Landmark Visitor's Guide


A Brief History

Landmark Visitor's Guide


Scotland is situated on the northwest flank of Europe, the Atlantic Ocean splintering its craggy, western coastline while the tempestuous North Sea dividing its eastern shores from Scandinavia and the Low Countries. Small in comparison to most, the country of Scotland, for those that have lived here, visited or simply beheld its images on page or screen, exercises a peculiar hold on the heart.

The nation's enduring symbols, despite the tourist board's constant attempts to remodel them, are fairy-tale glens, medieval castles, swirling kilts, squealing bagpipes, malt whisky and haggis with the occasional appearance of a great, aquatic monster. In a world increasingly given over to the follies and insensitivity of modern man, such kitsch emblems seem to bolster and sustain Scotland's appeal rather than depreciate it.

Each year some four million visitors arrive to explore the country and there is much to maintain their interest. In all of its 30,500sq miles (79,059sq km), some 96 per cent of the land is classified as countryside with the majority of that comprising of wild mountains, desolate moors and great inland lochs. Furthermore, the bulk of its 5.5 million population live in the southern lowland belt leaving most parts of the north and south in relative peace.

Wildlife can still be encountered with native species such as red deer, wild goats, wild cats and eagles still present in some more remote areas and in relatively high numbers. Golf can be played for the price of a take-away meal with only one or two other players on the course. There are thousands of miles of hillside walks and scenery unchanged in hundreds of years.

But despite its isolation and inherent beauty, the remote Scottish environs still bear the mark of human activity with, for instance, over nine million sheep roaming and grazing the hills. There is a perpetual and pervasive forestation programme that has smothered hillsides with uniform rows of non-native pine, excluding the native species and blanking out or spoiling some of the better views. Of course, the clearing of Scotland's native woodland took place over many millennia as a result of farming and fuel requirements but the present spruce pine forests bear little resemblance to their forebears. Furthermore, the revenue from these plantations offers little benefit to local economies as modern forestry methods require few workers and wealthy investors from England's south-east reap the rewards from this profitable and tax-evading enterprise.

Scotland is not only known for its scenery and wildlife. The people themselves contribute greatly to the nation's character. Visitors could not find a more kindly nation. In the closer examination, to one another they might seem less tolerant. There is still an indigenous attitude that scorns the go-getter or entrepreneur, an 'I knew his father' outlook that has perhaps held modern Scotland back. The birth rate of small businesses for instance, is the lowest by far in Europe. Yet Scotland's earlier inventors made some of the most significant contributions to modern society. The telephone, television, chloroform, pneumatic tyre, postage stamp, bicycles, tar-macadam and penicillin are but a few of the innovations conceived and created by resourceful Scottish minds.

In terms of health, there has been a tendency for the Scots to slip behind other developed nations. Scotland's population, for instance, bears the worst rates of heart disease and dental problems in the world. This is mostly diet-related and it is only in recent years that a more enlightened attitude has entered the collective notion of cuisine. It has also led to a marked improvement in the restaurant industry which, until recently, was often less than mediocre.

Despite such problems, there is a steady wind of national pride that seems to be ever-freshening. Politically, there was extraordinary support for a devolved Scottish Parliament in the referendum of 1997. It seems, rather than be ruled by a British Parliament based some 330 miles (531km) away in a nation that was, for many centuries, the Scots' dread foe, Scots would now rather steer their own ship. While full separation, as proffered by the Scottish National Party, might not appeal to the majority, self-rule, albeit in a limited form, will be in place by the year 2000.

There is also a cultural renaissance pushing through the 'stoor' of years of indifference. Young people are awakening to their traditions and inheritance. Ceilidhs (Scottish dances) are now as popular in Glasgow and Edinburgh as they have been for years in Tobermory or Portree.

Tourism is Scotland's biggest industry worth around £1.5 billion to the annual economy. The country's patent heritage along with sports such as fishing and golf make it ideal for those prepared to explore or pursue specific activities. But even a simple car or coach tour through the glens, stopping to visit some of the great castles or experiencing the magnificent vistas, is amply rewarding.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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