Scotland Road Trip
From Glasgow We Go
I had long been fascinated by Scotland. I hatched a plan to rent a car to drive around the country, clockwise. I flew into Glasgow to begin my journey. If you want to try this at home, keep in mind that you drive a car in the United Kingdom sitting in the right seat, driving on the left side of the road, shifting with your left hand, and using your left foot for the clutch.
Glasgow means “green hollow.” It sits on the River Clyde, and the metropolitan area is home to 41% of the Scottish people with a population of 2.3 million souls. Glasgow boomed in the 18th Century with a focus on the tobacco trade. By 1900, it was the fourth largest city in Europe, trailing only London, Paris, and Berlin. Today it is known for its architecture.
Loch Lomond to Oban
I drove north out of Glasgow on the A82 to Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Britain and home to sixty islands. Then we head west to the scenic little town of Inveraray, known for its white buildings. Next, we proceed north to picturesque Oban, a tourist town of 8,000 that grew up around a whisky (Scotch) distillery, and became an important naval station during World War II.
A pilot friend from Glasgow recommended I stop off to have dinner and take in the spectacular scenery at Port Appin, on my way north to Fort William.
I also stopped to see Glen Coe, site of the infamous 1692 massacre; and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.
Fort William, population 10,000, is in the Scottish Highlands, one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe. It was not always so, as before the year 1800 many more people lived there.
Quite a few major motion pictures have been filmed near Fort William, including Braveheart.
Applecross to John O' Groats
The most westerly point of our journey takes us to isolated Applecross.
From there we travel north to Kylesku, a small fishing village that is home to one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
We continue our journey to the northernmost settlement of mainland Britain, John o’ Groats.
We head south to the capital and largest city of the Highlands, Inverness. This is the fastest growing city in Europe, and its 54,000 inhabitants enjoyed the highest “quality of life” in Scotland.
Inverness was the stronghold of the Picts of ancient Scotland, and has been the scene of much conflict. It was here that MacBeth murdered King Duncan.
Peterhead to Aberdeen
We proceed to the easternmost point in Scotland, Peterhead (population 17,000). This city is a major fishing port on the North Sea and site of a notorious prison. To the south lies Aberdeen, a much larger city that is home to over 200,000 people. Aberdeen has been settled for 8,000 years. Many of its famous buildings are built from locally quarried granite. It is known today as the Oil Capital of Europe.
Dundee to St Andrews
We continue south to Dundee, population 160,000. This city has suffered financially in recent decades. From there we go to St. Andrews. Though only 16,000 people live there, St. Andrews is a very interesting place. It is known as the birthplace of golf; and has long been considered the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland. St. Andrews Cathedral, once the largest in the country, now lies in ruins.
Our last stop is Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It sits next to a fjord, the estuary of the River Forth (Firth of Forth). The 800,000 inhabitants of the metropolitan area enjoy the “most desirable city in which to live in the United Kingdom,” and only London receives more visitors. Edinburgh is full of Medieval and Georgian architecture. Famous residents have included Alexander Graham Bell; Charles Darwin; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; J. K. Rowling; and rock band Jethro Tull.
History of Scotland
The first written records of Scottish history appear in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus in AD 81. He writes of his father-in-law, Agricola, invading southern Scotland, which he called Caledonia, with the Ninth Legion. The land was inhabited by a Celtic race of people called Picts because they painted and tattooed pictures on their bodies.
Around AD 300, a group of Celts known as the Scots came over from Ireland and took over western Caledonia. In the late Sixth Century, St. Columba completed the conversion of the future Scotland to Christianity. Viking invasions began about 800, with the eventual result that the internecine wars among various Celtic groups ended as they banded together against the invaders. In 843, they united under King Kenneth MacAlpin.
King Duncan was killed in 1040 and succeeded by MacBeth, who was in turn killed by Duncan’s son Malcolm in 1057. Malcolm III was known as Bighead. In 1124 King David, a devout Christian brought up in England with a Norman education, ascended to the throne and would stay there for thirty years. David founded the first national system of justice and administration; standardized weights and measures; and established the first Scottish mint.
The English under King Edward conquered Scotland in 1296. William Wallace led a revolt the following year. He was captured and executed in 1305. Robert Bruce finally secured Scottish independence when he defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314.
Great families ruled Scotland de facto in the Fourteenth Century, including the families Douglas, MacDonald, and MacLean (and later prominent were the families Campbell, Mackenzie, Ross, and Mackay). The Church of Scotland ushered in a great tradition of learning and the arts in the Fifteenth Century, and founded a university at St. Andrews.
In 1488, James IV was crowned King of Scotland. He was energetic, charming, intelligent, and a natural born leader of men. James IV brought Scotland to new heights of prosperity and prestige as splendid churches and grand palaces were built; stone replaced wood in the cities; music became important; books were imported; and trade thrived. He was killed in battle after attacking the English in support of Scotland’s long time ally France in 1513. His body disappeared.
Mary Queen of Scots succeeded to the throne in 1542, though less than a week old. King Henry VIII of England then laid waste to southern Scotland amidst horrible carnage. In 1560, led by John Knox, Protestant Calvinists took control of religious life in Scotland. Queen Elizabeth of England, imprisoned her cousin, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in 1568, and executed her nineteen years later.
In 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, upon the death of Elizabeth I. His wife was the princess of Denmark and Norway. James commissioned the Bible known today as the King James Version, and also began to use the term Great Britain. In 1651, Oliver Cromwell, after dethroning the king of England, subdued Scotland and it was united with England for good.
After a foiled Scottish uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, the English made wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes a serious crime.
For 100 years cotton dominated the Scottish economy. After the American Civil War, heavy industry became king, particularly iron, steel, coal, and shipbuilding. Roads, bridges, canals, and railways were built on a massive scale in the late Nineteenth Century. And of course it was the great Scot James Watt who invented the steam engine and thus made the industrial revolution possible.
Edinburgh became one of the intellectual centers of Europe around 1800 with David Hume and Adam Smith leading the way. Soon Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott reimagined the Scottish national character in words. Carlyle and Stevenson would follow them. Scottish engineers, explorers, merchants, and missionaries became world famous.