Sustainable Scotland

Scotland’s green reputation now stretches beyond its famous golf course fairways. A hill walker’s heaven, Scotland’s mountainous terrain has long attracted avid hikers, cyclists and wildlife watchers. Its majestic lochs, salmon-packed rivers, cloud-cloaked islands and sweeping glens are internationally acclaimed by those most at home in the outdoors. It’s no surprise John Muir was born here.

Scotland's Isles of Glencoe Hotel features an eco-smart heating system—and guided walking tours. © John D. Ivanko
Scotland’s Isles of Glencoe Hotel features an eco-smart heating system—and guided walking tours. © John D. Ivanko

During our first trip to Scotland, my wife Lisa and I also found ourselves on the whisky trail, lost in the legends of such heroes as Rob Roy and Sir William Wallace (glorified in Braveheart), exploring such castles as Eileen Donan with the jagged Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye in the distance, and celebrating the summer solstice under the Standing Stones of Calanais on the outer Hebrides Islands.

Our second trip in 2003 included our young son Liam, thus inspiring a search for the Loch Ness Monster and a journey on The Jacobite steam train, recently made famous by its use in the Harry Potter movies as Hogwart’s Express. We also discovered The Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), offering us a diverse array of more ecologically sound choices while chasing rainbows (it’s hard not to get one in your photo) and driving through “tree tunnels,” the forests and shrubs that bridge over the unmowed roadsides.

Scottish Stewards

Through the GTBS, more than 400 Scottish attractions, facilities and accommodations now actively promote the stewardship of the environment, recognizing that preserving nature makes good business sense, too. Using the GTBS, we crafted a green trail of our own. In Britain’s largest National Nature Reserve, for example, we meandered through the Mountain Garden Trail, filled with native alpine shrubs, trees and plants.

Perhaps influenced by the highland games, many local restaurants seemed to be in a good-spirited competition over which features more regional or locally purchased vegetables, fruit or freshly caught fish. While savoring a salmon strudel at Cobb’s Restaurant in Drumnadrochit near Loch Ness, we met Willie Cameron, co-owner and passionate supporter of the Slow Food movement. “We believe in offering real food for real people,” he says. “Our salmon comes from Mallaig, our garlic comes from Naird and the bread comes from our ovens.”

Finding Findhorn

Sustainability is more than a buzzword to a small community living among the sand dunes of the Findhorn peninsula of Scotland’s north coast. Our tour of the Eco Village took us to a wind turbine jutting up from a sweeping grassland meadow and the Living Machine that ecologically treats the community’s sewage waste. “We have a great wealth of information to share,” said John Willoner, a long-time resident who welcomed us into his eco-home.

The Findhorn Foundation has had a pioneering influence on the worldwide sustainability movement. A diverse collection of Experience Weeks start at $552 per week, per person, all-inclusive. B&B accommodations are also available for shorter stays. Findhorn uses straw bale and passive solar construction. Yurts are used for meditation and round houses are made out of locally procured whisky barrels.

From Brownfield to Greenfield

A former slate quarry, the ecologically restored peninsula jutting into Loch Leven now features spectacular wildflowers and vistas of the Glencoe highlands. It’s also home to The Isles of Glencoe Hotel and Leisure Centre, where we spent two nights. The four-star hotel features an eco-smart heating system and complimentary guided walking tours around Glencoe Lochan. “Kids have the clear solution to the midges that every rainfall stirs up,” confided our ranger-guide Eon Fyfe during our walk. “Keep moving.” Room prices range from $204 to $408, double occupancy. Their sumptuous highland breakfasts, like so many in Scotland, are incredibly hearty.

The GTBS awards don’t just go to luxury hotels, however. We visited the Ullapool Scottish Youth Hostel, located harborside with loch and mountain views, and found it received its award for energy-efficient lighting, extensive recycling and line-drying its laundry. Says manager Chrissy Boyd, “We approach our recycling from two angles: by actively doing it ourselves and by persuading others of its value.” Hostels cost $18 to $24 a night per person.

A visit to the 14,035 acres of nature (with a 40-mile network of footpaths) in Glencoe is a must. The Glencoe Visitor Centre, run by the National Trust for Scotland, is designed as a traditional “clachan,” or Highland village.

It’s true that if it’s not raining in Scotland, it will soon—so dress for the weather. It’s what makes the place so green.

JOHN IVANKO is co-author of Rural Renaissance (New Society Publishers).