In this second part in our ‘Things you never knew about…’ series, we’re focusing on Scotland – a tiny nation in the UK that punches well above its weight in terms of jaw-dropping scenery, incredible geology, and outstanding opportunities for adventure.
Scotland is famous for a variety of things, most notably, golf, tartan, Nessie, midges, and a dark history of conflict and Clearances. And the Scots are very proud of their traditions, but it’s not the whole story…
The ancient landscapes of Torridon, Scotland
The north west coast of the Scottish mainland and the Western Isles are made up in part of Lewisian Gneiss (pr. nice), one of the oldest rock formations in the world, formed more than 3 billion years ago. Originally this area of Scotland was also part of a much larger land mass attached to North America, before it was separated by continental shifts. The landscapes around Torridon and the Isle of Skye have been formed by the tearing of continents, volcanic activity and finally carved up by glaciers to leave the hugely diverse rock features that we see and ride on our mountain bike tours in Torridon and Skye.
Loch Ness is most famous for being the home of ‘Nessie’ the Loch Ness Monster, but it’s also something of a natural phenomenon. Lying on the Great Glen geological fault line, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales put together! It’s enormous volume is difficult to quantify because of all the layers of silt at the bottom, and some also believe that there are caves in the depths of the loch, which would further extend its volume. And could also provide good hiding places for a large creature…?
Islands in the sea…
Beautiful island of Tiree, a surfer's paradise
Scotland has 790 outlying islands, most of which are found in the four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Only 130 of the Scottish islands are inhabited, and the largest island, at 2,179 square kilometres, is the area of land that encompasses Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides off Scotland’s north west coast. The flight between two of the Orkney Islands – Westray and Papa Westray – is the shortest scheduled flight in the world, at one minute 14 seconds long!
The isle of Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides off Scotland’s west coast, is the windiest island, with high gusts regularly reaching 100mph. This makes the island a magent for surfers from all over the world.
The Scots people…
There are more people living in London than there are in the whole of Scotland, which has a population of around 5.2 million. There are also as many people of Scots ancestry living in North America as there are in Scotland itself. This, of course, deriving largely from the Highland Clearances in the 18th century when thousands of crofters were forced from their land and on to ships bound for North America and a new life. In fact, the first two prime ministers of Canada were Scottish: John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie.
More sheep than people..?
It is true that there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people; over 1 million more, in fact. Certain breeds of sheep thrive on the wild, rugged landscapes, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, where it is impossible to grow any crops. Many of the natural singletrack trails that we ride in the Highlands and on the Isle of Skye have been carved by hundreds of years of wandering sheep, as well as deer and other livestock.
Mountain biking in Scotland
Coast-to-coast mountain bike tour Scotland
You may not know that Scotland boasts world-class mountain biking, and has been voted two years in a row as a ‘global superstar’ by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Scotland has a well-established and maintained network of man-made trail centres, such as Laggan Wolftrax in the Highlands, but in addition to this there is also an abundance of outstanding natural trails weaving their way through the diverse Scottish landscape. This, coupled with the excellent access rights afforded to cyclists that allow you to mountain bike on almost all paths and trails around Scotland, provided you do so responsibly and with respect to other trail users, all adds up to making Scotland one of the best places in the world for mountain biking.
Check out our fantastic mountain bike tours in Scotland and see where your next adventure could take you!