Inhabited perspectives on the North Coast 500
: Re-making local heritage in touristed communities of the Scottish Highlands

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This thesis focuses on the relationship between local heritage practices and tourism in communities located along the North Coast 500 (NC500), a popular and contentious route tourism initiative that was launched in the North Highlands of Scotland in 2015. While the NC500 and its associated overtourism pressures have received significant attention from news media, policymakers and researchers, thus far the complex cultural processes associated with the route have not been addressed. Grounded in the experiences and perspectives of local residents, this examination contributes to (and draws closer together) parallel but largely disconnected discussions in critical tourism and heritage studies by exploring how touristic narratives of place and past are constructed and contested around the NC500. The study takes the form of a multi-sited ethnography employing participatory visual research methodologies in three case studies situated around the route. Conducted in collaboration with local community heritage organisations, this approach makes visible and knowable a diverse array of forms of ‘heritage from below’ through which local residents engage with their individual and collective past(s) as they interpret, and respond to, tourism. It is shown here that these fine-grained practices of heritage constitute a resource and channel for the assertion of counter-hegemonic claims to place that challenge and complicate the route’s totalising cultural geographies. By foregrounding the voices of local people, the study offers a critique articulated from within (and from below) of top-down touristic discourses that shape the representation and perception of Highland places, people and pasts. It also contributes to academic theory a more subtly-shaded and intimate rendering of heritage dynamics in tourism settings. Expanding upon critical lines of inquiry seeking to ‘decentre’ understandings of heritage, the use of the past in the context of the NC500 emerges as an active, polyvocal and contested cultural process that is negotiated not only in public spheres of representation and discourse but also in the everyday spaces, activities and meanings of individual inhabitants’ lives.
Date of Award8 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorIain James McPherson Robertson (Supervisor) & Lucy Dean (Supervisor)

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