Geography of Scotland

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Image:Scotland map.png
Map of Scotland

Although Scotland is a relatively small country, with a land area of 78 772 km², its geography is highly varied, from the rural lowlands, to the barren highlands, and from large cities to uninhabited islands.


[edit] Location and Context

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, located in Western Europe. Scotland comprises the northern third of the island of Great Britain, together with numerous smaller islands. Mainland Scotland lies between around 54°38' and 58°40' north, with the Shetland Islands at almost 61°, and between 1°46' and 6°13' west, with St. Kilda at 8°30' west.

Scotland's only land border is with England, and runs for 96 km (60 miles) between the River Tweed on the east coast and the Solway Firth in the west. The island of Ireland lies around 30 km (20 miles) off the southwest tip of Scotland, and Norway is around 400 km (250 miles) to the northeast. Scotland lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.

[edit] Physical Geography

The land area of Scotland is 78 772 km² (30,414 square miles), roughly 30% of the area of the United Kingdom (UK). The mainland of Scotland has 9 911 km (6158 miles) of coastline.

The geomorphology of Scotland was formed by the action of tectonic plates, and subsequent erosion arising from glaciation. The major division of Scotland is the Highland Boundary Fault, which separates the land into 'highland' to the north and west, and 'lowland' to the south and east. The Highlands of Scotland are largely mountainous, and form the highest ground in the UK: they are bisected by the Great Glen into the Grampian Mountains to the southeast and the Northwest Highlands. The Scottish Lowlands can be further subdivided into the Southern Uplands, an area of rolling farmland and high moorland, and the lowland farmland of the Central Belt and eastern Scotland.

[edit] Geology

Main article: Geology of Scotland

Scotland has an incomparable variety of geology for an area of its size. It is also the origin of many significant discoveries and important figures in the development of the science.

The oldest rocks of Scotland are the Lewisian gneisses, which were laid down in the Precambrian period, up to 3,000 Ma (Millions of years ago). They are among the oldest rocks in the world. During the Precambrian, the Torridonian sandstones and the Moine were also laid down. Further sedimentary deposits were formed through the Cambrian period, some of which metamorphosed into the Dalradian series. The area which would become Scotland was at this time close to the south pole.

During the Silurian period (439-409 Ma), the area which became Scotland was part of the continent of Laurentia. Across the Iapetus ocean to the south, was the continent of Baltica. The two continents gradually collided, joining Scotland to the area which would become England and Europe. This event is known as the Caledonian Orogeny, and the Highland Boundary Fault marks this stitching together of continents. Silurian rocks form the Southern Uplands of Scotland, which was pushed up from the seabed during the collision. The highlands were also pushed up as a result of this collision, and may have been as high as the modern day Alps at this time. The Old Red Sandstones were laid down in low-lying areas during this period. Volcanic activity occurred across Scotland as a result of the collision of the tectonic plates, with volcanoes in southern Scotland, and magma chambers in the north, which today form the granite mountains such as the Cairngorms.

During the Carboniferous period (363-290 Ma), Scotland lay close to the equator. Several changes in sea level occurred during this time. The coal deposits of Lanarkshire, and further sedimentary deposits, date from this time. More volcanic activity formed Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, among other hills. By the Triassic, Scotland was a desert, the origin of large sandstone outcrops of the southwest. Although large deposits of Cretaceous rocks would have been laid down over Scotland, these have not survived erosion, as have the chalks of England.

By the Tertiary period, the tectonic plates were again moving, separating into modern-day North America and Europe with the creation of the Atlantic Ocean. The split occurred to the west of Scotland, leaving a chain of former volcanic sites through the Hebrides, including Skye and St. Kilda. This was the last period of rock formation in Scotland. Since then, several ice ages have shaped the land through glacial erosion, creating u-shaped valleys and depositing boulder clays. In the present day, Scotland continues to move slowly north.

[edit] Climate

Main article: Climate of Scotland

The climate of Scotland is temperate, and tends to be very changeable. It is warmed by the Gulf Stream from the Atlantic, and as such is much warmer than areas on similar latitudes, for example Oslo, Norway. However, temperatures are generally lower than in the rest of the UK, with the coldest ever UK temperature of -27.2°C recorded at Braemar in the Grampian Mountains, on January 10, 1982 and also at Altnaharra, Highland, on December 30, 1995. Winter maximums average 6 °C in the lowlands, with summer maximums averaging 18 °C. The highest temperature recorded was 32.9 °C at Greycrook, Scottish Borders on August 9 2003. In general, the west of Scotland is usually warmer than the east, owing to the influence of the Atlantic currents, and the colder surface temperatures of the North Sea.

In common with the rest of the UK, wind prevails from the west, bringing warm wet air from the Atlantic. Rainfall varies widely across Scotland. The western highlands of Scotland are the wettest place in the UK, with annual rainfall exceeding 3 000 mm (120 inches). In comparison, much of Scotland receives less than 800 mm (31 inches) annually, and eastern and southern parts of the country receive no more rainfall than the driest parts of England. In fact, eastern Scotland lies in the rain shadow of the western uplands. Snowfall is not common in the lowlands, but becomes more common with altitude. Braemar experiences an average of 59 snow days per year, while coastal areas have an average of less than 10 days.

The furthest west of the Hebrides are some of the sunniest places in the UK. 329 hours of sunshine were recorded on Tiree in May 1946 and again in May 1975. On the longest day of the year there is no complete darkness in the north of Scotland. Lerwick, Shetland, has about four hours more daylight at midsummer than London, although this is reversed in midwinter.

[edit] Natural environment

Alpine-type ecosystems occur in the highlands of Scotland. Remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest, dominated by native Scots Pine, can be found in places.

[edit] Geographical features

[edit] Extreme points

The most extreme points of the Scottish mainland are:

The most extreme points of Scotland, including outlying islands, are:

[edit] Mountains

Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles.

The ten highest mountains in Scotland are also the ten highest of the UK. All Scottish mountains over 3000 feet (914 m) are known as Munros, after Sir Hugh Munro who first catalogued them.

  1. Ben Nevis 1344 m (4409 feet)
  2. Ben Macdhui 1310 m (4297 ft)
  3. Braeriach 1296 m (4251 ft)
  4. Cairn Toul 1291 m (4235 ft)
  5. Sgor an Lochain Uaine 1258 m (4127 ft)
  6. Cairn Gorm 1244 m (4081 ft)
  7. Aonach Beag 1234 m (4048 ft)
  8. Càrn Mor Dearg 1221 m (4002 ft)
  9. Aonach Mòr 1218 m (3996 ft)
  10. Ben Lawers 1214 m (3982 ft)

[edit] Coastline

Mainland Scotland has 9, 911 km (6,158 miles) of coastline. Including the numerous islands, this increases to some 16, 490 km (10,246 miles). The west coast in particular is heavily indented, with long promontories separated by fjordlike sea lochs. The east coast is more regular, with a series of large estuarine inlets, or firths, and long sandy beaches, for example at Aberdeen.

The east coast has several significant estuaries and other nature reserves including the Ythan Estuary and Fowlsheugh, both of which have been designated as Important Bird Areas.

Firths of Scotland include the Solway Firth, Firth of Clyde, and Firth of Lorne on the west coast, and the Cromarty Firth, Moray Firth, Firth of Tay, and Firth of Forth on the east coast. The Pentland Firth is not an inlet, but the strait that separates the Orkney Isles from the mainland.

Major sea lochs include Loch Fyne, Loch Long, Loch Ryan, Loch Linnhe, Loch Torridon, Loch Ewe, and on the Isle of Lewis, Loch Seaforth.

[edit] Islands

Scotland has some 790 islands, mainly off the west coast. The islands of Scotland can be divided into four main groups:

Shetland and Orkney, together with Fair Isle, and Stroma are often referred to as the Northern Isles. Outlying islands and groups include St. Kilda, Rockall; The Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde also contain several islands.

The largest islands of Scotland are:

  1. Lewis and Harris 859.19 square miles (2225.30 km²)
  2. Skye 643.28 sq mi (1666.08 km²)
  3. Shetland Mainland 373.36 sq mi (967.0 km²)
  4. Mull 347.21 sq mi (899.25 km²)
  5. Islay 246.64 sq mi (614.52 km²)
  6. Orkney Mainland 206.99 sq mi (536.10 km²)
  7. Arran 168.08 sq mi (435.32 km²)
  8. Jura 142.99 sq mi (370.35 km²)
  9. North Uist 135.71 sq mi (351.49 km²)
  10. South Uist 128.36 sq mi (332.45 km²)

[edit] Rivers

The ten major rivers of Scotland, in order of length, are:

  1. River Tay 193 km (120 miles)
  2. River Spey 172 km (107 miles)
  3. River Clyde 171 km (106 miles)
  4. River Tweed 156 km (97 miles)
  5. River Dee 137 km (85 miles)
  6. River Don 132 km (82 miles)
  7. River Forth 105 km (65 miles)
  8. River Findhorn 101 km (63 miles)
  9. River Deveron 98 km (61 miles)
  10. River Annan 79 km (49 miles)

[edit] Lochs

Freshwater bodies in Scotland are known as lochs, with the exception of the Lake of Menteith and one or two manmade "lakes".

  1. Loch Lomond 71.1 km² (27.5 square miles), the largest freshwater body in Britain.
  2. Loch Ness 56.4 km² (21.8 sq mi)
  3. Loch Awe 38.5 km² (14.9 sq mi)
  4. Loch Maree 28.6 km² (11.0 sq mi)
  5. Loch Morar 26.7 km² (10.3 sq mi)
  6. Loch Tay 26.4 km² (10.2 sq mi)
  7. Loch Shin 22.5 km² (8.7 sq mi)
  8. Loch Shiel 19.6 km² (7.6 sq mi)
  9. Loch Rannoch 19.1 km² (7.4 sq mi)
  10. Loch Ericht 18.7 km² (7.2 sq mi)

[edit] Human geography

[edit] Demographics

At the April 2001 census, Scotland's population was 5,062,011, just under 10% of the UK's population. The population density is around 64 people per square kilometre, taken as an average. However, the great majority of the population is concentrated in the Central Belt, the lowland strip which includes the chief cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the east coast between Dundee and Edinburgh. Only Aberdeen represents a significant population centre outside this zone. In the highlands, population is sparse and scattered in small towns, villages and isolated farmsteads or crofts.

Around 95 of Scotland's islands are inhabited, the most populous being Lewis, with 16,782 people in 2001, mostly concentrated in Stornoway, the only burgh of the Outer Hebrides. Other island populations range down to only 1 on certain small isles.

Scotland's capital city is Edinburgh. Populations of Scotland's six cities at the 2001 census were as follows:

  1. Glasgow: 629,501
  2. Edinburgh: 430,082
  3. Aberdeen: 184,788
  4. Dundee: 154,674
  5. Inverness: 40,949
  6. Stirling: 32,673

While Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Stirling are growing, the populations of Glasgow and Dundee are falling, by 4.74% and 2.73% respectively between 1991 and 2001. Edinburgh's population grew by 7.13% in the same period, and Stirling's by 9.36%. Aside from the cities, the most population growth occurred in West Lothian, East Lothian, and Perth and Kinross. Eilean Siar (the Western Isles) saw a 10.47% fall in population in this decade.

[edit] Political geography

[edit] National

Main article: Politics of Scotland

Scotland's territorial extent is generally that established by the 1237 Treaty of York between Scotland and England and the 1266 Treaty of Perth between Scotland and Norway. Exceptions include the Isle of Man, which is now a crown dependency outside the United Kingdom, Orkney and Shetland, which are Scottish rather than Norwegian, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, which was defined as subject to the laws of England by the 1746 Wales and Berwick Act. Originally an independent country, Scotland formally became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 with the Act of Union, which dissolved the Scottish Parliament

As one of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, Scotland is represented by Members of Parliament at the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster, London. In 1997 a referendum was held, and the people of Scotland voted for the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The new parliament has the power to govern the country on Scotland-specific matters and has a limited power to vary income tax. The United Kingdom Parliament retains responsibility for Scotland's defence, international relations and certain other areas.

[edit] Local

Between 1889 and 1975 Scotland was divided into burghs and counties, which were replaced by regions and districts. Since 1996, for the purposes of local government, Scotland has been divided into 32 council areas.

  1. Inverclyde
  2. Renfrewshire
  3. West Dunbartonshire
  4. East Dunbartonshire
  5. Glasgow
  6. East Renfrewshire
  7. North Lanarkshire
  8. Falkirk
  9. West Lothian
  10. Edinburgh
  11. Midlothian
  12. East Lothian
  13. Clackmannanshire
  14. Fife
  15. Dundee

  1. Angus
  2. Aberdeenshire
  3. Aberdeen
  4. Moray
  5. Highland
  6. Na h-Eileanan Siar
    (Western Isles)
  7. Argyll and Bute
  8. Perth and Kinross
  9. Stirling
  10. North Ayrshire
  11. East Ayrshire
  12. South Ayrshire
  13. Dumfries and Galloway
  14. South Lanarkshire
  15. Scottish Borders


Not shown: Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands,

[edit] Economy

Main article: Economy of Scotland

The Gross domestic product (GDP) of Scotland is US$90 billion, giving a per capita GDP of US$18,000. Major industries include banking and financial services, steel, transport equipment, oil and gas, whisky, and tourism.

[edit] References


[edit] See also

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