The Real Scotland: Traveling in the Highlands

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Hiking in the Highlands. Photo courtesy of VisitScotland
Hiking in the Highlands. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

The terrain in places is as violent in appearance as the bloody battles that raged in Scotland for centuries. At the same time, it can be as gentle as a morning mist rising above the moors.

Craggy rock-strewn mountains stretch toward the sky. Towering cliffs plunge to the crashing sea below. The still waters of forest-clad lochs (lakes) reflect images of centuries-old castles and fortresses, which stand like silent sentries on their shores.

Loch and castle. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland
Loch and castle. Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

Mention Scotland, and this is the picture that people are likely to conjure up. Yet too few travelers head for the Highlands, the remote upper half of the country where, in many ways, the “real” Scotland can be discovered.

Although Scotland is only about two-thirds the size of the state of Pennsylvania, its Highlands comprise one of the last great wilderness areas of Europe. The region is sparsely populated. Sheep and long-haired cattle occupy much of the fertile land. Tiny towns dot the landscape. Well-maintained highways meander around lochs and skirt high mountains.

This setting has not always been so tranquil. The history of Scotland is replete with battles against a parade of invaders and tyrants. And when those enemies weren’t available for a good clash, high-spirited Scottish warriors often took to fighting among themselves.

The first record of Scottish history dates back to the Romans, who arrived in 82 A.D. They were followed by influxes of Celtic Picts, Anglo-Saxons, Britons and Celtic Scots, who came from Ireland during the third and fourth centuries.

The Treaty of Union in 1707 united the parliaments of Scotland and England, but nationalistic loyalties remained very much alive among the fiercely proud Highlanders. In an effort to crush their rebellious and independent ways, England in 1747 banned traditional Highland dress and the bearing of arms.

In 1780, a sorrowful page of Scotland’s history was turned. For the following 80 years, the Highland Clearances led to the eviction of thousands of tenant farmers and herders, who were forced from their land and replaced by sheep, which provided greater income.

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