It is another country, and a Yank in Scotland who fails to keep this fact regularly in mind treads on tricky ground. Not many years ago, a fellow in the State Department merrily mailed a document to "Edinburgh, England," a fourth-grade geography gaffe that made all the wrong kind of local headlines. Scotland has its own currency (which can legally be refused by English merchants) and its own laws, for which lawyers must specially train. It most certainly has its own language, distinctive enough to make restaurant eavesdropping impossible (or maybe you know all about a larach and a lios as well as a loch, and have no trouble with glaur and keelie and kye).

If you forget that Scotland is another country, you do your rambles no good, and you'll be coolly reminded by Scots who are otherwise delighted to see you. The places I haunted (Glasgow, on the west coast, and Aberdeen and nearby Balmoral Castle, in the northeast region known as the Grampian) are stewards of other times as well. Their people are all too intimate with the present: Uncomfortably large numbers of Glasgow's young people face a future unaided by the great shipyards, which no longer draw contracts; and Aberdeen this year finds itself withdrawing painfully from an abruptly burst bubble of North Sea oil wealth and luxury.

But in both cities, architectural riches (most obviously the stone and steel grandeur of Victoria's reign) endure, and overwhelm the American eye. Nothing like Aberdeen's hills bearing acres of white granite residences ever took root on American soil, and no public square with the imperial confidence and arrogance of Glasgow's George Square, surrounded by massive, cavernous public edifices, lingers today in any American city.

Glasgow is Scotland's most populous city, but a reputation for industrial gloom has traditionally failed to lure much of the tourist trade that gravitates to nearby Edinburgh. The guidebooks choose to defend Glasgow by pointing to its solid core of surviving medieval structures and two remarkable art collections, the Art Gallery and Museum, and the Burrell Collection.

It's a sound defense. Shipping magnate Sir William Burrell gave Glasgow a collection of European and oriental art to rival anything in Europe, and even meticulously reproduced three rooms from his own Hutton Castle so his most precious acquisitions could reside forever in their familiar surroundings.

The Burrell Collection is not modest in its sweep: 5,000 years of Chinese pottery and porcelain, statuary and bronzes from Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, Japanese prints of the 18th and 19th century, four centuries of Near Eastern carpets, and finally the great medieval and post-medieval European collection, including a startling stained glass gallery. Burrell, who died in 1958, cautiously extended his tastes to the modern, halting before the nonrepresentational, but Rodin and Epstein's sculpture as well as works of Millet, Manet, Ce'zanne and Degas have found homes here.

Closer to central Glasgow, the Art Gallery and Museum attracts a throng to see Dali's "Christ of St. John of the Cross," a crucifixion that abandoned the traditional anguish to dedicate itself instead to Christ's serenity and grace.

There's also a fine museum of transportation, and unique museum eccentricities, including Tenement House, the three-room dwelling of a Glasgow typist, Miss Agnes Toward, maintained precisely as when she dwelled there from 1911 to 1965. (In 1959, she agreed to exchange gas lighting for electricity, but the gaslight's been restored.)

A few miles out of town, the Clydebank Museum shares its shipbuilding emphasis with a collection of 600 antique sewing machines.

But Glasgow's centerpiece is outdoors, the vast and stately George Square offering its glory the moment the rail traveler exits the Victorian vaults of Queen Street Station. It was surveyed in 1781 and named for George III, whose policies spurred our Revolution, but by the time the square took its present shape, no pedestal was provided for the Hanoverian monarch himself. Instead, Sir Walter Scott takes center stage, and equestrian figures of Victoria and Albert follow; inevitably, Robert Burns is there, but more telling is the statuary honor paid to James Watt, whose perfections of the steam engine -- harbinger of Britain's industrial triumphs -- took place at nearby Glasgow University.

Despite its 18th-century origins, George Square is entirely a Victorian achievement, its scale reflecting vast local shipbuilding and tobacco importing fortunes. My hotel room in the Copthorne, directly next to Queen Street Station, looked into the upper windows of the square's gargantuan Merchant House, whose ornate and intricate 19th-century stone fac ade reeks with the last century's prosperity from overseas trade. A block south, in front of the pillars of the earlier Greek-style city library, sidewalk chalk artists, the kind Orwell wrote about, were still plying their trade.

But beyond the museums and architecture, Glasgow has harnessed itself to an artistic renaissance, both official and unsanctioned. Its assortment of 19th-century and more modern theaters and opera houses, and its first-rate musical community had attracted an ambitious menu of musical events when I visited in the spring. Benjamin Britten's opera of Melville's "Billy Budd" was playing dates throughout the season, and the moment I unpacked my bags, I stumbled into a festival of the hypermodern work of the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis.

The program I attended at BBC Broadcasting House, an imposing 1930s neoclassical temple to culture-via-wireless a few stops down Glasgow's "toy" subway, also featured choral works by Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen. The concert hall was packed with proud Glasgow devotees of this strange, assonant and eerie music (on that program, Stravinsky was the old standard, almost as familiar as a Strauss waltz), and as Xenakis himself strode up to take his bows, he displayed his huge facial scar, a souvenir of Greek civil strife he joined as a student following World War II.

The final piece, "Medea," featured the tuxedoed members of the male chorus wielding large, round, gray rocks and smashing them together in loud clackety-clacks as called for by the score. Other works by Xenakis (whose original training was as an architect, as a student of Le Corbusier) were premiered and performed throughout the week at other Glasgow halls; my concert was recorded for later broadcasts.

But jacket and tie aren't required for other examples of hypermodern Glasgow music. The next day, I found the antidote to my culture overdose: a rude handbill announcing a night of home-grown punk, skinhead, head-banger rock music in a club, Buster's, 10 miles out of town in a motel by the council estates -- massive public housing tracts -- in suburban Clydebank. The motherly cab driver anxiously tried to dissuade me from my folly as she let me out, and when I asked her if other cab drivers would know where to pick me up, she said, "Oh, yes, dearie. They all know about this hotel."

Inside, Buster's was as primitive as a structure can get and still hold the title of nightclub. The featured bands were AOA and Oi Polloi, bands of Glasgow lads in their teens and early twenties obsessed by the challenge of making maximum noise from minimum equipment. Oi Polloi's set was heavily political, and the politics of the lyrics in this heavily underemployed nation were heavily and bluntly leftist.

As the patrons knocked back an astonishing quantity of the nasty, hearty local lagers, and Oi Polloi belted out tunes like "America Out" (referring to U.S. military bases in Scotland) and "Toxic Effects," I was an astonished witness to a particularly forceful style of dancing. Touch dancing, you might call it: The young crowd, decked out in quasi-biker leathers and the latest in handcuffs and chains, with coifs from Yul Brynner-bald to shock streaks of blue and pink, leaped to the dance floor and began smashing their bodies into one another, often with enough enthusiasm to send a dancer hurtling into another dancer and then to the floor. Such casualties, male and female, rolled over, recovered quickly and were on their feet for another round of carom. There appeared to be neither designated partners nor targets; sooner or later, every dancer got his or her share of collisions and hit the floorboards.

Officially, slum punk clubs like Buster's may not be included in the pamphlets on the Glasgow arts renaissance, but it gave me the wildest, loudest and most raucous night I've had in the U.K., and ranks among the most memorable and informative. The rockers and patrons with whom I spoke downloaded their simultaneous awe of Americans, their culture and their music, and their distrust of and anxiety about American defense policy

And the next night, young Glasgow turned out in a sellout horde at a concert for America's latest rock rage, the Beastie Boys, the ultimate (so their well-engineered image goes) in hotel-smashing, wild-partying musical Huns. Scotland's finger-wagging tabloids had a field day for the week that followed with the Beastie Boys' antics, real and imagined, on and off the stage of the Barrowland, a cavernous 1950s-style "Palais de Hop" or dance hall in a particularly blighted warehouse section. If the tabloids' reportage (including numerous first-person accounts by ruined victims) is given even partial credence, it is possible for three American musicians (with a little help from their road crew) to seduce and abandon an entire metropolis of innocent Scottish schoolgirls. Glasgow is no slouch for events to occupy younger tastes.

My rail journey from Glasgow to Aberdeen took me through sheep country during lambing time and through checkerboard fields of green and blazing yellow. The yellow fields are not a traditional Scots crop and several Scottish travelers were embarrassed not to know what it was -- rapeseed, grown for new European markets for vegetable oil as Scottish agriculture struggles to stay afloat. The fields also boasted Scottish ponies, stout, shaggy beasts with a distinctively ice-age look.

Aberdeen first revealed its latest economic phase on a passing car's bumper sticker around the corner from the rail station: Please, God, Let There Be One More Oil Boom. We Promise Not to P--- It All Away This Time.

Aberdeen residents, still dizzy from baths of oil money, see themselves in discreet temporary embarrassment, but they didn't by any means p--- it all away. The city gleams in a parade of light gray granite public buildings along downtown's wide Union Street, and in all but the dockside direction from downtown, seemingly endless battalions of identical two-story detached residences, also of the mandatory Aberdeen light granite, flow up and down the city's gentle hills.

From a third-floor hotel window, the chimney-piped roofs, one bank after another, resembled a cityscape by Disney a` la "Mary Poppins," at other times a geometrical study by M.C. Escher. Forgive the cliche', but seeing the homes of Aberdeen, styled after 18th-century rural Scottish cottages (but built en masse a century later), is like a walk through a living post card.

The oil bubble, while it lasted, served the preservationists well: Each granite office building and each home gleams with recent fac ade cleanings, and the proud maintenance continues; I encountered several crews applying the weak solution of hydrochloric acid that puts the outside to rights.

Aberdeen is the Granite City thanks to three circumstances: a location atop a batholith, a 40 million-year-old volcano field that produced the distinctive local granite; the introduction 150 years ago of heavy steam equipment that could quarry, cut and transport the stone; and the city's rigid architectural control. Downtown Aberdeen has its modern buildings, such as a modest, three-story, Gropius-style IBM headquarters that came with the oil boom, but it, too, has wrapped itself in a granite skin and practically camouflages itself behind its lobby's brown-tinted glass.

The huge building stone of the Aberdeen quarries is nearly played out now, and new buildings get their granite from overseas, but granite they still must be to rise in Aberdeen. The corporate presence accompanying boom times remains: So many office complexes fly the flags of famous oil companies that I drove my hired car into one of their driveways thinking it was a gas station.

Around the immaculately scrubbed and mowed Queens Cross neighborhood, the American presence is at once subtle and high: Wang, Digital, the accountants Coopers and Lybrand, some firms in their own new buildings, others inhabiting handsome stone mansions from the turn of the century with gravel driveways. The oil boom salvaged considerable treasures before the market reversed and oil companies withdrew. Union Street's Capitol Theatre, a roomy, multibalcony motion picture palace, has had its lobby and interior restored to its mint 1933 condition, boasting a superb art deco mirrored lobby and a grand Compton (the U.K.'s Wurlitzer) organ; the Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust imports "a fellow from London," the usher beamed, to give regular concerts.

Across town, above the city's precisely maintained floral park, His Majesty's Theatre, which first opened in 1906, has undergone an even more ambitious face lift, to the tune of about $5.5 million, and was playing host to a crack touring production, courtesy of Mobil Oil, of Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," on the play's 20th anniversary. Even the Victorian fireproof curtain has been restored, with eight new "adverts" of local merchants and an empty space still available in the center if you'd like to be the ninth. Adjacent to the auditorium, in finest London theater-going style, is the plush theater bar, alive before the curtain and during intermission with the buzz of patrons wondering what the play was about or whether the portly one was Guildenstern or Rosencrantz.

The city is still filled with expensive merchandise actively seeking high-rolling shoppers, and boasts a private casino and about 20 excellent restaurants, Indian tandoori, Italian and Chinese among them. Two blocks down from the Capitol is Dickens, which at first seemed a bit too precious in its velvet and brass de'cor, but a closer peek at the menu disclosed that its kitchen was Chinese, and imaginatively so. I was served a poached salmon of the most delicate pink, caught that day in Aberdeen's River Dee, in a mesmerizing black Chinese sauce of ginger and scallion. In general, Aberdeen surprised me with some of the best eating on my trip.

The thrones of England and Scotland were united in 1603; their Parliaments became one in 1707, but Scottish rebellions broke out in 1715 and 1745. "The '45" rebellion was punished by the Act of Proscription, which banned nearly every visual symbol and activity the world today associates with the Scottish Highlands -- from the Highland Games to the tartans identifying the clans. In 1852, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle on the southern fringe of the Highlands, and for the rest of Victoria's reign, Balmoral became her favorite summer retreat. She was delighted with the rural Highlands way of life and became a pivotal figure, along with Sir Walter Scott, in reconstructing the Highlands romance and splendor that had been lost after Proscription.

It's a straight shot to Balmoral from Aberdeen -- about a two-hour drive. Balmoral is a personal retreat for the royal family, and when they're in residence, the estate is closed to the public. They were away, so I went in.

The Dee is a bright fishing stream at Balmoral, but Victoria and Albert crossed their rivers with the latest technology; the tiny, one-lane iron bridge leading into the estate is the work of the engineering emperor of the Victorian span, I.K. Brunel. A short, tree-lined path past the tombs of Victoria's favorite dogs is landscaped just well enough to isolate the estate grounds from the rest of the world.

At the end of the path stands the new castle commissioned by Prince Albert, an L-shaped, granite fantasy of parapets and towers designed by Aberdeen's city architect, William Smith. Smith, working closely with the prince, made the new Balmoral a perfect woodland and meadow complement to the architectural fantasy of Aberdeen, through which Victoria and Albert always passed on the way to Balmoral. Like all castles built long past the age of true castles, it looks far more like a castle than the real thing, and an English gent behind me as I entered muttered to his wife, "Looks like something Disney would have built."

Itreminded Albert of his native Thuringia. The souvenirs of the royal couple's rural Highlands castle fantasy are on display in Balmoral's ballroom -- portraits by Sir Edwin Landsmeer of Albert's daily round of hunting, of gillies (boys or adult servants) bringing the carcasses of mighty antlered stags home over mountain crags on the backs of Haflinger stalking ponies. Victoria and Albert would take long pony treks to their mountain hunting lodge together, and when a favorite pony would die, its memory was preserved by making an ornate inkstand of its hoof; a half-dozen of these are on display. Another tableau shows the nighttime arrival at Balmoral of Czar Nicholas II in 1896, greeted in his open coach by a formation of dozens of torch-bearing Highlanders in full regalia.

Also on display are about 30 landscapes of the Balmoral grounds painted by Victoria. They are surprisingly contemporary, simple watercolors that hark back more to the 1940s or 1950s than to her own times, and they are quite deft.

The great royal hunting parties are gone forever, and today the red deer herds and every wild thing that lives on the Balmoral estates are maintained like an advanced bioscience laboratory, presided over by Prince Philip through his agent at Balmoral, the resident factor. Each year the deer are subjected to a census, and a cull hunt singles out the aged and weak to bring the herd's number down to a size the ample but finite grounds (50,000 acres) can sustain. The queen's husband is also an expert pony driver and maintains the Balmoral pony herd and collection of pony carts and carriages. (He also adapted disc brakes to the modern competition pony cart.) The pony herd, however, is available for reasonably experienced parties of tourists to ride over the mountainous Balmoral estates at very reasonable half-day and full-day fees; the ponies get their exercise and the tourists get a rare treat.

Glasgow has yet to divert its share of tourists from Edinburgh, and until last year's oil slump, Aberdeen wasn't too dependent on tourism -- its hotels were already booked with oil and gas executives from Houston. That's changed abruptly for Aberdeen, and it deserves to change for Glasgow. Both venues are feasts for the eye and rich in historical sites. (Glasgow particularly boasts a wealth of sites associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, and in this 400th anniversary of her death, the calendar is rich in lectures and special exhibits about her.) Glasgow's 19th-century zenith has left the structures of a great and prosperous merchant city to the world, and Aberdeen's recent romance with oil and gas wealth has put a beautiful polish to a unique and serene coastal cityscape in silver stone; at nearby Balmoral, the same stone was used to build a storybook retreat. Scotland has preserved them lovingly and was displaying them proudly and hospitably when I was there. It's worth adding just one more country, and two of its city jewels, to any European tour. Scotland Ways & Means. Page E7.

Robert Merkin, a novelist ("Zombie Jamboree," William Morrow) and newspaper editor, is a native of Washington who lives in Northampton, Mass.

SCOTLAND WAYS & MEANS

GETTING THERE:

Scotland's international air terminal is Prestwick, just outside Glasgow. Pan Am and British Airways offer connections via London from Washington. On Pan Am, the current APEX fare, which must be booked 21 days in advance, is $792 round trip if you travel Monday through Thursday, $842 on weekends.

A less expensive method, if you plan to travel by July 21, would be to fly to London on British Airways' limited-time discount fare of $498, and book the London-to-Glasgow leg separately. The discount fare is nonrefundable and must be purchased 21 days in advance. From London, the flight to Glasgow takes one hour; British Airways' current round-trip fare is

74 ($121) if purchased two weeks in advance.

Trains to Glasgow, which is 400 miles north of London, run every 90 minutes throughout the day from Euston Station in London. The trip takes about 5 1/2 hours. The basic round-trip second-class fare is

38 (about $60). In addition, there are direct departures or connections to Scotland from all other parts of the British rail network. Overnight sleeper connections from London and Bristol operate to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness. Taking your car on Motorail from London or Bristol is another travel option.

Long-distance buses are often the cheapest way of traveling to Scotland. Scottish Omnibuses, Cotters, Stagecoach and other operators offer regular service from London and other English departure points.

If you're driving, there are good motorway connections from the south of England; the M1/M6 is the quickest approach, although the A1 also follows a direct route.

GETTING AROUND:

The main car rental companies have pick-up points at the Glasgow airport and in the downtown area. All you need is a valid American driver's license, but you must be between the ages of 23 and 65.

One option for air travel within Scotland is a British Airways Highland Rover pass, which costs

157 (about $250) and may be purchased here or abroad. The ticket may be used on all British Airways service in Scotland and is valid for up to eight separate flights, for 21 days of travel. Call British Airways, (800) 247-9297, for more information.

British Rail offers a variety of discount fares, including a Freedom of Scotland ticket that allows 7- or 14-day unlimited travel over the network. This ticket must be purchased in Britain. Regular Britrail passes, good throughout Scotland, may be purchased in the U.S. through BritRail Travel International, 630 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017, (212) 599-5400, or the British Travel Bookshop, 40 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019, (212) 765-0898. Details on the Freedom of Scotland tickets are available at British Rail Travel Centers, located at most of the larger British Rail stations.

For the Highlands and Islands region, a Travelpass '87 allows unlimited travel on train, bus and ferry services within the area. It costs $72 for a seven-day pass and $110 for a 14-day pass, June through September; $45 for seven days and $75 for 14 days March through May, and in October. (The pass is not available in the winter, when some of the ferries do not operate.) The passes are available through BritRail here and in Scotland.

WHERE TO STAY:

Scotland offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to small inns and guest houses. The Scottish Tourist Board offers a "Where to Stay" series of guides, available through the British Travel Bookshop. They cost $7.95 (hotels) and $5.75 (bed-and-breakfasts); add $2.50 for shipping for each volume.

As with all Scottish travel in the summer high season, it's a good idea to book accommodations in advance. However, a nationwide network of Tourist Information Centers, located in most large towns, offers help with on-the-spot reservations.

WHAT TO DO:

A variety of special events -- Highland games, galas, garden shows, festivals and fetes -- is planned throughout Scotland during the summer season. The British Tourist Authority's publication "Scotland" lists many of these activities and has additional information on getting around and where to stay. The brochure is free and may be obtained by writing to the British Tourist Authority, 40 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019, (212) 581-4700.

The BTA's "Open to View" ticket gives unlimited entry to more than 600 historic buildings, museums and gardens throughout Britain, and is valid for one month from the date you first use the ticket. It costs $29 for adults, $14.50 for children aged 5 through 15, and is available through the British Travel Bookshop or BritRail Travel International, and through travel agents -- or it can be purchased in Britain.

INFORMATION:

There are tourist information offices all over Scotland, often in the most remote and unlikely places. Most of them can help with finding accommodations. Most also sell a useful Scottish Tourist Board book, "Scotland: 1001 Things to See." It costs

2.50 (about $4) and contains concise information on virtually every attraction in the country.

For additional information: Scottish Tourist Information Center, 19 Cockspur Street, London, telephone (01) 930-8661.

British Tourist Authority, 40 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019, (212) 581-4700.