Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/32 posted by hidden europe on

Celebrity tourism is nothing new. In 1847, Queen Victoria had journeyed to the Hebrides from the Clyde, using the Crinan Canal to avoid the long sea journey around the Kintyre peninsula. In so doing she encouraged thousands of other travellers to follow in her wake - the so-called Royal Route to Oban via the Crinan Canal was suddenly in vogue.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

This weekend just past marked the end of the 2009 season for the steamship Sir Walter Scott which plies the waters of Loch Katrine in Scotland from April till October each year. Those last sailings of the year are a chance to catch one of the most celebrated of Highland lochs in autumn finery - a landscape of russet and ochre.

The ship is a period piece. The SS Sir Walter Scott was built in the late nineteenth century but still gives sterling service in the twenty-first century. And Loch Katrine occupies a special spot in the iconography of Victorian tourism.

Celebrity tourism is nothing new. In 1847, Queen Victoria had journeyed to the Hebrides from the Clyde, using the Crinan Canal to avoid the long sea journey around the Kintyre peninsula. In so doing she encouraged thousands of other travellers to follow in her wake - the so-called Royal Route to Oban via the Crinan Canal was suddenly in vogue.

Then in 1859, the Queen travelled to Loch Katrine, catapulting the loch (and the entire Trossachs region) into the premier league of desirable destinations. The fact that the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott set his narrative poem The Lady of the Lake in and around Loch Katrine helped give a serious literary edge to Trossachs tourism.

The early travel entrepreneur Thomas Cook escorted English travellers along the very routes that Queen Victoria had taken on her own journeys through the Highlands. Cook called his Scottish trips Tartan Tours.

But it was not only the British who were infatuated with the Trossachs. Hans Christian Andersen, Theodor Fontane and Jules Verne - writers from Denmark, Germany and France respectively - all made journeys to the Trossachs. Verne arrived on the shores of Loch Katrine in 1859, the same year as Queen Victoria. Jules Verne was still a young man, and that 1859 journey to Scotland marked the start of an infatuation with Scotland that was to stay with Verne until the end of his life.

Jules Verne and Scotland

Verne's 1859 visit to Scotland was unadventurous. But it left a deep impression on the French writer, although he admitted to have sensed much but seen little on an itinerary that took in both Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond. Verne went on to produce three novels set in Scotland: Voyage à Reculons, Le Rayon Verte and Les Indes Noires. The latter is the most complex of the three, postulating as it does the existence of a secret underground city beneath the Trossachs. Eventually the waters of Loch Katrine plunge down into this subterranean metropolis.

Le Rayon Verte is a rather inconsequential book, but does have some fabulous landscape descriptions as the protagonist journeys through the Argyll's Slate Islands en route to Mull and Staffa. Voyage à Reculons, the last of Verne's Scottish trilogy, was the first he wrote, immediately after his 1859 journey. Curiously, it was not published until 1989. It describes travellers making a journey virtually identical to that that Verne himself had followed in 1859.

Jules Verne's writing was essentially geographical. Just think how frequently in his novels scenes are placed in the halls of the most learned geographical societies of the day. And in his Scottish trilogy, Verne nicely evoked the spirit of Scottish landscapes and a strong sense of place - most particularly in his accounts of the Trossachs, the Argyll coast and the islands of the Inner Hebrides. His engagement with the region deserves better recognition today.

The Trossachs are as popular as ever, with day trippers from Edinburgh and Glasgow flocking to the area on summer days for a steamship ride on Loch Katrine. The area was designated Scotland's first national park in 2002. Yet the areas further west that Verne described, and particularly the remoter parts of coastal Argyll, remain much less visited.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.