Research captures the ‘living landscapes’ of a North Coast 500 community

A PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands has worked with a Caithness community to create a unique photography exhibition based on conversations about the relationship between tourism, community heritage and landscape around the North Coast 500.

The project ‘Living Landscapes of Castletown’ was developed by Julian Grant in partnership with the Castlehill Heritage Centre, located in the Caithness village of Castletown. Five local residents took photographs with disposable film cameras to document and reflect on their own relationship with the human and natural landscapes around them. The participants shared and discussed the stories behind the photos in a series of interviews and group discussions, and then prepared captions to accompany a public exhibition.

‘Living Landscapes of Castletown’ is the first of several collaborative projects being carried out in case studies around the North Highlands as part of Julian’s PhD. By directly involving community organisations and the wider public in the research process, he hopes to embrace an inclusive and socially engaged vision for his research.

Julian (26), who lives in Thurso and is based at university’s centre for history, explained his approach:

“I wanted to see how community-generated images and stories could help us understand the relationship between tourism and local people. Given the opportunity, what would residents choose to share with visitors about the place where they live? Could this encourage a more inquisitive, informed and mutually beneficial form of tourism?

“Conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has produced a unique and vivid record of Castletown at this moment in time. It illustrates a view of a touristed landscape from the inside, through the eyes of the people who live there.

“The images and words are full of memories, of people, of bits of poetry, of personal forms of knowledge rooted in the joys and challenges of life in a rural community. They remind us that this is a peopled place with a vibrant life of its own. Whether you are from nearby or from far away, they offer a chance to see the place through another perspective.

“The process of creating these images and learning about the lives behind them has been the centrepieces of my research. It has given me plenty of food for thought, and I hope it does the same for those who view this exhibition. I invite you to consider what it shows about life in Caithness today. How does it compare with the expectations and assumptions about this part of the Highlands and the people who live here?”

The ‘Living Landscapes of Castletown’ exhibition is currently available online . Public exhibitions are being planned at the Castlehill Heritage Centre and the Lyth Arts Centre this summer, as and when COVID-19 restrictions allow.

This research is being funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.


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