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The Lowlands is not an official geographical or administrative area of the country. There are two main topographic regions: the Lowlands and the Southern Uplands. The term "Lowlands" mainly refers to the Central Lowlands. However, in normal usage it refers to those parts of Scotland not in the Highlands (or Gàidhealtachd). The boundary is usually considered to be a line between Stonehaven and Helensburgh (on the Firth of Clyde). The Lowlands lie south and east of the line. Note that some parts of the Lowlands (such as the Southern Uplands) are not physically "low," Merrick for example reaching 2,766 feet, while some areas indisputably in the Highlands (such as Islay) are low-lying.
In geological terms, the dividing line between Lowlands and Highlands is the Highland Boundary Fault. There was also a legally defined Highland Line in the post-Culloden years, part of the measures taken to suppress Gaelic culture.
For other purposes, the boundary varies; but if the Boundary Fault is used, then the traditional Scottish counties entirely in the Lowlands are: Ayrshire, Berwickshire, Clackmannanshire, Dumfriesshire, East Lothian, Fife, Kinross-shire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian, Peeblesshire, Renfrewshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, West Lothian and Wigtownshire.
Geographically, Scotland is divided into three distinct areas: the Highlands, the Central plain (Central Belt), and the Southern Uplands. The Lowlands cover roughly the latter two. The northeast plain is also "low-land," both geographically and culturally, but in some contexts may be grouped together with the Highlands.
The term Lowlands is sometimes used in a more restricted sense to refer specifically to the Midland Valley. Much of this area, which has a characteristic structure of sedimentary rocks with coal deposits, lies within the basins of the Rivers Forth and Clyde. Historically, this valley has been the most agriculturally productive region of Scotland. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, coal deposits promoted concentrated industrial activity and urbanization in the Midland Valley, where 80 percent of the population of Scotland now live. While coal mining and other heavy industry have declined in the region, it remains at the centre of the Scottish economy, with electronics and computer manufacture and service sectors such as telecommunications, computer software, and finance.
The southernmost counties of Scotland, nearest the border with England, are also known as the Borders. They are sometimes considered separately from the rest of the Lowlands. Many ancestors of the Scotch-Irish, as they are known in the United States, or Ulster-Scots, originated from the lowlands and borders region before migrating to the Ulster Plantation in the 17th century and later the American frontier, many prior to the American Revolution.
The term Scottish Lowlands is used with reference to the Scots language in contrast to the Scottish Gaelic spoken in the Highlands, although historically also in parts of the lowlands, Scottish history and the Scottish clan system, as well as in family history and genealogy.
Despite Scotland often being regarded as a Celtic nation, the Scottish Lowlands and its inhabitants have long been noted as having a predominantly Germanic population. The areas of modern-day Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, and the Scottish Borders were heavily settled in the 6th century by Germanic groups like the Anglo-Saxons and were also subject to the kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria. Other Germanic groups like the Flemish, Frisians, and Scandinavians are known to have migrated in large numbers to the Scottish Lowlands and its major towns and cities, as did many English settlers in the post-Conquest period. From here the English language of these Lowland 'Scots' eventually spread throughout the rest of Scotland, replacing the use of Scottish Gaelic in many areas.
- East Lothian was known as Haddingtonshire until 1921.
- Midlothian was known as Edinburghshire until 1921.
- West Lothian was known as Linlithgowshire until 1921.