The Meaning of Places

Picture by Antoine LE

This article is part of a multimedia project called #HashtagScotland . Over the next few months, Scottish blogger Laretour and I will be documenting the impact of social media trends on natural landscapes, confronting online expectations with reality.

“You can’t be in two places at once”, as the saying goes. Well, can we? Where does a place end? Where does it begin? Can they overlap? Perhaps if we start thinking about the idea of a place do we see that it can be many things. Instagram, and social media in general, tend to make us think of a place as mere locations, as a collection of geographical coordinates: places as dots on a map. Hence, we as travellers feel the need to collect these places, to connect the dots and create our own map of a destination.

Places can therefore be a collection of places. Climbing to the top of Ben A’An, a popular hiking spot overlooking Loch Katrine, is a way to add on a dot to our own map of Scotland. We’ve seen a place, Ben A’An, and have made another, Scotland, a bit less unknown to us. And the more places we see, the better the picture, places make up a place. 

As I regularly travel on the Scottish Highland roads, I have noticed that the trend is very strong. We come to Scotland with a bucket list, places (or let’s say locations) that we want to tick off, in order to create our own picture of Scotland. What’s on the bucket list is really up to us, but it seems that we generally go for the best, the top 10, the unmissable, the top-rated. And that’s probably fine, until all travellers do have the same list. Then we merely repeat everyone else’s picture of Scotland.

Scottish blogger Laretour and myself have recently taken on a project, aptly named #HashtagScotland, in order to document the impact of this particular approach to travel in Scotland. She and I, over numerous conversations, have come to realise that social media algorithms had a tendency to guide, if not dictate, what places meant: dots on a map, to be collected, rushing by natural landscapes that are equally worthy of exploration.

A popular photo spot in the Scottish Highlands

A popular photo spot in the Scottish Highlands

Places can also be a mental state, a particular feeling. Can we take a step back and reflect, relax, unwind, if we are constantly rushing to popular hotspots? Is “making the most of it” the best way to discover a destination? How about doing less, turning left when everyone else turns right, getting a bit lost and find a secluded beach, a ruined castle, a scenic loch, that hasn’t been tagged by algorithms. And how about staying somewhere more than one night, to get to know the locals, to get a sense of what it means to be in a particular place?

Blogger @laretour exploring a West Highland beach

Over 9 years ago now, I moved to Scotland from my native France. If I have always found inspiration in its magnificent landscapes, it is the way life here follows the rhythms of Nature that is for me truly special. When touring the country, I encourage everyone to think of Scotland as more than just a collection of beautiful photos. It is its people, its landscapes, its remote beaches and its rich heritage that make it a unique place, inviting us to switch off our social feeds, to take the time and explore its remote roads, in order to come home to our place feeling a little bit more inspired than when we left. 

Nicolas Loisel