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an area of land that is at a high level and consists of hills and mountains

the northern part of Scotland that consists of hills and mountains

Origin and usage

Highland comes from the Old English ‘hēahlond’ meaning a high promontory, and has been in use in English since its earliest times. As a way of referring to the northern part of Scotland, often spelled with a capital letter and these days always in the plural, the word has been in use since the early 16th century.


The Highlands is not a clearly-defined geographical area and its boundaries have varied over the centuries. Historically it was the area where Gaelic was spoken although today the language is mainly spoken on the islands off the west coast called the Hebrides. Today the Highlands are generally taken to be the areas north of the Highland Boundary Fault, a geological division that runs from Helensburgh in the west to Stonehaven in the east.

Following the Acts of Union which united the kingdoms of Scotland and England at the start of the 18th century, interest in this remote and sparsely populated area of the British Isles grew south of the Border. The famous lexicographer Dr Johnson made an extended visit with his friend and later biographer James Boswell in 1773 and recorded his impressions in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, published two years later.


“Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.”
(Robert Burns)

“The most patient people grow weary at last with being continually wetted with rain; except, of course, in the Scottish Highlands, where there are not enough fine intervals to point the difference.”

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Related words

foothills, uplands, wolds

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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