It may seem counter-intuitive for someone in the tourism business to be posting an article about the problems tourism brings – but this is an increasingly important issue, prompted by recent news reports that the Isle of Skye is “full up”, and visitors are being advised to stay away unless they have accommodation booked.
photo copyright Daily Mail
And it doesn’t just affect Skye. Many of Scotland’s islands are becoming victims of their own success: I know that Islay is becoming intolerably busy during its Festival, and Orkney is suffering from an influx of massive cruise ships which berth for the day, unleash thousands of visitors who swarm over the island’s amazing prehistoric archaeology, and then leave again. On scheduled cruise ship days, locals don’t go to the main town, as it’s gridlocked.
Closer to home, Loch Lomond is becoming busier, as are places like Stirling and Edinburgh. Scotland, in general, is seeing an increase in tourism, and that is good news for our economy.
However, there is a problem. Most folk visit Scotland to experience our relative wildness; our quaint islands with their single track roads; our unspoiled scenery; our picturesque fishing villages; our lonely ruined castles.
And the more folk visit, the more the very thing they come to see gets destroyed. Many of our popular locations are unbearably busy at the height of the tourist season. This doesn’t just make for an unpleasant experience for the visitor: it impacts on the lives of local folk, it impacts on our road infrastructure (those single track roads with 300-year-old stone bridges weren’t designed for the streams of enormous vehicles they are being asked to cope with), and very often it impacts on the physical and spiritual fabric of the actual tourist attraction itself.
This is mostly a rural problem, but it’s even impacting our capital city. Greyfriars Bobby is a famous statue of a terrier in Edinburgh. Bobby refused to leave his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and guarded it until his own death 14 years later. A statue was erected to Bobby in 1873. Recently, a ridiculous tradition has arisen that it is good luck to rub the statue’s nose. You know what’s coming, don’t you – yep, Bobby’s nose is being rubbed away…
But a wee statue of a dog is the least of Scotland’s worries. If tourism continues unabated and unmanaged, the way it is just now, the very country which people flock from all corners of the earth to see is going to be destroyed.
I don’t know what the answer is. Obviously, I don’t want to discourage visitors: Scotland is beautiful, and I want you to come and see how lovely it is, and I want you to stay Uppa Close and provide me with business! But I also want you to think about where you go, how you get there, and the impact you have.
On a basic economic level, big organised groups – tour buses, cruise ships etc – contribute very little. They descend on a location en masse, spend an hour or so, and then are shipped off somewhere else. And this will happen repeatedly throughout the day. For the people who live there, it means that their home patch is swamped by thousands and thousands of fleeting visitors, who arrive, cause disruption (albeit unintentionally) and then depart, often without spending any money while they’re there. These locations are usually very rural, with the economic problems which go along with rural locations. Tourism could be a real boon, but the fly-past visitor just makes life harder without contributing anything positive.
What can you do, as a visitor? Start by doing more research into where you want to visit in Scotland. Yes, Skye is lovely – and that bridge makes it really accessible. But we have many, many other islands: all different, and all beautiful. Have you heard of Arran? It’s often known as Scotland in miniature, as its landscapes are so varied, and it has everything from rugged mountains to lush pastures, and beautiful beaches. Forget the famous castles – go and see some of our less well-known gems. Stay in one of those picturesque fishing villages for a couple of nights. Eat locally-caught fish in a pier-head seafish restaurant. Drink in the local pub. Buy some jewellery from the local struggling artist (all artists are struggling!).
Do you need to visit in high summer? Weatherwise, May is usually a really nice month, with more sunshine and less rain than you’ll find in July – and less midgies! September and October too can be lovely. If you manage to get a good spell of weather, there is nothing like a long walk in October with crisp blue skies; the leaves on the trees all orange and yellow; the scent of wood or peat smoke, and migrant geese beginning to arrive for the winter.
Or what about a winter break? Wrap up well, and enjoy the bleak beauty of a frosty, deserted beach. Watch the day grow dark by four in the afternoon, then find a pub with a roaring fire and good food. Venture back outside with a rug, lie on the ground (yes, really!), and marvel at our starry skies – and maybe, if you’re lucky, see the Aurora Borealis. Scotland isn’t just for summer!
So, please do visit Scotland – but venture off the beaten track a little, go your own way, and discover the gems which the usual tourist trail misses!