Thursday, September 16, 2004


Well, as you may have noticed, your servant is back! And with some pics of the beautiful Scottish landscape to entertain you. But since in Scotland you can also almost literally drink history, I thought I’d do well to enlighten you a bit on how this all in all little remote corner of Europe came to be what it still is today, one half of the "United Kingdom"! That’s right, the very notion "UK" has become so common that most people hardly stand still at its deeper meaning, namely that Great Britain is the Union of the English and Scottish Kingdoms (for lack of space we will just forget about Wales and Northern Ireland, okay?). Also, you know very well the British flag, don’t you? That’s not the English flag, it’s the flag of England and Scotland United, which is why it is called "Union Jack"!

Now before Scotland became a kingdom itself, its relevant history in a broader European context began with Roman involvement. There was then of course no talk of a kingdom. Society was organized with the famous clan system as cornerstone. Clan comes from clann, a celtic (gaelic) word, which means in fact "children". The clann’s "boss" was called the "Chieftain" and now that I come to think of it, in fact England played ultimately rather fair in respecting its erstwhile foe for, like I said, it deliberately diluted its identity within the framework of a united kingdom, but also many words and terms and icons were allowed to find their way into British parlance. The former main British battletank e.g. was named "Chieftain". Other gaelic words which have become immortal are "ben" for a mountain and "loch" and "glen" to respectively describe the typical long and narrow Scottish lakes and valleys. Also of interest is the gaelic word for Scotland, which is Alba (and from which "Albany" is derived, as in "Duke of Albany". Now you also know the scottish roots of the name of New York's capital).

The Romans had quite a hard time with the rough people in Britain's northern corner and especially with a particular Highland tribe, or conglomerate of clans, namely the Picts, from the latin pictus, meaning those who are painted. (the Picts painted themselves blue. No connection whatsoever with Smurfs though). The Romans won their battles, and here certainly Agricolas crushing victory over Algacus in 84AD at Mons Graupius (from this word comes, through a medieval printing setting error, the notion Grampian Mountains) comes to mind. Nevertheless at some point they considered the north of Britannia not worth the investment in troops and money and left it to its own devices beyond the famous Wall constructed by Hadrian (around 123 AD), still visible today along the "official" English/Scottish border. The real history freaks will know that this was not the end of Roman involvement in Scotland and for a while the Romans were still active futher north and even built another wall, Antonius’ Wall, between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth.

Between 400-430 the Romans finally left the British Isles. About one century later immigrants from Ireland established themselves along Scotlands northern and western shores, and only now, since they were called Scots, makes the terms by which we refer to the area their entry into our vocabulary. Apart from the Picts already present in the Highlands and these newcomers, other constituents in the crazy smorgasbord of peoples populating the area finally to be known as Scotland, were English tribes poring in from the south and Germanic ones who came from oversea. Another Irish immigrant, the Christian missionary Saint Columba managed around 563, year of his arrival on the famous island of Iona, to unify the Scottish tribes warring amongst themselves. When finally in 843 a fella named Kenneth McAlpin was able to ally the Scots with the Picts some first resemblance of a Scottish nation was born.

Ok, enough for this first chapter. Enjoy the pics, the first one is of Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan, where the last Stuart, whom history chose to immortalize through the nickname Bonnie Prince Charlie rather than by the flattering denomination "Young Pretender", set foot on land in summer 1745. It was the last attempt to wrestle Scotland from the British Crown and ended, although initially successful, in utter defeat at Culloden, not one year later.

Loch Shiel in Glenfinnan

The second pic is the so-called Queen’s View of Loch Tummel, allegedly named after Queen Victoria since she enjoyed this very view during a visit in 1866. Other sources however state that the queen in question is rather Isabella, spouse of the medieval King Robert The Bruce.

Queen’s View of Loch Tummel


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