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The Scottish Highlands (Scottish Gaelic: A' Ghàidhealtachd) include the rugged and mountainous regions of Scotland north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Highlands are popularly described as one of the most scenic regions of Europe.
The area is generally sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges dominating the region, and includes the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis. Before the 19th century however the Highlands was home to a much larger population, but due to a combination of factors including the outlawing of the traditional Highland way of life following the Second Jacobite Rising, the infamous Highland Clearances, and mass migration to urban areas during the Industrial Revolution, the area is now one of the most sparsely populated in Europe. The average population density in the Highlands and Islands is lower than that of Sweden, Norway, Papua New Guinea and Argentina.
The Highland Council is the administrative body for much of the Scottish Highlands, with its administrative centre at Inverness. However the Highlands also includes parts of the council areas of Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Moray, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling. Although the Isle of Arran administratively belongs to North Ayrshire, its northern part is generally regarded as part of the Highlands.
Culturally the area is quite different from the Scottish Lowlands. Most of the Highlands fall into the region known as the Gàidhealtachd, which was, within the last hundred years, the Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably but have different meanings in their respective languages. Highland English is also widely spoken.
Some similarities exist between the culture of the Highlands and that of Ireland: examples include the Gaelic language, sport (shinty and hurling), and Celtic music.
The Scottish Reformation, which began in the Lowlands, achieved only partial success in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. Roman Catholicism remained strong in much of the Highlands, aided by Irish Franciscan missionaries who regularly came to the area to perform Mass, as they shared a similar language. The Highlands are often described as the last bastion of Roman Catholicism in Great Britain, with significant strongholds such as Moidart, Morar, South Uist and Barra. The Scottish Highlanders' strong Catholicism led to much of their historical antipathy towards the Protestant English. This was in contrast to the Lowland Scots, most of whom converted to Protestantism and thus were more willing to unite with the English to create the United Kingdom. On the other hand, some Outer Hebrides islands (like Lewis and Harris) have large populations belonging to the Free Church of Scotland or the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
In traditional Scottish geography, the Highlands refers to that part of Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses mainland Scotland in a near-straight line from Dumbarton to Stonehaven. However the flat coastal lands that occupy parts of the counties of Nairnshire, Morayshire, Banffshire and Aberdeenshire are excluded from most definitions as they do not share the distinctive geographical and cultural features of the rest of the Highlands. The north-east of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland are also often excluded from the Highlands, although the Hebrides are usually included. This definition of the Highland area differed from the Lowlands by language and tradition, having preserved Gaelic speech and customs centuries after the anglicization of the latter; the result of which led to a growing perception of a divide with the cultural distinction between Highlander and Lowlander first noted towards the end of the 14th century. In Aberdeenshire, the boundary between the Highlands and the Lowlands is not well defined. There is a stone beside the A93 road near the village of Dinnet on Royal Deeside which states 'You are now in the Highlands', although there are areas of Highland character to the east of this point.
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