Your Highland getaway … 1900s style

National Art Library
August 2, 2022

As thoughts turn to exploring or unwinding this summer we may find ourselves drawn towards travel literature – online or hardcopy – to gain fresh perspectives on destinations near and far. Here at the National Art Library in the V&A we house travel literature from over the ages. Our recent Summertime ‘by the book’ talk explores past ways of embracing the joys of summer through travel and discovery, in formats including children’s books, travel guides and tunnel books.

With all the recent talk of the rise of the ‘Staycation’ it might feel like quite a modern phenomenon(!). We’ll take you back, however, to discover its very Victorian roots. Concentrating on just one piece, let’s take a look now at a slightly later Edwardian guidebook, covering exploration around the Scottish Highlands.

A burgundy paper front cover with gold stamped design featuring swords, tartan and embellishments. The title is written down the right hand side with extra text in a variety of fonts.
‘The Highlands of Scotland: Ballater, Balmoral & Braemar, and surrounding districts with list of summer lodgings’ Ballater: J. Harper, [1906]. 38041800395428​

The gold stamped design with its dark red background might remind us of the until very recent look of a British passport. The burgundy and gold were, however, only adopted in September 1988 to match the EC common format – coincidentally also taking us back to Scotland, the format first used in the UK by the Glasgow passport office and then rolled out to the other UK offices by spring 1991. The small sized booklet guide isn’t quite as small as a passport. It is lightweight though and just as easy to pack in your case as an accompaniment to your journey.

‘The health resorts of to-day, pronounced superior to Switzerland’ is the bold claim on the guide’s cover. Inside we can see black and white halftone photographic reproductions, much in the style use by newspapers and magazines from the 1880s, whisking us round the area. Braemer and Balmoral castles feature and their histories are covered in a fact driven narrative and the series of black-and-white cells created by placing a screen in front of the developing etched block.

This is in contrast to the lavishly engraved scenes, hyperbole and personality-led explorations we might find in the 18th and 19th centuries.

‘Summer tour to the Isle of Wight; including Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester, the South-Western Railway’, by Thomas Roscoe, London: J. & F. Harwood, 1843. 38041800395394.


A double page printed spread of text about Braemar Castle and the beginnings of a section about Auchindryne. There is an black and white photographic illustration of Braemar Castle and surrounding countryside and Highlands in the background.
‘The Highlands of Scotland: Ballater, Balmoral & Braemar, and surrounding districts with list of summer lodgings’ Ballater: J. Harper, [1906]. 38041800395428​

From 1770 Ballater served as a spa resort, providing invigorating surroundings to visitors of the Pannanich Mineral Well, found in the Highlands on the opposite side of the River Dee. The expansion of the railway in 1866 to serve the town also brought an increased number of Victorian tourists.

What brings great interest in your handy pocket guide, is the format of the accommodation listings at the back. Here a traveller would consult the tabulated guide to glean information about possible lodgings: how many public rooms do they have, number of parlours, and is there a separate suite of servants’ quarters available? All these categories – older iterations of the swimming pool, child-friendly, internet connection filters of today – are displayed in a compare and contrast format, covering the options offered by (mainly) landladies in the district:

Double page spread: left hand side features a tabulated list of names and addresses of lodgings and their facilities, on the right 'Places of Interest near Ballater' and shooting lodges in the area.

To delve into more historic reminders of our need for summer exploration view our recent public talk. You can also see the collections in person by registering for free membership of the National Art Library. We can be found on the second floor of the V&A – take a seat in the historic reading rooms and make your own journeys of discovery this summer!

1 comment so far, view or add yours


Another interesting and informative blog Frances. The tabulation of accommodation facilities is evocative of some later 1930s guides my parents had.

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