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The land of Scotland has dictated what sort of history its people would have. The Scots have mountains and marshes; long, narrow, steep-sided glens, all too often open to north-west winds; acid soil and a climate which sees the seasons overlapping, the only certainty being that the growing season will be short. Here the Scots have had to do the best they could with what they had, and all through their history, with hard work and much ingenuity, they have managed to make the land serve its people better than might have been expected.
As well as the land there is the sea. No one in Scotland is very far from the sea, and even if the actual oceans are at some distance, there are long sea lochs, their waters probing into the heart of the country, and there are rivers widening out into firths.
The sea and the lochs and the firths have often served as a defence - moats, as it were, behind which the Scots might shelter. But, important for strategy and defence as they were, these waters were also routes for trade and international contacts. The waters which were so often a barricade, could easily become roads, along which traders and administrators travelled to carry out their tasks. Until as recently as, say, 1960, the traditional and most convenient method of entry to towns and villages all along the shores of the west coast of the country and the western shores of the Firth of Clyde was by sea.
The isles of Mull and Iona lie off the west coast of Scotland. With a population of just under 3000 on an island fifty miles from North to South, the Mull is one of the largest Hebridean islands, but like them all, sparsely populated. The main population centre is Tobermory, where nearly 1,000 people live and work. The Isle of Mull is deservedly well known as a holiday island, with superb walking, fishing and outdoor pursuits amid spectacular scenery. There is abundant wildlife on land, in the surrounding seas and in the air – elements of a rare natural environment that bring many people to visit and to live. So, the nature of the land had largely determined how, and how successfully, the Scots would make their living and organise their activities. But in yet another respect their experiences were dictated by the residence which fate had given them. All through historic times the Scottish people have had to share an island with another people, far stronger than they in all respects - more numerous, more wealthy and usually more advanced technologically, especially in methods of warfare. Consciously and instinctively the Scots have always had to live with this fact, and their first and constant political problem has been how they might best co-exist with the English. Different solutions to this problem have been adopted at different times, or have been urged by competing Scottish factions at the same time. In either case the Scots have had to make up their minds whether their interests are best served by collaboration with English objectives and English power, and an acceptance of the fact of English dominance in Britain, or whether they should resist absorption, and make the preservation of their national identity a priority.
And what of the people of this land? Who are the Scots? Like any other people in modern times they are the descendants of every settler who ever lived here. They are a nation of immigrants, even though their immigrant ancestors came many centuries ago, some beyond recorded time. Humans came to Scotland, following the retreating ice some 8000 years ago. The earliest pioneering visitors were probably exactly that - visitors, from the European mainland, driven by hope and curiosity, by ambition and chance, to gather plants and hunt living things for food.