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Scotland Is ...The Scottish Image
Misty glens, lochs, mountains, tartan, bagpipes, and kilts: these are the most familiar images of
Scotland. How these essentially Highland aspects came to represent the whole of Scotland -- Highland,
Lowland, urban, and rural -- is one of the oddities of the nation's history.
Today, you can cross over the border from England and hear bagpipes in a Southern Uplands town, eat
shortbread from a tartan wrapper in the middle of Glasgow, and take in a Highland Games within easy
reach of Edinburgh. All this is well before you reach the real Highlands. Scotland, at least those
aspects of it dealing with tourism, embraces its kilted image wholeheartedly: tartan sells.
The glorious paradox is that if a tartan-clad Highlander had appeared in a Lowland town a few
centuries ago, he would have been locked up, if not shot on sight. The Highlanders were regarded as
barbarous thieves by Lowland Scots. After the crushing of the final rebellion against the Hanoverian
dynasty on Culloden Moor near Inverness in 1746, the tartan was even banned by Act of Parliament.
Tartan was associated with revolt and lawlessness. Now the kilt and its associated paraphernalia
represent the whole of Scotland, Highland or Lowland, Gaelic-speaking or otherwise, to many of today's
The unmistakable tones of the bagpipe or Highland war pipe form the soundtrack to the romantic
image of Scotland. Perhaps originally a device for signaling across long Highland distances, the
bagpipe survived partly through its use in Highland egiments, and now playsits role in many pipe
bands. Most Scottish towns have at least one band, and the pipes create instant Highland atmosphere
at all kinds of gatherings, from protest marches to weddings.
As for the misty glens (valleys) and bens (high hills), a love for this landscape grew out of a cult
of the picturesque embraced by the romantic poets (William Wordsworth, strongly associated with the English
Lake District, made several tours of the Highlands). Today, a taste for wild scenery is for many the main
reason for visiting Scotland.
Scotland Is ...Three Languages
Three languages are spoken in Scotland: Gaelic (Lowland), Scots, and English. All Gaels are
bilingual. Some Lowlanders still tend to undervalue their native tongue, while the adoptation of broad
Scots vowels by a child of English parents living in Scotland can be greeted in some homes with
something near to horror.
The First Language
Gaelic was the principal language over much of Scotland, but it has been in slow retreat for seven
centuries. Today, Gaelic's stronghold is the far north and west, notably the Outer Hebredies islands.
However, increased funding for Gaelic broadcasting in the early 1990s has resulted, ironically, in
Gaelic being heard in parts of Scotland that have had virtually no Gaelic speakers for centuries.
Gaelic enters the vocabulary of Scots and English speakers most often in anglicized or part-anglicized
place-names or topographical features such as ben (high hill), loch (lake), strath (river valley or
adjacent low-lying grassland), glen (valley), or cairn (heap of stones). Sassenach (Englishman), slogan
(war cry), and ceilidh (a sort of Scottish hoedown) are other Gaelic words commonly encountered. Many
places on the west coast possess only a Gaelic name.
Scottland Is ...Scottish Food
In Scotland of old, diet and wealth were interrelated; the same is true today. But instead of
trips to the supermarket to load up the station wagon, the wealthy merchants and lairds and the powerful
clan chiefs took advantage of direct trading links across the North Sea to acquire the dainty spices
and French wines that went with their status.
A Meager Diet
It is significant that Scotland's most famous dish, haggis, is an ancient folk recipe using the
cheapest cuts of meat, stuffed into tripe, then boiled. In a nation with an unpredictable climate and
a history of economic uncertainties, everyday Scots cooking had much to do with eking out ingredients.
Today, poverty in the bleak housing projects of deindustrialized Scotland is a factor in health
statistics that no amount of tartan packaging can totally conceal. In low-income households, a dependence
on cheap and convenient high-cholesterol and otherwise unbalanced foods ensure that Scotland is a poor
performer in comparison with other parts of Britain; indeed, deaths through heart disease are the worst
Paradoxically, Scotland today has numerous advantages when it comes to "local produce." Peterhead
is Europe's largest whitefish landing port. Scottish seafood is sought out by top chefs south of the
border and on the Continent. (In fact, locals grumble that the best is exported.) Aberdeen Angus beef,
though eclipsed by overseas breeds in recent years, is making a comeback and still has considerable cachet.
Scots farmers remind anyone who will listen that their beef is "grass-fed" on natural pastures. Meanwhile,
Scottish farmed venison, with all its low-fat virtues, is widely available on restaurant menus.