Scotland is an amazing country. Despite having only just over five million inhabitants and a relatively small land area, you will discover a diversity of landscapes that will blow you away and rich history and culture going back thousands of years.
Scotland is the northernmost part of the island of Great Britain, bounded to the west and north by the Atlantic Ocean, to the east by the North Sea and to the south by England. The country lies at between approximately 55º and 60º North, making it roughly as far north as Moscow, St Petersburg and Churchill in Canada, but is kept much warmer than these other high latitude cities due to the Gulf Stream bringing warm waters up from the Gulf of Mexico to the west of the UK. Scotland covers 30,297 sq miles and is comprised of a Mainland and approximately 700 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The islands are grouped into three main archipelagos: The Shetland Islands, which are nearer to Norway than Scotland; The Orkneys, lying of the far northeast coast; and the Hebrides, an arc of islands stretching along the west coast.
The Mainland is made up of three distinct areas: The Highlands – a mountainous area covering nearly half of the country, notable for its fjord like west coast, deep lochs, ancient forests and wild uninhabited moors and plateaus. The area boasts the 54 highest hills in the British Isles, including Ben Nevis, the highest peak at 4409ft; The Central Lowlands – the middle part of the country stretching like a belt from Ayr in the southwest to Stonehaven in the northeast. This area is the flattest, most fertile and heaviest populated part of Scotland; The Southern Uplands – This upland area of rolling hills and forest separates the Central Lowlands from England, and includes the Galloway Hills in the far southwest and the hills of the Tweed valley.
Scotland receives a high level of rainfall, although it does not fall equally across the country, with the west coast receiving several times as much per-annum as the southeast, and in the winter the Highlands often receives high snowfall.
All this water feeds Scotland’s main rivers, principal among them are: The River Tay, the River Clyde, the River Tweed, the River Forth, the River Dee, the River Spey and the River Don.
The Kingdom of Scotland is one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and is governed as a Constitutional Monarchy. The Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (since 1952), although in Scotland she is more frequently referred to as Elizabeth, Queen of Scots, in recognition of her Scottish lineage. As part of the UK Scotland is administered from the Palace of Westminster in London by the Labour Government led by Prime Minister Tony Blair (since 1997), but since 1999 a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh has been responsible for administering the domestic issues of Scotland.
In 2004 HM the Queen opened Scotland’s new Parliament building. Scotland has her own legal system different from English law, and whose integrity is guaranteed by the Treaty of Union (1707). Scots law is a feudal statute legal system based on Roman law. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland has no written constitution, but is governed by a series of checks and balances on the authority and prerogatives of the Crown of Scotland, and contained within fundamental documents such as the Claim of Right (1689) and the Declaration of Arbroath (1320).
A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY
AD43 – Roman invasion of Britain begins in earnest, and despite a temporary occupation of southern Scotland, by the 2nd century the legions pretty much leave northern Britain to the ‘Barbarians’.
4th–9th Centuries – During this period, known as the Dark Ages, four main tribal groups emerge:
The Angles – A Germanic people who, along with the Saxons, arrived and took over England following the departure of the Romans. In Scotland, they would occupy the lands south of the River Forth including Edinburgh. During the period this area was ruled by an ‘English’ king of Northumbria.
The Britons – A Celtic race similar in many respects including language to the Welsh. They were descended from the original Celtic peoples living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion. During the Dark Ages, they ran their own kingdom stretching from Glasgow to Carlisle called Strathclyde.
The Scots – Another Celtic people, but of a different linguistic branch to the Britons. Originally from Ireland, the Scots were a Gaelic race who settled out the Western Highlands from around the 3rd century, eventually moving their capital and seat of Royal power to Argyll in the 4th century. Their name means ‘pirate’ which was the nickname the Romans gave these bandits as they raided the Roman shipping.
The Picts – The most obscure of the four, as we don’t even know what they called themselves. Again a Celtic race with linguistic similarities to the Britons, but with probable pre-Indo-European traits too. They lived mainly in the Highlands and in the plains of Fife, Aberdeen and Angus. Their legacy includes a countryside littered with beautifully carved standing stones.
563 – Following a battle in his native Ireland, Colum Cille (St Columba) goes into exile and sails to the Isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland where he establishes a monastic community, which would shine like a beacon throughout Dark Age Europe. Columba then works to convert the heathen Picts to Christianity.
685 – The Picts and the Scots combine their Celtic forces to repel the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Scotland at the battle of Dunnichen. As an omen for victory a white cross appears in the blue sky, a symbol that would evolve into the flag of Scotland, the oldest in Europe.
9th Century – The Picts and Scots become increasingly close, a relationship spurred on no doubt by the increasing Viking incursions into the Scots kingdom of Dalriada. In 843 Kenneth I MacAlpine, king of Scots becomes king of the Picts, thus uniting the two peoples under one crown, giving birth to the Kingdom of Scotland.
c.900 – After sustained Viking attack on the kingdom of Strathclyde the Britons and the Scots join forces to expel the invaders. From this time the king of Scots acted as overlord of Strathclyde, finally annexing it.
1018 – Edinburgh and the Northumbrian kingdom of Lothian is annexed by King Malcolm II, and Scotland’s borders are more or less set.
1263 – At the Battle of Largs King Alexander III defeats the king of Norway and takes the Western Isles for Scotland.
1286 – Death of Alexander III, the last Celtic king of Scots
1290 – Alexander’s baby granddaughter Margaret dies on the Orkney Islands, precipitating a succession crisis. There are 13 claimants, including John Balliol and Robert Bruce. As the country stands on the brink of civil war, the Scots ask Edward I of England to choose, he demands overlordship, which he gets, and appoints John Balliol as king.
1296 – John stands up to Edward and signs a treaty with France. Edward invades and conquers Scotland. The Wars of Independence begin.
1297 – William Wallace leads the war against English rule and defeats Edward’s army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. He is betrayed a few months later at Falkirk and Edward regains control.
1305 – William Wallace captured, and executed in London.
1306 – Robert Bruce (junior) kills another contender to the throne, plunging Scotland into civil war as well as fighting the English. Bruce is excommunicated as the murder took place in a church. In the same year however he has himself crowned king, in secret.
1308 – Edward I dies and succeeded by his eldest son, the weak and ineffectual Edward II
1314 – At the Battle of Bannockburn Robert Bruce defeats Edward II’s army, finally repulsing the English from the land of Scotland. Bruce is recognised as the undisputed king.
1320 – In response to the excommunication order still hanging over their king, the nobility write a letter to the Pope, outlining why the Scots were fighting and why freedom is the right of all men, all men are equal and that sovereignty of Scotland should and will lie with its people. The Pope re-communicates Robert the Bruce.
1328 – Edward III of England recognises Scottish independence. A year later Robert I dies.
1350 – The Black Death arrives in Scotland. Although the effects of the plague were not as bad as other parts of Europe due to Scotland’s lower population density, nearly 20% of the country’s population would die.
1371 – The throne of Scotland passes through the daughter of Robert the Bruce to his Grandson Robert Stewart (Robert II), establishing the Stewart dynasty that would rule Scotland for the next 250 years.
1411 – John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles is defeated at the Battle of Harlaw, one of the bloodiest in Scottish history, as he attempted to usurp the power of the king in the Highlands. It marked the beginning of the end of the Lordship of the Isles, and as it collapsed there was a mad scramble by petty-chiefs to take the scraps, creating the Clan system in the process.
1469 – The king of Denmark defaults on his dowry to James III, and so Orkney and Shetland are given over to Scotland by the Danish in lieu of the debt.
1513 – The hugely popular King James IV invades England, in response to Henry VIII’s invasion of France. At the battle of Flodden despite a strong position the Scots are annihilated by the English army. Huge numbers of the nobility were killed including the king himself. He is succeeded by his baby son, James V.
1542 – James V dies and is succeeded by his 6 day old baby, Mary Queen of Scots.
1548 – After a period called the ‘Rough Wooing’ when Henry VIII invaded Scotland with a view of capturing the baby queen and marrying her to his son, Mary was smuggled to France where she married the Dauphin.
1559 – Henry II of France dies at a tournament and is succeeded by his son Francis, husband of Mary. Mary is now Queen of Scots and Queen of France.
1561 – Following the death of her husband the previous year, the 17 year old Mary arrives in Edinburgh to take up the reigns of power. As a Catholic monarch she was in for trouble from the Protestant nobility.
1565 – Mary marries her cousin and heir, Lord Darnley. This strengthens her claim of the English Throne through both their descent from Henry VII. The wars of religion sweep across Scotland, as John Knox leads the road to reformation and the establishment of the Calvinist Church of Scotland.
1567 – Lord Darnley is murdered, probably by Lord Bothwell, and perhaps in collusion with the queen who now hated her husband. The queen then marries Bothwell. The Protestant nobles rebel and Mary is imprisoned in Loch Leven castle. She is forced to abdicate in favour of her 6 month old baby, who succeeds her as James VI.
1568 – Mary escapes, and raises an army to fight the nobility. She is defeated at Langside and flees to England. As a Catholic threat to the throne of Elizabeth I she is arrested and put into English custody for the rest of her life.
1587 – Mary Queen of Scots is executed by order of her cousin Elizabeth I.
1603 – Elizabeth I of England dies and is succeeded by James VI of Scotland as her sole surviving heir. James heads south to take up the reins of power in London. He is crowned as James I of Great Britain. He only makes one trip back to Scotland in the next 22 years.
1625 – James VI and I is succeeded by his son Charles I, the last king to be born in Scotland.
1637 – Edinburgh is rocked by riots against Charles’s attempt to force the English prayer book and Anglican system on the Church of Scotland. Charles displays an arrogant disregard to the feelings of his Scottish subjects, opening the door to rebellion.
1638 – The nobility and common folk of Scotland sign the National Covenant against the rule of Charles I. Charles is forced to turn to Parliament in England to raise funds for an army to quell rebellion in the north. This opens Pandora’s Box, and the autocratic Charles would find himself in open conflict with parliament.
1639 – Open war begins between Charles and the Covenant. Charles is defeated, forcing him to go cap in hand again to the English Parliament.
1640s – Civil war rips the British Isles apart. Charles is defeated by the Parliamentary army led by Oliver Cromwell, and in Scotland by the Covenanter army. Just as everything looks like settling down, Charles and the Scottish Royalists try again, and this time Cromwell stamps his authority.
1649 – Cromwell executes Charles I, much to the horror of the Scots, who immediately proclaimed his son Charles II.
1650 – Charles II is hastily crowned at Scone, the last king to be crowned at the ancient coronation site. Cromwell invades and conquers Scotland. All of Britain and Ireland come under the brutal control of the dictator.
1660 – Oliver Cromwell dies and Charles II is restored.
1685 – Charles II dies and is succeeded by his Catholic brother, James VII and II. His pro-Catholic stance brings him into direct conflict with the English and Scottish Parliaments. He is grudgingly accepted due in no small part that he has two Protestant daughters, who are likely to succeed him.
1688 – James VII’s second and Catholic wife, Mary of Modena, gives birth to a boy, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, securing the Catholic succession. The English Parliament say enough is enough and force James out and into exile. They invite his daughter Mary and her husband the Dutch Protestant champion (and nephew to James) William of Orange to be joint king a queen. In return William must promise to be a constitutional monarch, whose authority is subject to the approval of Parliament.
1689 – By a mere 1 vote the Scottish Parliament also agrees to William of Orange as king. This precipitates rebellion in Scotland, led by John Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee). He raises the Highland Clans, and while initially successful they are defeated. However, the rebels, known as Jacobites and their cause rumbles on.
1692 – As the king looks to extend his authority in Scotland, he forces the clan chiefs to sign an oath of allegiance to him, and who don’t will be dealt with severely. The enforcement is left to John Dalrymple of Stair. The Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe was late with his oath, and so Dalrymple ordered the annihilation of the entire clan. As a blizzard raged 38 men, women and children were killed by the Redcoats at the massacre of Glencoe.
1698 – The Scots set up a trading colony at Darien in Panama. It is an utter disaster, with most of the colonists dying of fevers. A third of Scotland’s wealth was sunk on the fiasco. Scotland stood on the brink of bankruptcy.
1701 – The English Parliament passes the Act of Settlement preventing Catholics from inheriting the English throne, and by implication the Scottish one too. The Scots were not consulted and so pass the Act of Security, suggesting that Scotland may choose her own king if need be. The English fearing this would open the back door to France, and knowing that Scotland was still reeling financially decided to move towards a political union that would once and for all silence their troublesome northern neighbour.
1707 – The parliaments of England and Scotland dissolve themselves, and reconvene on the 1st of May at the Palace of Westminster in London as the Parliament of Great Britain. Scotland and England cease to be independent nation states. The treaty guarantees Scots Law and the freedom of the Church of Scotland.
1714 – Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch dies childless. In compliance with the Act of Settlement the crown passes to the highest placed Protestant – George Elector of Hanover, who becomes George I. This inflames the Jacobites who believe the crown should have gone to her half-brother James Francis Stuart.
1715 – The Earl of Mar leads a Jacobite rising, but it comes to nothing at Sheriffmuir near Stirling.
1745 – James’s son, Charles Edward Stuart lands on the west coast of Scotland and raises the Jacobite clans of the Highlands to fight for the Stuart cause. After taking Edinburgh the army marches south. 100 miles from London they turn back.
1746 – On the 16th of April the Jacobite army is crushed by the Government army led by the Duke of Cumberland. Charles flees the scene and finally escapes to France. The Government is now determined to break the power of the clan chief and destroy once and for all the clan system, ushering in a bleak, unparalleled period of social upheaval for the Scottish Highlanders.
1759 – Poet Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire on the 25th of January. His genius has earned him immortality, and his famous works include: Auld Lang Syne, My love is like a red, red rose and Tam O’ Shanter. Across the world his birthday is still celebrated.
1760s – 1830s – Edinburgh enters a period know as the enlightenment, where money pours into the city and intellectuals are to be found on every street corner. It earns itself the nickname ‘Athens of the North’. James Craig, a 21 year old architect wins the commission to design the New Town a symbol of the new Scotland. At the same time the industrial revolution sweeps through the Central Lowlands, especially in Lanarkshire with Glasgow becoming the greatest shipbuilding city in the world.
1771 – Sir Walter Scott the celebrated romantic writer is born in Edinburgh. He famously wrote Rob Roy, the Lady of the Lake and Ivanhoe. As an historian he choreographed the visit of George IV to Edinburgh, ‘re-discovered’ the Scottish Crown hidden in Edinburgh castle and designed a number of the clan tartans.
1776 – The Kirkcaldy born economist Adam Smith publishes the ‘Wealth of Nations’ in London.
1780s – 1850s – The Highlands entered their darkest hour as the spectre of the Highland Clearances fell like a shadow over the north. As the clan system was destroyed chiefs became landlords, and driven by profit they would evict thousands from their native glens, replacing them with sheep. Many went south to work in Glasgow, but countless thousands undertook the hazardous crossing to America and Canada to start a new life, building the British Empire in the process.
1781 – James Watt of Glasgow invents the rotary steam engine, thus advancing the industrial revolution.
1820 – King George IV makes a visit to Edinburgh, the first reigning sovereign to set foot in Scotland since Charles II.
1835 – The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie is born into poverty in Dunfermline. He would go on to become the richest man in the world. Carnegie believed in sharing his wealth, and nearly every town in Scotland has a library thanks to him.
1855 – Work is completed on Balmoral Castle, the Highland retreat of Queen Victoria. The castle is reflective of the Romantic view of the Highlands as portrayed by those such as Sir Walter Scott. It is also reflective of the changing use of the Highlands as a sporting playground for the rich.
1872 – Scotland and England play out a 0-0 draw at the world’s first international football match played at Lesser Hampden in Glasgow.
1876 – Edinburgh born Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.
1884 – The Napier Commission set up to look into the conditions in the Highlands and the excesses of the clearances reports to Parliament. The resulting Crofting Act would revolutionise life in the Highlands, and provide a framework by which the Clearances could never happen again.
1887 – Edinburgh writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publishes ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and introduces a new hero to the world – Sherlock Holmes
1890 – Forth Rail Bridge is opened, the longest cantilever bridge in the world and the most obvious expression of Scottish engineering excellence.
1894 – Robert Louis Stevenson, the celebrated Edinburgh writer dies on the island of Samoa. His most famous works include Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and Treasure Island.
1914 – 1918 – The First World War sees tens of thousands of Scots signing up to fight against the Kaiser. With such a proud military heritage the Scots would be in the vanguard of the British army as they tried to break the stalemate of the western front. Of all combatant countries only Croatia would lose a higher percentage of their young men than Scotland.
1916 – Edinburgh born Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig orders the offensive known as the Battle of the Somme. On the first day there were 60,000 British casualties, and by November nearly a million and a half men on all sides had been killed or seriously wounded.
1918 – Field Marshal Haig pushes forward and defeats the Kaisers armies, bringing to an end the First World War. He would later be ennobled as The Earl Haig.
1926 – John Logie Baird from Glasgow gives the first demonstration of his new invention – the Television.
1928 – Ayrshire scientist Alexander Fleming, while cultivating bacteria, discovered a mould that killed off the bacteria. He would call the mould penicillin.
1936 – Following the abdication of Edward VIII the crown passes to George VI. His wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon becomes queen, the first Scot to wear a crown since Charles I.
1950 – Scottish Nationalists led by Ian Hamilton remove the coronation stone, known as the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and return it to Scotland. This is the ancient stone upon which the Celtic kings of old were crowned, and was stolen by Edward I in 1296. Its theft is symbolic of the growing feeling of Scottish Nationalism and disillusion with London rule. The stone is returned.
1964 – The Queen opens the mile and half long Forth Road Bridge, finally decommissioning the Queen’s ferry established by her ancestor St Margaret 900 years earlier. In the same year Aberdeen suffers a serious outbreak of Typhoid.
1975 – North Sea oil comes online; Aberdeen becomes oil capital of Europe.
1979 – On the back of increasing support for Scottish independence the Government agrees to give the Scottish people a referendum on devolution. Although the vote was ‘yes’ the margin was too narrow, so according to the rules it would mean retaining the status quo.
1996 – After 700 years in exile in England the Stone of Destiny is returned to Scotland. Given full military honours and in the presence of the Duke of York the stone was placed next to the Honours of Scotland, Scotland’s crown jewels in Edinburgh castle. In the same year, living in Edinburgh Joanne Kathleen Rowling publishes Harry Potter.
1997 – After 18 years of Conservative rule, the party are wiped clean from the Scottish political map as they fall to the Labour party of Tony Blair across Britain. Thatcherism had pushed the Scots even further down the road to devolution and Tony Blair delivered a referendum. 75% of Scots said yes to a tax-raising parliament to deal with Scotland’s internal issues.
1999 – The Queen opens the first Scottish parliament in nearly 300 years. She did so in the presence of the Crown of Scotland, one of the oldest in the world, and worn by Robert Bruce.
2004 – Although originally estimated at £40 million and finished at £450 million, the new Scottish parliament building next to the Queen’s palace at Holyrood was officially opened for business by Her Majesty The Queen.
2014 – A referendum was held on the 18th September to see if the people of Scotland wanted to be part of an independent country again. The vote was 55% in favour of No.