Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

SCOTLAND, the name given in modern times to that portion of Great Britain which lies north of the English boundary; it also comprises the Outer and Inner Hebrides and other islands off the west coast, and the Orkney and Shetland islands off the north coast. With England lying to the south, it is thus bounded on the N. and W. by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the E. by the North Sea. It is separated from England by the Solway Firth, the Sark, Scotsdyke (an old embankment in 55° 3′ N., connecting the Sark with the Esk), the Esk (for one mile), the Liddel, the Kershope, the Cheviot Hills, the Tweed and a small area known as the “liberties” of Berwick. The mainland lies between 58° 40′ 30″ (at Dunnet Head in Caithness) and 54° 38′ N. (Mull of Galloway in Wigtownshire), and 1° 45′ 32″ (Buchan Ness in Aberdeenshire) and 6° 14′ W. (Ardnamurchan Point in Argyllshire). Including the islands, however, the extreme latitude north is 60° 51′ 30″ (Out Stack in the Shetlands) and the extreme longitude west 8° 35′ 30″ (St Kilda). The greatest length from Cape Wrath in Sutherland to the Mull of Galloway is 274 m., and the greatest breadth from Buchan Ness to Applecross in the shire of Ross and Cromarty 154 m., but from Bonar Bridge at the head of Dornoch Firth to the head of Loch Broom it is only 26 m. wide, and 30 m. from Grangemouth on the Forth to Bowling on the Clyde. The coast-line is estimated at 2300 m., the arms of the sea being so numerous and in several cases penetrating so far inland that few places are beyond 40 m. from salt water. The total area is 19,069,500 acres or 29,796 sq. m., exclusive of inland waters (about 608 sq. m.), the foreshore (about 498 sq. m.) and tidal water (about 608 sq. m.).

The name Scotland for this geographical area of northern Britain (the Caledonia of the ancients—a name still poetically used for Scotland) originated in the 11th century, when (from the tribe of Scots) part of it was called Scotia (a name previously applied to what is now Ireland); and the name of Scotland became established in the 12th and 13th centuries. The name of Britain or North Britain is still firmly associated with Scotland; thus English letters are generally addressed, e.g. “Edinburgh, N.B.,” i.e. North Britain; and Scottish people have long objected to the conventional use south of the Tweed of the word “English,” when it really means (as they correctly, but sometimes rather pedantically, insist) “British.”

I. Geography

Physically, Scotland is divided into three geographical regions—the “Highlands” (subdivided by Glen More into the North-Western and South-Eastern Highlands); the Central Plain or “Lowlands” (a tract of south-westerly to north-easterly trend, between a line drawn roughly from Girvan to Dunbar and a line drawn from Dumbarton to Stonehaven); and the Southern Uplands.

The Highlands.—Nearly all this region is lofty ground, deeply trenched with valleys and sea lochs. The only considerable low-lying area embraces the eastern part of Aberdeenshire and the northern parts of Banff, Elgin and Nairn—tracts which, ethnologically, do not fall within Highland territory. Along both sides of the Moray Firth a strip of level land lies between the foot of the hills and the sea, while the county of Caithness, occupying a wide plain, does not, strictly speaking, belong to the Highlands. Seen from Strathmore or the Firth of Clyde the Highlands present well-defined masses of hills abruptly rising from the Lowland plains, and from any of the western islands their sea front resembles a vast rampart indented by lochs and rising to a uniform level, which sinking here and there allows glimpses of still higher summits in the interior. The Highland hills differ from a mountain chain such as the Alps not merely in their inferior elevation but in configuration and structure. They are made up of a succession of more or less parallel confluent ridges, having in the main a trend from north-east to south-west. These ridges are separated by longitudinal and furrowed by transverse valleys. The portions of the ridge thus isolated rise into what are regarded as mountains, though they are really only loftier parts of the ridge, along which indeed the geological structure is continued. It is remarkable how the average level of the summits is maintained. Viewed from near at hand a mountain may seem to tower above the surrounding country, but from a distance it will be seen not to rise much above the general uniformity of elevation. There are no gigantic dominant masses obviously due to special terrestrial disturbance. A few apparent exceptions occur along the western seaboard of Sutherland, in Skye and elsewhere, but examination of their structure at once explains the reason of their prominence and confirms the rule. The surface of the Highlands is rugged. The rocks project in innumerable bosses and crags, which roughen the sides and crests of the ridges. The shape and colour of these roughnesses depend on the nature of the underlying rock. Where it is hard and jointed, weathering into large quadrangular blocks, the hills are more especially distinguished for the gnarled bossy character of their declivities, as may be seen in Ben Ledi and the heights to the north-east of it. Where, on the other hand, the rock decays with smaller debris, the hills assume smoother contours, as in the slate hills running from the Kyles of Bute to Loch Lomond. But, regarded broadly, the Highland mountains are monuments of erosion, the relic of an old tableland, the upper surface and former inclinations of which are shown approximately by the summits of the existing masses and the direction of the chief water-flows.

The Highlands are separated into two completely disconnected and in some respects contrasted regions by the depression of the Great Glen, extending from Loch Linnhe to Inverness, by which the ancient plateau was severed. In the north-western section the highest ground is found along the Atlantic coast, mounting steeply from the sea to an average height of 2000 to 3000 ft. The watershed consequently keeps close to the western seaboard, and indeed in some places is not above a mile and a half from the shore. From these hills which catch the first downpour of the rains from the ocean, the ground falls eastward. Numerous eminences, however, prolong the mountainous features to the North Sea and south-eastward to Glen More. The difference of the general level on the two sides of the water-parting is reflected in the length of their streams. On the west the drainage empties itself into the Atlantic after flowing only a very few miles, on the east it has to run 30 or 40 m. At the head of Loch Nevis the western stream is but 3 m. long, while the eastern has a course of some 18 m. to the Great Glen. Throughout the north-western region uniformity of features characterizes the scenery, betokening even at a distance the general monotony of structure. But the sameness is relieved along the western coast of the shires of Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty by groups of cones and stacks, and farther south by the terraced plateaus and abrupt conical hills of Skye, Rum and Mull.

The south-eastern region of the Highlands, having a more diversified geological structure, offers greater variety of scenery. Most of the valleys, lakes and sea lochs run in a south-westerly and northeasterly direction, a feature strikingly exhibited in west Argyllshire. But there are also several important transverse valleys, those of the Garry and Tay being the most conspicuous examples. The watershed, too, is somewhat different. It first strikes eastwards round the head of Loch Laggan and then swings southwards, pursuing a sinuous course till it leaves the Highlands on the east side of Loch Lomond. The streams flowing westward, however, are still short, while those running to the north-east, east and south-east have long courses and drain wide areas. There is a marked contrast between the configuration of the north-eastern district and the other parts of this region. In that area the Grampians rise into wide flat-topped heights or moors often more than 3000, and in a few places exceeding 4000 ft. in height, and bounded by steep declivities and sometimes by precipices. Seen from an eminence on their surface, the inference is irresistible that these plateaus are fragments of the original tableland, trenched into segments by the formation of the longitudinal and transverse valleys. Farther to the south-west, in the shires of Perth, Inverness and Argyll, they give place to the ordinary hummocky crested ridges of Highland scenery, which, however, in Ben Nevis and Aonach Beg reach a height of over 4000 ft.

Besides the principal tracts of low-lying ground in the Highlands already alluded to, there occur long narrow strips of flat land in the more important valleys. Most of the straths and glens have a floor of detritus which, spread out between the bases of the boundary hills, has been levelled into meadow land by the rivers and provides almost the sole arable ground in each district.

The Lowlands of Mid-Scotland, or the Central Plain, constitute a broad depression with south-westerly to north-easterl trend lying between the Highland line that runs from the head of, the Firth of Clyde to Stonehaven and the pastoral uplands that stretch from Girvan to Dunbar. They may be regarded as a long trough of younger rocks let down by parallel dislocations between the older masses to the south and north. The lowest of these younger rocks are the various sedimentary and volcanic members of the Old Red Sandstone. These are covered by the successive formations of the Carboniferous system. The total thickness of both these groups of rock cannot be less than 30,000 ft., and, as most of them bear evidence of having been deposited in shallow water, they could only have been accumulated during a prolonged period of depression. The question arises whether this depression affected only the area of the midland valley, or extended also to the regions to the north and south; and so far as the evidence goes there is ground for the inference that, while the depression had its maximum along the line of the lowlands, it also involved some portion at least of the high grounds on either side. In other words, the Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous rocks, though chiefly accumulated in the broad lowland valley, crept also over some part of the hills on either side, where a few outliers tell of their former extension. The central Lowlands are thus of great geological antiquity. During and since the deposition of the rocks that underlie them the tract has been the scene of repeated