Tourism in the UK and the Western Isles

by Angus MacLeod

In the never ending search for interesting vacation destination tourists continue to open up new areas to tourism. However there are plenty of highly fascinating areas of the world that have always had a small degree of tourism which more and more people are now discovering to their delight. Also there are a number of vacation destination which were in decline but are now experiencing renewed interest. One of the most interesting places in the world which are seeing a marked increase in tourism are the Western Isles of Scotland.

The first tourist in Great Britain could be said to be those young men who did the “Grand Tour of Europe”. Although the main aim of such a trip was to expand the mind, learning about new cultures, art and the likes it was often little more than an opportunity to meet important and/or influential people and have a wonderful time doing so.

In the United Kingdom, during the early days of the tourist industry, people generally tended to visit places not too far from where they lived or worked. Working men and women often had only the annual works outing to look forward to, which was attended by all of the employees while their work place was closed. Those of more means were able to venture further and some even went as far as traveling to the islands of St Kilda in the Western Isles of Scotland.

When air travel became cheaper more people could afford to travel abroad. Over time the family vacation was less to the British holiday camps like Butlins and Pontins and more to European destinations. Usually this was to Spain or, at least, somewhere with a beach and a bar. As some British destination fell into disuse the better transportation systems meant that areas previously considered inaccessible, such as the Western Isles and other places in Scotland, were now a possible vacation destination for the masses including visitors from Canada, America and elsewhere.

While younger tourists still opt for the typical beach and bar vacation destinations more discerning tourists, who understand the dangers of binge drinking and sunburn, tend to look for something a little more educational, inspiring and altogether more cultural. Many of the United Kingdoms’ major cities seem to becoming highly popular with tourist with Liverpool being in the vanguard (Liverpool is this years Europena Capital of Culture).

Of all the islands around the United Kingdom some of the most fascinating are to be found amongst the Western Isles of Scotland. These remote islands, found off the west coast of Scotland, are home to many unique species of flora and fauna, many of which are endangered, all set in the most astounding scenery in Scotland, the United Kingdom and, probably, Europe.

Also known to many as the Outer Hebrides the group, of over 200 islands, has a few which are inhabited and well known. The Isles of Harris, Lewis, North and South Uist, Barra and Benbecula are the most well known and most popular with tourists but there are several other small inhabited islands such as Scalpay which have some interesting aspects for the visitor, not least the incredible Gaelic culture (which has Celtic and Norse influences).

The islands of the Outer Hebrides have been inhabited by man since prehistoric times. Driving around the islands you will immediately notice the enormous number of single standing stones and small stone circles. The most spectacular prehistoric site is to be found on the Isle of Lewis and is considered one of the most important stone circles in Europe. Just by the village of Calanais (Callanish in English) is a most interesting stone circle with four avenues and a number of satellite stone circles in the surrounding area. Every visitor to the islands should make a point of taking the trip out to see them.

Another reason why the Western Isles are becoming increasingly popular as a vacation destination is the incredible increase in interest in genealogy (tracing your family roots and ancestors). Life has always been hard in the Hebrides and for generations many young men and young families emigrated, to America, Canada and other places, in search of a better life of opportunity. During a period known as the clearances massive numbers of Scots were forcefully removed from their land and sent abroad and this means that a great many people return to the islands in search of their roots.

There are many reasons why more and more folk are choosing to visit places that were once inaccessible. However the simple fact that they are now easily accessed by road or air (and sometimes rail) is the main reason that there are now a great many people visiting such places. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that places like the Western Isles/Outer Hebrides have not yet been commercialized that makes them such a popular vacation destination but for how long they remain unchanged is uncertain.

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