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Historically, the Scots have been under-represented in British art and music, but they have packed a mighty wallop in the worlds of science, literature and philosophy. Scots came up with logarithms, the second law of thermodynamics and the laws of electrodynamics; they revolutionised steam power and invented bitumen, waterproofing, the telephone, the television and radar. Scots have been pioneers in anatomy, antiseptics and the development of penicillin. One of them, Adam Smith, even came up with the wacky idea of the invisible hand of capitalism. The Scots attribute this impressive roll call to the country's long-standing emphasis on a good education.
Scotland has an impressive artistic legacy, kicking off with the wild man himself, Robbie Burns, and is continuing this reputation, as Hollywood fetes members of the Mac Pack such as Ewen McGregor and Robert Carlyle, and literary festivals go gaga over grunge-and-drugs writers like Irvine Welsh. Perhaps the most famous icon of Scottish traditional culture is the Highland bagpipe, which achieved the height of its popularity during Queen Victoria's reign - she liked to be woken by one playing outside her window. Tartans, that other Scottish icon, date back to the Roman period, but were only associated with particular clans after the 17th century. Although kilts and other highland dress were banned after the Jacobite rebellions, they were revived in the following century. The mainstay of traditional culture was the ceilidh, or visit, a social gathering held after the day's work when a local bard would tell folk stories and legends and play songs. Ceilidhs are still held, though these days there are fewer stories, more dancing, and plenty of alcohol.
It's probably true to say that religion has played a more influential part in the history of Scotland than it has in any other part of Britain. Christianity reached Scotland in the 4th century, and with the Reformation the Scottish Church rejected the Pope's authority. Later a schism developed amongst Scottish Protestants, the Presbyterians favouring a simplified church hierachy. Two-thirds of Scots belong to the Church of Scotland, although the more rigorous United Free Presbyterian church is more popular in the Highlands and Islands. There are large Catholic populations in Glasgow, and some of the islands were secretly converted to Catholicism after the Reformation. Although not remotely on the scale of Northern Ireland, sectarian tensions can be felt in Glasgow, especially when the Protestant Rangers play the Catholic Celtic.
Until the 12th or 13th century, Gaelic was spoken in all of Scotland, although Lallans (an English dialect with French and Scandinavian influences) has been spoken in the Lowlands for centuries. Now only about 66,000 people speak Gaelic, mainly in the Hebrides and northwest Scotland. Efforts are being made to halt its decline, and there are numerous Gaelic words that linger in everyday speech and make Scottish English almost impenetrable to foreigners.
Scotland's chefs have an enviable range of fresh ingredients at their disposal - meat, seafood and vegetables, as well as a reputation for some of the best game dishes in the world (think smoked salmon, venison and grouse). Other legendary Scottish meals include porridge, shortbread, haggis, Scotch broth and that modern gourmet creation, the deep-fried Mars bar. Whisky is still the country's biggest export.
Scotland is about half the size of England, and roughly two-thirds of the country is mountain and moorland. Geographically, it can be divided into three areas: the Southern Uplands, the Central Lowlands, and the Northern Highlands and Islands. The Southern Uplands are the fertile plains and hills bordering England; the Central Lowlands run from Edinburgh to Glasgow and contain the industrial belt and most of the population, while the Highlands are mountain ranges of sandstone and granite, rising to their heights at Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain.