20 fun facts about Scotland that you might not know

Many people know the unicorn is Scotland's national animal - but there are many other fun facts about our country
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images/Blend Images)

Scotland is a nation steeped in history, culture and folklore. Myths and legends have passed down the generations giving us a past full of wonder.

The story of the Loch Ness Monster is known the world over, with people travelling from across the globe to try and spot Nessie. We also have centuries-old tales of kelpies, selkies, and trows to beguile children and adults alike.

But sometimes, the truth can be stranger than legends. We've taken a look at some of the most astonishing - but fun - facts about Scotland and the Scots that you might not know.

1. Scotland's Nostradamus

The 16th Century author has become renowned for his prophecies and has been the subject of many films, books, and songs. But in Scotland, we had Kenneth MacKenzie - known as the Brahan Seer - who is said to have predicted the Battle of Culloden, the Highland Clearances and even the discovery of North Sea oil.

2. Hedge your bets

The Meikleour Beech Hedge is the tallest hedge in the world. Planted near the Perthshire village that gives it its name in 1745, it stretches a third of a mile long and stands at a towering 100ft high.

3. Food for thought

Scotland has produced some great minds down the years, leading to a number of important and ingenious inventions. While some are well known, the crucial culinary creation of the fridge and the toaster may not be as renowned as things like the telephone or tarmac.

Hamilton-born scientist William Cullen is credited with inventing the fridge way back in 1748, while the concept for the toaster was developed by Scottish engineer Alan MacMasters in 1893.

Scientist William Cullen is credited with inventing the fridge
Scientist William Cullen is credited with inventing the fridge -Credit:Getty Images
4. Top TV star

While most people are aware that Scotsman John Logie Baird was the creator of the television, the identity of the first TV star is a little less known. The limitations of the early system meant it struggled to televise human faces due to the lack of contrast.

So the great inventor chose ventriloquist dummy 'Stooky Bill', whose brightly painted features provided greater contrast, to star on screen. Bill featured in The Giggle, one of the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary episodes which aired in December 2023, with the dummy used by the villainous Toymaker to exert his power over the human race.

John Logie Baird with Stooky Bill
John Logie Baird with Stooky Bill -Credit:/commons.wikimedia.org/Chetvorno/CC
5. Picture perfect

Sticking with technology; the world's first colour photograph was taken in Scotland. Captured by Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, it was fittingly a picture of a tartan ribbon.

6. Basketball

The popular American sport owes its existence to a Scotsman. Scots-Canadian Dr James Naismith invented basketball in the 1890s while teaching in Massachusetts.

7. Football crazy

We are a nation of football lovers, that is not up for debate. And our national stadium holds a number of attendance records - both at club and international level.

Hampden holds several European and World attendance records
The world's first colour photograph

Hampden has the highest attendance for both a domestic cup match - when 147,365 watched Celtic beat Aberdeen 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final on April 24, 1937 - and an intercontinental tournament - when 136,505 packed into the stadium to see Celtic win by the same scoreline against Leeds United in the European Cup semi-final second leg.

In terms of international football, the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, holds the top four spots - but next on the list is Hampden again, taking the top European spot. A total of 149,547 fans - the most ever packed inside the ground - watched Scotland beat England 3-1 in the 1937 Home Championships on April 17.

8. Football crazier

While Hampden was packed to the rafters for those huge games, one lone football tucked away in the rafters of Stirling Castle is now known as the world's oldest. Made from a pig bladder covered in leather, it was discovered during renovations by workers in 1981.

The ball is believed to date back to between 1540 and 1570, with rumours that it could even have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. It is now exhibited at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

9. Game, set, match

Mary Queen of Scots isn't the only monarch with a fondness for sport. Her great-great-great grandfather, James I of Scotland, loved tennis - but the sport reportedly led to his death.

The enjoyed the game so much that he blocked the drains near the court to prevent his balls from falling into them. Unfortunately, this decision proved fatal when he later tried to escape assassins through the sewers but ended up stuck at a blocked exit, leading to him being caught and murdered.

10. Knight and day

The only penguin in the world to have been knighted resides at Edinburgh Zoo. Sir Nils Olav, a king penguin named after Major Nils Egelien, who set up the original adoption in 1972, was initially the Norwegian Guard's mascot. He has since ascended in rank to become a Brigadier.

King penguin, Sir Nils Olav inspects a Guard of Honour during a ceremony with the King's Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway at Edinburgh Zoo
Hampden holds several European and World attendance records -Credit:SNS
11. Bat's amazing

Keeping with names, Batman's alter-ego was named after a Scottish hero. Milton 'Bill' Finger, the co-creator and writer, revealed that millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne - who fights crime at night as the Caped Crusader - got his name from "Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot".

Batman's Bruce Wayne owes his name to Robert the Bruce
King penguin, Sir Nils Olav inspects a Guard of Honour during a ceremony with the King's Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway at Edinburgh Zoo -Credit:John Linton/PA Wire
12. Woah Nelly

A beer-drinking elephant once lived at Edinburgh Castle. When the 78th Highlanders returned from their post in present-day Sri Lanka in 1838, they brought with them a mascot who lodged in the castle's stables and developed a taste for beer.

13. Awkward tartles

The Scots language has a term for that uncomfortable moment when you're introduced to someone but can't remember their name - it's called 'tartle'.

14. Flight of fancy

The world's shortest scheduled flight takes place between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray in Orkney. Passengers are officially airborne for just one and a half minutes, with the flight sometimes taking even less time.

The world's shortest scheduled flight between Westray and Papa Westray in Orkney
Batman's Bruce Wayne owes his name to Robert the Bruce -Credit:Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
15. Ancient letters

The village of Sanquhar in Dumfries and Galloway is home to what claims to be the oldest post office in the world. Founded in 1712, it takes pride in its long-serving record, with the post office serving the community for over 300 years.

16. Verti-gold

Staying in Dumfries and Galloway, Wanlockhead is the highest village in Scotland, sitting at the head of the Mennock Pass, part of the Southern Uplands, at an elevation of around 405m.

And not only is it home to the country's loftiest pub, it also boasts some of the world's purest gold. The mines at Wanlockhead produce the precious metal at an impressive 22.8 carats.

17. Rude food

Scotland boasts some peculiarly named dishes, including the rather rude crappit heid and festy cock. Crappit heid is a traditional dish made from the heads of cod steamed in seawater, while festy cock is a type of pancake originally crafted by Scottish monks to mark Shrove Tuesday.

18. Coasting along

The coastline of mainland Scotland stretches 6,160 miles long, which is three times longer than England's. It would extend to a whopping 10,250 miles if all of our many islands were included.

Scotland's coastline is almost three times as long as England's - and that's not including islands
The world's shortest scheduled flight between Westray and Papa Westray in Orkney -Credit:Noel Philips / SWNS
19. Pana-mania

Scotland once embarked on an ambitious venture to establish a colony in Panama, with the aim of constructing a precursor to the Panama Canal and linking the Atlantic and Pacific. However, the Darien project, which took place in the late 1690s, was such a colossal failure that it nearly bankrupted the entire country.

20. Fight or flyte

The concept behind rap battles can be traced back to Scotland. The medieval practice of 'flyting', the exchange of insults between two individuals or parties using verse, is believed to have travelled to the US via Scottish immigrants.

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