Scotland may be divided into three main geographical regions, which are divided politically (since 1996) into 32 local council areas. The southern uplands, a region of high, rolling moorland cut by numerous valleys, comprises the areas of Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders. The central lowlands, Scotland's most populous district and the locus of its commercial and industrial cities, includes the areas of South, East, and North Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, West and East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, Falkirk, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, Argyll and Bute, Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Perth and Kinross, Fife, Dundee, Angus, and Aberdeen. Separated from the lowlands by the Grampian Mts. are the Highlands of the north, a rough, mountainous area divided by the Great Glen and containing Ben Nevis (4,406 ft/1,343 m) the highest peak in Great Britain. The Highland areas are Highland, Moray, and inland Aberbeenshire. The Orkney and Shetland islands lie off the northern coast of the mainland and the Hebrides off the western; most are north of the central lowlands. The Orkney and Shetland islands each comprise a council area; the Outer Hebrides comprise the area of the Western Isles, and the Inner Hebrides are divided between Highland and Argyll and Bute.
Because of Scotland's highly irregular outline (its breadth ranges from 154 mi/248 km to only 26 mi/42 km) and the deeply indented arms of the sea—usually called lochs when narrow and firths when broad—it has c.2,300 mi (3,700 km) of coastline. Scotland's principal rivers are the Clyde, the Forth, the Dee, the Tay, and the Tweed. The largest freshwater loch is Loch Lomond.
The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, is established, but there are no restrictions on religious liberty. English is the nearly universal language. Fewer than 1,000 people, primarily in the far north, still speak only Gaelic, and fewer than 60,000 speak Gaelic in addition to English. Among Scotland's universities, St. Andrews (the oldest), Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde have their origins in institutions established before 1800.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.