Scotland Info

Information on this page is collected from different sources, some own stuff is added. However, there is no guarantee for correctness or information being up-to-date. This collection is meant as a very brief overview to give a feeling for the country.

The country, spanning an area of 78722 square kilometres (half the size of England) inhabits around 5 million people. Around 400.000 are living in the capital city Edinburgh.

The population, consisting mainly of Celts and Anglo-Saxons, use two languages: English as the main and Gaelic as the original one spoken until 12th or 13th century in the whole country. Today only roughly 70.000 people speak Gaelic, mainly in the North and the Hebrides.

As one of the remaining Parliamentary Democracies Scotland has as the head of the state England's Queen. You can find Presbyterian Churches, Anglicans and Catholics in the countries religions. Scotland is a member of the EU.

 

Famous for it's Whisky as biggest export (take care not to misspell as "Whiskey", which is used for the American stuff) with around 110 distilleries, the country has to offer a range of natural products like lamb, venison, salmon, trout, beef and wool.

Roughly two-thirds of the country is mountain and moorland. It has nearly 800 islands, partly grouped such as the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Shetlands and the Orkneys.

In ancient times covered by forest, the country today has just left a few spots with silver birches, alders, willows, rowans, heather, oaks and Scots pine. Much of the countries area consists of rock, heather and bog, huge areas are covered with peat, which is one of the raw materials for a good whisky (used as fuel to dry the germinated barley).

 

You can find flocks of sheep and Highland Cattle (the stuff looking like an unshaved, shabby and neglected, Irish (red hair!) animal). Especially in the Highlands both sheep and cattle are quite stubborn in the way of using roads - even honking normally doesn't care the animals more than a midge could do (and believe me - there are more midges than you can stand without repellent).

Besides those breeded species you can find reindeer, more and more wild boars again, few otters (try Otter Haven on the Isle of Skye), grouse, seals and different species of birds.

 

 


  How to dress ...

The weather is likely one of the most amazing and astonishing Scottish peculiarities. Wide variations in climate over small distances, several changes between sun, rain, cloudy times, storm and wind in a few hours - prepare well what to dress!
Although generally quite mild due to Gulf Stream Winds, the country - especially in the Highlands being close to the Arctic Circle - can have extreme weather anyhow. The West coast being milder, but wet (summer highs around 19C, the East Coast more cool and dry, the whole country seldom sees snow, but the chilly winds make you - even in summer time during July and August - sometimes feel like winter. Best time to visit is between May and September. Especially if your interest is the Highlands with it's nature July/August can be recommended.

  Visiting Scotland

The country can in total be called "expensive". The Pound Sterling, valid in both England and Scotland, has got a brother from the Scottish banks, which issue own banknotes. Anyhow you have a chance to keep costs down by avoiding Bed&Breakfast, which is widely spread in the country as an alternative to even more expensive hotels. A large network of camping sites fits the need of backpackers. The municipal sites are often cheaper than the private owned ones. The standard is good, even if not to be called luxury. 
With camping instead of B&B you can save more than half of your accommodation costs. Except Edinburgh the Highlands and the Islands are more expensive than the rest of the country. Ferry trips - especially with car -are really costing money. But they are mandatory parts of a trip including visits on Islands (except Skye, where a new bridge exists besides the ferries-anyhow, the very short passage is the cheapest one to any Island, and the bridge costs as much toll).

 

  

Food ...

Typical Scottish dishes are Haggis (with a high effort for accustoming - it consists, roughly spoken, of all that you normal throw away from the sheep - lungs, liver, heart put into the stomach), smoked salmon or trout, shortbread, porridge, seafood and meat (which came into hot discussions with the mad cow disease).




How is Whisky made?

Malting : The barley is brought into tank together with water to soak for 2-4 days. The barley is then spread on a malting floor (turned by hand daily) for around twelve days, allowing it to sprout.
As the seeds germinate, the starch in the barley releases some of its sugars. At the right moment germination is stopped by drying the cereal in a malt kiln (often pagoda-topped) over a peat fire. The peat smoke flavors the drying barley.

Mashing: The malted barley is then passing a mill, where it emerges roughly ground as grist. It comes to the mash tun where it's mixed with hot water. This dissolves the sugars, the resulting liquid is called wort.

Fermentation: the wort is cooled and filled into washbacks, where yeast is added to start the fermentation. The sugars in the wort are in about two days converted to alcohol. The low alcoholic liquid is called wash now.

Distillation: The wash is transferred to the stills, which shape is one of the most important factors for the process. The first still in the distillation is called wash still, the distiallte after this first distilliation is called low wines. In the second, spirit still the low wines are distilled again to become whisky. Only the middle cut with the best quality alcohol is used for the Whisky. The foreshots (raw, poisonous) as first distillation result coming out from the still and the aftershots or feints, coming out in the end of the distillation process are not used.

Maturation: The middle cut is now mixed with water to a defined strength and filled into oak casks, usually used to store other liquids like port or sherry before. It has to be stored for at least 3 years before it can be sold as Whisky. In this time a small part of the Whisky, called "Angels Share" evaporates.


Attractions and sites:

Edinburgh: Mandatory on a Scotland trip due to it's architectural heritage, historic Old Town contrasting to the Georgian New Town, the romantic Edinburgh Castle (foundations dating back to 850 BC), the royal accommodation at Holyroad an Carlton Hill with it's famous outlook. Have a look at Greyfriars Kirk and the graveyard  as well as the statue of "Greyfriars Bobby", a legend around a Skye Terrier holding vigil over the master's grave for 14 years (nice to buy the book in a nearby bookstore and brush up your English - I warn you - it is sad!).

The Inner Hebrides: The Isles of Jura, Islay, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Coll, Tirre and Skye can offer more than just Whisky or songs. 
Skye gives the chance for fantastic scenic coastal walks, very changing weather and some nature viewing opportunities such as Otter Haven. It's just beautiful and in case you want to visit just one Island my favorite.
Mull with it's capital Tobermory (remember the name from the Whisky?), where you find one of the countries most-photographed harbor with it's colorful houses. Also castles, mountains and a railway belong to this small Island.
Islay as the most southerly of the Inner Hebrides offers most for Whisky Enthusiasts and it's very smoky water of life. One of the best preserved Celtic crosses, the Kildaton Cross, can also be visited here.

Melrose: The attraction is a ruined Gothic abbey with decoratve stonework, but also a teddy bear museum for the castle-tired-mind

The Outer Hebrides: The Isles of Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis form an 200 km arc of treeless and remote Islands. Harris, well known for the Harris Tweed, might the most interesting of the group - mountains, rocky coastlines and beaches provide a good range of attractions.





Visiting castles, especially castle ruins, can get one of the hobbies of Scotland travelers. You can find those artifacts of ancient times nearly everywhere - sometimes at the most remote spots you can imagine.
Most of those sights are maintained by one of the two  main Scottish organizations - Historic Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland. You can find special tickets making the visit of many locations in the trip cheaper than buying single entry fees at every location!

If you can manage - try to visit some of the Highlands Games or bagpipe shows.

Last -but not least - don't forget to plan some time for Nessie-spotting !!!




Some history in short form ?

4000 BC Hunter-gatherers from England, Ireland and Europe occupy the country
397 Christianity arrived in the guise of St Ninian, who established a religious centre.
563 St Columba founds a religious centre on Iona
7th century Scotland is inhabited by a mix of Picts and Gaelic-speaking Scots in the north, Norse invaders in the island territories, and Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the Lowlands.
9th The scots gained ascendancy over the picts. Today only stones remined of them.
1297 The Highlands forces under William Wallace trashed the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge. William was executed by the English in 1305.
1306 Robert the Bruce becomes King of Scotland after murdering a rival. His first try to defeat the Englsih fails
1314 Robert the Bruce finally defeats the English at the Battle of Bannockburn; The Scots remain at law for almost 400 years now after this truning point in the fight for independance. A distinct barrier developed between Highlander and Lowlander, marked symbolically by the Great Glen - the fault line running between Fort William and Inverness. Highlanders were regarded as Gaelic-speaking pillagers by the Lowlanders, who spoke Lallans and led a less rigorous and more urban existence.
16th century  Fierce resistance to the English and persistent monarchic squabbles led to a virtual civil war.
17th century Also coloured by civil war with the background of the religious reform.
1707 The Act of Union brings England and Scotland back together, in exchange of the Scottish chruch and legal system being preserved
  Attempts to replace the Hanoverian kings of England with Catholic Stuarts didn't succeed, aslo because of the Lowland's suspicion of Catholicism.
1745 The son of James Edward Stuart (The Old Pretender, son of English king James VII) - known as Bonnie Prince Charlie (The oung Pretender) came to Scotland to claim the crown for his father. His defeat at Culloden caused the government to ban private armies, the wearing of kilts and the playing of pipes. This, combined with the industrial revolution, deleted the whole way of life of the Highlanders.
Late 1700s In the south the industrial revolution created cotton and shipbuilding industries with growing population and increasing trade. The gap between poor and rich increased. In the environment of growing cities, overpolulation and famines the Highlands Clearances began. Landlords forced people from their land. Those emigrated to North America, New Zealand and Australia. The remaining people were pressed onto small plots of land called crofts.
1930s- The world depression shocked the former prosperity, only Aberdeen could keep it because of North Sea Oil and gas discoveries in the 1970s. Unemployment, depolulation of rural areas, lower health&education standards compared to England did not diminish the wish to become independant from England.
2000 After years of  Britain's conservative-led government not really taking care of Scotland's desire for self-ruling the Scottish parliament convened in 2000. An independant Scotland isn't out of sight any more ...