Sustainable Tourism


Sustainable Tourism and

"Sustainable," became a big ticket item at some point in the past 30 years. It is now a fully mainstream concept, even perhaps in danger of being used with catch all insincerity.

In the old Crofting days the word meant nothing because it was the life they were leading. If you are farming on small holdings aiming for subsistence living then if you are not profoundly sustainable you will starve, as will your children.

By following those who came before we inevitably adopted an approach to our buildings which was to enhance this innate nature.

Using Copper guttering, installing Renewable energy such as ground source heat pumps with underfloor heating and using a Norwegian designed turf roof structure is exactly the kind of solutions they would have used if they had been available.

Tourism itself of course can never be entirely sustainable as every industry has impacts, but it can always work towards becoming more sustainable than it is.

The world is not such a lonely planet any more and the very destinations we promote through tourism are in continuous danger of degradation. Sometimes directly through greedy exploitation and sometimes indirectly through the strain that mass tourism makes on finite resources.

Safaring in Africa, trekking in the Himalayas, yachting in the Caribbean - these are all amazing and privileged activities which cannot fail except for the most boorish to create a sense of awe for the stunning environments and extraordinary variety in human culture that our amazing World has to offer.

When you see a beach covered in rubbish or a once beautiful landscape over-developed you intuitively understand that if the principles of sustainable tourism are not put into action, then many destinations may eventually follow and lose their appeal, environmental beauty and ultimately, their very sense of self.

In order to create a hegemony of sustainable tourism and travel certain local, national and global issues aspects need to be managed from above often by local or National government and even at global UN international levels.

This would include integrated policies promoting sound environmental management whilst respecting local cultural and social dynamics, providing recognised benchmarks for business management, training and customer service whilst giving an overall strategic vision and inspirational leadership within a framework of world class communication.

Successful examples of this integrated approach do exist, and here in Orkney the UNESCO World Heritage Site the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” covers most of the bases.

If whilst the worthy legislators and establishment pursue this complexity of rule making we as individuals and businesses respond by opinion forming and ground breaking actions then perhaps real progress is in fact possible.

When we set out in 2003 on the path to convert the Byre at Heddle and rebuild East Heddle, we had a somewhat hazy view of what the future held. We did have some simple principals to guide us.

  • To pay full respect to the historical and vernacular nature of local building traditions.
  • To build 21st century houses for 21st century lives.
  • To use quality local and traditional materials and skilled local craftsmen and labour.
  • To leave the lowest carbon footprint and use the most sustainable methodologies possible.
  • To build beautiful buildings.

Not that long ago in Orkney most building work followed these ideals even if unwittingly, because there was no other way. Building stone in Orkney was ubiquitous due to the easily cleaved flag like nature of our Old Red Sandstone beds, which in turn is due to the layered silt/mud accumulations on the bottom of Lake Orcades around 400m years ago. Skara Brae and the Knap of Hower are a testimony to our building stone as much as to the Makers.

Masonry skills were second nature as stone dyke building was a default task for all farm labourers. To build stone crofts was natural and had no alternative. To use flag slates and sometimes turf as a roofing material was also entirely natural.

The practical knowledge required to hoist heavy stones and make safe such structures without heavy machines or formal design would have been forged on experience, much of which has now been lost with the advent of building regulations, health and safety and technical surveys.

For some the architectural heritage and vernacular nature of such building work would have been appreciated at the time. For the vast majority the end result was entirely prosaic. The value of the architectural quality would not have been considered of any significance at all.

We were fortunate to be able to take a reflective and considered view of this history and re-interpret according to a 21st century perspective. So we decided to follow our predecessors and improve on their technologies where we could.

We believed that the successful achievement of this task would combine to create something authentic, beautiful and truly exceptional. By Using a combination of Stone, Wood, Turf, Lime and Linseed technologies, some of which have their roots as building materials in the mists of time, we have met our objectives.