Scotland is bagpipes and heather, heroes and battles, tartans and clans, whisky, castles and the Loch Ness monster. These are the images we conjure up when we imagine Scotland. In reality, most of these pictures are from the Scottish Highlands and they’ve come to represent the entire country.
Where did these Highlanders come from? Clues are scattered across the Highlands and Islands like dust upon the wind. We see them in their standing stones, brochs, and cairns that are 5,000 years old. We see signs of the ancient Picts on rock art, delicate lines etched in stone.
By the end of the 6th century, the Gaelic-speaking Celts had arrived from Ireland. St. Columba was tossed upon the shores of Scotland set up a monastic community on Iona. The fusion of Christianity and Viking culture, during the 8th and 9th centuries, produced St. Magnus Cathedral in the Orkney Islands. For 1,000 years, Celtic Highland society was based on a clan system and built on family ties. Unfortunately, the clans were systematically and completely broken by England by 1746.
The romantic vision we hold of the Highlands emerged in the early 19th century. Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poetry depicted a countryside that was unrefined and pristine. Queen Victoria visited the Highlands and bought Balmoral Castle, which became her country estate. Her passion for the Highlands spread to upper-class Brits who built sporting retreats. At the same time, many Highlanders left to make new lives overseas. Today, more than half of the people who live in the Highlands and Islands still live in communities of less than 1,000 people.
The historic gateway of the Highlands and Islands is Stirling. Begin exploring from here and you’ll discover magnificent mountains and heathered glens, curvy coastlines, and lonely isles. Amazing serenity. Inverness, the Highland capital, is near the heartland of whisky country and the Loch Ness monster. If you’re in a rosy mood, the romantic Hebrides Islands are just one magical ferry-ride from the modern world.