Louise Boulanger came to Scotland for the first time for a three-month internship working on the COAST project. Here she shares her thoughts on using the website and app to discover her new surroundings.
Installing the COAST app was one of the first things I did when I arrived in Scotland- not only because I knew I was going to work on the project during my internship, but also because I am passionate about folklore, history and traditions. When I travel, I like to understand the destination I’m in. I avoid endless ‘must do’ lists on the internet, which lead people to go to the same places, to visit, drink and eat the same things. I like to immerse myself in the place, to leave room for randomness and above all to talk with people, the inhabitants of a place. I like to consider that the landscape I admire and the buildings I see are like a millefeuille of stories- that if they could speak, they would have so much to say. And that’s what the COAST app does: it gives these a voice.
As I discovered the app as I travelled through the stories and the Highlands, I realised that buildings could also have stories to tell, like the Charles Clark Inglis Memorial Hut, nestled under the cliffs of the north face of Ben Nevis that has hosted many climbers and made it easier for them to explore the north face of the mountain; that the stones also have stories- the Somarlie Clach has heard the wishes of hundreds or even thousands of people over the centuries. I was also amused to see that, at a time when a probe has been sent to Jupiter to learn more about another planet, there are still secret, unexplored places in the Highlands, like this cave hidden next to Loch Linnhe.
I will not give too much away- I recommend you read more about these stories for yourself on the COAST website and app- these are just a few of the stories located in or near Fort William which are even better to read when you are there in person. So even though I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, leaving the town to explore the surrounding area, what I wanted to highlight is that you don’t have to go far to discover new things, to have a new look at your environment, the landscapes around you, and to learn more about your region or your city.
The proof is that just behind the university campus building in Fort William, there is a story being told. A large scarlet bottle calls out and attracts curiosity. Seeing this red bottle, as if stranded on the seawall, one would not imagine that it made a journey between New York and Falmouth in only 37 days. Without the app, I would have missed this incredible story: that of a steel boat designed by Tom McClean to cross the Atlantic in 1990, for the benefit of the British charity ‘National Children’s Home.’ When I walk around the building now, I can’t help but think of it. Something that you walk past without paying attention to suddenly becomes amazing and wonderful once you know its history.
So, I can only advise you to let yourself be guided by this app, which will lead you from story to story to better understand either the place where you live or the one you visit. Since I like to wander, walk around, and not necessarily plan my trips precisely, the button that finds nearby stories on the app is my favourite. It’s always full of surprises and treasures.
Louise Boulanger has a Masters degree in Sustainable Design and is now a design researcher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay. Part of her work looks at the issue of guidebooks which direct visitors to the same places and thus contribute to overtourism at some sites. She is completing an internship with the COAST project team based within UHI West Highland where she’s produced graphics and illustrations for use in the stories, trails, social media and posters.