§ 2. The Highlands and the Lowlands: cultural differences
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§ 2. The Highlands and the Lowlands: cultural differences         

1. In what way is the territory of Scotland divided? 

The image of Scotland as one nation can be misleading. The threat from outsiders, particularly the English, has tended to unite Scotland. In reality, Scotland ‘has no unity except upon the map’, as the nineteenth-century Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote.

‘Two languages, many dialects, innumerable forms of piety; and count­less local patriotisms and prejudices,’ he continued, ‘part us among our­selves more widely than the extreme east and west of that great continent of America.’

The territory of Scotland is divided into two roughly equal halves by the so-called Highland Line. This runs diagonally south-west from Stonehaven on the east coast and ends at Campelltown in Kintyre. The area to the north of this line is mountainous and is called the Highlands. The area to the south is known as the Lowlands. 

2. What are the characteristic features of the Lowlands? 

To the visitor from the Continent however, to call this area the Lowlands seems strange,  since, in its southern half, in the part known as the Southern Uplands, there are great, barren hills rising, in the peak of Merrick, to a height of nearly 3,000 feet, more than 800 metres. But even the Central Plain itself is not a plain in the European sense, being a hillocky area with one or two islands of considerable mountain in it (the Campsie Fells and the Ochil Hills).

Lowland Scotland is bounded on its southern side by the Border (i.e. the frontier with England). In the Middle Ages this frontier was the scene of many bloody conflicts between the feudal lords and retainers of the two nations. A number of these battles have been immortalised in the famous Border Ballads. Nowadays, however, the Border is almost undefined and is, of course, completely free of military forces or customs and passport bar­riers, because, since 1707, England and Scotland have been under one gov­ernment.

But to this day Scotsmen are very proud of their nationality, their na­tional culture and traditions. Never call a Scotsman an Englishman. The half-serious relic of the age old bitterness against the English, nowadays finds a much less bloody field of battle for its satisfaction - the football field. For most Scots the greatest sporting event of the year is the International against the ‘Auld Enemy’, the Sassenachs (Gaelic for Saxons).

Although the Lowland Scot uses the Gaelic word Sassenach to de­scribe the English, he himself is usually not of Celtic origin, but of Saxon and, unlike his Celtic brother in the Highlands, his language has been Saxon for more than a thousand years.

The Lowlands are the cradle of the Scottish nation. It was the people of the Lowlands, with their great leaders such as William Wallace, who in the 13th and 14th centuries fought and won the struggle for Scotland's inde­pendence, against the attempts of England's feudal Kings Edward I and II to make Scotland a province of England. The area contains three-quarters of the whole population, and all the towns of considerable size are situated in it. The largest of these towns are Glasgow (11 /4 million), Edinburgh (the capital), and Dundee.

The Lowlands are densely populated and heavily industrialised. Cot­ton, iron, steel and coal used to be Scotland's chief industries and the River Clyde, below Glasgow, was once famous for its shipbuilding. It was here that the great Atlantic liner QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II) was built. But these traditional industries are in decline. At the same time, however, North Sea oil and gas have provided increasing work for the engineering and chemical industries. Scotland has also developed a large electronics industry. 

3. What are the characteristic features of the Highlands? 

The most interesting and beautiful part of Scotland - and of the whole of Britain – is  the north and west, or the region commonly called ‘the highlands and islands’. Great sealochs, or fjords, not unlike those of Norway, alternate with wild and empty hills, and on some of the lochs there are farms which can only be reached by boat. Cone-shaped, boggy mountains of 1.000 to 1.300 metres high, separat­ed by deep valleys, cover the whole inland area as well as parts of some islands. Agriculture is hard and poor. Vast new and dull coniferous forests have been planted on the mountains, helped by government subsidies. They give some employment but spoil the scenery. Shooting and fishing are rich men's sports, pursued mainly on estates belonging to old aristocrats or new tycoons of commerce, some of them English, some foreign. The old small towns and villages have hotels and caravan sites, but the country has not been spoiled by overdevelopment. Aviemore in the Cairngorm region of the Central Highlands is the only big ski resort. Thousands of holidaymakers visit the Highlands in the summer, hoping for good luck with the weather.

Many hydroelectric power stations have been built to make use of some of the vast water resources of the Highlands, and North Sea oil has brought a temporary prosperity to the north-east. Elsewhere communities are kept alive partly by tourists, partly by rich men who have big estates to which they come for shooting and fishing, and partly by the few who, like the writer George Orwell, when he lived on the island of Jura, want to es­cape from the busy modern world. But since 1960 the Highland population has grown for the first time for a hundred years.

The Highlanders have great pride and consider themselves superior to the Lowlanders. Most Lowlanders are descendants of Danish and Anglo-Saxon settlers and are therefore not true Scots, argue the Highlanders. 

4. What are the cultural differences between the two parts?

The two parts of Scotland differ not only in language and customs but also in their whole historical development. Whilst capitalism has held sway in the Lowlands since its earliest days in the 18th century, across the Highland Line feudalism and even remnants of tribal communal system continued up to the first quarter of the 19th century.

 There is a big cultural as well as geographical divide between the Lowlands and Highlands. The Lowlanders are thought of as quiet, moral and hard-working, the Highlanders as exuberant, carefree and unreliable. If there is some truth in this, it is to be seen in another division, that between Scotland's two great and rival cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the words of the Scottish writer, ‘For all her elegance and lofty-mindedness, Edinburgh is a reserved, plain, cautious and thrifty city. She is more Lowland, in these respects, than Highland. Glasgow is an expansive, extravagant, romantic, less tight-laced city’.


1. What is the Highland Line?

2. Why are the Lowlands considered the cradle of the Scottish nation?

3. In what way does the geographical position of the Highlands influ­ence the life of people?

4. How does the division between the Highlands and the Lowlands express itself in culture? 

Additional Reading                                        Edinburgh                            

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, full of historical monu­ments of great interest. The dominating feature of the city is the Castle, standing high on a steep rock. It is the royal apartments of the Castle that the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the future King James I, was born.

The Royal Palace of Holyrood House, which is the official residence of the present queen of England, Elizabeth II, when she comes on a visit to Scotland, is also associated with the memory of Mary Stuart. The murder of David Rizzio, Mary's Italian musician and secretary, took place within its walls.

The finest street in Edinburgh and the main shopping area is Prince's Street. In the gardens on its south side stands the monument to Walter Scott, the famous writer of historical novels. Beyond the Scott monument, at the foot of the Castle, is the National Gallery of Scotland.

To the north of Edinburgh is the Firth of Forth. The Forth Bridge, which goes across it, is one of the great engineering achievements of the world. Edinburgh University, which was founded in 1582, is famous for its medical faculty.

Edinburgh is also an important centre of cultural life, and each year, in late August and early September, it produces a festival of music and drama which is famous all over the world.