The inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands were originally of Celtic descent, and a small number of them still speak Gaelic, an ancient Celtic language which is now being encouraged once again in schools. In the southern part of the nation, the people are descended from ancient Scots with liberal inputs by Nordic influences and a bit of Anglo-Saxon.
The Scots have been stereotyped as being thrifty, cautious, and careful of detail. They are far from being all alike, however. Scotland is a country in which individualism flourishes. This rich mix explains, in part, why Scots have been responsible for more of the significant discoveries and inventions we take for granted in today's world than any other nationality.
Most church-going Scots belong to the national Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian. The congregation of each kirk (church) chooses its own minister after a trial sermon, and every member of the church has some share in governing it. In general, sermon and prayer occupy a larger place in the church service than ritual and music. The Roman Catholic church has many members, especially in the Greater Glasgow area where there are many people descended from Irish immigrants. The Episcopal church of Scotland resembles the Church of England but is an independent body.
The Scots have a great respect for learning, and their history is full of people of humble birth who acquired university educations. In the early 20th century education was made easier for poor students by the Scottish-born American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. He set up the Carnegie Trust Fund in 1901 to help needy students and to foster research.
Education in Scotland is free in publicly maintained local authority schools from nursery school (3 to 5 years) through secondary school. At about 11 years of age primary school students enter secondary schools. Students may legally leave school at 16 but very few now do. Students who earn a certificate can continue to the colleges and the universities. Scotland has many universities, the oldest being St. Andrews, founded in 1410. Edinburgh is known for its school of medicine. The University of Glasgow emphasizes science and engineering.
On the northwest coast and on the islands there are tenant farmers called crofters. The crofts (small farms) are usually on or near the coast. Houses are built of stone gathered from the hillsides. They are roofed with corrugated iron or a thatch of reeds and heather. Peat cut from the moors furnishes fuel for cooking and heating. Rugged ground, poor soil, and excessive rain restrict crops to oats, potatoes, and barley. Crofters add to the family food supply by fishing--in lakes and streams if inland or in the sea if near the coast. They raise sheep on the hills and pasture a few cattle in the glens. In parts of the Highlands, large sheep or beef cattle farms predominate. Although there are thousands of crofts in the northern area, many are no longer cultivated. Crofting must be supplemented by other work, such as forestry, road work, cottage industries, or providing services to tourists.
In early days the ruggedness of the land led to the separation of the Highlanders into small groups called clans. Each clan was ruled by a chief, and the members of a clan claimed descent from a common ancestor. The traditional garment of the Highland clansmen is the kilt (short, pleated skirt), which is suitable for climbing the rough hills. Each clan had its own colourful pattern--called a tartan--for weaving cloth. Today the kilt is not a crofter's dress but a national costume, proudly worn for special occasions.
There are more than 100 gatherings of the clans, which draw many visitors to the Highlands. At these gatherings athletes wearing kilts compete in such ancient Highland sports as throwing the hammer and tossing the caber, a long, heavy pole. Bagpipers and Highland dancers add color and interest to the gatherings.
The Scottish culture is a vigorous one in its own right. Edinburgh's International Festival of Music and Drama, which began in 1947, draws more than 300,000 visitors every year, making it one of the world's largest cultural events. The Scottish National Orchestra and the country's opera and ballet companies, which are supported by the Scottish Arts Council, have been widely acclaimed. The Glasgow School of Art is world famous. The architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) studied there and later designed its buildings (1896-1909).
Scottish writers have had the choice of three languages: Scottish Gaelic; Lallans, or Lowland Scots; and English. The 20th-century poets Sorley Maclean and George Campbell Hay led a Gaelic revival, but a Lallans revival that developed after World War I faded. After World War II a new generation of Scottish poets was called the Lallans MaKars (makers). The most notable Scottish poets who wrote in Lallans and English were Robert Fergusson (1750-74) and Robert Burns (1759-96).
The bulk of the population lives in the belt that runs across the waist from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland's two largest cities. During the years following the Highland clearances, when landowners forcibly removed crofters from the land, the potato famines, and the Industrial Revolution, the population of the cities exploded. Before the traditional heavy industries began a decline in the latter part of the 20th century, the region was the heart of a great industrial area. The service industries, however, boomed and today form the core of the economy.
On the banks of the River Clyde below Glasgow, shipyards once produced every kind of ship, and goods flowed to all parts of the world from its docks. Iron and steel mills and other metal plants, engineering works, machinery factories, chemical works, and textile mills predominated. Shrinking world markets and foreign competition, however, undercut the city's fortunes in the era after World War II. Pollution, poor housing, urban blight, unemployment, violent crime, and other social problems plagued the city. In the last quarter of the 20th century, however, Glasgow began to revive. With ambitious rebuilding and marketing plans, the city promoted itself as a tourist centre and attracted investors. Glasgow was designated a European City of Culture in 1990 and is viewed as a dynamic and cultured city.
Edinburgh is the seat of government in Scotland, the centre of the Scottish legal system, the home of the Church of Scotland, the site of four universities, and Europe's largest financial centre after London. Banking, insurance, finance, tourism, medicine, and other service industries have supplanted the engineering industries and traditional light manufactures of printing and brewing.
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Tour Scotland with Scottish Tours. Discover the highlights of Scotland on a tour to Loch Ness, The Scottish Highlands, Skye and Loch Lomond.