Portal:Scottish islands

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The Scottish Islands Portal
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Relief map of Scotland, showing some of the numerous offshore islands

Scotland has over 790 offshore islands, most of which are to be found in four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides, sub-divided into the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. There are also clusters of islands in the Firth of Clyde, Firth of Forth, and Solway Firth, and numerous small islands within the many bodies of fresh water in Scotland including Loch Lomond and Loch Maree. The largest island is Lewis and Harris which extends to 2,179 square kilometres, and there are a further 200 islands which are greater than 40 hectares in area. Of the remainder, several such as Staffa and the Flannan Isles are well known despite their small size. Some 94 Scottish islands are permanently inhabited, of which 89 are offshore islands. Between 2001 and 2011 Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702.

The geology and geomorphology of the islands is varied. Some, such as Skye and Mull are mountainous, while others like Tiree and Sanday are relatively low lying. Many have bedrock made from ancient Archaean Lewisian Gneiss which was formed 3 billion years ago; Shapinsay and other Orkney islands are formed from Old Red Sandstone, which is 400 million years old; and others such as Rùm from more recent Tertiary volcanoes. Many of the islands are swept by strong tides, and the Corryvreckan tide race between Scarba and Jura is one of the largest whirlpools in the world. Other strong tides are to be found in the Pentland Firth between mainland Scotland and Orkney, and another example is the "Grey Dog" between Scarba and Lunga. (More on Scottish islands...)

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Flag of Shetland.svg

Shetland (Scots: Shetland, Scottish Gaelic: Sealtainn), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies northeast of the mainland of Scotland.

The islands lie some 80 km (50 mi) to the northeast of Orkney, 168 km (104 mi) from the Scottish mainland and 280 km (170 mi) southeast of the Faroe Islands. They form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total area is 1,466 km2 (566 sq mi), and the population totalled 23,210 in 2011. Comprising the Shetland constituency of the Scottish Parliament, Shetland Islands Council is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the islands' administrative centre and only burgh is Lerwick, which has also been the capital of Shetland since taking over from Scalloway in 1708.

The largest island, known as the "Mainland", has an area of 967 km2 (373 sq mi), making it the third-largest Scottish island and the fifth-largest of the British Isles. There are an additional 15 inhabited islands. The archipelago has an oceanic climate, a complex geology, a rugged coastline and many low, rolling hills.

Humans have lived in Shetland since the Mesolithic period. The earliest written references to the islands date to Roman times. The early historic period was dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially from Norway, and the islands did not become part of Scotland until the 15th century. When Scotland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, trade with northern Europe decreased. Fishing has continued to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland's economy, employment and public sector revenues.

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  • 24–25 April: A major fire burns 5 square miles of forestry at Edinbane wind farm, near Struan on Skye.
  • 18–19 April: Several wildfires burn in moorland and conifer plantation on Balmakailly Hill, Rothesay, Bute.
  • 18 April: New Scottish legislation comes into force permitting road rallies, such as the Tour of Mull, to take place on closed public roads.
  • 13–17 April: A mechanical fault on the MV Isle of Lewis interrupts direct ferry services between Barra and mainland Scotland.
  • 12 April: The Ardnahoe Distillery opens in the north east of Islay, becoming the island's ninth active whisky distillery.

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Shetland Sheepdog 600.jpg

The Shetland Sheepdog, often known as the Sheltie, is a breed of herding dog that originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. The original name was Shetland Collie, but this caused controversy among the Rough Collie breeders of the time, so the breed's name was formally changed. This hard-working small dog is intelligent, vocal, excitable and willing to please. They are incredibly loyal to their owners to the point where they are often referred to as "shadows" due to their attachment to family. This breed was formally recognized by The Kennel Club (UK) in 1909.

Like the Shetland pony and the Shetland sheep, the Shetland Sheepdog is a hardy but diminutive breed developed to thrive amidst the harsh and meagre conditions of its native islands. While the Sheltie still excels at herding, today it is often raised as a farm dog and/or family pet.

The Sheltie's origins are obscure, but it is not a direct descendant of the Rough Collie, which it largely resembles. Rather, the Sheltie is a descendant of small specimens of the Scottish Collie and the King Charles Spaniel. They were originally a small mixed-breed dog, often only about 8 to 12 inches in height at the shoulder, and it is thought that the original Shetland herding dogs were of the Spitz type, and were crossed with Collies from mainland Britain. In the early 20th century, James Loggie added a small Rough Collie to the breeding stock, and helped establish the breed that would become the modern Shetland Sheepdog.

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Painting of Thor fighting serpent
Thor in Hymir's boat battling the Midgard Serpent, by Henry Fuseli (1788)

The stoor worm, or Mester Stoor Worm, was a gigantic evil sea serpent of Orcadian folklore, capable of contaminating plants and destroying animals and humans with its putrid breath. It is probably an Orkney variant of the Norse Jörmungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent, or world serpent, and has been described as a sea dragon.

The king of one country threatened by the beast's arrival was advised to offer it a weekly sacrifice of seven virgins. In desperation the king eventually issued a proclamation offering his kingdom, his daughter's hand in marriage and a magic sword to anyone who could destroy the monster. Assipattle, the youngest son of a local farmer, defeated the creature; as it died its teeth fell out to become the islands of Orkney, Shetland and the Faroes, and its body became Iceland.

Similarities between Assipatle's defeat of the monster and other dragon-slayer tales, including Herakles' destruction of a sea monster to save Hesione, have been noted by several authors. It has been suggested that tales of this genre evolved during a period of enlightenment, when human sacrifices to bestial divinities were beginning to be suppressed.

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Sorley MacLean (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle MacGill-Eain; 26 October 1911 – 24 November 1996) was a Scottish Gaelic poet, described by the Scottish Poetry Library as "one of the major Scottish poets of the modern era" because of his "mastery of his chosen medium and his engagement with the European poetic tradition and European politics". Nobel Prize Laureate Seamus Heaney credited MacLean with saving Scottish Gaelic poetry.

He was raised in a strict Presbyterian family on the island of Raasay, immersed in Gaelic culture and literature from birth, but abandoned religion for socialism. In the late 1930s, he befriended many Scottish Renaissance figures, such as Hugh MacDiarmid and Douglas Young. He was wounded three times while serving with the British Army during the Second World War. MacLean published little after the war, due to his perfectionism. In 1956, he became head teacher at Plockton High School, where he advocated for the use of the Gaelic language in formal education.

In his poetry, MacLean juxtaposed traditional Gaelic elements with mainstream European elements, frequently comparing the Highland Clearances with contemporary events, especially the Spanish Civil War. His work was a unique fusion of traditional and modern elements that has been credited with restoring Gaelic tradition to its proper place and reinvigorating and modernizing the Gaelic language. Although his most influential works, Dàin do Eimhir and An Cuilthionn, were published in 1943, MacLean did not become well known until the 1970s, when his works were published in English translation. His later poem Hallaig, published 1954, achieved "cult status" outside Gaelic-speaking circles for its supernatural representation of a village depopulated in the Highland Clearances and came to represent all Scottish Gaelic poetry in the English-speaking imagination.

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Staffa (Scottish Gaelic: Stafa, pronounced [ˈs̪t̪afa]) from the Old Norse for stave or pillar island, is an island of the Inner Hebrides in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. The Vikings gave it this name as its columnar basalt reminded them of their houses, which were built from vertically placed tree-logs.

Staffa lies about 10 kilometres (6 mi) west of the Isle of Mull. The area is 33 hectares (82 acres) and the highest point is 42 metres (138 ft) above sea level.

The island came to prominence in the late 18th century after a visit by Sir Joseph Banks. He and his fellow-travellers extolled the natural beauty of the basalt columns in general and of the island's main sea cavern, which Banks renamed 'Fingal's Cave'. Their visit was followed by those of many other prominent personalities throughout the next two centuries, including Queen Victoria and Felix Mendelssohn. The latter's Hebrides Overture brought further fame to the island, which was by then uninhabited. It is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

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Skara Brae

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Bell Rock Lighthouse with reef just visible

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. It was built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson on the Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea, 11 miles (18 km) east of the Firth of Tay. Standing 35 metres (115 ft) tall, its light is visible from 35 statute miles (56 km) inland.

The masonry work on which the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years. The lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1843 and used in the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland, where they are currently on display. The working of the lighthouse has been automated since 1988.

The lighthouse operated in tandem with a shore station, the Bell Rock Signal Tower, built in 1813 at the mouth of Arbroath harbour. Today this building houses the Signal Tower Museum, a visitor centre detailing the history of the lighthouse.

The challenges faced in the building of the lighthouse have led to it being described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

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Sgùrr nan Gillean from Sligachan, Isle of Skye, Scotland - Diliff.jpg

The Cuillin (Scottish Gaelic: An Cuilthionn or An Cuiltheann) is a range of rocky mountains located on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The main Cuillin ridge is also known as the Black Cuillin to distinguish it from the Red Cuillin (na Beanntan Dearga, known locally as Red Hills), which lie to the east of Glen Sligachan.

The peaks of the Black Cuillin are mainly composed of gabbro, a very rough igneous rock which provides a superb grip for mountaineers; and basalt, which can be very slippery when wet. The rocks forming the ridge of the Black Cuillin (and outliers such Bla Bheinn) are dark in colour, particularly in the shade, but when in sunlight the Black Cuillin can appear grey to brown in colour. The main ridge forms a narrow crest, with steep cliffs and scree slopes. The ridge is about 14 km long (measured from Gars-behinn in the south to Sgùrr nan Gillean in the northeast), and curves in an irregular semi-circle around Loch Coruisk, which lies at the heart of the range. The highest point of the Cuillin, and of the Isle of Skye, is Sgùrr Alasdair in the Black Cuillin at 992 m (3,255 ft).

The Red Cuillin are mainly composed of granite, which is paler than the gabbro (with a reddish tinge from some angles in some lights) and has weathered into more rounded hills with vegetation cover to summit level and long scree slopes on their flanks. These hills are lower and, being less rocky, have fewer scrambles or climbs. The highest point of the red hills is Glamaig (775 m), one of only two Corbetts on Skye (the other being Garbh-bheinn, part of the small group of gabbro outliers surrounding Blà Bheinn).

The scenic beauty of the Cuillin has led to it being designated a national scenic area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland. A Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) review of the special qualities of the national scenic area stated:

The mountains rise up dramatically from the sea creating formidable, enclosed sea lochs, with the absence of foothills enhancing their vast scale. Many iconic views of Scotland are centred here, whether Sgurr nan Gillean soaring above Sligachan, Loch Scavaig and the Cuillin ridge from Elgol, or Bla Bheinn above Torrin.

— Scottish Natural Heritage

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