The Films of Scotland Documentaries
History Timeline Citizenship The Face of Scotland The Travelogue Resources

Early Travellers

The Technology of Tourism


Touring Cultures

Touring History

The Natives Write Back

The Travelogue

This part of the site examines the travelogue, and the centrality of the tour to the Films of Scotland documentaries.  It does so for two reasons.  Firstly, travelogues make up the majority of the films produced by the second Committee.  Secondly, the figure of the traveller is central to the documentaries produced by the first committee, and the way in which Scotland is represented as an object of knowledge approached from the outside, 'discovered' by an other culture. 



A View from the Bass extract
A View from the Bass is typical of the many travelogues produced by Films of Scotland in its view of travel as 'an escape from the daily round'.

Early Travellers

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century

Until parliamentary union with England in 1707 Scotland traded directly with her European neighbours.  T. C. Smout has documented how trade took place from burghs, communities in which merchants and tradesmen (immigrants as well as natives) were granted specific rights to support their purpose of internal and external trade.  In the middle ages the main Scottish exports to the Low Countries were wool, hides, coal, salt and fish.  Wine was the most regularly imported luxury, brought home by Scottish ships from the wine ports of France, Spain and Portugal.  By the 18th century the Scottish west coast ports were competing with the older east-coast burghs, and the burghs became gateways to the European world.  Equal trading opportunities with England, provided under the Union of 1707, provided access to a British foreign market vastly enlarged by imperial expansion in North America, India and the Caribbean.  Merchants grew wealthy with the opening of new trades to North America, the West Indies and Russia, then to the export markets of France and Germany, and finally with the trade to India and China (Smout, 1990, pp. 153-60).



Royal Stirling still
Film travelogues, such as Royal Stirling (1972), both feature and establish the essential sites and destinations for the modern tourist.

The production and consumption of material wealth was matched by the reproduction and circulation of the cultural wealth or mimetic capital of these countries.  Mimetic capital is best described as a stockpile of representations, the images that matter, that merit the term capital, that achieve reproductive power.  This 'capital' was commonly appropriated on what is known as 'The Grand Tour'.  From the early 17th century onwards gentlemen's sons visited Europe to perfect the languages at first hand, to acquire the fashionable arts of swordsmanship and equestrian skills and the gentler accomplishments of music and drawing.  They visited Holland, Germany, France, and above all, Italy where they studied the remains of the classical world and the painting of the great masters.  By the turn of the eighteenth century the studious Grand Tourists were joined by the sightseeing travellers, the forerunners of the modern tourist.  From the medieval period then, Scottish merchants were caught up in a system of material exchange with other lands and other cultures.  Scholars and travellers passed along these trade routes in search of mimetic capital.  Not until the eighteenth century, however, did they journey to Scotland's own geographical margins, the Highlands and Islands.





Enchanted Isles extract
Sponsored by MacBrayne Ferries, Enchanted Isles (1957) frequently cites Boswell and Johnson's journey to the islands almost two hundred year earlier.

Boswell and Johnson

Amongst the most famous of these eighteenth century travellers was Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, who in 1773 journeyed from Edinburgh up to Aberdeen and on to Inverness, down the Great Glen, and across to the Western Isles, before travelling back to Oban, Inverary, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, down to Boswell’s family seat at Auchinleck, then back to Edinburgh.  That certain parts of Scotland were now the destination of a growing body of travellers is supported by Boswell's (1965) comment on Loch Lomond that it 'is so well known by the accounts of other travellers, that it is unnecessary for me to attempt a description of it' (p. 407).  Rapid improvements in transport in Scotland during the previous fifty years facilitated their travels in the Highlands (Butler, 1985, p. 374), but their journey to the Isles was an unusual one; Boswell refers to it as 'our curious expedition', and recounts how on mentioning it to Voltaire, 'He looked at me, as if I had talked of going to the North Pole' (p. 167).  In 1773, there was no infrastructure for travellers in the Western Isles; Johnson (1965) remarks that 'In the Islands there are no roads, nor any marks by which a stranger may find his way' (p. 47), and that 'in countries so little frequented as the Islands, there are no houses where travellers are entertained for money.  He that wanders about these wilds, either procures recommendations to those whose habitations lie near, or, when night or weariness come upon him, takes the chance of general hospitality' (p. 48).  There were also no guide books, and their route was provided by the minister of Calder, an acquaintance of Boswell's.

Why then, despite these considerable difficulties, was Johnson, to use Boswell's words, 'particularly desirous of seeing some of the Western Islands' (p. 169)?  Why then, despite these considerable difficulties, was Johnson, to use Boswell's words, 'particularly desirous of seeing some of the Western Islands' (p. 169)? Towards the end of his journal, Johnson notes that: 'We came thither too late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and a system of antiquated life' (p. 51). He concludes that 'a longer journey than to the Highlands must be taken by him whose curiosity pants for savage virtues and barbarous grandeur' (p. 51). What this suggests is that Johnson came to the Isles in search of cultural difference, a cultural difference that the accounts of the early voyages of discovery had led him to expect. As popular as they were, these accounts were highly exaggerated and often fictional, the product of a European desire to encounter cultural otherness. But as we shall see in the travelogues themselves, this desire was to remain a central component of twentieth century travel.

  Top of Page Next
Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.