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10 Curiosities About Scotland

by Steve Clark
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

To an outsider, Scotland is a place that can often be associated with stereotypical things like tartans, haggis, bagpipes, and Mel Gibson’s portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart. In reality, however, it’s a far more interesting country than that. It’s one with a number of strange curiosities that you may not be aware of—curiosities such as…

Related: Top 10 Little-Known Facts About Victorian Era Scotland Yard

10 The Glaswegian Conehead

The Duke of Wellington statue; Astonishing Glasgow. Ep19

Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, has become well known over the last couple of decades for being a bustling cultural hub. It is home to a world-famous School of Art and has recently played host to the COP26 Climate Change summit.

Something which may seem strange to non-locals, however, is the tradition of placing a traffic cone onto the head of the Duke of Wellington Statue found outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street.

Yes, over the years, for one reason or another, it’s become part of the Glaswegian tradition, so much so that the image can now be found on postcards. On top of that, the city council themselves have taken to putting it up, something done to stop drunken natives from injuring themselves as they attempt it.[1]

9 Irn Bru Outsells Coca-Cola

American & Scottish People Swap Snacks

Describing the taste of Irn Bru to a non-Scottish native can be a difficult task. It’s incredibly sweet, with some describing it as having a fizzy bubblegum flavor and others saying it tastes of orange. Not the fruit, the color.

Whichever way you explain it to someone, the fact remains that it is far and away the most popular soft drink in all of Scotland, actually outselling the industry leader, Coca-Cola.

And this makes Scotland one of the only countries in the world where Coke is not the most popular fizzy beverage. The only other places where this occurs appear to be those where the U.S. has trade restrictions, places like North Korea and Cuba.[2]

8 No Official National Anthem

Amy Macdonald – Flower of Scotland – Scotland – Czech Republic 03-09-2011 HD 1080i

As Scotland currently remains a part of the United Kingdom, its formal national anthem continues to be the English one, “God Save the Queen.” That said, with the historic rivalry between Scotland and England still strong after all these years, you’d be hard pushed to find many folks north of the border who will stand for this one.

Instead, whenever the situation calls for it, Scots will generally go for one of two unofficial national anthems, “Scotland the Brave,” an old Gaelic tune, or “Flower of Scotland,” a 1967 song written by the folk band The Corries.

In recent years though, with the debate over Scottish independence continuing to be a hot button issue, there have been suggestions that a newer, more modern song should be used. And the most popular suggestion out of these has been The Proclaimers hit, “500 Miles.” It would certainly be an interesting one to hear at the Olympics alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “La Marseillaise.”[3]

7 An Epic Fierce Sports Rivalary

Football’s Most Dangerous Rivalry

There are a lot of notable sports rivalries out there, whether it be the Lakers and the Celtics, the Red Sox and the Yankees, or Ali and Frazier. However, when it comes to the most intense of them, that may come down to the heated competition between Glasgow’s two top football teams: Rangers and Celtic.

Yes, over the years, Old Firm games, as they have become known by the locals, have often seen the teams themselves play second fiddle to the passionate fan base watching in the crowds. In fact, on more than one occasion, this has even led to violence breaking out.

And part of the reason for this one being so intense is that it’s closely tied to the historic Protestant/Catholic rivalry within the city, with the Rangers largely being seen as the representative of Anglo Protestantism and the Celtic as the flag flyers for Irish Catholicism.[4]

6 Free Higher Education

Education system in Scotland- part 2

Growing up in Scotland might leave someone feeling spoiled when it comes to being able to get a good education. And that’s because, unlike other places where going to college can lead to decades’ worth of debt, it’s free of charge there.

Well, within reason, of course, as upon leaving school, every Scottish citizen is entitled to four years of higher education, completely funded by the government and non-repayable.

And this, then, has led to many lower-income families who would never normally be able to afford a college education for their children finding they have the option to do so.[5]

5 The Land of Seven Cities

A Guide to Scotland’s Cities

To travel around Scotland is to experience wilderness—a lot and lot of wilderness. Yes, while the more densely populated areas have become far more industrialized over the centuries, this only makes up a small percentage of the landmass.

In fact, there are only seven official cities in the country—with those being Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Perth, and Stirling. Outside of that, you’re talking about a lot of smaller towns and villages, many of which have relatively low populations.

What this does mean, though, is that, outside of these spots, Scotland remains home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. So if you’re looking for somewhere to experience the wild, all you have to do is travel an hour in either direction, and you’ll find something worth seeing.[6]

4 The Unicorn

Lets talk about the scottish national animal

It’s been mentioned in articles on this website before that the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. And while that’s an interesting fact in itself, the reason for this choice of animal is even more so.

Yes, playing up to the historical rivalry between Scotland and England, it appears the northern country chose this particular mythical beast as it’s been said to be the arch-nemesis of the lion. This is something that comes from an old nursery rhyme used by Lewis Carroll in his classic children’s tale, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

And with the lion, of course, being the national animal of England, it all starts to fall into place. So if you’ve ever wondered why there are no lions roaming about the wilds of Scotland, maybe this can provide an answer: the unicorns simply got them all.[7]

3 A Knighted Penguin

Sir Nils Olav promoted to Brigadier by Norwegian King’s Guard

Yes, you read that right. Inside Edinburgh zoo is a penguin named Brigadier Sir Nils Olav the Third, who has lived there since its opening in 1913.

How did this happen? Well, upon the zoo receiving a visit from the Norwegian King’s Guard in 1972, a lieutenant would become interested in adopting one of the animals. From there then, he’d claim Nils the First as one of his own and award him the rank of lance corporal in the Norwegian military.

Every time the military returned after that, they would increase the penguin’s rank, even after he died as it happened. That’s right. After the original penguin had passed, Nils the Second and later Nils the Third would take his place, with the latter having now reached the point of being given a formal knighthood and the rank of brigadier.[8]

2 How Many Islands?

A Guide To Island Hopping in Scotland

It’s well known that Scotland is a place that has lots of smaller islands branching off from the mainland. That said, some may be surprised to learn that there is actually upward of 790 of these spots.

And while some of the most notable, such as Orkney, Shetland, Skye, and Islay, are home to small communities in themselves, places that thrive outside of the bigger location of the country, most of these places remain uninhabited.

In fact, according to census data, only 95 of them have people living there, leaving the rest to be the domain of the flora, the fauna, and the occasional island hopping tourist, of course.[9]

1 The Right to Roam Anywhere

The Right to Roam

Now, we should clarify here that the right to roam in Scotland doesn’t mean you can just go into someone’s house whenever you feel like it. What it does mean, though, is that, for any hill walkers, there are no limitations on where you can wander outside.

That’s right. Even if it’s a field owned by someone else, everyone in the country has the right to travel through on their way to where they’re going, as long as they don’t camp there or cause any lasting damage.

And this, unsurprisingly, has seen Scotland become a hot spot for those who enjoy traversing the great outdoors. With the beautiful scenery seemingly being endless and there being no access restrictions on getting anywhere, people have come from all over the world to see what the country has to offer.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen