Aidan Smith: We are loving Scottish tourism hotspots to death

St. Cyrus beach on a busy day.
St. Cyrus beach on a busy day.
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How do we get the Facebook generation to slow down, wonders Aidan Smith.

Every time there’s one of those “20 best beaches in Scotland” surveys I hold my breath and hope St Cyrus isn’t on it. Not because I don’t think it deserves to be included – it truly does – but I just don’t want you lot going.

You don’t know St Cyrus? Er, I couldn’t possibly tell you how to get there. As a boy I spent all my summers on its golden sands and the North Sea waves were always glistening. Did I say North? I mean South – St Cyrus is off Scotland’s South Sea. Did I say golden? The beach is like killer quicksand now and what with the oil slicks, the sharks and the appalling Kiss-Me-Quick naffness, I think you’d hate it. Best try somewhere else.

The problem the world has, though, is that everyone wants everything. To have been everywhere and to have had every experience. To boast a superior bucket-list than the next person and to have ripped through it quicker. To have posed for selfies at all the locations and popped them on to Facebook. What’s the difference between this and the slide show with cheese-and-wine accompaniment which was a staple of every suburban-set 1970s sitcom and Play for Today? Answer: no difference.

At least the slide show would sometimes be followed by wife-swapping. At least the bore in charge of the projector had worked on a commentary for his out-of-focus snaps of church steeples and hippos’ backsides and his enthusiasm for his big adventure was genuine.

Now what you get are a blizzard of perfect images where it’s all about the great explorer/experiencer leering in the foreground while just out of shot: the seven wonders of the world. But the world can’t cope with everyone wanting everything. Even Everest can’t cope. I doubt we’ll see a more astonishing – or more depressing – photograph in 2019 than the one of the queue to reach the summit. Hundreds of climbers formed the crocodile, risking frostbite and altitude sickness in the long wait, but in any case many now attempting the highest peak don’t have enough experience. Um Hong-gil, a renowned South Korean climber, said after the death toll on the mountain this year rose to 11: “Many people are now taking climbing Everest very lightly and as entertainment only, which they think they can do without much training.”

Unless Everest is left to the experts – the type who hopefully are not among those leaving behind plastic bags, oxygen tanks, food receptacles and occasionally their own bodies – then there must be a danger that Everest will lose its USP with all that trampling knocking it down below K2, the second-highest mountain. Oh, and this news just in: St Cyrus has officially disappeared; it’s been completely eroded. This has happened naturally rather than through being over-visited because it’s always been gloriously empty. Don’t even think of going there.

In Scotland the highest peak is of course Ben Nevis, a pimple next to Everest but sharing the same problem. Some 160,000 people scaled it last year – a massive jump from 90,000 in 2007. On the busiest days, more than 1,000 can be on the Ben, and although they’ll be glad if the daft stunt of a few years ago – humping a piano all the way to the top – isn’t being repeated, there will still be bottlenecks. The mountain is reaching “saturation point”, according to veteran climber Cameron McNeish, who added: “I think we are loving our hills to death.”

The sheer effort of a vertical ascent and especially if you’re stuck behind a group of rotund trekkers not nearly as agile as you – and even though they’ve had the same idea of tackling Nevis, nothing like as brave or questing – should mean that at least you’ll be forced to take in the view.

Up on the North Coast 500 some aren’t even doing that.

Scotland’s Route 66 is being torn up by elite tourists in high-performance sports cars in a single day. The nation’s preeminent petrolhead, Jeremy Clarkson, emerged from his Alfa Romeo in February, smoothed his hands down his stone-washed jeans, and declared: “That’s the best drive I’ve ever had.” His army of groupies revved up their supercars and challenged each other to complete the 516-mile circuit, which starts and finishes in Inverness, within 24 hours. With police recording speeds of 128mph near Achnasheen, Ross-shire, locals complained that the racetrack in their midst made a nonsense of claims there would be a tourism boost. It was being marketed at penis-extension types who weren’t going to be hanging around tea-shops along the way, seeking out couthie charms.

Among most nominations for the seven wonders of Scotland, the Edinburgh Festival would be right in there. Yet the arts spectacular, too, is seriously overloaded. The world heritage cobbles of the Old Town are being buffed to an unlovely sheen by the his ’n’ hers trolley-bags of empty-nest couples on rekindle-the-romance mini-breaks taking in some of the top comedy turns. Queues for certain comics are reaching top-of-Everest proportions and a few idiots with obviously too much disposable income are racing round the beautiful city intent on seeing as much stand-up as possible over the bank holiday weekend. The Festival isn’t just about comedy, you know.

So what’s to be done? How do we get everyone to slow down? Tourism taxes have been suggested, as have mountain permits. A pass for Everest costs £8,675, which must be roughly the same as a night’s airbandb in the capital’s Heriot Row. And on the North Coast 500 maybe we start driving sheep along it.

Here’s another idea: like Projector Man, everyone has to tell the story of their amazing trip. It’s not enough to take a thousand selfies, you must write about “What we did on our holidays”. Honestly, we’d love to read it.