The origins of tourism
Few outsiders visited the Highlands and Cairngorm mountains until the mid- to late 1800s. Even the intrepid travellers Boswell and Johnson who undertook a “Grand Tour” of Scotland in 1773 travelled more or less around the coast and avoided the Cairngorms. Most early travellers who did venture into the mountains described the Cairngorms as an unpleasant and hostile place:
It is indeed a frightful country full of hideous desert mountains, and unpassable except to the Highlanders who possess the precipices.
Daniel Defoe A Tour through the Whole Island of Britain 1724
I think the most horrid is, to look at the hills from the east to west, for then the eye penetrates far among them, and sees more particularly their stupendous bulk, frightful irregularity and horrid gloom.
Edmund Burt Burt’s Letters from the North of Scotland 1754
Even Rabbie Burns found the moorland bare and treeless when he visited the Falls of Bruar near Blair Atholl in 1787,and wrote a poem - The Humble Petition of Bruar Water - to the 4th Duke of Atholl, to which the Duke responded by having larches planted round the Falls.
However, not everyone found the landscapes “horrid”. Lord Byron climbed Lochnagar in 1803 and wrote:
England thy beauties are tame and domestic; To one who has roamed over mountains afar; Oh! for the crags that are wild and majestic; The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr!
It was Queen Victoria who first made Scotland and the Highlands popular. She stayed in the wider Cairngorms area in the 1840's at Blair Atholl and Kinloch Laggan, and eventually in 1848 she leased Balmoral Estate, which she later bought. In newspaper reports of her Scottish Tours, and her Highland Journals, compiled from her private diaries and published during her lifetime, people learned of her many journeys out into the countryside by carriage, and also up into the hills by pony and on foot. Clearly, access was not a problem at that time – at least not for the Queen!
More and more people enjoyed access to the Highlands, and, through their work, romantic writers such as Sir Walter Scott and Wordsworth, and painters such as Landseer transformed the way the landscape was thought of.