SCOTLAND is one of the oldest nations in Europe. Like all nations, it is a product of cultural imagination, built upon centuries of history, art, literature and shared experience, as well as a wealth of international connections and exchanges with other cultures.

For Scotland’s story to be fully understood means not only understanding our own place within Scotland, but Scotland’s place within everything else. Towards the end of last year I released my new Atlas of Scotland, a hand-drawn book of illustrated maps which seeks to present a vision of a country which is historically and culturally distinct, but which also has deep-rooted connections with the histories and cultures of the wider world beyond.

Long before the dawn of satellite technology, hand-made maps and atlases formed an important visual symbol, shaping how nations understood themselves as well as how they were understood by others. In this new Atlas of Scotland I hope to encourage greater awareness of Scotland’s history and culture, as well as its future potential.

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Andrew Redmond Barr produced the atlas

Whether it be in paintings, poems, novels or atlases, artistic representations of a place can help people to imagine them differently. In my view, that re-imagining becomes particularly important when a place is underrepresented in some way, such as being a nation which is yet to become a state.

Here are just some of the lesser-known aspects of Scotland’s history which are highlighted in the Atlas.

How Scotland was made

The first aspect of Scotland’s history that I highlight in the Atlas of Scotland is its physical geology. The stones of Scotland, forged in deep time, offer some of the most remarkable insights into the ancient composition of the world.

The Great Glen, which cuts straight through Scotland from sea to sea, is Scotland’s deepest and most prominent fault. But the fault line doesn’t end there; it bends northward, cutting through Shetland, and southward, through the north of Ireland. Remarkably, the very same line also cuts through Newfoundland, Canada, thousands of miles to the west. Scotland’s mountainous Highlands were once connected to the same Caledonian range which now form the Appalachians in North America, as well as the mountains of Sweden and Norway.

The Great Glen was imbued with political symbolism in Hamish Henderson’s (below) Freedom Come All Ye, one of the defining songs of the 1960s Scottish folk revival. The anti-imperialist song, written in Scots, describes a wind of change blowing through “the great glen o’ the warld” as the British Empire disintegrates and the world’s nations move towards self-government. The great fault line becomes a symbol of hope, a channel of energy, for the future of humanity.

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Over many centuries, the geology of Scotland has shaped not just natural history but human history too; where resources could be mined, where farming could flourish, where settlements could be made, and where forts could be defended.

At a much smaller scale these same stones have also played a significant role in culture, arts, and the national imagination, from Callanish to the Ring of Brodgar, to the carved stones of the Picts, to the Stone of Destiny, the ancient crowning-stone of Scottish kings. From the footprint at Dunadd to the red sandstone of Arbroath Abbey, from the Granite City of Aberdeen to Edinburgh’s Castle Rock, the stones of Scotland, formed millions of years ago in deep time, have defined not just where Scotland stands but how Scots have understood their history.

Scotland from another angle

Interesting place-names are also something frequently addressed in the Atlas of Scotland. Sutherland, for example, takes its name from the Old Norse for “southern land”. It lay in the south from the perspective of the Norse world which once inhabited Orkney, Shetland (below), Iceland, the Faroes as well as mainland Scandinavia.

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To think of the northernmost reaches of mainland Scotland as a “southern” land may seem disorientating, given that Scotland has thought of itself as being “northern” through a more recent British lens. It’s one small but tantalising glimpse of Scotland from another perspective, and an example of how Scotland can be viewed from many angles, through different lenses, from different directions.

To be north-facing, with connections to Scandinavia, was for many centuries an important part of an independent ­Scotland’s orientation in culture, ­diplomacy and trade, long after the Norse ­retreat. Tain, for example, was Scotland’s first royal burgh.

Eilean Mòr MacCormick

In addition to covering whole regions of the country, the Atlas of Scotland also focuses in on some smaller, lesser-known places with intriguing and unexpected histories. One of these is the island of Eilean Mòr MacCormick, the largest of the MacCormick isles, located in the Sound of Jura. This little-known island, though small in size, has a rich and ancient history, boasting a hermit’s cave, a ruined chapel and an impressive Celtic cross.

What makes Eilean Mòr MacCormick so unique, except for its ancient monuments, is its more recent history. The island was left as a gift to the Scottish National Party after the death of its last private owner in the 1970s. Enthusiastically supported by party leader Billy Wolfe at the time, this site of early religious pilgrimage became a place of modern political ambition, with Wolfe planning on “using our gem of an island as a place for meeting and discussing our dreams for an independent Alba”.

In the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, in which 45% of people voted Yes to Scotland becoming an independent country, a group of 45 trees was planted on the island, the idea being that just as the dream of independence grew, so would the greenery of Eilean Mòr.

Fascinating towns and cities

Another little-known place of interest is on the coast near Newburgh, just to the north of Aberdeen. Here a whole medieval village called Forvie apparently vanished beneath the sand dunes.

According to local folk history, a nine-day storm led to the settlement being entirely buried by August 1413. Excavations in the sand have confirmed a village kirk dating back to the 12th century, and the remains of a number of other buildings abandoned in the dunes nearby.

Urban histories also play a significant part in this new Atlas of Scotland, with illustrated maps of each of Scotland’s seven cities being included, plus twelve of its historic towns.

The city of Aberdeen, for example, is noted for having played an important role medieval Scotland. In 1319, King Robert the Bruce penned a city charter, thanking Aberdeen for giving him shelter during the Wars of Independence, and granting special powers and permissions so that the city could grow and expand as a thriving market town. As a result, the burgh became one of the economic ­centres of the Kingdom of Scotland. The finances raised as a result of Bruce’s charter formed the foundation of a ­Common Good Fund, which still supports local projects in the city to this day.

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Readers may also be interested in Ayr’s role as an international trading port for the Scottish kingdom. Trade with France was particularly important to Ayr, being the primary route for French wine into the Scottish market. When it came to the proposed Union of 1707, the merchants and citizens of Ayr feared for the decline of the port, and signed a petition calling for Scotland’s independence to be maintained. As a result, Ayr’s anti-Union petition was by far the largest of any burgh in Scotland.

Scotland’s ancient European connections

Although Scotland has only one neighbour by land, it has always forged its own distinct relationships across Europe by sea.

From a very early period, Scotland ­imported and exported goods across the continent, bring many different skills, crafts and cultures into Scottish trading burghs. The Scottish kingdom’s historic trade routes have left significant legacies, some which are still very much visible in Scottish architecture, industry and even language. In return many Scottish ­merchant communities have left their mark on towns and cities across ­mainland Europe.

Perhaps Scotland’s best-known ­partnership was the Auld Alliance with France, originally a military allegiance dating from the medieval period but which later led to a great amount of ­cultural exchange. The Scots benefitted from special trading rights in French wine and set up lucrative shipping routes to ­Bordeaux.

For northern and eastern Scots, their nearest trading partnership was often with the Scandinavian nations, especially with Norway. The independent Scottish kingdom’s trade with Norway was so extensive that the Norwegians referred to the timber industry as the Skottehandelen, meaning the ‘Scots trade’.

The city of Bergen, on Norway’s west coast, was ideally placed to receive Scottish timber, and many Scots settled there in merchants’ houses, in streets such as Skottegatan and Skottesalen which still exist to this day.

These are just some brief glimpses of the stories readers can discover in the new Atlas of Scotland.

The Atlas aims to expand knowledge about Scotland’s long standing as one of the ancient kingdoms of Europe, and to put Scotland on display in a unique and creative way.

The Atlas of Scotland is now available to order at for £25