Rolling velvety green mountain scenery dotted with small lakes, Scotland

Stunning Scotland - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 24th January 2010

The History of Scotland

  • Part of Scotland was occupied by the Romans who retreated from Pict savagery and constructed Hadrian’s Wall. Scotland was first united by one king (Kenneth) in the ninth century.
  • Scotland was conquered by English King Edward 1 in the thirteenth century, but gained independence in 1314, after the Battle of Bannockburn. The country then had its own monarch until 1603, when Elizabeth I died and James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, ruling both countries. Scotland remained an independent state until 1 May 1707, when the Acts of Union joined it with England, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Is Scotland Part of the United Kingdom ?

  • Scotland is, currently, the second largest country in the UK, after England. The total population is around 5.2 million, around 8.5 per cent of the UK’s population. the majority of this number live in The Central Belt, which includes the largest city, Glasgow and the capital city, Edinburgh
  • Since July 1, 1999, Scotland has had its own parliament.
  • Scotland has three officially recognised languages: English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic. Just one per cent of the population use the last.

Scotland - Snippets of Information

  • Scotland’s most cultural icons - were actually developed elsewhere: kilts - Ireland, tartans - found in Bronze Age central Europe, bagpipes - ancient Central Asia, whisky – China, then Irish monks, haggis, is probably Greek.
  • Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads in the world. Around 13 per cent of the population has red hair, with 40 per cent carrying this recessive gene.
  • The shortest scheduled flight in the world is one-and-a-half miles long from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. The journey takes 1 minute 14 seconds to complete.

Travelling in Scotland

The Weather

Don’t take any notice of the weather forecasts. They are invariably wrong, and thankfully, it’s often brighter than expected. But the weather can change literally every minute, from showers, to cloud to sun. When it’s sunny the scenery is glorious. When it’s dull the mountains are mysterious and melancholy. It’s very atmospheric. But getting soaked isn’t much fun. So be prepared at all times.

Midges

Scotland is notorious for midges - tiny pesky little insects. Their bite is infuriatingly itchy and during their short summer breeding season they can descend in droves. You might want to take a hat with netting attached (or an Australian type hat with bobbing corks) just in case. Keep your eyes peeled and head the other way if you spot them. I don’t find that they take much notice of insect repellent, though you can try. They’re sadly capable of penetrating cotton T shirts with their bites. And apparently they love dark colours, so dress accordingly.

Taking the Car

You need a car in Scotland (and especially the islands ) if you’re not on a tour. (Unless you’re hardy and you’re cycling). It pays to take it slow – single track roads with passing places are common and some of the roads are precarious switchbacks with precipitous drops. Reversing up them if you meet another vehicle isn’t much fun.

Petrol

Keep an eye on the petrol gauge. Fuelling stations are few and far between. Many are 24 hour unmanned pumps which operate using credit cards. So make sure you have one.

Navigating

Know where you are going and keep a map close at hand. There is very little phone signal in many areas (especially in the southern Western isles and wilderness of the Highlands), so you won’t be getting any GPS. Off the major roads the signposting may be non existent and (in the islands) what there is may only be written in Scottish Gaelic. Fortunately, the local people are very helpful if you get lost!

Ferries

The ferries, mostly operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), are punctual and the staff friendly (for the most part) and tolerant of anxious driving. But make sure you book in advance and are punctual. They re very busy in the high season and if you’re not there when you’re supposed to be you may get bumped. And sometimes there’s only one boat a day. You can get a Hopscotch Ticket that takes you through all the Western Isles from Oban to Ullapool (4 crossings in all). Many of the islands are now linked by causeways or bridges.

You are not allowed to stay in your vehicle on any of the longer crossings – and it’s much nicer to get out and see the views. There are often dolphins and seals to be spotted. Though it may be very blustery. Take a coat or sit in the café. On shorter crossings some folk opt to stay in their cars (and indeed were forced to during the worst Covid times) but I wouldn’t entertain the idea, unless obliged to. You can’t see out and the rolling feels much worse down in the bottom. It’s a recipe for sea sickness. And be prepared for your car to get doused with sea spray on any of the smaller boats. But don’t worry. It will rain soon and that will wash it off.

The Time of Covid

The Scots are still very strict about regulations around Covid. Mask wearing is expected in any public indoor space, including all shops and transport. You have to sign in on Track and Trace or leave your details. And there’s sanitising spray everywhere.

Food and Drink

The food in the islands is on the expensive side and varies from plentiful fish and chip shops (mostly haddock), seafood shacks ( many now closed or with limited hours due to Covid), to pubs and fine dining. Most feature salmon, smoked haddock (as in Cullen Skink soup) shellfish, haggis and venison.

The Scots are notorious historically for their less than healthy diets and there’s still quite a lot of fried food around. The breakfasts are filling and all feature Stornoway black pudding, which is delicious, but doesn’t sit easily with my digestion. There’s also plenty of complimentary shortbread.

Whisky distilleries abound – all eager to take tourists with money on tasting tours. But there’s also an increasing number of gin distilleries - some of their offerings are exceptionally pleasant.

Music

The Scots love live music – usually bands with a fiddle and many pubs provide entertainment of this kind - though sadly restricted at the moment because of Covid. Hotels and restaurants sometimes substitute recordings instead. And if you’re very unlucky you’ll get the bagpipes with their distinctive lilt (or wail depending on your point of view) too.

Where To Visit in Scotland?

  • Scotland has approximately 790 islands, (130 of which are inhabited) and more than 600 square miles of freshwater lakes, including the infamous Loch Ness. The very first recorded appearance of the elusive Loch Ness Monster occurred in 565 AD. There are also many mountains. Scotland is renowned for its scenic Highlands. Just about anywhere in Scotland will reward a visit. It's a stunning country. I was captivated on my first trip (midges notwithstanding) from the moment I crossed into the rolling hills of border country. No passports required here (yet).
  • I was lured in by Stirling (and its castle), Bannockburn (Robert the Bruce), Loch Lomond, (singing the song), the impossibly picturesque Trossachs and Callander (Dr Finlay’s Tannochbrae), Inverness and Loch Ness (no sign of the monster, just a startled stag), the Cairngorms and the ski resorts (a little snow on top) and peaceful Loch Tummel.
  • Luss on Loch Lomond proclaims itself to be the prettiest village in Scotland. The views across the loch to the gentle slopes beyond are lovely. And there's a river walk beside crystal clear water. The pier and beaches are crammed with tourists - it's sunny. There's also an unremarkable church and a general store. The houses are mainly identical built of a pinkish stone with tall chimneys and give the appearance of being fairly recent. They're decorated with bright hanging baskets. It's a weird mix.

Edinburgh, Capital of Scotland

  • Recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century, Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the highest courts in Scotland. The city's Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland.
  • The city is also known for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, the latter being the world's largest annual international arts festival
  • It’s a great city to wander. There's The Royal Mile, Holyroodhouse, the castle on its volcanic stack, atmospheric Victorian pubs and upmarket glass plated restaurants, all framed by the volcanic plug that is Arthur’s Seat.
  • Fascinating trivia: Edinburgh was the first city in the world which had its own fire brigade. And like Rome, Edinburgh (so they say) was built on seven hills. Its multitude of dark smoky stone boasts more listed buildings than anywhere in the world.
  • A must see is the statue of Skye terrier Grey Friar’s Bobby, immortalised in book and (weepy) film, for sitting on the grave of his dead owner for 14 years.

Glasgow

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, with an estimated population of 635,640. At its height in Victorian times, Glasgow was double that size and even sometimes referred to as the "Second City of the British Empire".

It grew from a small rural settlement on the River Clyde to become a medieval bishopric and royal burgh, with the University of Glasgow established in the fifteenth century. From the eighteenth century onwards, the city then expanded, as one of Great Britain's main hubs of transatlantic trade. The onset of the Industrial Revolution led to Glasgow becoming a centre for chemicals, textiles and engineering; most notably in the shipbuilding and marine engineering industry.

On further journeys a much renovated Glasgow over recent years became a favourite, especially for the Rennie Mackintosh architecture and tea room. Sadly the art school was badly damaged by fire for the second time recently. You still have to navigate the dialect (have you read Swing, Hammer Swing?), but it’s a bustling and friendly place.

The West Coast

  • I love the scenery up the West Coast, where the Highlands really begin. 'In traditional Scottish geography, the Highlands refers to that part of Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses mainland Scotland in a near-straight line from Helensburgh to Stonehaven.'
  • Starting with brooding Glencoe. This is historically renowned as the scene of the gruesome battle between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. But for me also uncomfortably recalled as the scene of a very unfortunate skiing trip. I had to walk miles carrying my skis up to the snowline and then got knocked out almost as soon as I arrived, when I fell off the chairlift, unweighted by the skis I was hefting.
  • Through Fort William. Ben Nevis is the exciting backdrop. It's the highest point in Scotland is Ben Nevis, at 4,406ft. Any mountain over 3000 feet is known as a Munro - Munro bagging is a popular challenge. Just beyond Fort William, at Loch Garry, a kilted piper lilts (or wails) a welcome.
  • Then the awesome Road to the Isles. Past Loch Duig and Eilean Donan castle, an absolutely perfect photo stop. There's a bridge over to the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides now. The Kyle of Lochalsh sits near the entrance.This town has what are probably the best decorated toilets in the UK.
  • The dishes of little lobster tails served up in the pubs on the Skye . Utterly delicious.

North-West Scotland

It’s the scenery beyond here that is my very favourite. The stark beauty of the north west is just breath-taking, beautiful white beaches, islets, puffins, wild loch scenery (Torridon is wonderful) and Suilven raising its bleak brown head to crown it all. This part of Scotland is included in the North Coast 500 Route which I drove.

A longish ferry journey away are the Wondrous Western Isles.

And Even Further North

  • Shetland and Orkney aren't so easy to access, but incredibly rewarding.

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