‘WHERE you headed?” asked the cashier at the petrol station in Glencoe. My phone had lost its GPS signal about two miles earlier, and 20 years of horror film viewing had taught me to be careful in this situation. One false move and I might find myself directed towards a booby-trapped old barn or haunted mansion. But mostly I was just relieved he wasn’t asking me where I’d travelled from.

It was permitted to travel there from Glasgow at the time, when all of Scotland was in Level 3, but I wasn’t sure I would be warmly welcomed. I was acutely aware that if this was a horror film, I wasn’t the heroine – I was the threat.

I knew locals had been anxious over the previous year about tourists flocking to unspoilt parts of Scotland and not just but potentially bring Covid infections with them, but spoiling the surroundings too. The economies of the destinations on my itinerary depend on tourism, but that didn’t mean all of their residents would be happy to see me. I had taken tests in the run-up to departure – as I was visiting an island – but of course there was no way for them to know I had heeded Nicola Sturgeon’s instructions. And I felt like I would be a responsible visitor, but how many of those who cause problems, whether individually or collectively, actually realise they are considered menaces?

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Reading Hope Blamire’s account this week of ignorant tourists at Arisaig and Morar, I felt fortunate to have managed to visit those places when I did, when there were parking spaces galore and the social distance between me and other beach-combers was never less than about 100m. At Morar there were public toilets too. That’s what makes Blamire’s account of a woman squatting on the sands so utterly unfathomable. The toilet block right beside the car park was certainly open in early May – not closed, as some might imagine, due to Covid restrictions.

There is also a large sign reminding beach-goers of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, though some parts are rather vaguely worded. It is expected, for example, that people will not have parties on the beach, and I did wonder how one defines such a thing. By the playing of music? By alcohol consumption? By the volume of litter left behind? The problem with relying on people applying common sense is that many people clearly have none. The problem with assuming people will seek, where possible, to avoid baring their bottoms in public places is that some have no shame.

The famous white sands are less white these days due to people lighting fires on them. Blamire notes that there is no legal prohibition on lighting them “and so the ignoramuses think it’s OK to do it”. I understand her frustration, but what is the solution? How can legislation – and its enforcement – help stamp out bad behaviour while not punishing responsible visitors, and isn’t there a group in between the ignoramuses and the outdoors experts who genuinely need more education on doing the right thing?

Awareness-raising campaigns will make no difference to the worst offenders – who think nothing of leaving behind not just their bodily excretions but also perfectly good tents, camping chairs and barbecues – but they might help some clueless city-dwellers understand how to protect delicate ecosystems.

Human beings are, of course, part of those ecosystems too. Concern about “over-tourism” is not just about protecting the scenery – important though that is if people from all over the world are to keep visiting – but also about keeping the population safe from non-Covid-related threats to their health and safety. Cars parked on grass verges or in passing places (the clue is in the name – they are not parking places) can block access for emergency vehicles, or indeed ordinary vehicles being driven by people on urgent trips.

Human or dog waste left in recreational areas poses a health hazard too, but how many people understand that by leaving more than footprints they aren’t just fertilising the soil but depositing hazardous waste? And while “go before you go” is solid advice for any outdoor pursuit, everyone needs a Plan B (or should that be a Plan P?) for when nature calls in more ways than one.

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To many, it may seem obvious – if you really must go, don’t go within 30 metres of a path or water source. Take your toilet paper away with you (having brought a sealable bag for this purpose) and if you really must leave anything else, dig a hole in which to bury it (using a small trowel you have also brought along with you). Clearly, this requires some forward planning. But could local shops sell and prominently display such essential supplies, and could signage at beauty spots spell out exactly what visitors should do if they are caught short? Someone could have fun creating infographics that transcend language barriers. Perhaps some “poop scoop” kits could even be made available for free at the height of the tourist season, if enough people backed a “Keep our Countryside Clean” crowdfunder.

There are many signs in rural areas telling you what you can’t do (such as park overnight, or empty a chemical toilet from your campervan) but wouldn’t it be helpful if they included information about where you can do such things, too? Let’s not throw our hands up in despair and assume everyone who gets it wrong is fundamentally selfish and unwilling to change. If toddlers can be toilet trained, surely tourists can too?