Saturday, 5 October 2013

Plus Beaux Villages de Ecosse

In France recently, I was struck by a scheme for picturesque villages known as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. To get into the scheme as a 'most beautiful' village, it is not enough merely to be picturesque: you need at least two protected national sites of historic or natural interest and a maximum population of 2,000.

Gordes, a plus beaux village de France:


It got me thinking - what villages in Scotland would comply with such a scheme? On first thoughts, Scotland is a land of thin pickings for picturesque villages. People come here for the glorious scenery, not the ugly built environment, which all-to-often seems to have been commissioned and designed by people who care nothing for the art of living.

Yet further contemplation reveals some places worthy of such a scheme. Culross, of course. The rest of the East Neuk villages like Pittenweem and St Monans. Falkland. Inveraray. Dunkeld. Pennan. (There are plenty other places with picturesque vistas of course, like Tobermory or Portree, but one street does not make a village.)

Culross, a plus beaux village d'Ecosse:


A scheme like this might concentrate the minds of residents and planners. Perhaps they would pay more attention to the beauty and human impact of demolitions and developments, in the hope of joining the scheme, or of not losing their place in it. Look at Edinburgh for example, whose historic centre has been maintained thanks to the efforts of the Cockburn Society. They might be tweedy pedants, telling you what colour you are allowed to have your front door, but the city council would have bulldozed a motorway through the New Town and over the Meadows in the 60s and 70s if the Cockburn Society had not fought them.

One of the 1960s plans for the Edinburgh's Inner Ring Road motorway:


On the other hand, a national beautiful village scheme would encourage the gentrification of villages. Like many of their French counterparts, they might become hollow communities full of second homes, as Plockton or Lochcarron already are today. Perhaps that is not what Scots want. Perhaps they prefer a certain degree of dereliction. In the words of a crofter on 1990s Gaelic comedy show Randan, whose croft full of rusting, wrecked machinery deterred an obnoxious pair of yuppie second home buyers:

"Aye, I knew that old car would come in useful some day!"

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