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The Scottish Highlands (Scottish Gaelic: A' 'Ghàidhealtachd, Scots: Hielans) include the rugged and mountainous regions of Scotland north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountainsmarker to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands.

The area is generally sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges dominating the region, and includes the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevismarker. Before the 19th century however the Highlands was home to a much larger population, but due to a combination of factors including the outlawing of the traditional Highland way of life following the Second Jacobite Rising, the infamous Highland Clearances, and mass migration to urban areas during the Industrial Revolution, the area is now one of the most sparsely populated in Europe. The average population density in the Highlands and Islands is lower than that of Sweden, Norway, Papua New Guineamarker and Argentinamarker.

The Highland Councilmarker is the administrative body for much of the Scottish Highlands, with its administrative centre at Invernessmarker. However the Highlands also includes parts of the council areas of Aberdeenshiremarker, Angusmarker, Argyll and Bute, Moraymarker, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling. Although the Isle of Arranmarker administratively belongs to North Ayrshire, its northern part is generally regarded as part of the Highlands.


Culturally the area is very different from the Scottish Lowlands. Most of the Highlands fall into the region known as the Gàidhealtachd, which was, within the last hundred years, the Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably but have different meanings in their respective languages. Highland English is also widely spoken.

Some similarities exist between the culture of the Highlands and that of Ireland: examples include the Gaelic language, sport (shinty, hurling), and Celtic music.


The Scottish Reformation, which began in the Lowlands, initially achieved only partial success in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. Roman Catholicism remained strong in much of the Highlands, aided by Irish Franciscan missionaries who regularly came to the area to celebrate Mass, as they were culturally and ethnically entwined. The Highlands are often described as the last bastion of Roman Catholicism in Great Britain, with significant strongholds such as Moidart, Morarmarker, South Uistmarker and Barramarker. The Scottish Highlanders' strong Catholicism led to much of their historical antipathy towards the Protestant English. This was in contrast to the Lowland Scots, most of whom converted to Protestantism and thus were more willing to unite with the English to create the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker. On the other hand, some Outer Hebridesmarker islands (like Lewis and Harris) have large populations belonging to the Free Church of Scotland or the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Historical geography

In traditional Scottish geography, the Highlands refers to that part of Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses mainland Scotland in a near-straight line from Dumbartonmarker to Stonehavenmarker. However the flat coastal lands that occupy parts of the counties of Nairnshiremarker, Morayshiremarker, Banffshiremarker and Aberdeenshiremarker are often excluded as they do not share the distinctive geographical and cultural features of the rest of the Highlands. The north-east of Caithnessmarker, as well as Orkneymarker and Shetlandmarker, are also often excluded from the Highlands, although the Hebridesmarker are usually included. This definition of the Highland area differed from the Lowlands by language and tradition, having preserved Gaelic speech and customs centuries after the anglicisation of the latter; this led to a growing perception of a divide, with the cultural distinction between Highlander and Lowlander first noted towards the end of the 14th century. In Aberdeenshiremarker, the boundary between the Highlands and the Lowlands is not well defined. There is a stone beside the A93 roadmarker near the village of Dinnetmarker on Royal Deesidemarker which states 'You are now in the Highlands', although there are areas of Highland character to the east of this point.

A much wider definition of the Scottish Highlands is that used by the Scotch Whisky industry. Highland Single Malts are produced at distilleries north of an imaginary line between Dundeemarker and Greenockmarker, thus including all of Aberdeenshiremarker and Angusmarker.

Invernessmarker is traditionally regarded as the capital of the Highlands, although less so in the Highland parts of Aberdeenshiremarker, Angusmarker, Perthshiremarker and Stirlingshiremarker which look more to cities such as Aberdeenmarker, Perthmarker, Dundeemarker and Stirlingmarker as their commercial centres. Under some of the wider definitions in use, Aberdeenmarker could be considered the largest city in the Highlands, although it does not share the recent Gaelic cultural history typical of the Highlands proper.

Highland council area

The Highland Councilmarker area, created as one of the local government regions of Scotland, has been a unitary council area since 1996. The council area excludes a large area of the southern and eastern Highlands, and the Western Islesmarker, but includes Caithnessmarker. Highlands is sometimes used, however, as a name for the council area, as in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. Northernmarker, as in Northern Constabulary, is also used to refer to the area covered by the fire and rescue service. This area consists of the Highland council area and the island council areas of Orkneymarker, Shetlandmarker and the Western Isles.

Highland council signs in the Pass of Drumochtermarker, between Glen Garry and Dalwhinniemarker, saying "Welcome to the Highlands", are still regarded as controversial.

Highlands and Islands

Much of the Scottish Highlands area overlaps the Highlands and Islands area. An electoral region called Highlands and Islands is used in elections to the Scottish Parliamentmarker: this area includes Orkneymarker and Shetlandmarker, as well as the Highland Council local government area, the Western Islesmarker and most of the Argyll and Bute and Moraymarker local government areas. Highlands and Islands has, however, different meanings in different contexts. It means Highland (the local government area), Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. Northernmarker, as in Northern Constabulary, refers to the same area as that covered by the fire and rescue service.

Historical crossings

There have been trackways from the Scottish Lowlands to the Highlands since prehistoric times. Many traverse the Mounth, a spur of mountainous land that extends from the higher inland range to the North Seamarker slightly north of Stonehavenmarker. The most well known and historically important trackways are the Causey Mounth, Elsick Mounth, Cryne Corse Mounth and Cairnamounth.


The Scottish Highlands lie to the north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which runs from Arranmarker to Stonehavenmarker and contains some of the most interesting geology in Europe. This part of Scotland is largely composed of ancient rocks from the Cambrian and Precambrian periods which were uplifted during the later Caledonian Orogeny. Smaller formations of Lewisian gneiss in the north west are up to 3,000 million years old and amongst the oldest found anywhere on Earth. These foundations are interspersed with many igneous intrusions of a more recent age, the remnants of which have formed mountain massifs such as the Cairngormsmarker and Skye Cuillinmarker. A significant exception to the above are the fossil-bearing beds of Old Red Sandstones found principally along the Moray Firth coast and partially down the Highland Boundary Fault. The Great Glen is a transform fault which divides the Grampian Mountainsmarker to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands.

The entire region was covered by ice sheets during the Pleistocene ice ages, save perhaps for a few nunataks. The complex geomorphology includes incised valleys and lochs carved by the action of mountain streams and ice, and a topography of irregularly distributed mountains whose summits have similar heights above sea-level, but whose bases depend upon the amount of denudation to which the plateau has been subjected in various places.

Places of interest

EV Recharging Points

Designated recharging points have been installed at the Cairngorms National Park Authority offices at Grantownmarker and at the Aviemoremarker offices of local charity, the Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport Company.


File:N2_glenfinnan_viaduct.jpg|The Glenfinnan Viaductmarker from below.File:Saddle and sgurr na sgine 06-07 086.jpg|The Saddle.File:Loch Scavaig, Skye.jpg|Loch Scavaig, Isle of Skyemarker.File:Inverness Ness Footbridge 15760.JPG|InvernessmarkerFile:Loch Maree.jpg|The islands of Loch Mareemarker.File:Smoo Cave Interior.jpg|The interior of Smoo Cavemarker, Sutherlandmarker.File:Cape Wrath lighthouse.jpg|Cape Wrathmarker Lighthouse in the far NW of the Highlands.File:Blaven geograph.jpg|Blavenmarker

See also


  1. W. Douglas Simpson, "The Early Castles of Mar", Proceedings of the Society, 102, 10 December 1928
  2. Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. London. HarperCollins.
  3. Murray, W.H. (1973) The Islands of Western Scotland. London. Eyre Methuen

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