When you think Scotland you probably think: whisky, highlands, Braveheart, haggis, bagpipes…
But there are quite a few things that even the biggest Scotland-lovers had no idea about!
As a Scotland lover and a wedding photographer in Scotland I’m always hungry for more interesting facts about this incredible country. And new places I’ve not been to yet.
Here’s my own list of the coolest facts about Scotland.
10 things you didn’t know about Scotland
Scotland has more than 900 islands
You must have heard about the Isle of Skye – the most famous of the Scottish islands. But did you know that Scotland has more than nine hundred offshore islands? More than 800 are uninhabited.
The biggest island is Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. They are often reffered to as separate islands – although officially the northern part of the island is named Lewis whereas the southern part is called Harris. It offers beautiful sandy beaches, distilleries and incredibly, green scenery – and more.
The second largest Scottish island is Skye, part of Inner Hebrides. So far it’s been my favourite one of the Scottish islands. There is so much to explore.
One of the most iconic places on Skye are:
– Quiraing – situated in the north of Isle of Skye in the area known as Trotternish.
– Portree – capital of the island.
– Neist Point – viewpoint on the most westerly point of Skye with the Neist Point Lighthouse located there since 1909.
– Fairy Glen – natural rock formations, green hills, ponds and waterfalls – area created as a result of a landslip.
– Fairy Pools – majestic pools of clear spring water surrounded by the Cuillin Mountains waterfalls.
– Old Man of Stoor – large pinnacle of rocks. Legend has it that Old Man of Storr was a giant residing in Trotternish Ridge and when buried his thumb remained on the ground, creating the famous rocky landscape.
Scotland has the highest percentage of people with red hair in the world
Scotland has the highest percentage of natural redheads of all countries in the world. Around 13% of the Scottish population is ginger! Ireland comes in second with 10% gingers.
There are around 140 million of redheads on our planet which is less than two percent of all people in the world.
By the way, did you know that gingers generate their own vitamin D? They are able to do so even when their skin is exposed to low light, as the concentration of melatonin within their skin is much lower compared to people of other skin colours.
Unicorn is an official animal of Scotland
How come it’s easier to believe in a horse-leopard-camel hybrid with a 30-foot long neck than a horse with a horn? Giraffes always seemed a bit more crazy to believe in, but they exist. So it’s not a surpise to me that unicorn has become an official animal of Scotland.
Scots love mythology and have always been fascinated with legends. In Celtic mythology unicorns are associated with power and masculinity. They also symbolise purity, courage and possess a power to heal and nurture. What is more, a substance made from a powdered unicorn horn was considered to be able to cure diseases and detect poison.
The white unicorn appeared in the Scottish coat of arms for the first time in the twelvth century. One of the reasons why a unicorn was chosen to be a symbol of Scotland was the continuous hostility between Scotland in England – unicorn was considered to be the biggest enemy of a lion, which appears in the English coat of arms.
The current coat of arms of the United Kingdom compises both a Scottish unicorn and a lion for England. The other elements depicted in the coast of arms are also a tudor rose, shamrock and a thistle – another popular Scottish symbol.
It is also worth noting that Scotland uses a slightly different version of the Royal Arms since the 1603 Union of the Crowns.
There are more than 2000 castles in Scotland
The estimated number of Scottish castles varies between 2000 to almost 4000, including the ruined castles.
Most experts agree that around two thousand of them were real fortified residences
of noble families and lords. The firsts Scottish castles were build during the 12th century with the 16th century being often considered the end of the castle era.
The most famous castle in Scotland is definitely the capital’s Edinburgh Castle. The list of other famous Scottish castles include:
– Eilean Donan – built in the middle of the lake during 13th century, was restored at the beginning of 20th century. Without a doubt one of the most recognised Scottish castles. It is situated in the Scottish highlands.
– Kilchurn Castle – build in the 15th century by the picturesque Loch Awe. It was abandoned by Campbell clan in the 18th century.
– Craigievar Castle – the pink castle situated in Aberdeenshire was one of the last Scottish castles ever built. It is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.
– Dunrobin Castle – the most northerly of Scotland’s castles and the largest in the northern part of Scottish Highlands with 189 rooms.
– Dunnottar Castle – ruined castle situated on a cliff top near Stonehaven.
Red wedding in the Game of Thrones was inspired by Scottish history
The Black Dinner
First event that served as George R. R. Martin’s inspiration when writing about the red wedding was a dinner at Edinburgh Castle.
In 1440 sir William Crichton and Alexander Livingston arranged a meeting with the Douglas clan at Edinburgh Castle. In the presence of the boy-king – James II of Scotland*, Crichton and Livingston murdered the teenage William Douglas and his younger brother. That evening would later become known as the Black Dinner.
Legend has it that William Douglas was presented with a head of a black bull symbolising death at a dinner.
*James II was only 6 years old when he became king in 1437 – after his father James I was killed.
The Glencoe massacre
The second was the infamous Glencoe Massacre.
In late January 1692 120 soldiers arrived at Glencoe from Fort William under the command of Captain Robert Campbell. In-keeping with traditions of highland hospitality, the MacDonalds of Glencoe accepted these soldiers as guests into their homes and for 12 days the MacDonalds of Glencoe and their Campbell guests lived together as friends. But on the 13th of February, while the MacDonalds slept, the order was given to murder every MacDonald they could find. By the time the sun rose 38 people had been murdered, all for the crime of swearing an oath to the King 5 days too late.
Golf was born in Scotland
Although the origin of golf has been debated for a very long time – tracing the birth of the game to the 13th century Netherlands or even ancient Rome in the times of Julius Cesar, the modern version of golf originated in Scotland in the fifteenth century.
The oldest and clearly most prestigious golf club in the world, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, is located in Scotland and it was founded in the middle of eighteenth century.
So if you’re a fan of golf, you should definitely plan a trip to St Andrews, a town famous for not only its golf traditions but also the oldest and one of the best universities in Scotland.
Scotland is the home of reindeer
Reindeer can be found in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, parts of northern Europe and Siberia.
Thousands of years ago reindeer used to live in the Scottish highlands but became extinct, most likely because of the climate change or hunting practices. The exact cause is unknown. Years later, reindeer were reintroduced here in Scotland in 1952 by Mikel Utsi from Sweden, a Lapland native.
Utsi who saw similarities between the climate of Cairngorms and Lapland decided to bring the reindeer back to Scotland.
Since the fifties the Scottish herd has been the only wild and free reindeer herd in the United Kingdom.
Did you know that the reindeer love the cold? They are also able to survive extremely low temperatures, down to minus 72 degrees Celsius. Their furry noses and thick fur coats are what protects them from the cold so well.