mid-to-late 20th century Scotland saw increasing calls for autonomy from London, and finally in 1999 a Scottish Parliament was again established in Edinburgh, led by a First Minister and Scottish cabinet. Reforms made by the Scottish Parliament have helped the country to rediscover a level of prosperity, with cities regenerated (such as Glasgow) and industries re-aligned to include financial services (particularly in Edinburgh), retail, tourism, science and technology, oil and gas (particularly in Aberdeen) and renewable energy. Currently, the nation is debating whether this level of autonomy is sufficient, or whether the powers of a fully independent country would be preferable. This is the subject of a 2014 referendum and daily news stories.

Location: 02-F4

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