As audiences prepare to pack cinemas around the country for the release of Spectre, the latest installment of the 53-years-and-running 007 film franchise, the previous James Bond flick, 2012’s Skyfall, continues to draw hordes to one of its filming locations in the Scottish highlands. But while crowds in theaters mark the success of the newest film, the surge of hill-hikers is wreaking havoc on one of Scotland’s premiere tourist destinations.
The valley of Glencoe is the dramatic mountainscape where Bond (played by Daniel Craig) retreats towards the end of Skyfall to reconnect with his roots and prepare for a protracted shootout with the film’s ex-agent villain and his goons. The year the film was released, 66,000 tourists visited the area—mostly to hike, camp, and, during winter, ski. One year later more than 114,000 people showed up—a 42 percent increase. Summer is busiest, but in winter the snowy peaks still attract a steady stream of tour buses.
The Skyfall Effect, as locals call this influx, has been a boon to local hotels, roadside cafes, and bed-and-breakfasts. You now have to book in advance to secure a room in Glencoe. But it’s wrecking parts of the landscape: stone paths have been worn down to muddy, slippery trails; litter is everywhere; and the verge where, in one Skyfall scene, Bond parked his Aston Martin has been trashed by visitors pulling their cars in to recreate the image. “Tourists lack imagination. Things like Skyfall mean they come in massive groups and ruin it,” says local hill-walker and former mountain rescue man Geoffrey Cartwright, 74, from Port of Menteith.
To battle the scourge of overuse, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which owns and maintains the land, has come up with a novel idea: enlisting the country’s most popular Instagram photographers to spread the message about the damage to Glencoe and promote the newly created Footpath Fund, NTS’s crowdfund campaign to cover the costs of repairing wrecked paths. They include Steve Oates (@wilde_oates; 127,000), Fariba Stoddart (@berriestagram; 100,000), Bee Leask (@bumblebambi; 96,000), Johnny Foy (@_jfoy_; 93,000), and Lucy Hamilton (@loosemooose; 68,000). Through the hashtag #landsie (a cross between “landscape” and “selfie”), and promotional cardboard picture frames, the photographers’ images present a low-cost, high-impact marketing strategy. Between them they reach of nearly half a million people.
In late October, a group of photographers—press, freelancers, and Foy, a 29-year-old mechanic from Glasgow and prolific Instagrammer—was dropped at the summit of Ben Lomond, the gateway to the Highlands, 80 miles south of Glencoe. With 30,000 annual visitors, Ben Lomond is Scotland's most popular Munro (a mountain over 3,000 feet). The chopper was then used to ship 100 tons of rubble on to a muddy path desperately in need of care. The photographers snapped away.
How did a national land management entity come up with such an innovative strategy? Credit Kat Lawrie, NTS’s individual giving officer, who runs the @supportNTS Instagram account. She simply hand-picked about 15 Instagram photographers—outdoor-loving types—and asked them to help as ambassadors for Glencoe. “I was following almost all of them before the campaign, and kept noticing that they were on our properties regularly, but we were never mentioned.”
That may be because few realize that the land in question is overseen by NTS. There is no marked entrance to the area—no gate, tollbooth, or turnstyle—which helps preserve the bucolic feel of the area but probably doesn’t help NTS raise funds or awareness about maintenance issues. Funding is "constantly" a problem, says NTS property manager Scott McCombie, who oversees Glencoe.
With the Instagram campaign and Footpath Fund, NTS is experimenting with a new tactic: "We're trying to tug at heartstrings,” McCombie says. “If you spent a day hill-walking in Glencoe and loved the scenery, well remember it's us who are spending the money to look after the habitat.”
The core message to visitors is the same as it’s always been, McCombie says. “Come, but please come responsibly.” But now with an addendum: Don’t forget to take lots of photos.