Scotland is the upper third of the island of Great Britain. Most of Britain’s mountains are in Scotland (including the highest), and for that reason Central Scotland is known as “The Highlands.” Scotland is best known for two things: rugged scenery and rugged people.
Three mountain ranges make up most of Scotland: the Northern Highlands at the extreme north, the Grampian Mountain range in the middle and the Southern Uplands at the bottom. Between the Grampians and the Uplands lies the great valley of the Central Lowland. The rest of Scotland consists of more than 790 islands, which are even windier, colder and more barren than the rest of the country. The climate is said be “temperate” by people who have a loose way with words. You can get a better idea of Scotland’s weather if you keep in mind that some of it’s terrain is actually tundra. Thanks to the climate and years of human exploitation, there are few forests in Scotland, and none of great size.
The Scots are a mix of Gaels (a kind of Celt), Vikings and Anglo-Saxon intruders. The very name “Scotland” comes from the way the Romans mis-pronounced “Gael.” The Romans were not fans of the Scots. They tried to build a wall (Hadrian’s Wall) across the border between Scotland and Occupied Britain. They wanted to keep out Scottish raiders. The Wall was hugely expensive and didn’t do a bit of good.
From approximately the time of the Norman Conquest to 1707, Scotland was technically a unified country under a single crown. “Technically” is a word that here means “the historians are mostly lying.” During this period Scotland evolved its most distinctive cultural tradition: the Clan system. The early clans were tribes of families who lived in close proximity. Since most Scottish kings were weak, and because the mountainous terrain made it difficult to move troops, people looked to their local Clan Chief to protect them from criminals, dispense justice and provide for emergencies. The shortage of good land in Scotland led to centuries of Clan warfare.
After centuries of trying to defeat the Scots, the English gave up and made a Scotsman their King, in an effort to unite the two countries. This was King James the First, of literary fame. Gradually, the two countries came under a common political system. For the first few hundred years, Scotland was the victim of oppressive English laws that tried to destroy the Clan system and hand over the best land to English lords. The English tyranny caused hundereds of thousands of Scotsmen to emigrate, mostly to Canada and the States. However, there the descendents of Scots to be found in such places as Argentina and Brazil, not to mention Jamaica, who’s early European settlers were mostly Scots.
Today, Scotland is self-governing, with its own Parliment and direct representation in the European Parliment.
Scotland holds a special place in history. The Enlightenment came to England by way of Scottish intellectuals, and Scots engineers and businessmen started the Industrial Revolution.
Scotland has three other cultural traditions that are known around the world: Scotch Whiskey, bagpipes and the Kilt. The kilt is the only skirt-like garment routinely worn by Western males. Since Scotsmen tend to be big and brawney, they don’t usually get harassed. The kilted bagpiper is the standard symbol of Scotland, just as the Eiffel Tower stands for Paris and the Statue of Liberty means New York City.
The purple thistle is the national flower of Scotland. It’s stubborn, does well in a cold, dry climate and is dangerously prickly — rather like the Scots themselves.