DRIVING through a remote village in the north of England last week, we spotted a bijou hotel that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Provence. For an optimistic few minutes, the novelty of taking a staycation seemed appealing.

We pictured a couple of nights of pampering, away from stove and spade: a four-poster bed and fluffy towels, a stroll to the ivy-covered pub for an aperitif, followed by a gourmet repast accompanied by Bill Evans and an ice bucket.

Sadly, others had got there before us. Only single-night stays were available for the next few months, and the least expensive double room was £190 each – each! – for the night. “And that includes dinner?” my husband asked, assuming this explained the cost.

But, as anyone else who has been searching for last-minute holidays well knows, the soundtrack to the staycation boom is the merry ringing of tills and the thud of gold bullion being deposited in bank vaults. Quite apart from scare stories of country cottages costing tens of thousands of pounds to rent per week, even in the real world a UK holiday doesn’t come cheap.

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Not that it ever did. One of the reasons Britons headed like migrating wildebeest for the sun was because it was so much less pricey. It also avoided those grim occasions, where turning up at a Scottish B&B was almost as risky as Russian roulette. Some were like boutique hotels, others less welcoming than a bus shelter.

I once met an American who booked a room in a B&B with an elderly disabled friend who had always wanted to see Scotland. It was bad enough that they had to share a bed, but his companion had a weak bladder and the only toilet was off the landlady’s bedroom. She asked that they use the facilities before retiring, but several times during the night they had to shuffle past her snoring form and hope the flushing didn’t wake her.

Things have improved radically since then, although it’s still a game of hit and miss. In an upmarket country house hotel in Argyll, not long ago, my husband had to sleep with all his clothes on because the boiler was on the blink. When a guest asked for ice in her G&T, he was tempted to suggest she just scrape it off the window.

In the days of carefree overseas travel, what none of us realised was that a fortnight in Torremolinos was not just a chance to turn ourselves into lobsters, but a patriotic and indeed environmentally friendly act. All the years we holidayed abroad in the height of summer helped our reservoirs stay brimming.

Now, however, with the sound of the rest of the UK revving up the engine and making in our direction, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has warned that this influx could worsen an already worrying water shortage. Despite recent torrential downpours, Scotland at present has the unenviable distinction of being the driest of the four nations.

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Orkney has been graded by Sepa as experiencing “moderate scarcity”, which is its second highest level of warning. Elsewhere, too, a tsunami of holidayers, combined with the fact that few of us are departing for other shores, could potentially turn a troubling situation into something even worse.

Lack of water is not the only downside to the staycation surge. Residents in communities along the glorious North Coast 500 route are close to revolt at the volume of traffic passing their doors. Or not passing. Rather, they are applying the handbrake and cooking up dinner, before drawing the curtains and snuggling down for the night in field entrances, roadsides and laybys.

Single-track lanes in places like Applecross or Lochinver are clogged with motor homes, caravans and cars, holding up locals and alarming sheep and cattle being herded between fields. Such is the popularity of this scenic 500-mile stretch, it’ll soon need traffic lights. But elsewhere across the Highlands and Islands there is also too little space for the present flood of tourists, be it hotel rooms or overnight parking. Hence passing areas or beaches used as campsites, and heathland scorched by barbecues and bonfires. Photos of the mess and destruction left in visitors’ wake leave you speechless.

As do reports from farmers, all across the UK, of the blight caused by tourists who don’t understand how the countryside works. One farmer found a family taking selfies with a pregnant ewe, passing the animal between them without realising the distress this would cause her.

When the farmer explained, their response was indignant: “We pay our taxes”. It was the same with others found damaging crops, or leaving field gates open for livestock to escape onto the roads. No matter that lambs are being run over or sheep harried to death by dogs off the leash, the attitude was that this land is their land, to ruin as they like.

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There has always been a degree of tension between town and country when those unaware of how the outdoors is cultivated stray into the path of people who make their living from it. Friends were recently warned off a track by a landowner growing a commercial carbon-capturing forest on a remote hillside, where for years they had walked undisturbed. Yet while they agreed to park elsewhere, not everyone is so amenable.

Nor in living memory has there been such a high volume of trippers who, after months confined to barracks, are understandably desperate for a change of scene. Everybody can relate to that. There’s also no denying that the landscape of the NC500 and other rural wilds is so alluring it’s like the backdrop to The Lord of the Rings or The Shipping News. With scenery like this within easy reach, why would you ever need to experience New Zealand or the Andes?

But given the overcrowding in places built for the few not the many, staycationing on this scale is not sustainable. A Perthshire glen I previously thought of as all but empty was recently described by a neighbour as “hoaching”. Holidaying in this country used to be a guarantee of getting away from it all. If that’s no longer possible, it loses all its charm.

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