TAKE the High Road to spiritual enlightenment. The sleepy village of Luss – the setting for the TV soap set in the Highlands – has been given a place among the world’s leading pilgrimage sites.
The tiny Loch Lomondside community has been named as a founding member of the Green Pilgrimage Network, a global collective which aims to reduce the environmental impact of travellers converging on sites of worship.
Other sites in the 12-strong network include the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the birthplace of St Francis of Assisi in Italy, putting Luss – which has been a Christian pilgrimage site for 1500 years – amid exalted company.
One new project at Luss plans to involve young people from across the world in building a pilgrimage pathway along the banks of the loch en route to Iona, one of Scotland’s other great religious centres. A sustainable traffic system is to be created for all paths and roads used by pilgrims to avoid overcrowding of the village and visitors will be encouraged to minimise water use and dispose of their own rubbish. In the future, the way Luss deals with pilgrims will be used as an example to other communities affected by religious tourism.
The network has been launched by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a body founded by Prince Philip, which helps major religions around the world to develop environmental programmes.
The Church of Scotland minister who helped secure Luss its place in the network said it was “crazy” to think that such an honour had been bestowed on a “wee church on the banks of Loch Lomond”.
The Reverend Dane Sherrard said: “It’s mind blowing to think that we are in the same company as some of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites. I was in Assisi at the first meeting of the network and I found myself sitting next to the Sikh who is in charge of the Golden Temple, where they feed 100,000 pilgrims a day using volunteer labour. It’s a colossal opportunity that’s been given to us in Luss. It’s something that has taken us by surprise but it is a glorious opportunity.”
The village in Argyll and Bute, which attracts around 750,000 visitors a year, has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since St Kessog, an Irish missionary, arrived there at the beginning of the sixth century and built a monastery on the nearby island of Inchtavannoch.
Having arrived in the country before St Columba, St Kessog was Scotland’s first patron saint, but his influence has long been eclipsed by others, most notably St Andrew. The present Luss Parish Church was constructed in 1875, but is based on a site which has seen continuous Christian worship for 1,502 years.
The only other British entry in the network is St Albans Cathedral, located on the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in the UK. It stands over the place where Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was buried after giving his life for his faith more than 1700 years ago.
Despite its religious heritage, Luss is probably better known now as the setting for the fictional village of Glendarroch, TV home of the Take The High Road, an STV soap which ran from 1990 to 2003.
Most of the exterior shots were set in the picturesque community, on the west bank of the loch, with its neat rows of cottages, arts and craft shops and cafes.
Argyll and Bute Council is currently considering how the accolade can help promote Luss and the Loch Lomond area as a visitor destination, with an emphasis on promoting conservation issues. The local authority has also committed to rebranding Luss as the country’s first place of green pilgrimage.
Council leader Roddy McCuish said the scheme was not only a boon for Luss but would encourage visitors to one of the region’s “most picturesque communties.”
He said: “We are delighted to endorse Luss Parish Church’s membership of the Green Pilgrimage Network. It is fantastic that an Argyll and Bute community is among the first in the world to pioneer this unique approach, which offers marvellous opportunities for the area.
“Not only will it promote conservation and provide educational opportunities, it will also help to encourage visitors to Luss, which is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque communities in a stunning setting.”
The Green Pilgrimage Network is designed to help other pilgrimage sites around the world cope with growing numbers of visitors as faith-based tourism is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the world.
In many countries, religious sites have been overwhelmed by the number of visitors with damaging effects to the local environment.