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What is life like for people who live in the Highlands of Scotland ? 

Scottish Highlands
Scotland, famous for its whisky, its wool, its kilts, and many other fine things, covers about a third of the territory of Great Britain. Britain has a population of about 64 million inhabitants — yet less than ten per cent of them now live in Scotland, about 5.3 million people. And most of those 5.3 million people live in or near three cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee.
   In the Highlands, which cover most of Scotland, the population is very thin. In many places — if there is actually a road — you can drive for over 30 kilometres without seeing any human habitation, except perhaps a solitary "croft", a small farm. Yet here and there, there are small towns; most of them are beside the sea. They have their inhabitants and their economic activities, their children and their teenagers. 
   This  document from Linguapress looks at life in the Highlands, focusing particularly on the town of Fort William. Indeed, a large part of this Focus was written with the help of staff and students at Fort William's Lochaber High School.

Highland piper in kilt
This Highlander, in traditional military uniform,  is carrying bagpipes, and wearing a kilt. He also has a black leather sporran

What is "a Highlander"? 

If you ask someone to describe a Highlander to you, he will probably come up with the type of image you see in whisky advertisements. A man wearing a kilt and a sporran, and standing on a misty mountain near a haunted castle. The man plays the bagpipes, eats porridge and haggis, and drinks whisky. Now while it is true that whisky is indeed a favourite drink in the Highlands, the rest of the image is a long way from everyday reality.
  Few Highlanders wear the kilt, except on special occasions or for ceremony.
    What are we like, then, us Highlanders? Quite ordinary in fact! We enjoy the same things that our English, American or European counterparts enjoy. As young people everywhere, we are into fashion, music, social media, dances, all kinds of sport. We worry about the same things — unemployment, our prospects for the future, war, drugs, pollution; all these things and much more besides.


Highland High School 

   With 830 pupils aged between 12 and 18, Lochaber High School, at Fort William,  is one of the largest secondary schools in the Highlands. It covers a huge area; many of the pupils come from small communities and  travel up to 40 km  to get into school each day.
    In the past, the school covered a much larger area and many pupils were obliged to stay in one of the school hostels, or — if older — to lodge with local families; but other high schools have opened in the West Highlands, so the catchment area for Lochaber High, though still very large, is not as large as it used to be.
Lochaber High School
Lochaber high school  
   . Pupils travel into school by car, by bus, or by special minibus each day, and some come on foot or by bike. The majority live in Fort William itself, or in one of the surrounding villages such as Caol, Corpach, or Inverlochy.
   Pupils from our school were used as extras in two of the Harry Potter films, which were made in part near Fort William!
    At the end of their school career, and after obtaining higher or advanced higher grade exam results, many fifth and sixth year pupils decide to move on to some form of further education — either college or university. Some students can remain in or near Lochaber, taking specialised courses at the West Highland college; but  most leave home in Lochaber, and go south or east to cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen.
train to GlasgowThe train to Glasgow... the way out and home for many young people who live in the Highlands  
    Many young people in this area feel that there are not enough opportunities here. Going to a city inevitably means new friends, a whole new lifestyle, and the prospect of a more exciting night life.
   Even though Fort William is, by some standards, small and relatively isolated, it is a beautiful place to live. It may not be exciting and incredibly trendy, but that doesn't matter. There is a real community atmosphere here, and many people know, or are related to, many other people. There is always something to do or see in Fort William; there is no excuse for being bored! As far as I am concerned, it is a great place to live — a beautiful place, with wide open spaces, fresh air, peace and quiet, and magnificent scenery. It is an area full of myths and legends — some of them true, others pure invention! But there is one thing that is certainly not "Scotch mist", and that is Highland hospitality. It is still very real, very alive! We look forward to seeing you!


Clans, Kilts & Tartans

You can't talk of the Highlands without talking of clans and kilts and tartans. A "clan" is a sort of tribe — a group of people who belong to the same extended family, or have the same historic origin. In the past, each part of the Highlands was the territory of a clan. Clans were closely linked communities, each with its own chief. Clans were — and still are — distinguished by their tartan. A tartan is a specific design, a criss-cross of couloured threads, which is used for ceremonial clothes, such as the kilt or the plaid.
There are also military tartans too, each Scottish regiment having its own tartan.
   In the past, Scottish clans often used to fight against each other. Near Fort William, there is a big and very beautiful valley called Glencoe. This was the home of the MacDonald clan. One day, about 300 years ago, the Campbell clan descended on Glencoe, and massacred the MacDonalds. This was one of the bloodiest incidents in Scottish history. And even in the 2020s, if you go to Glencoe and say that your name is Campbell, you will not be a welcome visitor. Today, many clans still have "gatherings". They are very popular with Americans of Scottish descent! As for the kilt — well there are some men who still wear it on ordinary days, but for most it is something rather special, for weddings, for "Highland Games", for official occasions, and other ceremonies.
   And please note: in Scotland we always say "wear the kilt", never "wear a kilt".  It's a special expression. For other types of clothes, we use "a", as in "wear a shirt" or "wear a dress".

Salmon, Sea-food and other opportunities

salmon farm
Salmon farm in Loch Airnort - a modern industry
If you go to a restaurant in Spain, and eat a paella with lots of sea-food in it, think of Scotland. If you go to a restaurant in France and eat salmon, think of Scotland. In the last forty years, the Highlands of Scotland have found an important new industry: fish-farming. And today, Scottish lobsters, shrimps, (crustaceans) and fish are exported all over the world. Around Fort William, there are several fish-farms. These are places where salmon and trout (in particular) are bred and raised in special cages. Some of these are in salt-water lochs, others in fresh-water lochs. Other related industries have
FishingTraditional fishing still provides some jobs
followed, creating opportunities for young people to find work. However, in and around Fort William, the principal industries are paper, aluminium, and tourism. All of them are relatively recent.
   Traditional industries such as farming, sea fishing, and weaving, cannot provide many interesting opportunities for young people who want a good job. The situation, nevertheless, is not a bad one, compared to some other parts of Britain. The population is small, and the industries that do exist are not dying ones. There is less unemployment in the Highlands than in many parts of Britain. There are openings for young people who want to follow a Youth Training programme after they leave school; and there are various types of help for young people who want to create their own jobs. Of course, there are limited opportunities for some types of job; but on the whole, there are plenty of advantages to counteract the disadvantages. Today's young Highlanders are not all wanting to leave.


The Truth about Whisky

whiskyWhisky is probably the most famous product of Scotland. Whisky distilling provides work for several thousand people in the Scottish Highlands and islands, and whisky is Scotland's biggest export...
   The qualities of whisky come from the water which is used to make it — the rich "peaty" water of Scotland. When whisky is first made, it is actually transparent, not brown in colour. The colour comes from the wooden barrels in which the whisky is stored for several years, to allow it to mature, and from a little added caramel.
   For many years, whisky has been a very popular drink all over the world, and Scotland has produced more and more of it ; but whisky sales have not increased as fast, so there are now large reserves of whisky in Scotland, specially the good and more expensive whiskies.. Thus a lot of the whisky sold today was made several years ago, when people imagined that whisky would get more and more popular. That is one of the reasons why, today, a lot of the whisky in the shops is labelled "Ten years old", or even  "Fifteen years old".

Word guide
kilt: a sort of dress worn by Highlanders - sporran: a small bag, worn at the waist - misty - cloudy, fogggy - bagpipes: the classic traditional Scottish musical instrument - porridge: a sort of very thick soup made of oats (a type of cereal) - haggis: a kind of sausage made from lamb and cereals - counterpart: equivalent - be into: be interested in - remote: distant - hostel: a hotel for young people - higher grade exams: final school exams in Scotland - college: educational institution which follows school - area: region - night life: things to do in the evening - by some standards: compared to some things - trendy: fashionable, modern - mist: fog - salmon: big fish with pink meat - lobster: similar to a crab - bred: grown - loch: Scottish lake (as in Loch Ness, which is near Fort William)- to weave: make fabrics, textiles - to distil: to extract the alcohol - peaty: containing peat, a type of very rich organic earth - mature: to age, to ripen - linked: joined - a criss-cross: crossing lines - thread: a thin cord of wool or cotton, etc. - plaid: a kind of blanket - to massacre: kill - a gathering: a coming together - of Scottish descent: whose ancestors were Scottish - wedding: marriage.:

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Student Worksheet

What is "a Highlander"? 

Interactive gap-fill exercise.  Use on screen or on paper : articles

All the articles (a, an, the) have been removed from this extract from the text ;  instead of articles, the nouns are preceded by a blank space ..........  Put all the articles back into the text, but only when they are needed.  Take care; in many cases, no article is needed. In these cases writeØ .
To save your answers, take a screenshot when you have completed the exercise.

If you ask someone to describe  Highlander to you, he will probably come up with  type of  image you see in whisky advertisements.  man wearing  kilt and  sporran, and standing on  misty mountain near  haunted castle.  man plays  bagpipes, eats   porridge  haggis, and drinks   whisky. Now while it is true that   whisky is indeed  favourite drink in   Highlands,  rest of  image is  long way from   everyday reality.
  Few Highlanders wear  kilt, except on   special occasions or for   ceremony.
    What are we like, then, us Highlanders? Quite ordinary in fact! We enjoy  same things that our English, American or European counterparts enjoy. As   young people everywhere, we are into    fashion,   music,   social media,   dances, all kinds of   sport. We worry about  same things —  unemployment, our prospects for  future,   war,   drugs,   pollution; all these things and much more besides.

Highland High School

Read the article, and decide which of these statements are true, and which are false.
  1. Most of the pupils at Lochaber High School live a long way from the school.  T / F
  2. Some of the pupils go home only at weekends. T / F
  3. There are no universities or colleges in Lochaber. T / F
  4. Most young people want to return and find work in Lochaber after college or university. T / F
  5. Lochaber is a boring town. T / F
  6. The writer likes living in Lochaber. T / F


The truth about Whisky

Here are six short extracts from the original article. However the word-order is all mixed up. Rewrite each of thes six sentences putting the words back into the right order.  Note that in some cases, the original word order is not the only order possible; some small alternatives may be possible. Can you say where alternative word orders are possible?
  1.  several distilling provides  for  thousand work whisky people
  2. which qualities of the whisky come water is used to make the it from
  3. is whisky first transparent made it is actually when  
  4. The stored  which colour the wooden barrels in the whisky is comes from
  5. there reserves of large Scotland whisky in are now
  6. a years whisky sold lot of the several ago thus was made today ,



Grammar: adjectives and epithets.  While adjectives feature in every text, this document is particularly rich in them, in all shapes and sizes, including camparative and superlative forms.
   An epithet is any word, notably an adjective or another noun, that qualifies a noun; when nouns are used as epithets, the result is a compound noun, as in the title Highland Life. There are many more, such as  human habitation, which means "a habitation for humans" not "a habitation which is human", or the expressions whisky advertisements, sea-food, fish-farms and more.  When is a hyphen necessary? Good question. The answer is that there is no fixed rule, and different dictionaries do not always agree with each other. Sea food, sea-food and seafood  can all be found in reputable publications.

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Intermediate level EFL resource
Readability - Plain English
Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 8.1  Reading ease level:  64
CEF LEVEL : B2 - intermediate
IELTS Level :  5-6
Target readers : teenagers, young adults

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Photo credits:
Creative commons photos:
Bagpiper photo by JP Bazard -
Salmon farm photo by Richard Dorrell.
Train to Glasgow: photo by Alan Mitchell.
Traditional fishing : photo by Ann Hodgson

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