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Scotland today

Scotland Highlands tours

Relax and enjoy Scotland's splendour. The Scottish Highlands and Islands are Europe's last great wilderness so why not escape with Rabbie's personalised small group tours. Get off the beaten track and discover the secrets of Scotland.

Rabbie's promises to get you in touch with the people, places, history and legends of Scotland and deliver you a unique and memorable experience to last you a lifetime.

Scotland general informations

Scotland in Prehistory

Scotland is known to have been inhabited for about 6-8000 years, with successive waves of settlers and invaders. Celts from North-West Europe arrived about 500BC. They were called Britons by the later invading Romans. Although these temporary conquerors referred to the northern lands above the line of the Forth and Clyde as Caledonia, they alternatively named the northern tribes Picts and all of these terms are used today in describing the early history of Scotland. The name Scotland derives from the Scoti, another Celtic tribe, who came from Ireland and in the 5th and 6th centuries had settled on the western seaboard in present-day Argyll in sufficient numbers to form the Kingdom of Dalriada. They spoke Gaelic.

Towards the Wars of Independence

The first thousand years AD is a story of warfare in which the peoples of Scotland - Scot, Pict, Briton and Anglian - gradually came together. By 843AD a united Scottish/ Pictish kingdom had emerged. In 1018, the Northern English were defeated at the Battle of Carham and the border came to be fixed along the River Tweed. By 1034, the Strathclyde Britons were added to the larger kingdom, making it much the same shape as Scotland today.

In 1070, King Malcolm III married Margaret, grand-daughter of Edward the Confessor of England - one of many occasions when the Royal Houses of England and Scotland were interlinked by marriage.

Norman influences (following the Norman Conquest of England) gradually spread to Scotland. Anglo-Norman families, with names like Graham or Bruce, settled. In 1286 the death of King Alexander III precipitated a crisis of succession in what had been a trouble-free and prosperous time for Scotland. With close marriage ties between England and Scotland, King Edward I of England was asked to mediate in the dispute. He chose a puppet-king, but later invaded in 1295. William Wallace, the first of Scotland s freedom fighters, defeated occupying English at Stirling Bridge in 1297, but his army was defeated the next year. Robert the Bruce (King Robert I) was defiantly crowned at Scone in 1306. His campaign eventually led to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when English forces were cleared from Scotland. In 1320 the Scots drew up a Declaration of Independence at Arbroath Abbey.

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The Stewart Kings

In the Treaty of Northampton in 1328, England finally accepted Scotland's independence, but the death of King Robert I in 1329 led to another crisis of succession - a theme which is repeatedly found in Scotland s story. The Stewart dynasty which eventually followed were characterised by either dying too young, or being too weak, or making fatal military errors. For the next two hundred years, the Scots kingdom was torn by powerful factions and damaged by defeats by English forces: at Dupplin Moor in 1332, Halidon Hill in 1332 and in consequence of a French alliance, Neville s Cross, 1346. Scottish kings David II and James I both spent time captive in England. James II was involved in internal struggles with the powerful Douglas family, then was killed at the siege of Roxburghe Castle in 1460. James III subdued the Lords of the Isles (Clan Donald) but was killed by rebellious nobles in 1488. James IV, often reckoned to be the best of the Stewart kings, ruled wisely, but revived a French alliance, took up arms in their cause against England and, in consequence Scotland suffered her worst defeat against England in 1513 at Flodden.

Franco-Scottish links continued in the 16th century, with James V making two French marriages, continuing to support France and in consequence causing the nation to suffer defeat once more at Solway Moss in 1542. The last battle of the national armies was in 1547 when the Scots lost again at Pinkie - the culmination of a bloody campaign known as "the Rough Wooing". This was the English King Henry VIII s attempt to marry off his young son to the even younger Mary, Queen of Scots, and hence to unite the kingdoms.

Mary, Queen of Scots was perhaps Scotland s most controversial historical figure, in the centre of a troubled religious period known as the Reformation. John Knox was one of the leading Reformers, taking part in the anti-French and anti-Papal revolution and later becoming the minister of Edinburgh. Mary was the mother of King James VI. Through the continuing blood-links with the English Royal Family over the centuries - for example, King James IV had married Margaret Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII of England - James inherited the English Crown in 1603. He became King James I of England and, finding the office more rewarding, moved south, to return only once to Scotland, in 1617.

Both Scotland and England were troubled by religious wars in the 17th century. After an attempt to introduce Episcopalian practices to the Presbyterian church in 1637 by King Charles I, many Scots signed the National Covenant in opposition. They were known as Covenanters. However, the Scots support for King Charles II led to invasion and occupation by Oliver Cromwell s Parliamentary forces 1650-60. Opposition and brutality towards Covenanters continued 1660-90, during the time of King James VII (II of England).

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The Jacobites

The brutality against the Covenanters only ended following the English revolution against James VII/II when his daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William of Orange were invited to take the British throne because of James VII/II Catholic principles. The reign of William and Mary established a new religious tolerance and the last Stewart opposition came to an end at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) when their general Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee) was killed. When James VII/II fled to Europe, his supporters became known as Jacobites (Latin: Jacobus - James). The Highland clans, many of whom were Catholic like the deposed king, were seen as a potential source of instability, a hotbed of Jacobitism. (This was not just a Scottish movement - Catholic nations such as France and Spain were involved in the Europe-wide political game). Clans were forced to swear an oath of allegiance - and the slowness with which one branch of the MacDonalds responded led to the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692.

The first major Jacobite rebellion was in 1715, indecisively led by the Earl of Mar (called "Bobbin John" from his habit of bobbing, ie changing sides in his political career). Then came the minor rebellion of 1719, during which time Eilean Donan Castle was destroyed by bombardment by the British Navy and a party of Spanish troops were defeated by government forces in nearby Glen Shiel. Finally, came the most disastrous rising, for the Highlands in 1745. The 45 was led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of King James VII.

During these Jacobite episodes, Scotland moved into a more mercantile age. Inspired by England s trading successes overseas, the Scots decided to found an overseas colony, thereby incurring the displeasure of England, anxious about competition. This was the ill-fated Darien Scheme on the isthmus of Panama. When severe difficulties were encountered by the expedition in 1698, England forbade any of its colonies nearby to help and also allowed Spanish forces to attack. The colony was abandoned. Both small merchants and grand nobility had sunk money in the scheme which reduced Scotland to virtual bankruptcy.

Meanwhile the arrangement of one monarch (in London) and two parliaments (London and Edinburgh) was proving unstable. The Scots disagreed with English parliamentary decisions about the crown s succession. They threatened to recall the Stewart king, waiting in Europe. England responded with economic sanctions. Poverty-stricken Scotland needed free trade. England, involved in a French war, could not afford a pro-Jacobite neighbour (ie sympathetic to France) on her northern border. The result was the Treaty of Union, reinforced by an English army under General Wade placed at Newcastle near the Scottish border, should the Scots be reluctant to accept it. Scotland thus lost its independence in 1707. The Scots Parliament ceased to meet. For the English Parliament, business continued as usual, except there was now a Scottish representation.

As noted above, Jacobite rebellions did flare up during this period, even after the two nations were united. However, by the time the Young Chevalier - Prince Charles Edward Stuart or Bonnie Prince Charlie - landed in Scotland in 1745, gathered a mainly Highland army and took it as far south as Derby in England, Scotland was becoming more concerned with commerce and many Scots may have regarded the Prince s cause as a sideshow. Nevertheless, after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden - a battle fought between the British Government army (for whom many Scots fought) and mainly Highland Jacobites, the authorities decided that the Highland way of life should be changed forever.

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Towards Modern Scotland

In consequence, the wearing of Highland dress and the carrying of weapons was forbidden for several years afterwards.

With the breakdown of the clan system many new landlords and landowners took over in the Highlands, introducing new economic measures, including widespread sheep grazing. Many clansmen emigrated to the New World. Around the beginning of the 19th century, the Romantic movement in the arts began to rate picturesque scenery very highly. The image of the wild Highlander underwent a "rehabilitation" further encouraged by the works of writers such as Sir Walter Scott, then gaining a seal of approval when Queen Victoria chose the Highlands for her summer home at Balmoral on Deeside.

The Highlands became fashionable as a sporting playground, with large areas given over to deer. This was one important factor in the Highland Clearances, a brutal series of evictions carried out widely in the Highlands, from Perthshire to Sutherland as well as Skye, the Western Isles and also Shetland. This uprooting and scattering across the world of Gaeldom was carried out by landowners for economic reasons: sheep were more profitable than tenants, while sporting estates required their red deer undisturbed by native farming and herding activities.

While the landlords cleared their estates, a revolution of sorts was taking hold in the big cities of Lowland Scotland. Culloden and the defeat of the Jacobites had ensured that the British system of Government and its mercantile economy was safe, and this in turn led to a boom in industry, innovation and oversees expansion. As Great Britain's Empire began to spread all over the globe the pace of growth in the home country intensified, and the populations of cities like Glasgow and Dundee exploded. Britain became the world's first industrialised country and Scotland stood at the very forefront. Glasgow and the Clyde valley soon became the engine room of the Empire, famed for the steel and iron works, and above all ship-building. Dundee became the world centre of the Jute industry and Perth the home of Scotch whisky and wool dying. But it was Scotland's capital that would see the greatest changes. The city's population, once crammed onto the Royal Mile burst forth in all directions. As the wealth poured into the city a New Town was built to the north of the Old to reflect this new order, and the influx of intellectuals into Edinburgh earned her the name 'The Athens of the North'. This period was to be known as the 'Enlightenment', and Edinburgh was recognised the world over as a great seat of learning, especially in the field of medicine.

By 1900, Britain stood at the zenith of its power, covering a quarter of the globe with the Union Jack. Industrial output in Scotland was at its height, and 2 out of every 3 ships sailing the oceans was built on the Clyde, and even in the Highlands improvements had brought the dreaded clearances to an end. It seemed as if nothing could go wrong. Black clouds, however, loomed heavy on the horizon.

The Scots, especially the Highlanders, have long been famed as fighting men, and as the country was dragged into the horrors of the 1st World War, the Scots again took to arms for King and Country. Scotsmen from every corner of the country signed up to their local regiments, and were sent to the carnage of the western front. The Scotland that emerged from the 1918 Armistice was a very different place indeed.

After 250 years of dominance from London, some in Scotland believed that the time had come to cut the shackles of 'England' and create a fully independent Scotland, as had happened in Ireland. However, the vast majority of people still believed in the concept of Britain, and union with England. After the 2nd World War Scotland's industrial decline coincided with the fall of the British Empire - factories and shipyards closed and unemployment rocketed - more and more joined the call for independence, or at least some form of devolution. The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the late 1960s, and Britain's joining of the EEC in 1973 gave the Scottish Nationalists and independence an air of viability, and in 1978 the Labour Government asked the people of Scotland if they wanted a devolved Government in a referendum. It was a close run thing, but still not enough people were willing to take the leap of faith. However 18 years of Conservative Government rule from London caused many Scots to feel disenfranchised. Election after election Scotland returned a minority of Conservative MPs in its 72 Parliamentary constituencies, yet they continued to be ruled by a Conservative Government. Following on from their victory in the 1997 election the new Labour Government held another referendum asking the Scots if they wanted a devolved Parliament. This time Scotland spoke loud and clear in favour, and in 1999 the Queen opened Scotland's first Parliament in nearly 300 years. Scotland remains an integral part of the United Kingdom, but most local decisions are now taken in the heart of Edinburgh rather than London.

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