Difference between revisions of "Scotland"
Revision as of 15:51, 6 November 2009
Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Alba)  is a country in north-western Europe. Sharing a 60 mile (96 km) long land border with England to the south, and separated from Northern Ireland by the North Channel of the Irish Sea, Scotland is surrounded by the bracing waters of the North Sea to the east, and the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and north. The capital is Edinburgh; the largest city is Glasgow. It is the most politically independent of the four home nations of the United Kingdom, boasting its own legal and educational systems, and since 1999, has had its own separately elected devolved government which deals with exclusively Scottish affairs.
Apart from these and several other cities, the popular image of Scotland for most travellers, of course, centres on the "Highlands and Islands" - a wonderfully diverse land, Scotland has much to offer virtually any traveller.
Administratively, Scotland has been divided into a large number of traditional counties and (currently) 32 modern unitary authorities. These are of only limited use to the traveller, however, and an alternative regionalisation--based on culture and geography--is far more practical (from south to north):
Scotland has six cities. Glasgow is the largest with a population of approximately 620,000 people (more than two million in the metro area) while the capital, Edinburgh, has around 450,000, with Aberdeen next at about 220,000 inhabitants.
Scotland has extensive wilderness areas, some of which have been proclaimed as National Parks:
Many world-class scenic areas are not (yet) protected as National Parks, though some have other designations such as National Scenic Areas or Forest Parks. The Lochaber region contains the impressive Glencoe as well as Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The Torridon and Wester Ross areas are also popular mountaineering destinations. Most popular of all with climbers are the Black Cuillin of Skye - but there's plenty of scope for walkers here as well.
It has many historic Islands. Islay is known as the Queen of Hebrides, has eight whisky distilleries, and you can still see today the parliament site of the Clan Donald from 1200 AD, when the Clan Donald ruled the western seaboard of Scotland. The Isle of Arran is also a fantastic destination as well.
There are nice little villages such as Inverkip, John O' Groats, Bettyhill and Langbank, all which have nice beaches. There are good places to fish down at a couple of these villages as well.
A person from Scotland is called a Scot, or described as Scottish. The word "Scotch" applies only to things - for example, whisky, Scotch eggs, Scotch beef and Scotch Corner (a road junction leading to Scotland). Try not to refer to Scotland as England, or to Scottish as English - it is very likely to cause offense.
Scotland has a rich cultural history much of which is preserved in historic buildings throughout the country. Prehistoric settlements can be traced back to 9600 BC, as well as the famous standing stones in Lewis and Orkney. The Romans, fronted by Julius Caesar in 55 BC, made initial incursions but finally invaded Britain in 43AD, moving into the southern half of Scotland, but not occupying the country due to the fierce resistance efforts of the native Caledonian tribes. Today, Hadrian's Wall to the south of the Scottish-English border is perceived by some as one of the most famous Roman remains in the world, arguably on a par with the 8-foot-arch on Naxos.
After the withdrawal of the machinery of the Roman Empire around AD 411, the so-called Dark Ages followed. However, since the Roman occupation affected mostly just the south of the island of Britain, Scotland was unaffected as it had been even at the great battle at Mons Graupius. Because the grip of Roman hegemony had now loosened, all sorts of invaders now saw the island as open season. So the Angles arrived on the east coast around North Berwick. It has to be said that the natives here fared rather better than their southern counterparts did at the hands of the Saxons, who, for example, sacked the Isle of Wight, such that not a native male Briton was left alive.
The early history of the new nation is marked with many conflicts with the English, and also the Vikings who invaded the north of Scotland. Today the Shetland Islands retain a strong Viking cultural identity. Wars with the English would dominate Scottish history for hundreds of years until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the Scottish King, James VI, inherited the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1707, the Parliaments of Scotland and England were united, creating Great Britain.
From the 18th century, the Scottish enlightenment saw vast industrial expansion, and the rise of the city of Glasgow as a major trading port and eventually "Second City" of the British Empire. Universities flourished, and many of the great inventions of the world including television, the telephone and penicillin were invented by Scots. 20th century Scotland saw increasing calls for autonomy from London, and a Scottish Parliament was again established in Edinburgh.
Scotland's history and geography is reflected in the wide range of visitor attractions available, from castles and cathedrals, to stunning countryside, and more modern attractions showcasing Scottish cultural achievements.
Scotland has rich and strong culture, one of which its people are fiercely proud. Scotland has a great tradition of festivals, art and literature. It has produced some of the greatest literary personalities, actors and writers of the world. Irvine Welsh has made a heavy impact on the international literary scene and the prestigious Edinburgh Festival is a hotspot on international arts calendars.
Scotland has also produced some of the greatest scientists of the world including the inventors of the television, telephone and penicillin. It was Scottish scientists who created Dolly, the cloned sheep. Scotland is known the world over for some of its seafood, vegetables and more specifically its beef - Aberdeen Angus.
Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, is home to a fantastic music scene; must-visits include King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (where Oasis were spotted and signed for their first record deal) and the Barrowlands Ballroom, a Glasgow institution.
Immigration and visa requirements
There are no border controls when travelling within the United Kingdom including the land border with England. Scotland has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the United Kingdom.
Until recently, there were few direct international services to Scotland, meaning many travellers would have to fly into London or Manchester and then transfer to a Scottish airport on a UK domestic flight. However, there are now a growing number of European and long haul destinations served by the five international airports in Scotland:
There are many UK domestic flights operating to Scotland including:
No airport in Scotland, except Glasgow Prestwick, is connected to the rail network, meaning travellers have to use a dedicated bus service to the city centre, or take a taxi. However, a tram line is currently under construction between Edinburgh Airport and Edinburgh city centre, and is expected to be operational by 2011. Passengers arriving at and departing from Prestwick may use their boarding pass to claim a 50% discount on single train tickets between the airport and any station in Scotland.
For those unused to the vagaries of the UK rail network, Wikitravel has a useful guide to Rail travel in the UK.
There are five train operators linking Scotland with England:
For further information regarding UK rail travel consult National Rail .
The main road linking Scotland and England is the M74 motorway which runs from south of Glasgow to Carlisle. The A1 road links Edinburgh and the North East of England; this road is single carriageway in some areas, however, and not considered to be the best route into Scotland. Hence the placename Scotch Corner on the A1 where traffic heading for most Scottish destinations turn to cross the Pennine hills to enter Scotland via the M74.
Bus and coach services are the cheapest way to get to Scotland, but are probably also the longest and the least comfortable. National Express  is the main operator, with services from Glasgow's Buchanan Street Station, for example, to most other major UK cities.
"PlanaJourney"  is a free integrated public transport journey planner that covers much of the internal Scottish public transport network. It includes bus, rail, Glasgow underground, Scottish ferries and flights. It can assist with planning journeys throughout Scotland.
Scotland is a small country, making air travel uneconomical on most short routes. Air travel is, however, the fastest way to reach many Scottish West Coast islands. Be warned, as the planes used are small Saab 340s & Twin Otters, flights are often very turbulent, as Scotland is notorious for rain, wind and storms.
Loganair operates the majority of Scotland's internal flights, under a franchise to FlyBe through whose website you can book flights (note that until July 2008 Loganair had been a franchisee of British Airways). FlyBe offer a number of connections to UK and European airports from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow.
The Scottish Government own Highlands and Islands Airports which operates the remote Scottish airports. Flights are available from Glasgow International Airport to Campbeltown, Islay, Stornoway, Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. Flights from Edinburgh Airport also operate to Inverness, Wick, Stornoway, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Barra's tiny airport is unique in Britain in that the runway is a beach.
The Orkneys also have the Airports Westray and Papa Westray which hold the world record for the shortest Scheduled Commercial Flight, taking a whole 2 minutes!
Westray Airport is on Aikerness, at the north of the Orkney island of Westray. Papa Westray Airport lies to the north of Holland on the west side of the Orkney island of Papa Westray.
It should be noted that flights can be disrupted or cancelled due to weather conditions.
Flights can be expensive, although Loganair operated flights to the islands are sometimes included in FlyBe sales. Flight time from Glasgow to Barra is 1hr, and From Glasgow To the Shetland Islands lasts 2hrs & 30 Mins.
Loch Lomond Seaplanes also operate from Glasgow Science Centre with flghts to Loch Lomond, Tobermory and Oban. Flights however are expensive. A return flight to Oban for example costs £129. The plane can also be chartered, but to do so generally costs in excess of £1000.
First ScotRail  operates the majority of the Scottish rail network, which covers most of the country. A few Inter-City services operate within Scotland (however these may start or terminate in England are provided by National Express East Coast Virgin Trains and CrossCountry Trains. The main rail terminals are:
The train services to Fort William and Mallaig from Glasgow Queen Street take in some wonderful views of the Scottish landscape, and footage from the line was used in the Harry Potter movies.
Note there are no train services to the Scottish Borders, although there are plans to re-open a former railway line to the area, running from Edinburgh.
Generally train fares in Scotland are comparable to the rest of the UK, and are more expensive than most European countries. Typical off-peak fare between Glasgow and Edinburgh is £10 return, and between Edinburgh and Aberdeen £40 return. However, for longer journeys advance purchase tickets offer competitive fares. The First ScotRail  website has details of the Central Scotland Rover and Highland Rover tickets, which offer good value for extensive travel within the areas covered by the pass. It is best to avoid peak time services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, as they are often overcrowded. Do take care also on some of the rural lines, the far north line (Inverness to Wick) and the Kyle of Lochalsh line (Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh) have only around 3 to 4 return journeys Monday to Saturday and 1 on a Sunday. So take due care when travelling along these lines, it could be a while to wait for the next one.
Although Scotland is not a big country, travel can take significantly longer than you may expect depending on where you're from. With the exception of motorways and dual carriageways where travel is fast and easy, road conditions in Scotland are generally below Western European standards. Beware of defects such as potholes, ruts, cracks and patches in both urban and rural roads. Many rural roads follow old horse trails and have an overabundance of bends and twists. In remote areas many roads are single track. Passing places are provided at intervals. These are marked by diamond shaped white signs labeled "Passing Place". Sometimes these are incorrectly installed as a square sign. On older less used single track roads black and white striped poles may still be used as markers. If faster traffic comes up behind you it is the rule that you should pull into a passing place and allow the other vehicle to pass. When two vehicles approach each other on a single track road, experienced drivers will both adjust their speed so as to reach the passing place at the same time and pass each other slowly, avoiding the need for either vehicle to come to a stop. You should pull in to the passing place on your left or if the passing place is on the right hand side, stop opposite it so that the oncoming car can pull into it. Many of these roads are poorly maintained and lack crash barriers, so drive carefully and never assume that it is clear around the the next bend or over the next hill. You may also find cattle grids (also known as cattle guards or Texas gates). These are used if livestock is loose in the area and should be negotiated very slowly as they can have an adverse effect on your vehicle's steering. In these areas keep your speed down and watch out for livestock such as horses, sheep, cattle and deer.
Visitors from outside Scotland should take special care when driving if they are not used to driving on the left. It is easiest to slip into previous habits on unmarked rural roads. Well marked city streets should give the driver enough information to select the correct lanes. Many by-passes have been built to allow faster travel, but the visitor will miss out on some of the beautiful scenery of Scotland. In some areas road signs will indicate that the road on the next exit will re-join the main route by showing a semi-circular exit and entrance with the destination name in the middle. This allows the driver confidence to take more scenic diversions into small towns or to find a place to stop and have lunch.
The bus is the cheapest way of getting around in Scotland. You can get almost everywhere with the Citylink bus, but it is more expensive than Megabus. Megabus is a very cheap way to travel, as ticket prices start at £1 if booked weeks in advance, and rising to over £10 for peak-rate or last-minute fares. A 50p booking charge is applied to every ticket.
Megabus departs from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Perth, going between these Scottish cities as well as to English destinations. Note that with Megabus you can book only online (from 45 days to 30 minutes before departure).
Citylink runs a quarter-hourly bus service between Edinburgh and Glasgow which costs £4--you pay the driver. This service runs out of the main bus stations (Buchanan Street in Glasgow and Saint Andrew Square in Edinburgh), and the journey takes about an hour and ten minutes--some twenty minutes slower than the train but half the price of a peak-rate train ticket.
A regular and extensive ferry service operates between most large islands, and across the Clyde estuary.
Hitch-hiking is surprisingly easy in Scotland, but better to do outside the big cities. In the Highlands you might need to wait for a long time until a car comes by. General caution must be taken.
English and Scots Gaelic are the languages of Scotland. English (sometimes spoken with a varying degree of Scottish dialect) is the everyday language spoken by all. Dialects vary enormously from region to region, and even between towns! Don't let this frighten you, however, as all Scots can speak standard English.
Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig, pron. Gah-lig), meanwhile, is spoken by only around 60,000 people, mainly in the Highlands (a' Ghàidhealtachd, pron. a Gale-tach)) and the Western Islands (Na h-Eileanan Siar, pron. Na hyale-inan shar) (e.g Barra, where 80% speak Gaelic). Almost all Gaelic speakers also speak English with the exception of a possible tiny fraction of rather isolated elderly people ; the chances of meeting such a person are infinitesimally small. You will more than likely hear locals speaking in Gaelic in the Western Isles and on ferries to and from them. Signs on board some CalMac ferries to the Western Islands are in Gaelic first and English second and have an announcement in Gaelic after the safety announcement upon departure.
Scots ('Oor ain leid' lit. 'Our own language') although not an official language of Scotland, is spoken by around 1.5 million people in Scotland, throughout the whole country. As with modern English, the language evolved from Anglo-saxon. Scots is more or less intelligible to native speakers of English, especially in written form. There are debates over whether Scots is in fact a language or a dialect - in some ways it resembles Old English - and rather than actually being spoken purely, it is often found influencing informal English spoken by people in Scotland.
The Scots generally have rather poor foreign language skills, although those in tourism-related industries generally have better language skills. French, German and Spanish are the most commonly known foreign languages.
Here are some useful English words derived from Gaelic, Pictish or Old Norse:
Here are some Gaelic phrases often found in the Highlands and the Western Isles:
Scotland offers a range of products, souvenirs and memorabilia unavailable authentically anywhere else in the world. A few examples:
Visitors from outside northern Europe may find Scotland a relatively expensive country.
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, Scottish currency is the Pound Sterling (£). Scotland's three national clearing banks continue to issue their own sterling banknotes (including £1 notes, not produced south of the border). These are The Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and The Clydesdale Bank. These notes are very common in Scotland, but are sometimes (wrongly) not accepted in shops in England (English banks, however, will exchange them for Bank of England notes). ATMs operated by Scottish banks will usually dispense the Scottish notes, but bank tellers will cash travelers cheques into Bank of England notes on request. Scottish banknotes may be difficult to exchange outside the UK, where foreign banks are generally unfamiliar with the notes. If in doubt, exchange your Scottish notes for Bank of England notes before you leave the country.
A guaranteed way of getting Bank of England notes is simply to make a withdrawal from an ATM run by an English bank (e.g. NatWest, Barclays or HSBC)--although they tend to be found only in major cities.
As Bank of England notes are more commonly forged than their (lower-circulation) Scottish equivalents, smaller shops are sometimes wary of larger-denomination Bank of England banknotes, particularly when the note is in an uncirculated condition (as is common with sterling notes sold abroad).
Euros are accepted at a small number of High Street stores and tourist shops, but this should not be relied upon so change your money into sterling.
Scotland is relatively expensive when compared to some other European countries. As a basic rule, the further north you venture, the more expensive it likely gets, mostly because of the difficulty and expense of supply.
The classic tourist souvenir is a kilt and everything else involving the tartan. Note that a real kilt costs about £300-£400 and is made of heavy wool (so it will not reveal what you are wearing underneath even in strong winds), but most souvenir stores offer only unauthentic thin ones. If you really want a genuine kilt or full traditional outfit (kilt, sporran, jacket, shirt, and shoes) the best place to look is a clothing hire shop. These specialise in hiring suits and kilts for weddings and often sell stock at reduced prices. The traditional highland kilt is a section of cloth about 6 feet wide and 14 feet long. This is wrapped about the body then then brought up over the shoulder and pinned in place, a little like a toga. The modern short kilt was introduced during the industrial revolution to give more freedom of movement.
Whisky is also a common buy. There are huge differences in price and taste.
Cost of living
Most visitors are disappointed by the high cost of living in Scotland. Although prices in Scotland are not as bad as in the south of England, compared to the USA or most other parts of Europe basic living expenses are still high. Most goods have an additional 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) applied although this is always included in the marked price for general consumer purchases. Petrol (gasoline) has a massive 70% excise tax and 15% VAT on top of that. Costs are highest in Edinburgh and in very remote places such as Stornoway.
While Scotland has suffered from the stereotype for dreary food, things have changed now with numerous quality Indian, French, Italian and Modern Scottish options on offer. In fact, in parts of the country such as Edinburgh, it has become quite difficult to get a really bad meal.
Vegetarian food isn't as hard to find as you would think, with virtually all restaurants and cafés offering more than one vegetarian option. Vegan food is harder to find, but not impossible. Edinburgh especially has a good number of exceptional vegetarian restaurants.
Scotland (especially the highlands) is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky it produces. It seems to the visitor that every village makes its own particular brand, so much so that somebody compared a tour of the highlands as being similar to "driving through a drinks cabinet"!
Bars are the places you meet people and where you have a good time. More than in other countries, bars are very lively and it is easy to get to know people when you're travelling alone. The Scottish are very welcoming, so it's not unusual that they will buy you a beer even though you just met them.
The legal drinking age is 18 years old, and many pubs and clubs will ask for ID of anyone who looks younger than mid-twenties, penalties for those caught buying drink for those under 18 can include a large fine. The penalties for drinking and driving are severe. Drinking laws are complicated slightly by the fact that a single glass of wine may be served to a 16-year old, provided it is with a meal.
Self catering holidays, in cottages or wooden lodges, in Scotland have become very popular over recent years. Many cottages are now furnished to a very high standard.
Scotland has plenty of Hostels, both the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA)  and a large and developing network of Independent Hostels. Some of the buildings are very impressive, like the one on Loch Lomond and the Carbisdale Castle Hostel. The SYHA traditionally involved guests performing chores and a ban on alcohol. The new breed of independent hostels have eschewed these concepts, causing the SYHA to loosen up its attitudes too.
Camping is another inexpensive way of touring Scotland, though the unpredictable weather makes it less appealing than in some other countries. In remote areas camp sites can be a significant distance apart so buy an up to date guide and plan your route. Booking is not usually necessary except in peak season. Generally, the rule is the more remote the camp site, the better the scenery and the lower the cost. Some camp sites may provide only basic amenities. Camping rough is possible in remote areas, but observe local signs, and never camp next to a stream that could rapidly become swollen by overnight rain. Midges (tiny biting insects) can be a particular nuisance during August and September: the insects are harmless but incredibly irritating.
Bed and Breakfast accommodation is widely available, even in remote areas and some very good deals can be found. Many people consider these to be more friendly and welcoming than a hotel. Local tourist information centres will help you find a room for the same night, and you may expect to pay in the region of £25 per person per night for room and full Scottish breakfast. The Scottish Guest House and Bed & Breakfast Association (GHABBA)  have a range of Bed and Breakfasts and Guest Houses across Scotland.
The Premier Travel Inn chain of motels are widespread, with double rooms priced at around £55. In cities these are likely to prove cheaper than a hotel.
Most historic sites are maintained either by the National Trust of Scotland or by Historic Scotland. Both offer memberships (with free priority access and other discounts) for a year or a lifetime - and have reciprocal arrangements with their English and Welsh equivalents. Depending on how much you get around and how long you are staying, they may well be worth buying... Membership also contributes to the sites' preservation and new acquisitions.
In the bigger cities you can learn highland dancing. If you're interested in learning how to play the Scottish bagpipe, you should know that it takes about one year to play on an actual bagpipe for the first time. It is really more difficult than it looks like and needs daily practice!
If you are interested in learning more about Scotland you can visit www.scotland.org .
The regulations governing who can work in Scotland is the same as for the rest of the UK.
A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with specialist health care skills to work in the UK. The Scottish Government is also keen to attract immigrants to Scotland to plug a perceived declining population.
Visitors to Scotland are unlikely to experience any crime. Petty crimes such as thefts and pickpocketing are lower than in many other European countries. Violent crime is a problem in inner city urban areas. However most violent crime occurs amongst gangs, thus, violent crime against tourists is rare in Scotland.
Today Glasgow's former reputation as a violent city is unfair. It is near impossible to accidentally wander into one of the "less desirable" parts of town.
However it is wise to avoid the subway in Glasgow on any football match day, especially if you get travel sick easily, as many football fans like to partake in an activity known as "The Bouncy Bouncy" where up to 100 football fans bounce up and down at the same time, causing the tiny carriages to rock and rise to the peak of their suspension.
English visitors will find a warm welcome despite traditional rivalries, thus proving the myth that it's not safe to have an English accent in Scotland is indeed just that. They should of course expect a bit of - generally good-natured - teasing whenever either Scotland or England are playing football.
When hillwalking, you should always take along a compass, detailed maps, waterproof clothing, a torch (flashlight), and a good pair of boots. A charged mobile phone can be a lifesaver as some mountain areas have cell coverage, but networks like T-Mobile and Orange don't cover the Highlands very well - however, ANY phone is capable of making a 999 or 112 call if there is a signal available on any network, so an Orange phone with no Orange signal is most definitely better than no phone. The weather on the hills can change suddenly, with visibility falling to just a few metres. If hillwalking alone tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. More advice is available from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland 
Beware of midges! These small biting insects are prevalent in damp areas, particularly Western Scotland, from around May to September. The bites can be itchy but they don't carry disease. Midges don't tend to fly in direct sunshine or if it's windy, the worst times are dawn and dusk.
Tap water in Scotland is safe to drink everywhere.
Like in any part of the world, Scottish stereotypes are usually just that. The majority of Scots do not wear kilts all the time, do not have ginger hair, do not eat porridge for breakfast and haggis for tea, do not say "och aye the noo" and do not hate the English.
The word Scotch is for products not people - but Scottish or Scots is fine.
Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom for just over 300 years, although in recent times it has had a good deal of autonomy. The issue of nationalism and independence is certainly much debated, and whilst it is nowhere near as sensitive or divisive as in other parts of the world where such movements exist, it is still a good idea not to make any remarks which could be seen as extreme on either side of the argument (pro-independence or pro-unionist). Whilst it must be said there are a number of Scots who favour separatism, there are just as many for whom it is possible to be both British and Scottish.
See the UK contact entry for national information on telephone, internet and postal services. See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.