As Scotland moves into Level 3 I'll admit that many of us in the Highlands are a little nervous at the influx of visitors we're expecting to arrive over the next few weeks and into summer. There are many blogs and social media updates out there already from people asking potential visitors to consider their impact and how they interact with people and the environment.
I've been pushing the concept of Slow Tourism for a couple of years now and I'm pleased that this ethos is really beginning to take hold although the driver for this possibly didn't come from where I'd expected it to; a pandemic forcing the issue rather than environmental concerns! I've covered the environmental impacts of tourism before and I won't go into it too much here. Go ahead and read my previous blogs on the matter instead.
My focus for this post is about your own wellbeing and those of the people in the area you'll be visiting. It's about thinking about how you can use slow tourism to your advantage and how I think it is ultimately a better way of making the best of your time away.
Yep, this again. Slow Tourism is our thing and we're sticking by it. You're probably desperate to get out and explore and who could blame you? I know what it's like to stare off into the middle distance contemplating beaches I'd like to visit and hills I want to climb. Pause for a second before you head out and consider simply visiting the one area and taking the time to get to know it. The temptation may well be to drive a ridiculous distance to visit an area for an afternoon or head to one spot before bouncing off to the next and the next... Keep the travel time to a minimum, if you have an overnight stay, consider getting where you need to be and then doing everything on foot or by bike. Don't use the car (or dare I say it, public transport) unless you really need it or until you need to head home. Really focus on that one spot and getting as much as you can out of it. I have a longer post on this scheduled for later this week that explores this and how I got on with a recent trip. One thing I can heartily recommend is investing in the OS Maps app which gives you access to all the maps in the UK, it's so helpful in discovering local tracks and trails. It's only a few quid a month and easy enough to cancel the subscription if you don't want to use it when you're back home. I've been using it for a while and found it to be a great resource for discovering new places to visit.
To yourself, to the environment and to the people around you. We've all had a rough year and you are quite entitled to look after yourself and your family. This reflects back to being slow too; dashing around or cramming in a long car journey isn't being kind to yourself. Take that time to really take time out and give your soul and body the rest it deserves. Be kind to the places and people you visit too, buy local produce and be mindful that some of us are still a little nervous about seeing extra people arrive in the area. We've been in our own little community bubbles for the better part of a year, so it's a little daunting to know that bubble is going to be burst. Be patient with us if we're a wee bit rusty welcoming visitors too! I'm having to re-read and remember a lot of the stories I normally tell you on the tours. So if your guide looks a little uncertain or needs to pause more than usual, give them a few seconds to gather their thoughts!
When I was briefly able to take tours out last summer I was struck by the amount of people who needed to step away for a few minutes and stop and take a few minutes for themselves taking in the air and the views. Be that person and don't be shy of finding those quiet spots away from the main honeypots. I often find a quiet spot away from crowds is much more beneficial than attempting to squeeze into the 'must see' attraction that every man, woman and their dog wants to go to. Trying to find a parking spot or watching other people make a hash of parking is often enough to get my blood pressure up! The Highlands is a big place so try and avoid the spots you know will be busy and do yourself the kindness of exploring somewhere away from the crowds.
I'll admit many of us have got used to having the place to ourselves and we do sort of like it. That's not say we haven't desperately missed visitors, we really have! Let's face it, large parts of our economy absolutely depend on tourism and we need you back to keep jobs secure for the future. However, remember that many of us are still trying to go about our lives so use those passing places to let traffic clear, pull in if you want spend some time looking at the scenery and take all your rubbish back out with you. Again reflect back on yourself and be considerate to your own health and well being. Take your time, don't rush and above all take some space to breathe in the air and drink in the views.
Overall the feeling I get is that there's an urgency from people to get out again and explore the places they love. Again, I can hardly blame them for that but I and others in rural communities don't want to see repeats of scenes of overcrowding in parking spots, glens choked with traffic and issues with littering and soiling. I also don't want to be the forbidding pointy finger of NO that would rather you all stayed where you were and left us all alone. Because I don't! We're looking forward to seeing you but we want to see happy, chilled visitors and not frazzled burnt out folk who've tried to cram in too much.