Islands. Scotland has hundreds of islands. A large group of islands called the Hebrides lies off the west coast of Scotland's mainland. The Orkney and Shetland groups lie north of the mainland and form the boundary between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Rural life. Less than one-fourth of Scotland's people live in rural areas. Much of Scotland's countryside has rugged terrain and offers only a limited number of jobs and resources. Some rural workers fish, grow crops, raise livestock, or harvest timber. However, only about 2 percent of Scotland's employed people earn their living in farming, fishing, and forestry. As a result, many rural dwellers work in the cities.
Food and drink. Favorite foods and beverages in Scotland increasingly resemble those in other parts of the United Kingdom. Most Scottish cooking is simple. Favorite traditional Scottish dishes include fish and chips, herring, roast beef,and roast lamb. The Scots also enjoy fine steaks from Scotland's famous Aberdeen-Angus cattle.
Other traditional Scottish foods include haggis, kippers, oatmeal, and salmon. Haggis is a famous national dish made from the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep. These ingredients are chopped with suet (animal fat), onions, oatmeal, and seasonings, and then boiled in a bag made from a sheep's stomach. Kippers are smoked herring, a favorite breakfast dish. Oatmeal is used in many Scottish dishes, including porridge and oatcakes (flat cakes cooked on a griddle), both of which are popular for breakfast. Salmon is served smoked, grilled, or poached. Salmon taken from Scottish waters is considered one of the world's tastiest fishes.
In addition to traditional Scottish foods, other foods such as hamburgers, pizzas, and curries (stews spiced with curry) are popular in Scotland. Tea is also popular. The number of Scots who drink coffee has increased greatly since the mid-1900's.
One of the favorite alcoholic drinks in Scotland is Scotch whisky, or Scotch. The Scots have been making whisky since the 1400's. They export about 85 million gallons (322 million liters) of Scotch yearly.
Education. Scotland's system of education is separate from that of England and Wales and from that of Northern Ireland. The Scottish Office Education Department and local education authorities supervise the school system in Scotland.
All Scottish children between the ages of 5 and 16 must attend school. Nearly all schools are supported by public funds. Scotland has few private schools, most of which are in Edinburgh.
For many years, Scotland had separate schools for vocational and academic education. But during the 1970's, these specialized schools were replaced with comprehensive schools. Comprehensive schools provide both types of education, and students take courses geared to their abilities.
Scotland has 12 universities-Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot-Watt, Napier, Paisley, Robert Gordon, St. Andrews, Stirling, and Strathclyde. Aberdeen, Glasgow, and St. Andrews were founded in the 1400's. Edinburgh and Glasgow are the largest universities.
Religion. The Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church, is the official church of Scotland. But the people may worship as they choose. Many Scots are Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, or members of Presbyterian churches other than the Church of Scotland.
The Church of Scotland has about 2 million members. The members elect about 1,250 ministers and elders (officers) of the church to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which meets once a year. The assembly is often called the Voice of Scotland because it discusses national and world affairs as well as church matters. The British monarch sometimes attends the assembly meeting.
The arts. Scotland has produced many famous artists, especially in the field of literature. The earliest Scottish literature was chiefly oral. It was sung or chanted by poet-singers called bards, who composed poetry and songs in the Gaelic language. Between the 1300s and 1700's, famous Scottish poets included John Barbour, Gavin Douglas, William Dunbar, and Allan Ramsay. Robert Burns, who wrote in the late 1700's, became the national poet of Scotland. He wrote many works in Scots, the literary Scottish dialect. Many modern Scottish poets, including Hugh McDiarmid, Tom Scott, and Douglas Young, also have used Scots. See Gaelic literature.
Most Scottish prose is written in English. Famous Scottish authors of the 1700's include James Boswell, who wrote a fascinating biography of the English writer Samuel Johnson, and John Arbuthnot, who wrote many great essays. In the 1800's, Thomas Carlyle produced brilliant histories and biographies, and John Lockhart became known for his works of literary criticism. Scotland's best-known novelists, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, also wrote during the 1800's.