Come with us to haunts of Merlin the magician and heights of Tolkein as our roving blogger Fay Young goes exploring offline, beyond reach of text, tweet and email.
Where do you go when you want to escape the internet? The question pops up because one in three tourists complain about poor mobile coverage in scenic spots of Scotland but perhaps that’s exactly what attracts the other two. At any rate, earlier this year VisitScotland spotted an opportunity to promote unconnected Caledonia as a great escape from digital overload.
Not everyone in the tourist business agrees (Digital detox Scots tourism plan criticised). However, here in the well-wired offices of Walking Heads, hidden away in the heart of digitally connected Finnieston, we kind of like the idea.
That may seem odd considering we spend a lot of time researching audio tours for smartphones, making apps to guide you off the beaten track. But there are times – on a wild mountainside, or a ferny woodland path, or a dazzling white sandy beach, with birds singing, wind blowing and waves thundering – when you don’t want someone’s voice in your ear blocking out the sound of the here and now all around you.
At this year’s ETAG Technology Solutions for Tourism conference, delegates marvelled at the digital advances (iBeacon, Google Now, augmented reality, interactive games) which mean tourists can be pushed, pulled and played with anywhere they go, both on and off the beaten track.
Chairing the final discussion of the conference, Robin Worsnop, chief executive of Rabbie’s Tours, sounded a little wistful when he suggested people might be coming on his trips to remote and romantic places precisely because they want to get AWAY from all that connectivity.
So, after a long and very connected summer, we have put together a small selection of our favourite places to wander free from any smartphone interference, far from text, tweet or email. As you might expect, some of the best sanctuaries are to be found on the wild, west but anywhere up a hill is a good bet, and, there are a few urban black holes too.
Eigg is one of the beautiful Small Isles off the west coast of Scotland, just a short ferry ride from Mallaig or Arisaig. It is hardly true to describe it as a great escape from technology, with superfast broadband the island has the potential to become a geek’s paradise attracting creative tech workers (among artists from all over the world) to work in the enterprising Eigg Box. But, unless you make a deliberate effort to connect to Wifi you can explore the island undistracted; intoxicating your eyes (the view of Rum is said to have inspired Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings) and your ears (in spring you will hear the cuckoo calling as you climb the woodland path leading to the Sgurr.
Elfin forest of Taynish
Back on the mainland, but still on the west coast, the Taynish peninsula feels like an island. Definitely no mobile connection for miles of native oak woodland and wild flower meadows and saltmarshes full of wildlife on Taynish National Nature Reserve. Visiting in May we found waterlilies in the ponds and deer in the woodland meadows and trees absolutely dripping with mosses and lichens. And quite often raindrops too. This is on the edge of Scotland’s temperate rainforest, and it’s a magical environment – in tropical rainforest ecologists have a nicely unscientific name for it: ‘Elfin forest’.
Hillside haunt of Merlin
Let’s zoom east and south to the hillside garden of Dawyck (one of the specialist gardens of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) near Peebles in the Borders. Depends on your mobile supplier, but at the very best the signal is unreliable. You will probably be more than happy to switch off as you climb among North American conifers grown from seed collected by the great Scottish plant explorer David Douglas (a man who travelled 10,000 miles on foot, horse and canoe through the Pacific North West without benefit of GPS in the early 19th century). There’s a decidedly other worldly feeling as you reach the self-sown silver birches in the Heron Wood Reserve at the top of the hill. Scientists from all over the world come to probe the leafy ground which, legend has it, was the haunt of Merlin the magician (supposedly buried in nearby Drumelzier). Or is that just the mushrooms talking?
Auchmithie: home of the Arbroath Smokie
The name sounds somewhere between an ancient curse and a blessing, depending on how you say it. We made our way to this old fishing village just three miles north east of Arbroath in Angus, thanks to our friend Sandy Thomson, Director of Poorboy Theatre who is lucky enough to live there. The village sits 120 feet above spectacular rocky cliffs so we climbed down steep steps to the harbour and walked across red pebbles on the beach. Next time we will explore the caves.
Arbroath Smokies, by the way, originated in Auchmithie. Or so we are told.