Scottish Travellers, or the people termed loosely Gypsies and Tinkers in Scotland, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities, with groups speaking a variety of different languages and holding to distinct customs, histories, and traditions. There are six distinct gypsy communities in Scotland: Scottish Highland Travellers; Funfair Travellers, or Showmen; Irish Travellers; Scottish Lowland Travellers; and Romanichals (a subgroup of the Romani people). In modern times, New Age travellers and Romani people from continental Europe (especially Roma) have emigrated to Scotland.
In Scottish Gaelic they are known as the Ceàrdannan ("the Craftsmen"). The English term 'travelling people' has been adopted into contemporary Gaelic as luchd siubhail (people of travel) but this is a wider term covering other groups of travellers too and it still has to gain full currency and comprehension amongst ordinary Gaelic speakers. Poetically known as the Summer Walkers, Highland Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and may be referred to as traivellers, traivellin fowk, in Scots, tinkers, originating from the Gaelic tinceard or (tinsmith) or "Black Tinkers". Mistakenly the settled Scottish population may call all travelling and Romani groups tinkers, which is usually regarded as pejorative, and contemptuously as tinks or tinkies.
Highland Travellers are closely tied to the native Highlands, and many traveller families carry clan names like Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron and Williamson and Macmillan. They follow a nomadic or settled lifestyle; passing from village to village and are more strongly identified with the native Gaelic speaking population. Continuing their nomadic life, they would pitch their bow-tents on rough ground on the edge of the village and earn money there as tinsmiths, hawkers, horse dealers or pearl-fishermen. Many found seasonal employment on farms, e.g. at the berry picking or during harvest. They also brought entertainment and news to the country folk. Since the 1950s, however, the majority of Highland Travellers have settled down into organized campsites or regular houses.
Adam Smith, the renowned political economist and moral philosopher was reportedly kidnapped by Highland Travellers at a young age before quickly being freed.
The Highland Traveller community has a long history in Scotland going back, at least in record, to the 12th century, and share a similar heritage, although are distinct from the Irish Travellers. As with their Irish counterparts, there are several theories regarding the origin of Scottish Highland travellers, one being they are descended from the Picts, excommunicated clergy, to families fleeing the Highland potato famine, or the pre-Norman-Invasion, have been claimed at different times. Highland travellers are distinct both culturally and linguistically from other gypsy groups like the Romani, including the Romanichal, Lowland Scottish Travellers, Eastern European Roma and Welsh Kale groups. Several other European groups are related to the Scottish Highland Travellers, and share similarities to other non-Romany groups across Europe, namely the Yeniches, Woonwagonbewoners in Holland, and Landfahrer in Germany. As with Norwegian and Swedish Travellers, Highland travellers origins may be more complex and difficult to ascertain and left no written records of their own.
As an indigenous group Highland Travellers have played an essential role in the preservation of traditional Gaelic culture. Travellers' outstanding contribution to Highland life has been as custodians of an ancient and vital singing, storytelling and folklore tradition of great importance. It is estimated that only 2,000 Scottish travellers continue to lead their traditional lifestyle on the roads.