By Louis Stott
Reproduced from The Voice with kind permission
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs have always borne the brunt of tourism in Scotland. Tourism probably began some time after the Jacobite Risings. When Boswell and Johnson set out on their epic tour of 1773, Tobias Smollett, born in the Vale of Leven, observed that Scotland was less well known than Japan. There were visitors before them, but they were travellers rather than tourists. Two of them, Thomas Pennant and William Gilpin, were very influential and wrote books which became ‘Bibles’ for new visitors, and the first guide book was published long before Scott brought hordes of what might definitely be described as tourists to Scotland. Scott’s influence was described by Alexander Smith in Summer in Skye (1865):
“Scott’s novels were to Edinburgh what the tobacco trade was to Glasgow. Although several labourers were before him in the field of Border Ballads, he made fashionable those wonderful stories . . . As soon as The Lay of the Last Minstrel appeared, everybody was raving about Melrose and moonlight. He wrote The Lady of the Lake and next year a thousand tourists descended on the Trossachs, watched the sun setting on Loch Katrine, and began to take lessons on the bagpipe…. Where his muse was one year, a mail-coach and a hotel were the next.”
However, almost immediately, the downside of tourism appeared. In a letter addressed to Scott, John MacCulloch (1773-1835) complained of the effects of Scott’s works which included, for example, an adaptation of Rob Roy for the London stage:
The mystic portal has been thrown open and the mob has rushed in, dispersing all these fairy visions, and polluting everything with its unhallowed touch. Barouches and gigs, cocknies, and fishermen and poets, Glasgow weavers and travelling haberdashers now swarm in every resting place and meet us at every avenue. As Rob Roy now blusters at Covent Garden and the Lyceum, and Aberfoyle is gone to Wapping, so Wapping and the Strand must also come to Aberfoyle. The green-coated fairies have packed up their alls and quitted the premises, and the Uriskins only caper now in your verses.
Not long afterwards the American poet Nathaniel P. Willis (1806-67) was bemoaning the ‘cockneyfication’ of Loch Lomondside, and Lord Cockburn and Carlyle were describing the excesses to which they were subjected in the Trossachs. It was not that the Scots weren’t welcoming – they rapidly developed a reputation for unrivalled hospitality – nor was it that they weren’t proud of what the tourists came to see. They objected, as they still object, when they were overwhelmed, and the majority of Scots objected, as they still object, to the distorted image of Scotland and things Scottish which the visitors took away with them.
These images can be attributed, in part, to Scott, who saw to it that the Royal Visit of 1822 revived the Tartan and romanticised it; in part to a minor Scottish novelist, James Grant (1822-87), who was closely connected with the first stirrings of Nationalism in Scotland, and was the author of the first of the now ubiquitous clan and tartan guides to the country; and partly to Queen Victoria and her successors whose ‘Balmoralification’ of Scotland mortified many Scots. However, the height of tourist kitch may well have been reached at the Imperial International Exhibition in London in 1909, or in the 1954 MGM musical, Brigadoon. After the success of an Irish Village in an earlier Exhibition, Aberfoyle, or a crass imitation of it, was re-built at White City. Famously, Arthur Freed, the producer of the film, considered that there was nowhere in Scotland that looked quite like Scotland, and shot the film in a Hollywood studio. There is some evidence that Freed’s village may have been based on Killin.
Yet as much good as bad can be said about tourism.