Scotland (Gaelic: Alba) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, Scotland consists of over 790 islands including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.
As an old Scots saying has it, ‘guid gear comes in sma’ bouk’ (good
things come in small packages). And despite its small size, Scotland
certainly has many treasures crammed into its compact territory.
There’s something for all tastes. For the history buff, few cities
compare with Edinburgh and Glasgow; for the hungry, try haggis if
you must but don’t miss the Aberdeen Angus beef or smoked salmon
from Dumfries & Galloway or, for the thirsty, the peerless malt
whiskies of the Isle of Islay or Oban await. There is wild mountain
scenery of the Highlands & Northern Islands and cold, sparkling seas
washing against the Outer Hebrides. Wildlife watchers will find
otters, eagles, whales and dolphins, while hill walkers have almost
300 Munros to bag.
There’s turbulent history and fascinating genealogy, castles and country pubs, canoeing and caber-tossing, golfing and fishing and all-round good craic (lively conversation).
Although an integral part of Great Britain since 1707, Scotland has maintained a separate and distinct identity throughout the last 300 years. The return of a devolved Scottish parliament to Edinburgh in 1999 marked a growing confidence and sense of pride in the nation’s achievements.
Scotland's extremities encourage superlatives; from Britain's deepest lake (Loch Ness) to its highest peak (Ben Nevis), and all the way out to the Shetlands where they're not even sure if they're part of Scotland or Britain. There's a rich history of bloody battles on heather-softened moors and defence of now-crumbling castles, while Viking ruins hark back to another history preserved by the isolation of the outer islands. Buried even deeper in the past are the mystical standing stones that lift megalithic profiles across the Hebrides and Orkneys, their meaning blurred by time. And then there are the stories of prehistoric monsters puddling around in the lochs.
It's not all spooky though, with gutsy Fort William earning the title of UK's Outdoor Capital for its exciting walks, challenging skiing and burgeoning mountain-biking scene. Then there's the surprise of golden-sand beaches on remote Harris, and of watching the playful stumblings of puffins on a sheer cliff turn suddenly into flight. The absence of humans has meant that the isolated areas thrive with seals and whales, and birds you've never seen before.
Speaking of rare specimens, there are the locals; tougher than their shaggy highland cows and best encountered by the warm hearth of a highland pub. Folk might start with a chat as they warm their hands, but by the end of the night they'll be buying you a dram for the road if they're not inviting you for a lock-in.
For outdoor-lovers, especially walkers, the Highlands are heaven. Regional tourist offices stock free leaflets, plus maps and guides covering walking, cycling and other activities.
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