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Text by Norman Ferguson

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Title Page



















During the first years of the third millennium, those in charge of running Scotland created a slogan to help promote tourism and attract investment. It said Scotland was ‘the best small country in the world’. This claim was not hugely popular with Scots – it didn’t sit right. The aims were fine: a publicly shown pride in the nation and its achievements, but it just wasn’t very Scottish. Scots are not very good at showing off; they’re not encouraged to boast of their achievements, no matter how great. If they do, they face being brought down to earth with the withering comment ‘I kent his faither’ (I knew his father – who does he think he is?).

Modern-day Scotland retains a large degree of myth and romanticism – for the first, none comes bigger than the large aquatic creature that lives in Loch Ness, and for the latter, the 1981 film Gregory’s Girl made the breeze-block uniformity of new town Cumbernauld the most romantic place in the world.

Scotland is lucky to have symbols easily recognisable in the global community. There are often complaints about using tartan, mountains, lochs and whisky in promoting Scotland, but they are now an essential part of Scotland’s identity.

I was born and grew up in Scotland and have lived in half of the major cities, as well as some of the rural areas, and over the years I’ve accumulated many facts and stories that I hope will be of interest. For a country as small as it is (although it makes up a third of the UK’s land mass) it has packed in a lot of history.

This book hopes to highlight the major events, people, landscapes, culture, scientific achievements and sporting moments of glory that have been celebrated over the centuries since the Romans made the first recorded notes of the ‘Scotti’, who lived north of Hadrian’s Wall. The weather also features…

I hope you will find much of interest in these pages and that the book is – as the Scottish phrase says – ‘better than a slater up your nose’.*

Norman Ferguson
May 2017


Scotland is many things to many people: be it the grandeur of the dramatic Highland landscape of Rob Roy and the clans; the gentle whimsy of the Outer Hebrides as seen in films such as Whisky Galore!; or the smoke-covered mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution. It is, of course, all these things and more. And what of those who live here? What is a Scot? The cautious farmer living on the land of his forebears? The gallus Glaswegian taking no nonsense from nobody? The literate and urbane global citizen who can happily spend time up a mountain in Torridon or in a tuk-tuk in Thailand? The stereotypical view of the dryhumoured, quiet, spendthrift Scot who only comes alive after a few drinks does apply to some, of course, but it mostly comes from vaudeville acts of decades ago. The debate about what qualities and attitudes make up the ‘typical Scot’ could last as long as the Caledonian Canal, and to attempt to pin down an agreed set would be the equivalent of herding wildcats.

Scotland’s national motto is Nemo me impune lacessit (No one attacks me with impunity) or in Scots: ‘Wha daur meddle wi’ me?’ – which gives some idea of a certain national posture adopted when pressed. Scots take a quiet but stubborn pride in their country, despite numerous setbacks, most notably nowadays in sport, of which more later…


Scots have always looked outside their own borders: to build trading relationships (occasionally to plan military campaigns) and for places to start new lives away from their homeland. Some of those who left for foreign shores – and their descendants – became the most famous of people.

The Scottish language has always been essential in establishing a unique identity for Scots. Furthermore, it is always useful to know if being called a numpty is an insult or a compliment!


If you want a linguistic adventure, go drinking with a Scotsman.


Part of the Scottish identity comes through language, which is a mixture that reflects its population’s make-up from its early days.


A mixture of languages are spoken in modern-day Scotland, including Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, Gaelic, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Kurdish, Mandarin, Polish, Punjabi, Scots, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.

The three main ones are:

Scottish English

English, but spoken with a Scottish accent. Contains Scots words (and occasionally Gaelic).


Spoken in the north-east and lowlands, Scots includes dialects such as Doric and Lallans. May appear impenetrable to an outsider not familiar with any of the words.

Scottish Gaelic

Similar to Irish Gaelic, it is now mostly spoken in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, although Gaelic schools have been established in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Gaelic was historically spoken in all parts of Scotland save for the Borders and the north, where Norse was spoken. Around 60,000 Scots can speak Gaelic.


The word ‘dunce’ originates from John Duns Scotus, a philosopher born in 1266, who was from the Borders village of Duns. He was criticised for not being too scholarly in his work.


The following are Scots words that may already be familiar; but in case they are not, definitions are given:

Bahoochie (n)

The buttocks.

Clipe (n)

A clipe is someone who informs a person in authority of another’s bad behaviour, especially in a school environment.

Crabbit (adj)

Grumpy. A crabbit person is one who takes little joy in life and acts as a black hole, drawing in the joie de vivre of others.

Dreich (adj)

A state of grey, dull weather involving cloudiness and low-light levels, where the sun has not been seen for a while. It may also be raining.

Girn (v)

To complain or to whine, like a broken record.

Glaikit (adj)

A person who is glaikit has little chance of winning a Nobel Prize and of whom it may be said ‘the lights are on but no one’s home’.

Numpty (n)

A person who appears to have low intelligence; an idiot.

Plook (n)

A spot, often seen when a sufferer has acne.

Scunnered (adj)

To be scunnered is to be tired or fed up with a particular aspect of life.

Shooglie (adj)

Something shooglie is something that is unstable. It is used in the expression ‘Their jacket is on a shooglie nail’ to describe an employee whose long-term future is in doubt.

Stooshie (n)

Similar to a stramash (below).

Stramash (n)

A messy confrontation, often seen in team sports such as junior football or rugby matches.


‘Blackmail’ originates from the Borders, with the word stemming from ‘black’, indicating a morally suspect deed, and ‘mail’, being a Scottish word for rent. Cattle stealing was one of the specialities of the infamous Border Reivers – groups that would raid across the border to steal livestock – and tenants would pay them to ensure their cattle and other possessions were not appropriated. The Reivers were around from the Middle Ages to the end of the sixteenth century and resisted overlordship by any king or queen until James VI was able to suppress them permanently.


There are many Scottish phrases that can beautifully and succinctly express a particular emotion or feeling. Here are just some of them:

You’re not here to enjoy yourself. (Life on earth is not about pleasure.)

There’s nothing easier gotten than a cheat. (Disappointment is easily achieved.)

If brains were dynamite, they couldn’t part their hair. (They are short of intelligence.)

They couldn’t hit a coo in the erse wi’ a banjo. (They’re useless when it comes to coordinated effort.)

Back to auld claes and cauld porritch. (Back to old clothes and cold porridge, i.e. the holiday is over and it’s time to return to normal life.)

We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns. (We’re all God’s children, i.e. all members of the human race. Jock Tamson is said to have been a church minister in Edinburgh called John Thomson.)

Away an bile yer heid. (You can depart and boil your own head as far as I’m concerned.)

Dae you think my heid’s buttoned up the back? (Do you think I am daft?)

They’re all fur coat and no drawers. (They’re showy with no substance.)

It’s better than a slater up your nose. (It’s a better situation than having a woodlouse in your nasal cavity.)

You can always tell a Fifer. But not much. (Residents of Fife appear to know a lot.)

They think they’re Archie but they’re nothing but a flea on Archie’s dug. (They have quite a high opinion of themselves but are not really that important.)

That would give your erse a sair heid. (That noise is so bad it would give your backside a headache.)

What’s for you won’t go past you. (What’s fated will happen.)

They’ve a face like a well-skelped erse. (Their complexion is quite red in colour.)

Lang may your lum reek. (May your chimney smoke for a long time, i.e. may you have a long and happy life.)


The phrase ‘getting away scot-free’ has no connection with Scotland. It means getting away without paying any tax – ‘scot’ stemming from the word ‘shot’, a Norse-derived word meaning tax.


Scotland has seen immigration from its very creation, with peoples arriving from all points of the compass. Some, including Saint Columba in the sixth century, brought significant changes to how life was lived, while others arrived, settled and quietly got on with their lives.

Due to the proximity of Scotland and Ireland, it was natural that the inhabitants of both countries would move between the two. The Scots from Ireland arrived in the sixth century and in the seventeenth century King James VI wished to establish a colony on the Emerald Isle. A couple of centuries later, Irish workers made the short crossing over the Irish Sea to work in the industrial central belt. Others have arrived over the years – some from southern Asia and Europe – and have added to the sense of Scotland being a modern country at ease with itself and those who have travelled to live here. Scotland’s closest neighbour England has provided the largest group of those choosing to live ‘north of the border’ over the years.

As well as seeing peoples arrive, Scotland has also had those depart. The Highland clearances are the biggest example of mass migration, with thousands either forced to leave their homes, or doing so voluntarily. Some moved to the central belt while thousands of their countrymen and women boarded ships for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America. A fifth of people who arrived in New Zealand in the nineteenth century were from Scotland: Dunedin was named after the old name for Edinburgh. In the post-First World War slump of the 1920s, 400,000 more people left Scotland than arrived, and during the 1950s and 1960s another half a million of the population emigrated to other countries. The resulting diaspora, i.e. those who could claim Scottish ancestry, is believed to number up to 40 million around the world.


In the late eighteenth century over three-quarters of the men working at the Hudson’s Bay Company were from Orkney. They were recruited not just for their hardy nature and ability to thrive in the wild lands of Canada, but also because they were cheaper than men from England and were assumed to be more sober than men from Ireland!


There are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make.


While some carved out quiet lives, and others returned home, there were some Scots abroad who made an impact in their new homelands. Here are some examples:

WILLIAM KIDD (C.1645–1701)

Kidd, the son of a church minister, was from Greenock and became employed by the British government as a privateer. He attacked French settlements in the West Indies before being asked to do the same to pirates in the Indian Ocean. However, he was accused of being one himself and was arrested, tried and hanged in 1701. It is believed that Kidd’s lost treasure is still to be found.


The appropriately named Garden was a part-time botanist who emigrated to South Carolina in 1752. His day job was as a doctor but it was his study of flora (and fauna) that was of longer-lasting impact. He sent samples back across the Atlantic, some to Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the natural world’s taxonomy system. The Gardenia genus of plant was named after him by Linnaeus.


Jones was born near Kirkcudbright. Embarking on a naval career and arriving in America during the period of revolution against British rule, he served on ships of the Continental Navy and was successful in leading attacks on Royal Navy ships off the coast of Britain. He is regarded by the US Navy as a founding father and in 1906 his remains were brought from France to be laid to rest in America.


Bennett, from Keith in Aberdeenshire, emigrated in 1819. He founded the New York Herald newspaper and jointly founded the Associated Press. He handed control to his son, who financed Henry Stanley’s expedition to find David Livingstone.


Livingstone spent much of his life in Africa. The devout Christian from Blantyre had gone as a missionary and made epic journeys across the continent. He was the first European to cast eyes on the Victoria Falls, which he named after the British monarch of the time. He later searched for the source of the River Nile.

Livingstone was hampered by illness and a left arm badly damaged in a lion attack. He was fervently against slavery and campaigned for its ending throughout his life. It had the desired effect and the main slave trading centre in East Africa was closed soon after his death.

When he was thought lost, an expedition was mounted by a New York newspaper to find him. He was famously met by Welshman Henry Stanley, who reputedly greeted him with the immortal line, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’. When Livingstone died in 1873 his African companions carried his body to the coast – a journey that took ten months – for its onward passage to London, where he was buried in Westminster Abbey. At Ilala in Zambia, where he died, his heart was buried under a tree.


The 7-foot-9-inch-tall MacAskill emigrated to Canada around 1831. He is believed to be the tallest giant to have lived who was free of medical abnormalities. His hands were a foot long and ‘Giant MacAskill’ was said to be so strong he could lift a horse over a fence.


Born in Dunfermline, Carnegie moved to America in 1848 where he worked at a cotton factory, a telegraph company, and a railroad company. He made wise investments in oil and heavy engineering, amongst others, but it was in iron and steel production that he was to make his name and fortune. When he sold his interest in his company in 1901, he received $447 million.

However, his accumulation of wealth was not without incident. During a strike in 1892 at Carnegie’s Homestead plant, workers and private security firm Pinkerton exchanged gunfire, leaving ten men dead.

Carnegie, who was the richest man of his time, devoted much of his later life to philanthropy, including funding 2,811 free libraries with over 600 in Britain. He gave away 90 per cent of his wealth, having written in 1889: ‘The man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced.’


Glover was from the north-east fishing town of Fraserburgh. After having spent two years selling opium and other goods in Shanghai, in 1859, he moved to Japan.

The country was beginning to open up trading arrangements with other countries and he influenced Japan’s industrialisation by importing the country’s first steam locomotive, developing coal mines using Western methods and introducing modern equipment to Nagasaki’s shipyard to repair ships using a steam-powered slip dock. These latter ventures later became part of Japanese company Mitsubishi. Another of Glover’s entrepreneurial ventures led to the establishment of the Kirin Brewery Company.

The Scot’s place in Japan’s history was recognised when he became the first foreigner to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 1908. It is claimed his life inspired Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly.

JOHN MUIR (1838–1914)

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.


Muir grew up in Dunbar in East Lothian. In 1849 his family emigrated to America and Muir then embarked on a series of hikes through his new homeland, which he called the ‘University of the Wilderness’. He was deeply concerned with the conservation of the natural habitat and campaigned to protect Yosemite Valley in California. This resulted in it being safeguarded through its establishment as a national park in 1890. His work is credited with being a key part of establishing the environmental movement. A walking route across Scotland was named after him: The John Muir Way.

MARY SLESSOR (1848–1915)

Slessor was born in Aberdeen but moved to Dundee aged eleven, where she worked in the mills. She was inspired by the work of David Livingstone to become a missionary and in 1876 she arrived in the Calabar region of Nigeria. Slessor was appalled by the practice of abandoning or killing twins by the Efik tribespeople, who believed that in each set of twins one was naturally evil. She looked after hundreds of abandoned children and adopted nine herself. She died of malaria in 1915 and was buried in Duke Town, Calabar.

DAVID BUICK (1854–1929)

David Buick was born in Arbroath in 1854. His family emigrated two years later and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He worked for a plumbing company and developed a means of bonding enamel onto cast iron baths. In 1903 he formed the Buick Motor Company but sold his shares after losing control of the company, which went on to form part of manufacturing giant General Motors. Buick died in 1929 having lost all his money through other business ventures.


The Australian city of Brisbane is named after Thomas Brisbane, a Scot from Largs, who was governor of New South Wales.


When Scots found places in which to settle they often gave them names as a reminder of home. One example is Aberdeen, which can be found in Hong Kong, Australia (in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania), Canada, Jamaica, Guyana and South Africa. In the USA there are thirteen, in the states of Arkansas, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.


Defining nationality can be a tricky pursuit, but there are some well-known figures whose Scottish credentials are not in doubt.


The most difficult place to be recognised is in one’s own home town, and I consider this, now, my home town.


The first person to walk on the moon in 1969 was given the freedom of the burgh of Langholm – the traditional home of the Armstrongs. The astronaut was warmly welcomed by the town and a bagpipe tune was composed for the occasion, called ‘Commander Neil Armstrong’s Moonstep’. In 2008 Armstrong was given an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, which was his first by a Scottish university.


The Man in Black was descended from a family in Fife, from around Falkland. Cash researched his family tree and found it went back to the twelfth century and King Malcolm IV. The move from Fife to America came when a William Cash sailed the Atlantic with the pilgrims in the 1600s. Cash’s genre of country music was also linked to Scotland through Scottish folk music, which is said to have played a key part in its establishment. Cash marked his connections with his new-found heritage by playing a concert in 1981 at Falkland Palace.


The Australian rock band began life with three of its five members born in Scotland: singer Bon Scott was from Kirriemuir, and Angus Young (lead guitarist) and brother Malcolm (rhythm guitarist) were from Glasgow. Like many other Scots of the time, they had emigrated to start a new life in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1973 they formed what became one of rock music’s biggest bands. In 2014 the Youngs’ nephew Stevie joined the band, replacing Malcolm who had retired through ill health.


Although born in Canada, Arden’s father was Scottish. (Elizabeth Arden was a business name she adopted – she was born Florence Graham.) She opened a salon in New York in 1910 and built up the large beauty products business which still carries her name to this day.


The former Talking Heads frontman was born in Dumbarton but emigrated when two years old and grew up in Baltimore, USA.


The versatile actress who appeared in Love Actually, The Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility, and who won an Oscar for her performance in Howards End, has a Scottish mother: Phyllida Law. Thompson’s Scottish roots were used to good effect in the TV series Tutti Frutti where she played Glaswegian Suzi Kettles.


With a history of conflict, invasions and sporting rivalries over the centuries, it should come as no surprise that there is occasionally some tension between the two neighbouring countries. When it was announced in 1707 that there was to be a union between Scotland and England, there was widespread disorder in the streets of Edinburgh. Three hundred years later, when tennis player Andy Murray said he would support ‘anyone but England’ in a football tournament, he received much criticism from those who didn’t appreciate the Scotsman’s dry humour.

With so much cross-border interaction nowadays, the English are not seen as the ‘Auld Enemy’ of the past and for many Scots the country south of the border is a place that can even be lived in. A 2009 Scottish government study found that of the 5.5 million people who were born in Scotland almost 800,000 lived in England.


John Bull was created by a Scotsman. This personification of England was written by Inverbervie’s John Arbuthnot in the eighteenth century.


The word sassenach (from the Gaelic ‘sasunnach’) means a Saxon, an English person or an English-speaking person from the Scottish lowlands.


Humans had lived in Scotland for thousands of years but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Romans that history began to be written down, which serves as a good starting point for Scotland’s recorded history.


AD 83 The Romans defeat Calgacus’s Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Graupius.
122Construction begins on Hadrian’s Wall.
142Construction begins on the Antonine Wall.
208Emperor Septimius Severus leads last Roman attempt to conquer Scotland.
397Saint Ninian establishes first Christian church in Scotland at Whithorn.
410Romans leave Britain.
563Saint Columba establishes monastery on Iona, ushering in a new era of religious worship in Scotland.
685Bridei’s Picts defeat the Angles of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria at the Battle of Nechtansmere (Dun Nechtain).
847King Kenneth MacAlpin becomes the first to rule over Scots and Picts.
1040Macbeth becomes king.
1072Treaty of Abernethy gives Malcolm III lands in Cumbria in return for swearing allegiance to Norman king William the Conqueror.
1124David I becomes king.
1174Treaty of Falaise gives rights of supremacy over Scotland to English king Henry II.
1263Norwegians are defeated at the Battle of Largs and the Hebrides become part of Scotland.
1286King Alexander III dies and the lack of a suitable heir leads to years of conflict.
1291Edward I oversees the appointment of John Balliol as Scottish king.
1295The Auld Alliance is formed with France.
1296John Balliol is deposed after militarily opposing Edward I.
1297William Wallace scores a major victory over English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
1298Edward I defeats William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk.
1305William Wallace is captured and executed in London.
1306Robert the Bruce is crowned King of Scotland.
1314Robert the Bruce wins a famous victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.
1320Declaration of Arbroath declares Scottish sovereignty.
1371Robert II becomes the first Stewart king.
1413Scotland’s first university is founded at St Andrews.
1469Orkney and Shetland become part of Scotland.
1513King James IV and thousands of others die at the Battle of Flodden.
1542At the Battle of Solway Moss, the Scottish army suffers a heavy defeat by a numerically smaller English army.
1544The Rough Wooing, Henry VIII’s military campaign to secure a marriage between his son Edward and Scots princess Mary, begins.
1546George Wishart is burned; Cardinal Beaton is murdered by Protestants.
1560Treaty of Edinburgh sees all French and English troops leave Scotland.
1560Reformation takes place, installing Protestantism as the established religion of Scotland.
1561Mary, Queen of Scots, returns to Scotland.
1567Mary, Queen of Scots, abdicates.
1587Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed.
1603Union of the Crowns takes place as King James VI accedes to the English throne, following the death of Elizabeth I.
1637Jenny Geddes leads protests in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral over imposition by James VI of a revised prayer book for Scotland.
1638Resistance to Charles I’s imposition of religious control is formalised by the signing of the National Covenant at Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirk.
1643Solemn League and Covenant is signed which allies the Scottish Covenanters with the English Parliament against Charles I.
1649Charles I is executed.
1651Charles II is crowned King of Scotland.
1660Restoration of Charles II.
1689The Jacobites defeat government forces but lose their commander Viscount ‘Bonnie’ Dundee at the Battle of Killiecrankie.
1692In the Massacre of Glencoe, members of the MacDonald clan are murdered by government troops.
1698The Darien expedition begins as Scotland attempts to create its own colony in Central America.
1707The Act of Union unites the parliaments of Scotland and England.
1715At the Battle of Sheriffmuir, Jacobite forces fail to take advantage of superior numbers against Hanoverian troops.
1745Jacobite uprising begins, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie as he attempts to regain the crown for the Stewarts.
1746The Jacobites are defeated by government troops at the Battle of Culloden, the last major battle on British soil.
1776Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published.
1786Robert Burns’ Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is published.
1814Walter Scott’s Waverley is published.
1843Disruption of the kirk sees a schism develop in the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland is created.
1879Tay Rail Bridge collapses, killing seventy-five people.
1890Forth Bridge is completed.
1901The Glasgow International Exhibition sees the opening of a Glasgow landmark: the new Art Gallery and Museum in Kelvingrove Park.
1914First World War begins.
1919Red Clydeside protest sees mass rally in Glasgow’s George Square.
1924Ramsay MacDonald becomes first Labour prime minister.
1934Scottish National Party formed.
1938Empire Exhibition opens at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow. Over six months it will receive over twelve million visitors.
1939Second World War begins.
1941Clydebank heavily bombed.
1945Robert McIntyre becomes the SNP’s first Westminster MP.
1947The first Edinburgh Festival is held.
1971Sixty-six Rangers football fans are killed in the Ibrox disaster.
1975North Sea oil production begins.
1979Scots voters reject devolution in a referendum.
1982Pope John Paul II makes first-ever visit to Scotland as pontiff.
1988Piper Alpha disaster results in deaths of 167 North Sea oil workers.
1988A Pan Am Boeing 747 explodes over Lockerbie, killing 270.
1999Scottish Parliament reconvenes.
2009Lockerbie bomber Abdul Baset al-Megrahi is released from a Scottish jail.
2013Andy Murray wins Wimbledon for the first time.
2014Independence referendum is a defeat for the ‘Yes’ campaign advocating that Scotland becomes an independent country.



Since the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, humans started to appear on the land that would become Scotland. These early peoples were hunter-gatherers. The period of around 10000 BC to 5000 BC is known as the Mesolithic era and it gave way to the Neolithic era (around 4000 BC to 2000 BC). These early Scots started to build houses and make tools from stone. They also started to farm, and hunted and fished for food. Some of their habitats have survived, including at Skara Brae in Orkney and Jarlshof in Shetland. They used bronze and later iron for weapons, jewellery and tools – and these materials were the names retrospectively given to the periods of time up until the middle of the first millennium ad. The Scots in the early part of the first millennium AD were organised into hierarchical social structures. They built brochs (defensive towers) on land and crannogs (buildings on stilts) in the lochs.


The Orkney Venus has nothing to do with astronomy, but is the name given to a small stone Neolithic carving of a woman found on the island of Westray in Orkney in 2009. Also given the name Westray Wife, she is believed to be the earliest representation of the human figure found in Scotland, dating back 5,000 years.