An Auld Alliance worth maintaining

The French tourism influx makes up Scotland's third largest international market. Picture: Ian Rutherford.The French tourism influx makes up Scotland's third largest international market. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
The French tourism influx makes up Scotland's third largest international market. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
SCOTLAND’S connections with France go back centuries so we must try harder to speak their language, argues Maggie Anderson

Each year tens of thousands of French visitors arrive in Scotland, charmed at the prospect of our stunning countryside; our quaint habits; their love for the Royal Family and the green lawns on which they are actually allowed to walk.

They expect the predictable gallimaufry of tartan, kilts, bagpipes and romantic mist-shrouded ruins. Our links with France were strong even before the 1295 Treaty, the Auld Alliance; we have been influenced by French architecture; ruled by a French Queen (Marie de Guise, Mary Queen of Scots’ mother); fleurs de lys on numerous buildings indicate our royal connections by marriage with the French; we have linguistic similarities; we have a French born MSP who represents the North East of Scotland; we even had a common enemy at one time!

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The French have among Europe’s highest leave entitlement and holidays are important to them.

They form our third-largest international market in terms of volume of tourism and spend, reaching 191,000 last year (including business visitors) with May and June typically the preferred months.

Since an annual beach or rural holiday at home is also “a must”, their priorities in visiting Scotland are to learn about its culture and history.

The prospect of cold and rainy weather doesn’t really deter them though one week in June last year when temperatures rarely exceeded 6 degrees caused some consternation.

Touring holidays by coach, visiting several regions, are popular, during which requirements are often to visit three to four attractions (castles, museums, abbeys etc) per day which means rushing from place to place covering hundreds of miles and stopping only for a leisurely lunch, an essential component of every Frenchman’s day. These obligatory three-course lunches often take longer than a visit to Stirling Castle!

A Frenchman’s love of food is legendary and Scotland has a wonderful larder of fresh local produce to offer.

At the budget end of the market this may not be used to best effect and leaves much room for improvement.

However, for individual travellers and for those prepared to pay a little extra the very best can be enjoyed. In fact we are often able to point out large refrigerated trucks en route from West Coast fishing ports to France or Spain with deliveries of fresh prawns and lobster for their table back home.

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As we travel through the Highlands indicating the flora and fauna the French take delight in telling their accompanying guide how best to prepare a haunch of venison, a grouse or a pheasant, accompanied by fresh wild garlic, juniper berries or wild mountain thyme. The Scottish Tourist Guides Association has more than 70 guides qualified to guide in French. Unsurprisingly visitors prefer to have explanations in their own tongue rather than through the medium of an interpreter.

We aim to inspire, educate and entertain, bringing scenery and history alive using humour and anecdotes.

During the most popular months our services are much in demand so that dozens of our guides are requested through our central booking service in Stirling.

Many French companies are investing in Scotland notably energy giant Total who recently invested £3.3 billion in the North Sea: exports to France are flourishing including the whisky market, some of which is owned by Pernod/Ricard and LVMH; throughout the year Edinburgh’s Institut Français provides a varied programme of lectures, language courses, films and theatrical performances and during the month of August the Institute once again will offer Vive le Fringe.

Visitors are enthusiastic about haggis and bagpipes; they admire our breathtaking views and our traditional welcome. Now is the time to offer them a professional service in terms of hotel facilities and inspirational food.

Even limited contact in French by hotel staff and guides in stately homes or with locals is relished since, surprisingly, often even educated French people speak little English. Although both Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland provide French inserts in their guidebooks for the most popular sites, more services in French such as public information panels near historic sites would be appreciated. VisitScotland publishes a regular newsletter in French enticing visitors with various prospects such as : Séjournez dans un chateau écossais et faites vos rêves les plus fous devenir réalité!’ -– “Make your wildest dreams come true with a stay in a Scottish castle”. Now that would really cement a true alliance.

• Maggie Anderson is a member of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association (STGA) board of directors