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As history has shown, the people of the Highlands and Islands are fiercely proud and, perhaps more so than their Lowland kin, have tenaciously held on to their heritage. As well as bagpipes and kilts (the 1746 Act banning the playing of bagpipes and wearing of kilts was repealed in 1782), the Scots are well known for their national dish - haggis. Usually served with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips, with a generous dollop of butter and a good sprinkling of black pepper), haggis comprises chopped lungs, heart and liver mixed with oatmeal and boiled in a sheep's stomach. Accompanied by Scotland's national drink, whisky, it can taste surprisingly good! Other culinary delights include local steak and venison, the world-famous salmon (there is a big difference between farmed salmon and the more expensive wild version) and trout, and many excellent cheeses (the best coming from the islands, particularly Arran, Bute, Mull and Orkney). Scotland is also blessed with a thriving beer industry, with both mass-produced and real ales being brewed.
Historically, with the notable exception of literature, the Scottish have been under-represented in the worlds of arts and classical music. Perhaps the need for creative expression took different, less elitist paths in the ceilidh, folk music and dance, and the Gaelic tradition of oral poetry and folk stories. However, Scotland's literary heritage is so rich that most parts of the country have a piece of writing that captures its spirit. This is particularly so in the Highlands and Islands, which offers a wealth of subject matters. Sir Walter Scott's prodigious output, including his Highland tales, did much to romanticise Scotland and its historical figures. Collections of ballads and poems by the popular national bard Robert Burns are also widely available.
The area known as the Highlands stretches north of the Highland Boundary Fault, a natural border running northeast from Helensburgh to Stonehaven (south of Aberdeen). It covers about two-thirds of the country and, as its name suggests, consists primarily of rugged mountain ranges. The western coastline is deeply indented with dozens of long, deep saltwater lochs separated by rugged headlands and peninsulas. The profile of the eastern coast is generally smoother.
Dotted around the Highlands' north and west coasts are 790 islands, 130 of which are inhabited. To the north lie two island groups, Orkney and Shetland. The Western Isles parallel the north-western coast. The Inner Hebrides is the scattering of mainly small islands farther south including Mull, Jura and Islay, and the sub-group of the Small Isles (Canna, Rum, Muck and Eigg). The larger islands of Skye and Arran, closer to the mainland, aren't usually included in the Inner Hebrides.
Although much of the country was once covered by Caledonian woodlands (a mix of Scots pine, oak, silver birch, willow, alder and rowan, with heather underfoot), deforestation has reduced this mighty forest to a few small pockets. From the 1970s concern about the dwindling native woodland inspired replanting projects by the Forestry Commission and conservation organisations, culminating in the ambitious Millennium Forest project to help restore native woodlands on hundreds of sites across Scotland. A large proportion of the country is uncultivated bog, rock and heather. Alpine plants thrive in mountainous areas like the Cairngorms, while in the far north there are lichens and mosses found nowhere else in Britain. Although the thistle is commonly assicated with Scotland, the national flower is the Scottish bluebell. Scotland's first-ever national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, opened in 2002. There are also plans to create a second national park in the Cairngorms.
Red deer are found in large numbers. Wild boars, once nearly extinct, have been reintroduced, while the extremely rare wildcats and wild goats are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Foul-tempered highland cattle were bred to endure the cold climate, and sheep graze grasslands all over the country. Otters are rare, but introduced minks are spreading like wildfire. Scotland's famous game birds, the grouse, graze in large numbers on the country's heather, and millions of greylag geese winter on the stubble fields of the lowlands. Seals are frequently seen, and visitors come from all over for the famed Scottish salmon.