The journey through the Scottish Highlands was part of a travel plan that I called “Journey in Viking Settlements” and which included visits to, in addition to the journey through this region, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and a visit to the outer Hebrides.
The Nordic heritage lives on in these areas, especially in the street and place names, which reveal that northerners lived here more than 1,000 years ago. The archaeological finds from the Viking Age are many, and to a large extent still visible. In conversations with people, the influence of Nordic culture was often mentioned.
This was a journey that took me through unique landscapes, impressive natural environments and that led to many encounters with friendly and hospitable fellow human beings. The couple Herbert and Ingrid Mackenzie in St. Margaret’s Hope on Orkney may be a symbol of this. The expression that Scots would be a stingy family came completely to shame during this trip!
Scotland history in brief
Scotland history, prehistoric period
According to Aristmarketing, the population of Scotland was going on gradually. The first people to come were hunters and gatherers. Around 4,500 BC there are the first traces of Neolithic farmers who came from the European continent. These people grew grain and kept livestock. They cleared large areas by burning the forest that at this time covered large parts of Scotland and thus created the heathland that is so typical of northern Scotland today. The people lived in well-organized societies. Fine remains of early settlements are found, among others, on Orkney (Skara Brae) and on Shetland (Jarlshof).
Their religious beliefs resulted in them burying their dead in large burial chambers, or in stone mounds. There are several well-known burial chambers in several places around Scotland, including Orkney (Maes Howe).
A new phase of development began when people developed their faith by setting up large clay pots filled with some drink that the dead would have at a later stage. During this period, the Bronze Age also came to Scotland when they went from flint tools to tools made of a copper / tin alloy. Swords and shields were introduced in the 1000s BC. In their defense, large ancient castles were built, which survived for a long time.
The Celts, the Picts as they came to be called later, came to Scotland in rounds during the 400s BC. They brought the iron with them and drove out the former settlers in the struggle for land. The fighting led to the Celts being forced to build much more sophisticated defenses, so-called brooches, which were large fortified stone towers. Adjacent to one side is an outer courtyard with a guard room. Brooches are available in several places around Scotland, in Orkney and Shetland.
At the end of the prehistoric period, just before the arrival of the Romans, Scotland consisted of warlike tribes inhabited by small communities, who, when not at war with each other, engaged in agriculture, sheep farming and fishing.
Scotland history, Roman period
In the world of the Greeks and Romans, Shetland and Orkney were “the end of the world.”
Around 330 BC, the Greek Pytheas left present-day Marseille and sailed around Britain. In his travelogue, he mentions an island called Thule, which was sailed north of Britain for six days, which may have been one of the islands belonging to the Orkney archipelago. His travel stories are not left in the original edition but are quoted in various sources.
The Romans, whose conquest of southern Britain began in 43 AD, after the successes in the south, tried to continue their conquest march north. When they came to Scotland, they met such strong opposition from the Celts (Picts) that in the year 123 AD. decided to give up the experiment. Emperor Hadrian then ordered the construction of a large defensive wall across southern Scotland. Hadrian’s wall, however, did not provide sufficient protection, which is why Antony, the then reigning Roman emperor, ordered that a new wall be built to keep the pact. The Romans withdrew from Britain during the 450s AD.
Scotland history, the period after the Romans
The British Isles were home to a number of different ethnic groups, each dominating its own territory.
To the north, from the regions of present-day Inverness and to the north, the Picts ruled.
In 563, the missionary St. Columba arrived from Ireland and founded a monastery, together with his brothers, on the island of Iona, just outside Mull in the Hebrides. Iona is often referred to as the “Cradle of Christianity” in this part of the world. From here, Christianity then spread further in the region. Christianity became a unifying factor between Scots and Picts that led to a merger of the two ethnic groups in 843 and for some reason the prominent Picts lose a large part of their identity with it. From the main area of the Picts around Inverness, Christianity spread rapidly to Shetland and Orkney.
Scotland history, the Viking Age
In the 890s, the first Vikings came to Scotland. Their arrival meant great changes for the people who lived here, for better or worse. The Hebrides, or Southern Islands as the Vikings called them along with the Isle of Man, came to be occupied for almost 400 years, Shetland and Orkney for almost 600 years. The Picts lived in Scotland, Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides when the first Vikings arrived. What happened to them at the arrival of the Vikings is shrouded in obscurity. Probably they came into conflict with each other, or they left the islands voluntarily upon the arrival of the Gentiles. At this time, the northerners were not yet Christians. Perhaps it was out of fear of the ravages of the Norsemen that led the British to join forces with the Scots to jointly defeat the Angles in 1018 and form the first Scottish kingdom. However, the areas occupied by the Vikings are not included. In 1263, the Vikings lose control of the Hebrides
Scotland history, some important years (after Christ) in Scottish history:
1124 – 1153 King David I introduces a feudal system, the clan system develops in the Highlands
1263 The Vikings lose control of the Southern Islands (the Hebrides)
1296 Edward I invades Scotland and takes the Scottish throne in exchange for war.
1314 The Scottish Army under Robert I Bruce defeats the English and Scotland regains independence.
1326 The Scottish Parliament convenes for the first time
1329 Scottish sovereignty is recognized
1472 Orkney and Shetland come under Scottish rule
1513 10,000 Scots killed in the battle of Flodden
1587 Queen Maria Stuart of the Scots is executed by order of Queen Elisabeth I.
King James VI of the Scots becomes English heir to the throne. Thus, the monarchy is moved from Scotland forever
1707 The Scottish Parliament is dissolved
1745 – 1746
The Jacobite Uprising. Bonnie Price Charles tries to recapture the Scottish throne but is defeated in the Battle of Culloden
Initiates the clearance of tenants from agricultural land to be replaced by a more “profitable” sheep breed
1769 James Watt patents the steam engine
1876 Alexander Graham Bell patents the first working telephone
1888 The Scottish Labor Party is founded by James Keir Hardie
1914 – 1918 74,000 Scots die in the First World War
1920s Hugh MacDiarmid restores Scottish status as a written language
1934 The Scottish Nationalist Party is formed
1967 Drilling for oil begins in the North Sea
1999 The Scottish Parliament reopens. Some autonomy is introduced
Scotland is very mountainous, with large, wild heather moors in the north and west, pine forests with interspersed pastures in the middle, fertile arable land can be found in the eastern part and in the lowlands in the south, rolling, grassy hills spread out. Everywhere you will find beautiful lakes or rivers.
Due to the great environmental differences in Scotland, the wild flora and fauna vary greatly. The best insight into this is on the wild Highlands, along the coasts and on the sparsely populated islands. The species richness among plants and birds is great. The mammals are fewer.
Scotland is the northern part of the United Kingdom. The region is mountainous and, for the most part, sparsely populated. The highest mountain is Ben Nevis, 1,344 meters high. The coast is surrounded by hundreds of islands, of which the Shetland Islands are the northernmost. The capital is Edinburgh. Glasgow, with its approximately 750,000 inhabitants, is the largest city. Number of inhabitants per km2 amounts to 8 (in Sweden 20).
In Scotland you will find rocks that formed over 3 billion years. The rocks in the Hebrides were formed before there was life on earth and show traces of lava flow, mountain range folds, a number of ice ages and remnants from a time when the country was separate from England. Four faults and excesses run across Scotland, from northeast to southwest.
About 500 million years ago, Scotland belonged to the North American continent, while England belonged to Gondwana. After continental rupture and plate displacement, the two countries collided 75 million years ago. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago.
You do not choose Scotland as a holiday destination if you are looking for lots of sunshine or daily swimming in lakes or the sea. It rains often, very often in Scotland.
“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” replied the poet Ted Hughes when asked why he was so happy to spend his holidays in the west of Scotland, given the heavy rain.
The weather in Scotland is extremely exciting, and unpredictable. The morning can start with clear blue skies and only a few hours later comes the downpour, which after a while turns into sunshine again.
Many consider the best time to visit Scotland to be May and September, when the changes in nature are greatest and when the high season has not yet started or ended. Most tourists visit Scotland in June, July and August. During these months, it can be crowded on the roads and difficult to get accommodation.
The average temperature / average rainfall in Edinburgh in May is +14 degrees Celsius / 49 mm, in June 17/45, in July 18/69, in August 18/73 and in September 16/57.
Scotland’s population is just over five million. Most live in the central and southern part of the country.
The Scots hold on to their identity and are happy to point out in what way they differ from the English. They cherish their regional differences, different customs and traditions, dialects and the Gaelic language.
My experience with Scots was that they were extremely friendly, helpful and hospitable.