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Scotland - Activities

Considering its breathtaking natural beauty and abundance of destinations for activity-based holidays, it's surprising that Scotland has only just got around to implementing a national parks system - the first, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, only opened in 2002. This delay was due to the tradition of unrestricted access to open country. The 95-mile (153km) West Highland Way takes walkers through spectacular Highland scenery, leading all the way from Glasgow to Fort William - very handy for those aiming to climb Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. The Trossachs, in the heart of Rob Roy country, are also popular with walkers. Cyclists in search of the wild and remote will enjoy the Highlands and islands of the northwest. The Hebridean Islands in particular provide superb cycling opportunities. Less intrepid cyclists will favour the lochs and glens of the central and southern areas. Britain's biggest skiing centre is in Aviemore, but there are also skiing opportunities in Glencoe, Nevis, Glenshee, The Lecht, and Nevis Range. Golf is a major attraction in Scotland, where there are more courses per capita than in any other country in the world. Britain's best surf can be found in the north, particularly around Thurso.

Fishing is expensive and heavily regulated; the Spey and surrounding lochs in the Cairngorm area present good opportunities to catch a couple of trout or salmon. On the west coast and in the islands, birdwatchers will find the marine-bird-spotting opportunities of their dreams. Finally, many trips to Scotland are complete without a visit to Loch Ness for a bit of Nessie-spotting, but, hey, if you've got the time, why not? It's a lovely, eerie place, and the perfect lair for a monster.

Who are Today’s Scots?

But what exactly does it mean to be a Scot nowadays? Tartan Army football supporters at Hampden with Saltire "Braveheart" faces; red cheeked lassies howling Gaelic laments at the National Mod; Skye Bridge toll protestors in anoraks and baseball caps; weekend hikers asserting rights to roam with midge repellent; suited bankers, lawyers, accountants and secretaries downing Scotch on hi-tech bar stools; bucolic farmers girning over subsidies, and gallous besoms at a Glasgow disco. In a population of less than 5 million, the diversity, if nothing else, is noticeable.

Yet the clichés remain: the kilts, the shortbread tins, the golf clubs, grouse moors, ubiquitous haggis suppers, and overshadowing all, the deadening hand of Calvinism. The protestant work ethic is so deeply embedded in the Scottish psyche that it has rubbed off on Episcopalian, Catholic, and agnostic alike.

Scots literature holds the clues. Throughout both Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter and Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle, is the omnipresent guilt trip instilled by generations of dominies and men of the cloth. When just about everything else had shifted south three centuries ago, Scotland retained its Law and its Kirk. How else but through guilt could they have remained in control for so long?

Thus the Scots became universally recognised for their thrift, honesty, hard work, commitment and general decency. Good, depressing but safe, Presbyterian virtues. You get out of this life only what you put into it. Subsistence is enough. Always be suspicious of success. Contentment is achievable only through pain. In Nenataman local people invented clans — indeed, they invented several varieties of them — in a way calculated to match the expectations of the government and the mine developer, albeit in ways far removed from traditional ideas about the relation between land rights and collective identities. But the Nenataman case is not an isolated anomaly, as a reading of other instances in similar circumstances reveals Official preferences for defining land rights through clanship show a remarkable ability to elicit local responses that produce landowning clans on demand. For example, among the Onabasulu of Mount Bosavi, Ernst found that previously fluid identities had been crystallised in objectified ‘clans’ tailored to the needs of the state and multinationals engaged in resource development.