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


Although it was not until the Development of Tourism Act of 1969 that a unified government policy on tourism was developed (McCrone, Morris & Kiely, 1995, p. 77), local and regional tourist boards such as Inverness and Loch Ness Tourist Association, and Skye Tourist Association, along with municipal bodies such as the Corporation of the City of Aberdeen, the Royal Burgh of Ayr, Edinburgh Corporation, and Perth County and Town Councils, funded the production of travelogues by Films of Scotland. As this list of sponsors suggests, by the 1950s travelogues are fully enmeshed in the machinations of consumer culture; they are as much advertisements as they are vehicles for static travel.

Loch Lomond extract
Loch Lomond (1967) is typical of the travelogue's promise to take us beyond the postcard image of the tourist destination

The opening of Loch Lomond (1967) demonstrates something of the relation between the travelogue and tourism:

(Shots of holiday makers on the shore of Loch Lomond)

Voice Over: "Loch Lomond, a place, a song, an idea. For people in many unlikely places it has come to be hearsay to suggest a wide variety of things. Scotland in miniature, beauty, nostalgia, sentiment, majestic solitude. For many others, Loch Lomond has been delivered through the letterbox on pleasantly predictable postcards. Comparatively few will test their private impressions against the reality of a visit, those who do will have no cause for disappointment. Proof against the summer villages of caravans and tents, Loch Lomond's image of natural beauty will endure to be enjoyed. The visitors will take home a certain sense of satisfaction, since their knowledge of the loch goes deeper than a postcard. But there is a side to the loch which they too will have missed."

This reproduces the traveller/tourist distinction in a different way: we, the audience, are the traveller, we watch the tourists leave and then get to see the authentic/real Loch Lomond, the shepherds and foresters, the Loch outside the holiday season. Travelogues therefore locate themselves both within and beyond tourism, they promise to offer something more. And it is this that we are promised, sitting in our cinema seats, our pleasure comes from being transported to another place without moving, and we will get to meet these other people who know the 'real' Loch Lomond, Further, as the narration indicates, in visiting a place we are also visiting an association of ideas, a collection of meanings.

Still from Festival in Edinburgh
Festival in Edinburgh (1955) presents a systematically organised series of 'views' of Edinburgh that distance the city from the ordinary.

The Travelogue's Generic Regime

Film theorists have argued that film genres have their own 'regimes of verisimilitude' (Neale, 1990, p. 46), generic rules of appropriateness which its audience expect them to adhere to. For the travelogue, this includes the reproduction of what John Urry (1990) calls the 'tourist gaze', the 'socially organised and systematised' way in which tourists look on 'a set of different scenes, of landscapes or townscapes which are out of the ordinary' (p. 2).

Travelogues were made for the cinema from its inception, ranging from basic scenes or panoramas of familiar places, to short travelogues which grouped scenes of 'exotic' countries into a continuous series of views (Low and Manwell, 1973). Hundreds of travelogues were produced by Hollywood in its heyday as fillers in the motion picture theatre programmes, many of them of Scottish subjects, and British distributors used them to fulfil their domestic product quota.


The term 'travelogue' was not used until the nineteenth century. Literally and semantically a combination of travel and monologue, the term referred to an illustrated lecture about places and experiences encountered in the course of travel. In the generic interplay of repetition and originality, originality in the travelogue rests primarily on a difference of location. As a practice it was enabled by the ancient literary genre of travel writing, and the recent communication technology of photography. Combining the genre of travel writing with those of the stereoscope, the panorama and the diorama, film travelogues transport us through landscapes to rest at particular sites, it is a technology of movement and stillness, of a travelling (panning) gaze and a stationary one.

The Borders: Where England and Scotland Meet extract
The opening arial shots of The Borders: Where England and Scotland Meet (1970).


Travelogues offer little in the way of narrative closure. The usual form is one of two tropes; we close with a sun set or night fall (A Town Called Ayr, A Song for Prince Charlie) or, as in The Face of Scotland, we look to the future (The Borders: Where England and Scotland Meet) or often both (Dunfermline). More complex is the way that travelogues open. Like The Face of Scotland, the majority of the travelogues begin by approaching the geographical subject of the film, be it Scotland, the Hebrides, Inverness or wherever from the outside. This takes two forms: the camera may itself physically enter the space from the outside, such as the helicopter shots up the coast of East Lothian to Edinburgh itself in Castle and Capital (1980); or the travelogue narrates the arrival of someone else to the space, as Highland Capital (1968) does: 'One day, over fourteen hundred years ago, St Columba set sail from the Isle of Iona to bring light to the North'.

Holiday Scotland extract
The invading English tourists of Holiday Scotland (1966) draw our attentions to the nation's symbolic boundary as well as its collective past.

Like The Face of Scotland, a number of travelogues begin with what we might call the invasion trope; they recount the entry into Scotland of the Roman army, (The Heart of Scotland (1962)), the invading English, or armies of tourists (Holiday Scotland (1966)). The invasion trope serves a number of functions related to the maintenance of national identity. It constructs Scotland as a nation with a history reaching back to Roman times; it sets up an opposition between Scots and non-Scots, allowing the former group to define itself against the latter; and it draws attention to the national boundary, beyond which lies that other nation. Again like The Face of Scotland, the trope highlights Scottish popular memory's thematic preference for military exploits, the border wars aiding the construction of a tradition of enmity between Scotland and the old enemy, the English. Crucially, as we have seen, it also approaches Scotland from the outside, reproducing a discursive difference between the subjects of the documentary (the film makers and the audience) and its object (Scotland).

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Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.