The Highlands, known in Scottish Gaelic as A' Ghàidhealtachd, were traditionally Gaelic-speaking, whilst the Scots-speaking Lowlands of Scotland were culturally very different.
In the Neolithic period (3200 to 2200 BC), there is wide-ranging evidence of settlements in the Highlands, including stone circles and cup and ring carvings at Kilmartin and across Caithness and the Western Isles.
Bronze Age crannogs and Iron Age brochs also appear across the area of the Scottish Highland, showing widespread settlements and a great deal of sophistication in building structures for defence.
The Picts lived throughout the Highlands at the time of the Roman invasion of Scotland in AD 80, which did not succeed in conquering Pictish territory.
The Scots came from Northern Ireland around 500 AD to colonise the west of Scotland, bringing with them the Gaelic language and Christianity. The Scots established the Kingdom of Dalriada which covered much of western Scotland (including Wester Ross, Argyll and the Isle of Skye) and north-eastern Ireland. St Columba also arrived as a missionary from Ireland in the mid-6th century and established his famous monastery on the Isle of Iona.
In 843 AD, the whole of Scotland north of the Firth of Forth was united into a single kingdom by marriage between the King of Dalriada assumed the Pitcish throne, adding to his collection of titles.
Starting with Orkney and Shetland and eventually conquering the west coast islands entirely, the Vikings brought Scandinavian culture and language to Scotland. The west coast was returned to Scottish control under Alexander III in the 13th century, whilst the Western Isles took a few years longer and Orkney and Shetland remained under Norwegian control for another couple of hundred years.
As Edinburgh became established as the Scottish capital in the 16th-century, the Highland/Lowland divide persisted and led to the development of a clan system based on blood ties, rather than deferring to the sovereign in some seemingly distant place. The clans were led by chiefs and fiercely loyal along clan lines, which led to a great number of battles and much loss of life. Power struggles between Scotland and the English and between the clans of the Highlands and the Scottish king continued for hundreds of years, punctuated by clan-on-clan battles which continued right up until the late 17th century.
The Jacobite rebellions at the turn of the 18th century had the goal of putting a Catholic king on the British throne, after James II was replaced by the Protestant William of Orange. The British attempted to quash any rebellions and prevent the French from interfering in Highland politics in various ways which led to the building of government garrisons throughout the Highlands - Fort William is one such example, referred to as An Gearasdan ('the Garrison') in Gaelic. The rebellions grew, not only due to support for the Jacobites but also as a result of ongoing feuds between the clans themselves.
Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in 1745, hell-bent on claiming the Scottish crown for his family. He successfully captured Edinburgh and headed south, but was driven back to the Highlands and the Battle of Culloden sealed the fate of the Jacobites in 1746, after which many died and Charles fled to France.
Reacting to the Jacobite rebellions, the British government clamped down on Highland culture, placing the area under military supervision and making outward expressions of clan allegiance illegal, including wearing tartan and playing bagpipes.
Land confiscated from the clans in 1745 was returned to owners, who - in the 1780s and '90s - enforced a series of evictions known as the Highland Clearances - sending tenant farmers away from their homes and using their land for sheep farming, which was expected to be more profitable. The clearances were sometimes violent, although not all moves away from farmland were forced and some had other causes (eg overpopulation). Those who had been evicted were either relocated to coastal locations, sought work in the cities or went (sometimes under duress) to start a new life overseas.
The subject of the Clearances marked the end of the clans in the Highlands, and remains a sensitive subject today, not least because the Highlands still suffers from challenges relating to depopulation, a trend which began during the time of the Clearances.
The Highlands became popular as a tourist destination and a place of adventure and escape from the late 18th century onwards, partially due to the writings of several notable travel writers including Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. King George V, and later Queen Victoria, fell in love with the Highlands as a getaway, with the latter establishing Balmoral Castle as the royal family's Scottish home - it remains so today.
As the 19th century went on, large estates grew up as land previously used for sheep farming was bought up by the rich and turned into outdoor pleasure parks for hunting, fishing, shooting and stalking. Many of these enormous estates remain across the Highlands today and they still make up a majority of the total land ownership.
The Highlands today retains its rugged beauty and scenic splendour, and for this reason it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. The population of the Highlands is diverse and unevenly distributed, with some areas struggling with depopulation for reasons ranging from lack of infrastructure to sparse job opportunities, whilst others are thriving and growing. Tourism is significant for the economy across the Highlands, with energy, fishing and agriculture and whisky production also particularly relevant.
Whilst tourism is largely an enormously positive thing for the Highlands today, some areas lack the infrastructure to cope with demand, particularly in the peak summer season. Furthermore, large and concentrated visitor numbers can damage the landscape, disturb wildlife and overwhelm local services at certain times of the year. We - along with a number of our peers in the tourism industry - feel it is important to increase awareness of the benefits of visiting popular areas of the Highlands in the early spring and late autumn in order to spread demand more evenly throughout the year. We are committed to responsible tourism and select our partners carefully with this in mind when building tours for clients.
Image: Unsplash / Henrik Hjortshoej