As a nation, despite our grumbling about the state of the railway system and its operation, deep down we seem collectively to continue to have a close affection for ideas of design in the railways in Britain. Quite apart from the engineering aspects of the railway, rolling stock, engines and the perceived romanticism of bygone rail travel, the architecture and form of the infrastructure and the visual communication methods deployed by the rail companies themselves continue to have a distinct ‘heritage’ aesthetic, even when newly created. There has long been a tradition in railway advertising of using historic sites at locations which the railway served or passed by.
This has been seen most recently in advertising campaign rolled out by GWR – itself a relaunched heritage brand harking back to the days before British Rail (also a distinct heritage brand with a very strong design heritage). The advertising seen across the rail network in the west of England and in the London termini have drawn on the classic childrens’ literature aesthetic centred around Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to create a sense of adventure, discovery, social relations, holidays and the idea of it being fun to travel by rail. Various buildings and landscapes across the south west have been depicted as well, producing an interesting layering of heritage messages and associations with this form of travel
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.
New train a comin’ … the new Borders Railway follows the old Waverley Line, running from Edinburgh to the new station of Tweedbank. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
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.
I have been enjoying Charlotte Higgins, Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain (Vintage 2014). It took me on a tour of some of the key sites in Britain: and I was able to revisit some of them in my mind. Chapter 1 takes us from the beach at Deal (and Caesar’s landings) to the Roman colony at Colchester. Chapter 2 considers Boudica and Norfolk, with a stroll round Castor St Edmund (and I always make sure I sit on the correct side of the train to get the magnificent view of the town on the way up to Norwich). Chapter 3 searches out the remains of Roman London including trips into underground car-parks. Chapter 4 takes me back to my roots with happy walks around Silchester and its now carefully present amphitheatre. Chapter 5 looks westwards to Wroxeter and sites in Wales. It includes detail on explorations of the Wheelers including the legionary amphitheatre at Caerleon. Chapter 6 takes us to Bath and the Roman baths. We then head north in Chapter 7 to Hadrian’s Wall, complete with the music for Benjamin Britten’s ‘Roman Wall Blues’, and in Chapter 8 to the Antonine Wall. Chapter 8 takes a tour of York, and then in Chapter 9 there is a trip to Cumbria and the Roman fort in Hardknott Pass. There is even a mention of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet (“I asked the Christie’s people how much work had been done on the helmet to present it thus. Not much, they said breezily”.). Higgins then hopped down the Fosse Way to the Cotswolds for Chapter 11 (why not have it next to Bath in Chapter 6?) and a visit to Cirencester and the Corinium Museum as well as Chedworth villa. The final chapter (12) sees a return to Norfolk and Suffolk with a trip to Burgh Castle and thoughts on the Mildenhall Treasure.