The last blog post that I wrote generated various comments on Twitter about the experiential aspects of cultural tourism and exactly what activities and activities constitute an itinerary that can be labelled as cultural tourism. I was therefore prompted to look at this again after reading the article published by the Guardian on 4 September about the opening of the Borders railway in Scotland which runs from Edinburgh down the old Waverley line route to Tweedbank, just outside Melrose. The Waverley line was closed in 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts and is reopening this weekend. As part of the inaugural service provision it will have scheduled steam train excursions as part of the scenic railways initiative which form part of the new Scotrail franchise holder Abellio’s contribution to sustainable tourism via rail development in Scotland.
Train travel is experienced in a number of different ways: most often thought of as commuter transport, rail, of course, has a long association with tourism, and opened up holiday destinations to the masses around the coast of Britain. In a competitive travel market, investment made by train companies to spread passenger loads and increase off-peak usage mean that trains are once again becoming increasingly popular as a leisure travel experience. Behavioural aspects of rail travel is interesting to explore: people focus on reading a book, talking to other people, or staring (as I do) out of the window at the changing landscape chugging past. A niche sector of these passengers are using the train travel itself as a cultural tourism experience in its own right, experiencing the landscape and the visual opportunities afforded by looking out of the carriage window but combining it in a more organised way with an engagement with destinations along the route within a defined geographic (and cultural) area.The reopening of the Borders railway explicitly articulates the opportunities for this latter form of cultural tourism, and the Guardian article exemplifies the approach by describing the various views and historical and cultural attractions that are nearby the railway. What is painted is a very compelling cultural picture for an experience that is focused on a linear transport route. Along the way, this incorporates the National Mining Museum, Abbotsford (the home of Walter Scott) and Rosslyn Chapel.
It also mentions opportunities for sampling Borders hospitality en route and and being able to buy locally sourced and produced crafts and foods, so takes into account the link between shopping and cultural tourism and the higher value of goods and services which are focused on and produced by a local economy, and which cultural tourists tend to seek out.
So, this a particular form of cultural tourism. It comprises a certain degree of sheltering from the actual human environment of the Borders but it does give tourist the opportunity to engage with the spirit of the place as presented by a “passing through” through of a complex geography of history and culture, and enables a toe in the water of what the regional culture might offer the tourist if he or she alights and lingers for a longer period and explores in greater depth.