15 Fun Facts about Scotland

Scotland is one of my favorite countries. The first time we went there, we took three-year-old Megan. I’d just found out I was pregnant before we left. Little did I know then that our son, Ian, would attend university there, first in St. Andrews and then in Edinburgh. So, I have spent a good bit of time in the country.

Both Dave and I have Scottish ancestry and were excited when National Tartan Day was designated by proclamation to be held on 6 April each year to recognize the contributions of Americans of Scottish descent. The holiday originated in Nova Scotia, Canada, where it was proposed in March 1986. Their first proclamation was given the following year. On 9 March 2005, House Resolution 41 to celebrate Tartan Day was passed in the United States.

Why 6 April? The Declaration of Arbroath was written on that date in 1320. It was a letter to the Pope from the Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath, Bernard of Kilwinning. The Declaration asserted Scotland’s status as an independent kingdom. The most widely quoted line from the document is:

“… for as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom  – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Do you hear echoes of this in Patrick Henry’s lines? “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was the son of a Scottish immigrant from Aberdeenshire.

In fact, if you compare the sentiment of the Declaration of Arbroath with that of the American Declaration of Independence, you will find many similarities. A large proportion of our Founding Fathers were of Scottish descent, with almost half of the signers and nine of the thirteen governors of the newly established states of Scottish heritage.

I spent the day reminiscing about my time spent there, so this Tartan Day, I decided to share some fun facts about Scotland.

1—The official animal is the unicorn. I love these magical beasts and was delighted with this choice, which stems from a history full of myths and legends. The unicorn is a symbol of strength, of a powerful and untameable beast.

2—Scotland is itself part of an island. It also consists of nearly 800 islands, only 240 of which are inhabited. The more commonly known islands are Lewis, Harris, the Shetlands, the Orkneys, Arran, and Skye.

3- Scotland is often considered the home of inventions. In 1818, Charles Macintosh took dissolved indiarubber from a waste factory and used the mixture to stick two pieces of fabric together. Discovering it was waterproof, he developed the first raincoat, also known as a Mac. In 1888, Scottish veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop invented the world’s first pneumatic, or inflatable, rubber tire for bicycles. These men are only two of many.

4- The Fortingall Yew is considered the oldest tree in the world, though some of my friends on the isle of Crete in Greece may dispute this. While it is challenging to date ancient trees, this yew is believed to be 5,000 years old, which tops the 3,000-year-old olive tree on Crete.

5- The world’s only knighted penguin, Sir Nils Olav, lives in the Edinburgh Zoo. How cool is that? His duties include inspecting the Norwegian Guard on their annual visit. When Ian attended Edinburgh University, he and I went to the zoo and saw Sir Nils basking in the sun.

6—Scotland has the highest percentage of redheads. While less than 2% of the world’s population has red hair, that number reaches 15% in Scotland. On a similar note, most of the people in the UK with blue eyes are found in Scotland.

7- Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have a Fire Brigade. It was established in 1824 under James Braidwood. The men wore dark blue tunics and carried axes, spanners, and a hose.

8—The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest in the world, with over 3000 acts staged across 300 locations during the festival. The city’s population doubled!

9—Edinburgh Castle sits on a 700 million-year-old extinct volcano rising above the city. The unique ridge that encompasses the Royal Mile was carved in the most recent Ice Age. Side note: the Royal Mile is actually one mile plus one hundred yards in length.

10- The first international football match was played in Partick between Scotland and England in 1872 at the West Scotland Cricket Ground. Fortunately, the Act of 1424 of James 1st prohibiting the sport was ignored. One of the most heated rivalries in the sport is between Glasgow’s Rangers and Celtic in the Old Firm Derby. As you know, I am a football fan.

11- Most people know that the Harry Potter movies were filmed in locations across the country. The author, J K Rowling, lived in Edinburgh and took much of her inspiration from the city.

12—St. Andrews is known as the Home of Golf. Once again, they defied edicts from King James, who banned the game in 1457. However, the first recorded game was played in St. Andrews in 1552. A group of noblemen founded the Society of St. Andrews Golfers in 1754, which grew into the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, golf’s founding club. If you look at the building on the right, Ian lived on the upper floor. What a view he had!

13—Edinburgh is considered one of the most haunted cities in the UK, and we’ve done several ghost tours. The castle is also considered one of the most haunted in the world. People claim to hear a headless drummer playing or to see former prisoners haunting the dungeons. You can also go to the graveyards where Burke and Hare dug up cadavers for medical research at the University.

14- Scotland has three languages: English, Scottish Gaelic (an old Celtic language), and Scots. Gaelic is related to the Old Irish. Scots grew from the Germanic language, and while it sometimes sounds like English, it is a recognized language.

15—Scotland is most known worldwide for its production of whisky, uisge beatha, or water of life. With over 130 distilleries in the small country, it has the highest concentration in the world. Each region has its own character, from the peaty and smoky taste of the islands to the sweeter flavors of the Speyside.

There are so many more fun facts to add to this list, but I recommend you take a trip and discover them on your own.

Slainte mhath! To your health!