Hugh Reilly: Why Europeans love to visit Scotland

Tourists flock to Scotland despite the weather, rather than because of it. Picture: Jane Barlow

Tourists flock to Scotland despite the weather, rather than because of it. Picture: Jane Barlow

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Our European guests each have their own reasons to enjoy a trip to our dreich shores, writes Hugh Reilly

AN ENGLISHMAN’S home is his castle but a Scotsman’s home is nothing more than a wind and waterproof refuge offering sanctuary from the appalling weather that afflicts Alba. On rain-lashed days, one’s home resembles a brick and mortar Noah’s Ark, a de facto static houseboat wherein dwellers, imprisoned by the soggy forces of nature, peer out of rivulet-ridden double glazed windows, pining for the welcome sight of a dove bearing a branch in its beak. On cold days, the house morphs into an igloo, with pensioners and other vulnerable folk shivering at the thought of the wallet-emptying cost of switching on the central heating.

Given the fact that barometric low pressure hangs over Scotland like a black cloud, I think we can all agree that only a meteorological masochist would darken our shores to enjoy our climate. This implores the question why Johnny Foreigner bothers to holiday here. To the untrained eye of Yours Truly, EU tourists are like termites with attention-deficit disorder, the colony finding excitement in the blandest of buildings, frenziedly snapping selfies or street-begging reluctant passers-by to take a memorable group photo that, once looked at, will sit uselessly on a USB stick for eternity. They yomp through my city carrying their mandatory backpacks and holding maps as if hunting for buried treasure – sadly, X marking the spot is only a council road sign announcing one has arrived at Glasgow Cross.

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Thankfully, VisitScotland, the agency responsible for luring the unwary to this land, compiled a report which gives some enlightenment as to what European tourists like about us. According to the research, it seems tourists are not a homogenous lot. For example, French travellers have a penchant for visiting museums. Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – the Louvre of the North, if you will – attracts Gallic crowds. While curators like to think that the daubings of Renoir, Rembrandt and Dali are the big draw, it would be a mistake to underestimate the pulling power of free entry. As a Glasgow council tax payer, it Gauls, sorry, galls me that French people with English language skills suddenly develop word-blindness on stepping over the threshold of Glasgow’s municipal museums. Despite the French etymology of the word, the signage stating that Glasgow council would welcome a “donation” might as well be in Arabic. Upfront Paris charges €69 for a week’s worth of strolling its museums – perhaps it’s time for the Glasgow city fathers to paraphrase Gerry Maguire and shout: “Show me the Monet!”

To be fair, the study revealed that the French spend a great deal dining out in our eateries. This surprises me because, as any reputable Scottish psychiatrist would confirm, a word association game here would link Michelin with pneumatic tyre products, not starred restaurants. My guess is that Auld Alliance culture vultures revel in eating what to them appears to be medieval meat and two veg gastronomic delights, with cholesterol-killing sticky toffee pudding to follow.

Germans prefer to be active, happy to climb hills and say “Hallo!” to fellow hikers. As a keen hillwalker, I’ve met many Deutschlanders on my treks and I’ve always found them to be very sociable, even if they have complained about the extortionate cost of West Highland Way campsites and the fact that midges don’t even merit as much as a footnote in the “Secret Scotland” holiday brochure. True to the national stereotype, Germans are invariably well-organised and dislike showy behaviour; admittedly I’m speculating but I’m certain a German would tumble off Ptarmigan Ridge in an orderly fashion.

My sole less-than-friendly interface with a German individual occurred when I was a callow youth of 17 attending an Outward Bound course in Burghead, a fishing village on the Moray Riviera. After a bout of abseiling a cliff face, our instructor decided to teach our international group how to scale the crag, our lives depending on all-important safety ropes. Atop the precipice, I, along with three others, were anchored to nearby trees, with aforementioned safety ropes securely fastened to our midriffs. As each climber ascended, it was our task to take up the slack lest the spiderman-wannabe on the other end, on losing his grip, fell several metres. Alas and alack, being a talkative chap, I struck up a rather interesting conversation with a fellow safety-rope-holder. Minutes later, a shriek followed by a sudden powerful tug on my abdomen alerted me that my climber had parted company with the cliff-face. When the Bavarian teenager’s trembling fingertips finally reached the summit, I have to say he was not best pleased with me.

VisitScotland discovered that the Dutch embrace local culture and take pleasure in talking to the natives. From experience, I’ve found that in summer it’s not uncommon to hear Hollanders debating football matters with punters in Glasgow’s bars. Wishing to get to know the real Glasgow, they give a wide berth to overpriced pub chain emporiums, preferring to get blootered in “a man’s pub”, that is, a hostelry replete with Sky TV provided by an Arabian network, a broken WC cubicle door and a scant supply of toilet paper.

The Spanish, according to the findings, are enthralled with heritage sites, especially castles. Last August, I took my Spanish girlfriend to see a loose collection of stones called Urquhart Castle. She imagined the place to be haunted and claimed to feel the hand of history on her shoulder. I felt the hand of security staff as I endeavoured to avoid paying the disgraceful £16 entrance charge for the pair of us.

Strange as it may seem, Italians do come here for the weather. Avoiding the baking heat of Rome and the like, they travel in certainty, not in hope, of encountering cool summer days with the occasional rainstorm.

It is, indeed, a silver lining that Europeans love to visit Scotland despite its awful weather.

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