A land of natural beauty and romantic spirit, Scotland is known for its rich history, distinctive tartans, and world-renowned whiskies. Indeed, Bonnie Scotland, enchanting, bold, and unique, is a favorite amongst international travelers for good reason. Beyond its breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Scotland is also a land of interesting facts. Read on to find out more about the land of the Scots.
Scotland Is Home to the World’s Biggest Arts Festival
The inaugural ‘Edinburgh International Festival’ in 1947 featured a diverse program of music, ballet, drama, film, and the arts. The tradition stuck and the festival has taken place every year since 1947, except for 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the same period as the Edinburgh International Festival, the city hosts at least ten other festivals, collectively known as the Edinburgh Festival. Among these, the most famous is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, often simply referred to as ‘The Fringe’.
The Fringe offers a platform to performers that wouldn’t necessarily be able to secure a spot on the International Festival program. Undeterred, the original artists of The Fringe went ahead and ‘staged their performances on the festival fringe anyway’. There is no selection committee, and participation is open to anyone, regardless of the type of performance. Collectively, the Edinburgh Festival is the world’s largest performance art festival and spans the entire month of August.
The National Animal of Scotland Is the Unicorn
The official national animal of Scotland, the unicorn, is more unusual than most. Unicorns have long occupied a role in the folklore of ancient civilizations, and have a particularly strong presence in Celtic mythology. In Celtic folklore, the unicorn symbolizes multiple virtues: from purity and innocence, to untamable freedom and proud intelligence.
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The presence of two unicorns, wrapped in golden chains, first appeared in the royal coat of arms of Scotland in the mid-1500s. The union of England and Scotland under James I (1603) gave birth to a new coat of arms, featuring a Scottish unicorn on one side, and the English lion on the other.
Today one can still find images of the Scottish unicorn on top of Mercat crosses in Edinburgh; and the facades of Holyrood Palace amongst other places. For many Scots, the wild, untamable spirit of the unicorn symbolizes the soul of the nation.
91% of Scotland’s Population Live on just 2% of its Land
Scotland, with a population of approximately 5.5 million people, holds the distinction of being the second largest nation in the United Kingdom, both in terms of population, and land mass. The vast majority live in the urbanized ‘central belt’ area that includes Glasgow and Edinburgh. This, however, has not always been the case. In the early 18th century the highlands of Scotland were well populated. However, with the onset of the industrial industrial revolution, capitalist agricultural practices took root, setting in motion a series of events known as the Highland Clearances.
Spurred on by the lure of substantial profits from the enclosure of vast highland estates, long standing tenants of the land were subjected to forcible eviction and dispossession of their livelihoods. Those that didn’t emigrate to Canada, the United States, or Australia, ended up in the cities and towns of the central belt.
The Romans Couldn’t Conquer Scotland
The Roman Empire was one of the greatest the world has ever seen. Yet Roman presence stopped short north of Britannia (England). Numerous attempts to conquer Caledonia (Scotland) proved unsuccessful. Under Emperor Vespasian (70s CE) Roman legions ventured deep into Caledonia. However, a mixture of fierce resistance, and the need to post soldiers in other places within the empire, soon led to their withdrawal to northern England. The Roman line in the north was fortified under Emperor Hadrian and his now famous wall.
The final attempt to conquer Scotland came in the form of Emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla, who led a huge army north to crush the Caledonian rebels. In the end, the pesky Scots ground the Romans down with guerilla tactics until they eventually withdrew. When Severus died in 211 CE, his sons abandoned Britannia and went back to Rome. Scotland remained an unconquered Roman frontier.
Scotland is the Home of Golf
On an unknown date somewhere along the coast of Scotland, a few individuals decided to make a game out of hitting a pebble amidst the sand dunes with a large bent stick. In the years to come, such was the enthusiasm for ‘golf’ and requisite neglect of other matters by the golfing public, that in 1457, the Parliament of King James II banned the sport.
Fast forward to 1502 and golf had gained the ultimate seal of approval, as King James VI became the world’s first golfing monarch. Henceforth the games popularity spread through Europe, and in 1744, the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith set up the world’s first club, inaugurating golf as an official sport. The first ever 18-hole course was constructed at St Andrews in 1764. As the British Empire expanded across the globe golf followed closely behind. Today, golf is a professional sport with an estimated 38,000 golf courses distributed over 206 of the world’s 251 countries.