Scotland for the Holidays

‘Out with the map of Scotland, a good large one’, wrote New Zealand Scot W.J. Crawford in 1900, one suitable for the ‘journey through the fair land of Scotia.’ Said map in hand, Crawford embarked on a cycling tour, exploring the ‘far-famed Western Highlands replete with rugged mountains and stream-roaring glens’ and ‘the towering portals of historical Glencoe’. He marvelled at the Atlantic swells that had ‘played such sad, though picturesque, havoc with the west coast of Scotland’, and was struck by ‘the bleak moorland, heather clad and inhabited by herds of shaggy Highland cattle with their big, broad horns and villainous eyes’. Yet the most lasting impression for Crawford was the hospitality and kindness dispensed by the Scots he met en route, all of whom he found good-natured, pleasant and amusing, ‘even the folk of Aberdeen’.

While the means by which Crawford was touring through Scotland, a bicycle, was perhaps somewhat of an unusual one for a returning Antipodean Scot, his journey nonetheless documents the increasing popularity of temporary return trips ‘home’. A growing number of Scots from abroad, hailing from Australasia and South Africa, the Canadian prairies or the American mid-west, embarked on trips in search of the Scotland they remembered from their childhood days—or the one they had been told about in stories by their parents and grandparents if they were born overseas. They travelled as roots-tourists, exploring their ancestral history and culture.

By the time émigré Scots began to travel to Scotland in larger numbers the country was already a popular tourist destination. Throughout the nineteenth century, particularly when Queen Victoria began to annually travel to Balmoral, Scotland’s popularity as a holiday destination increased. The general interest in Scotland as a tourist destination would not have been sufficient to attract tourists from overseas, however, had it not been for the significant improvements in transport. Cheaper fares and the decrease in travel time were crucial in bringing home to Scotland a steadily growing number of émigré Scots.

Advancements in travel provisions within the British Isles also benefitted tourism. Many returnees arrived in London, and then proceeded to Scotland travelling on the iconic Flying Scotsman – a sight in itself. As Crawford, our two-wheeled traveller, observed, ‘The Green engine as it sped gave the impression of making little jumps from the metals as if bounding in joy. … It flew along as a merry colt in unconscious happiness.’

Many other return travellers from the diaspora primarily arranged their trip on the basis the residence of their families and friends, but the actual exploration of sites and the Scottish countryside were an important element too. After his arrival in Helensburgh, the Revd Chisholm for example soon made his way to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute on a steamer; he bought a Kodak for £3.10 to capture some of the scenery on his trip.  Edinburgh was ‘a glorious sight on bursting from the tunnel—the castle rock to the right’, while the silvery look of the granite buildings in Aberdeen was something to marvel at. Chisholm visited many a famous site that included Stirling Castle and the Wallace monument—the ‘Valhalla of Scotland’. Bruce’s birth- and resting place were of equal importance. As were the many sites connected to Robert Burns.

While many people believe that ancestral tourists to Scotland are a new phenomenon, these examples reveal that the roots of the ‘route home’ can be found much earlier than that, providing important new evidence of the deep connections sustained throughout the Scottish Diaspora.

This post is based on extracts from my ‘Through the Fair Land of Scotia’: Émigré Scots Touring the Homeland’ published in History Scotland in 2011.

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