Scottish Highlands

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

The Scottish Highlands are the mountainous regions of Scotland north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Highlands are popularly described as one of the most scenic regions of Europe.

The area is generally sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges dominating the region. Remarkably, given that it is part of the crowded island of Britain, the average population density in the Highlands and Islands is lower than that for Sweden, Norway, Papua New Guinea or Argentina. Regional administrative centres include Inverness. The Highland Council is the administrative body for around 40% of this area; the remainder is divided between the council areas of Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Moray, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling. Although the Isle of Arran administratively belongs to North Ayrshire, its northern part is generally regarded as part of the Highlands.


  • Highland Clearances
  • Highland Land League


Culturally the area is quite different from the Scottish Lowlands. Most of the Highlands fall into the region known as the Gàidhealtachd, pronounced roughly Gailtahk, which was, within the last hundred years, the Gaelic speaking area of Scotland. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably but have different meanings in their respective languages. Highland English is also widely spoken.

Some similarities exist between the culture of the Highlands and that of Ireland: examples include the Gaelic language, sport ( shinty/ hurling), and Celtic music. Highland music, which is similar to Irish traditional music, often reflects an (historical) antipathy to the English which is less commonly seen amongst Lowland Scots .


The Scottish Reformation, begun in the Lowlands, achieved only partial success in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. Roman Catholicism remained strong in certain parts, aided by Irish Franciscan missionaries who regularly came to the area to perform Mass, as they shared a similar language.

Historical geography

In traditional Scottish geography, the Highlands refers to that part of Scotland north-west of a line drawn from Dumbarton to Stonehaven, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, parts of Perthshire and the County of Bute, but excluding Orkney and Shetland, Caithness, the flat coastal land of the Counties of Nairnshire, Morayshire and Banffshire, and most of East Aberdeenshire. This Highland area differed from the Lowlands by language and tradition, having preserved Gaelic speech and customs centuries after the anglicization of the latter ; the result of which led to a growing perception of a divide with the cultural distinction between Highlander and Lowlander first noted towards the end of the 14th century. The City of Inverness is usually regarded as the capital of the Highlands. However, there are several definitions of the Highland line, which create further confusion.

Highland council area

The Highland council area, created as one of the local government regions of Scotland in 1975, has been a unitary council area since 1996. The council area excludes a large chunk of the southern and eastern Highlands, and the Western Isles, but includes Caithness. Highlands is sometimes used, however, as a name for the council area, as in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. Northern, as in Northern Constabulary, is also used to refer to the area covered by the fire and rescue service. This area consists of the Highland council area and the island council areas of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Highland council signs in the Pass of Drumochter, between Glen Garry and Dalwhinnie, saying "Welcome to the Hghlands", are still regarded as controversial.

Highlands and Islands

Much of the Scottish Highlands area overlaps the Highlands and Islands area. An electoral region called Highlands and Islands is used in elections to the Scottish Parliament: this area includes Orkney and Shetland, as well as the Highland local government area, the Western Isles and most of the Argyll and Bute and Moray local government areas. Highlands and Islands has, however, different meanings in different contexts. It means Highland (the local government area), Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service. Northern, as in Northern Constabulary, refers to the same area as that covered by the fire and rescue service.

Highland Park

Highland Park is a single malt Scotch whisky, which is distilled in Orkney, which is not part of either the administrative area of Highland nor the Scottish Highlands. However, Orkney along with Western Isles and the Shetlands, is grouped together with the Highlands when it comes to economic development; under the umbrella of Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

The Quirang, Trotternish peninsula, on the Island of Skye
The Quirang, Trotternish peninsula, on the Island of Skye


The Highlands lie to the north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which runs from Arran to Stonehaven. This part of Scotland is largely comprised of ancient rocks from the Cambrian and Precambrian periods which were uplifted during the later Caledonian Orogeny. Smaller formations of Lewisian gneiss in the north west are up to 3,000 million years old and amongst the oldest found anywhere on Earth. These foundations are interspersed with many igneous intrusions of a more recent age, the remnants of which have formed mountain massifs such as the Cairngorms and Skye Cuillins. A significant exception to the above are the fossil-bearing beds of Old Red Sandstones found principally along the Moray Firth coast. The Great Glen is a rift valley which divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands.

The entire region was covered by ice sheets during the Pleistocene ice ages, save perhaps for a few nunataks. The complex geomorphology includes incised valleys and lochs carved by the action of mountain streams and ice, and a topography of irregularly distributed mountains whose summits have similar heights above sea-level, but whose bases depend upon the amount of denudation to which the plateau has been subjected in various places.

Towns and villages

  • Aberfeldy, Aboyne, Alness, Altnaharra, Applecross, Aultbea, Aviemore,
  • Back of Keppoch, Ballachulish, Beauly, Blair Atholl, Braemar
  • Cannich, Coldbackie, Crianlarich, Cromarty Culbokie
  • Dalwhinnie, Dingwall, Dornie, Dornoch, Durness
  • Fort Augustus, Fort William
  • Gairloch, Glencoe, Glenelg, Grantown-on-Spey
  • Inveraray, Invermoriston, Inverness (a city since 2001)
  • Killin, Kingussie, Kinlochleven, Kinlochewe, Kinloch Rannoch, Kyle of Lochalsh
  • Lochcarron, Lochinver
  • Mallaig
  • Nairn, Newtonmore, North Ballachulish, Nethy Bridge
  • Oban
  • Plockton, Poolewe, Portmahomack
  • Shieldaig, South Ballachulish, Strathpeffer, Strathy
  • Tain, Taynuilt, Thurso, Tobermory, Tomintoul, Tongue, Torridon
  • Ullapool
  • Wick

Other places of interest

  • Castle Tioram
  • Glencoe Ski Centre
  • Glen Orchy
  • Glen Spean
  • Inverewe Gardens
  • Loch Linnhe
  • Loch Lochy
  • Rannoch Moor
  • Tor Castle
  • Glen Coe
  • Glen Lyon
  • Loch Rannoch
  • Loch Katrine
  • West Highland Way
  • Eilean Donan
  • Loch Ness

Gallery of Images

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