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Scotland occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, Scotland consists of over 790 islands including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.
Edinburgh, the country's capital and second largest city, is one of Europe's largest financial centres. Edinburgh was the hub of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, which transformed Scotland into one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of Europe. Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, was once one of the world's leading industrial cities and now lies at the centre of the Greater Glasgow conurbation. Scottish waters consist of a large sector of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, containing the largest oil reserves in the European Union. This has given Aberdeen, the third largest city in Scotland, the title of Europe's oil capital.
The Kingdom of Scotland was an independent sovereign state before 1 May 1707 when it entered into a political union with the Kingdom of England to create the united Kingdom of Great Britain. This union resulted from the Treaty of Union agreed in 1706 and enacted by the twin Acts of Union passed by the Parliaments of both countries, despite widespread protest across Scotland. Scotland's legal system continues to be separate from those of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and Scotland still constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and in private law.
The continued existence of legal, educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since the Union. Although Scotland is no longer a separate sovereign state, issues surrounding devolution and independence continue to be debated. After the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999, the first ever pro-independence Scottish Government was elected in 2007 when the Scottish National Party formed a minority administration.
Scotland is from the Latin Scoti, the term applied to Gaels, people from what is now Scotland and Ireland, both pirates and the Dal Riada who had come from Ireland to reside in the Northwest of what is now Scotland, in contrast, for example, to the Picts. Accordingly, the Late Latin word Scotia (land of the Gaels) was initially used to refer to Ireland. However, by the 11th century at the latest, Scotia was being used to refer to (Gaelic-speaking) Scotland north of the river Forth, alongside Albania or Albany, both derived from the Gaelic Alba. The use of the words Scots and Scotland to encompass all of what is now Scotland became common in the Late Middle Ages.
Repeated glaciations, which covered the entire land-mass of modern Scotland, destroyed any traces of human habitation that may have existed before the Mesolithic period. It is believed that the first post-glacial groups of hunter-gatherers arrived in Scotland around 12,800 years ago, as the ice sheet retreated after the last glaciation. Groups of settlers began building the first known permanent houses on Scottish soil around 9,500 years ago, and the first villages around 6,000 years ago. The well-preserved village of Skara Brae on the Mainland of Orkney dates from this period. Neolithic habitation, burial and ritual sites are particularly common and well-preserved in the Northern Isles and Western Isles, where a lack of trees led to most structures being built of local stone. A four thousand year old tomb with burial treasures was discovered at Forteviot, near Perth, the capital of a Pictish Kingdom in the eighth/ninth century AD. Unrivalled anywhere in Britain, it contains the remains of an early Bronze Age ruler laid out on white quartz pebbles and birch bark, with possessions including a bronze and gold dagger, a wooden bowl and a leather bag.
The written protohistory of Scotland began with the arrival of the Roman Empire in southern and central Great Britain, when the Romans occupied what is now England and Wales, administering it as a province called Britannia. Roman invasions and occupations of southern Scotland were a series of brief interludes.