By Jody Harrison

THEY are some of Scotland’s furthest-flung outposts, windswept and timeless where history can run as deep as the surging waters that surround them.

Now the stories of generations of islanders and people on the coast are to be immortalised in a new project celebrating the culture of the Highlands and Islands.

The Coast That Shaped The World will gather maritime tales from people living at 20 destinations across the west coast – seeking out stories which shaped the communities that call the region home, and exploring how their culture helped influence the world.

Fables and histories from an area stretching from Lewis and Harris to Mull and Fort William will be presented in a series of immersive and innovative digital exhibitions, complemented with interactive installations, in museums, galleries and heritage centres in west coast communities.

The idea is to attract people to come to the less-visited areas of the west coast of Scotland, and preserve these areas’ rich natural and cultural heritage through new visitor experiences. University researchers will explore the history of islands such as Coll and Tiree, Barra, Benbecula, Skye and Raasay as well as mainland sites such as Glen Coe, Lochaber and Wester Ross.

They are looking for tales handed down the generations, such as those from the Clearances, when many of these areas were denuded of the communities which had been their lifeblood.

Mass migration of Scots from the islands and crofts of Argyll and beyond to the New World will also be recorded, as will the myths and legends handed down from the ancient days when the west was the domain of the Vikings.

Famous sons and daughters of these lands and the achievements they made during their lives both at home and abroad will also be featured.

The project is run by the West Highland College UHI’s Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research (CRTR), which was recently awarded a grant worth £350,000 from the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The centre has also secured match funding from the college itself and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), giving a budget of more than £500,000.

Sara Bellshaw, senior innovation manager at CRTR, said that it would help prevent folk memories and tales ignored by wider history from being lost forever.

She said: “It is fantastic to have received this funding from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund and the additional match funding from WHC UHI and CalMac. There is a plethora of stories to be told and interpreted linked to the cultural heritage and spread of communities across the west coast, directly related to the maritime environment.

“The project will create a repository of important and influential narratives, helping to both keep these important oral, written and visual artefacts alive and to unearth hidden ‘gems’ that risk being lost.

“Many of the areas share story themes, from Gaelic language and culture, to Viking trading posts, world-famous inventors, and departure points for mass emigration.

“Materials will be collected that help tell each story including music, film, imagery, artwork, augmented reality, and prose.”

She added: “Sharing these stories will help visitors understand the culture and traditions of local life and what has made the place and community they are visiting what it is today. Combining these stories with practical visitor information aims to enhance the visitor experience along the west coast.

“Collaborating with communities, West Coast Waters, local destination organisations and industry experts is integral to this project, and we also plan to involve students wherever possible, including the Marine and Coastal Tourism students who are part of the School of Adventure Studies here at West Highland College UHI.”

The project is part of a new £5 million Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more high-quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets.

The Coast That Shaped The World is a community-led scheme, and people who live on the islands, and in towns and villages on the west coast, will be directly involved.

A website and app with augmented and virtual reality will be developed to accompany the exhibitions, while maritime heritage stories will be brought to life through GPS triggers at the site of the events they talk about, to give people a tangible reference to the land and sea where everything unfolded.

Led by the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, The Coast that Shaped the World is a large-scale collaboration between West Highland College UHI and the West Coast Waters tourism initiative.

West Coast Waters is a collaboration of 20 west coast destinations and tourism organisations collectively representing over 2,500 tourism interests across the west coast of Scotland. It is supported by the key public agencies and travel partners in the area.

Andrew MacNair, head of marketing at Caledonian MacBrayne, said: “So many people have seen the potential of themed years, particularly this Year Of Coasts And Waters but this project stands out as being one of those with a real lasting legacy. We are constantly reminded about the amazing tales and stories of the wonderful places on the network we serve and through this project we can help share these with a far wider group of people”

Carron Tobin, co-ordinator of West Coast Waters, commented: “This project has so much potential. Just over a year ago, when we scoped out the possibilities around the West Coast Waters collaboration, The Coast That Shaped The World was everyone’s favourite – a really exciting initiative which has scope to not just engage with our communities and their maritime heritage but to bring their stories to life and inspire current day travellers.

“2022 will be Scotland’s Year Of Storytelling and this project is the perfect bridge from Year Of Coasts And Waters – allowing us to reach out and collect the stories in 2020, then narrate them digitally so we can inspire people out onto roads less travelled to experience these stories first hand in 2022 and beyond.”

The project runs until June 2022 alongside the 2020 Year Of Coasts And Waters and the 2022 Year Of Storytelling.