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INSIDE TRACK: Faulty lines cause confusion in Highland and Argyll

The BBC does it from time to time in its road reports.

You hear the odd MSP at it. Others, who should know better, do so too. They have a habit of referring to "Argyll and the Highlands" as though the former is quite distinct from the latter.

In reality, they are referring to modern local authority boundaries, but in doing so they distort a couple of millenniums of history, a distortion that is gaining currency in Scotland.

"The Highlands" in Gaelic is pretty meaningless. The relevant linguistic equivalent is the Gàidhealtachd, the land of the Gael which also embraces the Hebrides. It is still used. The Highland Council's official logo has Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd just below its English title.

If "the Highlands" distinguish anything today, it must surely still be the area that developed from that Land of the Gael. Argyll means the coast of the Gael, central to the movement of the Gaels from Ireland.

Tradition holds that Deirdre of the Sorrows, the foremost tragic heroine in Irish mythology, came to Loch Etive, which is still mostly in Argyll, while Dunadd near Kilmartin was the power centre of the Gaelic kings of the Dál Riata between the sixth to ninth centuries.

Iona, where St Columba set up shop on his arrival from Ireland and where later monks started work on the Book of Kells, is still in Argyll. So is Islay, the power base of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles.

The Crofters Act of 1886, which effectively created our crofting system, specified it would apply to parishes in Argyll, as one of the eight crofting counties. This became seven when Ross and Cromarty were joined three years later.

If the national Gaelic Mod has a traditional home, it is Oban. It hosted the first three and more than any other venue since. Meanwhile, shinty is still played throughout the county. Highland destinations such as Glencoe and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula were in Argyll until local government reorganisation in 1974/75. So the idea that Argyll isn't part of the Highlands annoys many, not least the acclaimed Highland historian Professor Jim Hunter. His childhood home in Duror was in Argyll but is now in the Highland Council area.

As a child he played in the ruins of the house of James of the Glen, the Stewart wrongly hanged for the Appin Murder in 1752, which featured in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.

Hunter points to the "ludicrous signs on the likes of the A9 and the A828". Motorists who have been driving through Highland scenery for hours are welcomed to the Highlands. In fact, they are entering the Highland Council area.

He thinks there should be signs marking "The Highland Line", on the fault line that historically divided the Highlands from the Lowlands, culturally and geographically.

It is particularly obvious just north of Callander and on the A9 just south of Dunkeld (which in fact were in the old Perthshire). It is an idea with tourism marketing potential.

In the meantime, could we just have "Argyll and Highland" on the road reports?

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