A letter to Galloway: Reflections of the learning journey by stakeholders from North Karelia, Finland

By: Tarja Kupiainen and Daisy Silvennoinen – North Karelia Biosphere Reserve

At their stay in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve, the visitors from abroad got a comprehensive understanding of the history and values of the region. Inspiration and ideas for further developing their own biosphere.

The learning journey began with a drive towards RSPB Wood of Cree. During the drive, Barry, the guide provided participants with a comprehensive package about the history and the present life in the region. There was a short stop at RSPB Wood of Cree, including walk to Loch Trool where we met another guide, who succeeded very well in telling the facts of nature.

After a visit to Loch Tool, the journey continued to the Bruce’s Stone with Barry as guide. He was a marvellous storyteller and knew all about the legends and mythologies of Bruce, the Great Scottish Hero. His use of costumes and amour to capture the moment added even more value to the experience. We gradually understood where his knowledge came from: His doctoral thesis was based on Bruce the Great!

Photos from left to right: Participants taking pictures on a way to Loch Trool; Bruce’s Stone established in 1920’s; Barry told the story of Bruce. Photos: Tarja Kupiainen.

The learning continued with an information session on the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park and tourism development, after which participants met stakeholders and learned about the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the area. During a visit to the Village Centre and Art Gallery at Glentrool village, participants met members of the Glentrool and Bargrennan Community Trust who presented the plans for tourism and visitor accommodation development.

“I was delighted to know that the SHAPE Scottish stakeholders had planted trees to cover our carbon footprints. It was fascinating to learn that almost every village has its own tweed fabric style. The tourism development plans seemed ambitious but plausible and I really admired the enthusiasm”.

Photos from left to right: Storytelling by Martin; One of the many watermills that act as apartments nowadays; Visit to ceramicist and potter Andy Priestman. Photos: Tarja Kupiainen.

After a discussion and networking Lunch at the Centre, participants carried on with two local experiences. The first was a guided tour by a former game keeper, Martin, who was dressed in a traditional farmer suit, with his shoes and walking-stick produced in a traditional way. The second was a visit to ceramicist and potter Andy Priestman who uses only Instagram to market (and sell) his products.

“Martin took us to the wet meadow, but the wetness of the shoes didn’t matter when the story was good. Just like Barry, he was a natural, talented storyteller. Martin explained to us how the Scottish stone walls differ from the English ones. The visit to Andy Priestman’s shop was very interesting since we have quite a few potters and ceramics in North Karelia. His shop and working methods could be a great interest of them.”

The evening meal in a traditional Inn set in the Galloway Forest Park, and Dark Sky Experience with Ranger Elizabeth Tindal summed up the day.

The last day of the learning journey started off with a guided heritage walk through Newton Stewart and arrival at Newton Stewart Museum. It was interesting to note the changes in the use of the area over time.

“The dark skies was interesting, and one could notice the guide was very proud of it. We got inspired and will consider developing a similar attraction at home in Ilomantsi”.

Dark sky. Photos: Tarja Kupiainen.

-The sky was very dark indeed (Tarja Kupiainen)

To sum up the learning journey there were: lots of good conversations, sharing, learning and reflection. We were surprised to realize that the history and dynamics of the region was somewhat similar to what we experience at home in Finland; an ageing population, young people moving away, and long travel distances. These are common challenges to developing ecotourism initiatives both in North Karelia and in Galloway. We need the younger generations – and better public transportation. We embrace the opportunity of international co-operation and hope that can help us with our own marketing.  We hope that the SHAPE eService will develop into a powerful tool for sustainable tourism development.

SHAPE is a three-year Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (NPA) project promoting the development of ecotourism initiatives. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.