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Lowlands and Highlands

Historians believe that the Scottish nation emerged from the union of several diverse peoples: the Picts, the Scots, the Britons, the Angles, and the Scandinavians. But over the centuries, these divisions were less important than a more famous dichotomy: the Lowlands versus the Highlands. Eighteenth-century travelers frequently observed the differences between the "house Scots" and the "wild Scots." The "wild Scots" spoke Gaelic, whereas the others spoke a distinct tongue related to English. Lowland Scotland had cities and culture: Edinburgh, Perth, Aberdeen, Stirling, Glasgow; Highland Scotland had scenery and romance. Perhaps, as contemporary poet Maurice Lindsay has phrased it, Scotland was really only an "attitude of mind."

Lowland or Highland, however, Scotland in the eighteenth century remained very much an outpost of Europe. Even though the Scottish border lay but three hundred miles from London, as late as 1753 the Edinburgh stage made the trip only every two weeks. Travelers who ventured south frequently made out their wills as a final preparation.6 Regular ship service from Orkney to Aberdeen did not occur until 1834.

The lack of roads and bridges in the Highlands was notorious. Since the numerous rivers generally ran parallel to each other on their way to the coast, they formed remarkable barriers to overland travel. Local guides were necessary, but even they knew only their specffic regions. The Hanoverian monarchs began a series of road-building projects in the early eighteenth century in order to open the region to commerce as well as to pacify Highland supporters of the ousted Stuarts, but it was not until the railways penetrated the region in the mid-nineteenth century that Scotland became relatively easy to access. Tobias Smollett’s character Mrs. Tabitha, for example, believed that one could reach Scotland only by sea.

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