In his final drive, Richard returns to the country of his birth in a splendid 1950s Bentley and discovers what it is about great vistas that gives us such a thrill.
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For many, the 1950s were the golden age of British motoring.
Back then, driving was leisurely, liberating and fun.
TYRES SCREECH, HORN BEEPS
Yes, things have changed a bit since then.
But perhaps it's still possible to recapture some of that old magic.
I'm setting off on six of the best drives from the 1950s,
as recommended by the guidebooks of the era.
And I'll be driving them in some of the decade's most iconic vehicles.
Oh, gone into reverse.
'I want to find out if these routes still thrill and inspire...'
This is a spectacular road.
'..and how, in 50 years, Britain itself has changed.'
Oh, for God's sake.
They wouldn't have thought to come here without a sat nav.
I'm sure they wouldn't.
People don't value each other as much as they did then.
It was a different type of life.
# Hey nonny ding dong
# Ah lang-a-lang-a-lang
# Boom ba lo Ba-boom-ba-boom dah
# Oh, life could be a dream
# If I could take you up in paradise up above
# If you would tell me... #
'A tour through the Highlands of Scotland yields an experience
'to be matched nowhere else in Western Europe.
'No district has a greater variety of interest
'nor a happier combination of beauty and accessibility
'than the area known as the Trossachs.'
# ..Life could be a dream sweetheart... #
Scotland is, of course, my homeland,
and in celebration of my return,
the producers have allowed me a rather splendid vehicle.
It's a 1952 Bentley Mark VI,
and an absolutely beautiful piece of British engineering it is.
In it, I'll be exploring a route that was positively
raved about in my 1950s guidebooks.
I'll take the road from Callander to Inversnaid,
a journey that promises fine views
of several lochs and mountains,
including one of Scotland's most revered driving roads,
and culminates at the largest lake in Britain.
But before I begin, I can't resist a quick detour.
Greenock, on the Firth of Clyde, is my home town
and my big sister Moira still lives there.
Well, with a car like this,
you can't blame me for wanting to show off a bit, can you?
-Lovely to see you.
Welcome to Britain's Best Drives.
How are you doing?
-Not too bad.
-There you are.
Oh, my goodness! This is beautiful.
Do you enjoy being chauffeured in a Bentley, Moira?
-Yes, it's very nice.
-It's a bit hot, of course.
It's very warm.
See this shop, is that still working?
-Yes, it is.
-It's all a bit dilapidated, isn't it?
'Hmmm. Our little tour of the old neighbourhood
'soon reveals that, just like Moira and myself,
'Greenock has changed a bit since the '50s.'
That's all been demolished, I see.
Yes, they're all being knocked down.
'I wanted to show you a stupendous vista of the town.'
When was that built?
Don't know. There's the...
'Oh, well... Never mind.
'But Moira has managed to salvage a rather unlikely relic from the past.
'The shed we both used to play in as kids.
'She's even given it a fresh coat of paint.'
So this shed is made from timber from the shipyard, I think.
What time do you... what date do you think it was?
It's over 80 years old.
Over 80 years old and still standing. Clyde built!
You've done a very good job, Moira.
-Is it painted all the way round?
-Just the two sides that I can see from the house.
I ran out of paint, so I thought,
"I'm not spending any more money because it's..."
-Is the door original as well?
-Just this, Jimmy put this on.
I bet this won't be in the show, but there you are, there's a brown shed.
-90 years old.
-It used to be green.
This is your house, but we weren't brought up as children here.
We were brought up in Dunlop Street.
Used to play in the hut. We did. It was a sort of a den, wasn't it?
-It was your den.
-We used to play, um, shops and things.
Who was the shopkeeper, me or you? I can't remember.
-Oh, you were the customer, weren't you?
-I was the customer.
-I was always buying.
-You were always buying.
-I'm still always buying.
-Still always shopping.
We played at Maisie's and Jeannie's, and you were the dog.
Oh, I used to be your dog, wasn't I?
-You took me round on a lead.
-Not when I was a teenager!
-Oh, no, no, no, no, no.
-No, when I was a wee thing.
Seven or eight, or something!
Time to set off, I think, before Moira rakes up
any more embarrassing memories.
My start point will be a town that, although I've never been there,
played a significant part in my life.
Callander doubled as the town of Tannochbrae
in the original Dr Finlay TV series,
a show that marked my professional debut.
Nobody likes a teacher, do they? I mean, he's not popular.
When Lord Muircross finds he's a schoolteacher,
I wouldn't be surprised if his ears were hotter than a Scottish supper.
'Arden House was the exterior of Dr Finlay's Casebook.'
Unfortunately, I never got there,
because the part I played in Dr Finlay was all in the studio,
so I never got any location work.
'I was playing Mr McKeeley, the stone-mason,
'with a bad back and because it was my first job, I was very nervous,'
I remember the Daily Telegraph, I think it was, was doing a piece,
it was the first of a new series, and the Daily Telegraph was doing
a diary piece which said, "The cast now come back after lunch
"to do the first run-through.
"They all look calm and relaxed
"apart from Richard Wilson, who looks pale and drawn...
"It's because it's his first job."
I'm meeting a man at Arden House
who you might say was Callander's real Dr Finlay.
Dr Ian Williams was the town's GP,
and when he arrived here more than 40 years ago,
he soon realised what a tight-knit, rural community this was.
I went in to speak to somebody, a patient.
-So I lifted the receiver and a voice said,
"Morning, Dr Williams. How are you? Are you settling in?"
Because, of course, they had a switchboard with...
-The plug was me, you see.
I said, "I want to speak to Mrs X," say, one of the bakers."
She said, "Oh, hang on a minute, it's, er, Tuesday morning.
"Oh, no. Tuesday morning, she'll be having coffee with Mrs Y
"at the greengrocer's."
-She said, "Put the phone down, Doc, I'll get back to you."
So I put the phone down and within about a couple of minutes, ring-ring.
Lift the phone, "It's all right, Doctor. She wasn't at Mrs Y's.
"She was actually with a Mrs Z
-"at the grocer's, and here she is."
-Right, great service.
Now that was one call, the charge of one call
to go ring round three places to find out where somebody was.
But that was the community.
-And that's how it was.
Now, being a GP in those days,
you had to work, because you were on call, and you did go on call.
Well, I did that all my working life.
Yes. How far would you have to go?
-Where was your furthest patient from yourself?
Well, we went up, um, 23 miles, I think, to Stronachlachar,
at the top of Loch Katrine.
Or we went 23-24 miles up to the head of Balquhidder Glen.
-So, if you like, the furthermost patients live 50 miles apart.
The first night I went to Balquhidder Glen,
I always remember it was a brawsome moonlit nicht, sort of thing.
Hard, hard, icy snow on the ground. I don't know if you know that road,
but it's very narrow and there were drops in places, and it was slidey,
and it took me an hour-and-a-half to do the 23 miles.
And I have to say, I can't remember clearly,
but I think it probably wasn't a totally necessary visit.
Time for me to follow in Dr Williams' tyre tracks
and take the roads that he drove so often when out on his house calls.
The first part of my drive is from Callander along the A821
to Loch Katrine, and pretty special it is, too.
'The Trossachs have everything in miniature.
'Towering mountains, peaceful valley scenes, lochs,
'historic places, set against a background of legend and romance.'
And what a delightful way to experience it.
The scenery is, well, by any standards, absolutely spectacular.
'The road follows the line of the chase
'described in The Lady Of The Lake by Sir Walter Scott,
'who put the Trossachs on the tourist map.'
All my '50s guides mention Sir Walter Scott, and quite right, too,
for without his famous poem,
this whole region may have lain undiscovered.
I'm heading to Loch Katrine
to take an excursion heartily recommended in my books.
The Sir Walter Scott steamer has been ferrying sightseers
around these beautiful waters for well over 100 years.
And on it, I've arranged to meet tour guide Hugh O'Neill
to find out how its namesake could very well be called
the father of Scottish tourism.
-Hugh, here we are on Loch Katrine, on the Sir Walter Scott boat.
And Sir Walter Scott wrote his famous poem
The Lady Of The Lake based on this lake.
Yes, indeed. He came here, um, I think about 1809.
Up till then, this was relatively unknown.
He came here for a holiday with his wife and his daughter,
and over the winter,
he wrote this very, very long poem,
and it was an overnight sensation in London,
and all the better-off people in London cancelled
their summer holidays in Wales and made their way up here to Scotland.
An amazing thing when you consider there were no trains
or cheap airlines to get you up here. So you get yourself up here.
Yes, so it must have been a more more literate society
to get a hold of a long poem, especially.
Yes, I think it must have been, although no television in those days,
-perhaps that was part of it.
-Yes, yes, of course.
So, just tell me very briefly, what's the story of the poem?
It's all about a hunting party which sets out from Stirling Castle,
led by James Fitz-james,
who turned out to be King James V of Scotland in disguise.
They chase a stag, and he gets well ahead of the rest of the party
and he arrives, eventually, at Loch Katrine.
He's looking down on the loch and he sees a beautiful young girl
rowing a boat out from Ellen's Isle,
but I think the important part of the story
is the descriptive passages at the start.
The long descriptions of the scenery that the huntsmen were going through,
-and that's what caught everyone's imagination.
And that's what people rushed up here to see.
One burnish'd sheet of living gold
Loch Katrine lay beneath him roll'd
In all her length far winding lay
With promontory, creek, and bay
And islands that, empurpled bright
Floated amid the livelier light
And mountains that like giants stand
To sentinel enchanted land.
So many people flocked to the region that the Duke of Montrose
built a special road across the mountains to carry them all,
and naturally, the canny man charged them all for using it.
But it's no longer a toll road, and the Duke's Pass
has become one of the most famous driving experiences in Scotland,
described in my 1959 guide as a must for any tour of the Trossachs.
And for bikers, it's become a rite of passage.
To get the low-down on the road before I attempt it myself,
I'm meeting Jimmy Tannoch and Anne McKinley who used to ride the pass
on two wheels back in the 1950s.
-This road was a biker's paradise.
-Biker's dream, yeah.
I think it actually...
The Duke's Pass was a test for motorcyclists and push-cyclists.
If you bought a bike, you could test it out on the Duke's Pass.
If you've got up without too many gear changes, it was a good honour.
-Is it a scary drive?
It was always scary.
Especially when it was wet.
-But that'd be part of the enjoyment? It would give you a buzz?
-So, Annie, were you in a side car or a pillion?
-And did you get the same kick out of it as the driver?
I came over part of the Duke's Pass one day and my footrest
-was catching on the road and there was wee sparks coming off it.
Did anyone ever die at the Duke's Pass?
Ooh, I couldnae say that.
-There was certainly plenty of accidents.
-Yes, it's always the way.
In them days, the bikes were different, Richard.
You had very narrow tyres and big long machines,
and the corners were that tight, you know, you could slip quite easily.
-And if you went a weekend without coming off your bike,
-it was a good weekend.
So, I'm about to take my Bentley over the Duke's Pass.
What tips would you give me?
The tip I'll give, Richard, is keep well to the left.
-Oh, as always.
-And be aware. Don't sightsee, don't look at the scenery.
Watch the road.
In fact, even better, get somebody else to drive you.
-And you can see the scenery.
-What a good idea.
Let's do the whole series again.
-Richard Wilson Driven The Best Drives.
-It makes so much sense, doesn't it?
And to make it just that little bit more terrifying,
I'll be in convoy with a bevy of vintage British bikes.
Well, what a collection! And this is an AJS, I remember an AJS.
-They don't make them any more.
-No, they don't.
-British Small Arms.
British Small Arms. That's what it was, wasn't it?
-What's this one?
-A Matchless. 1955.
-Matchless. And this, we've got a...
A 1961... HORN PEEPS
A 1961 BSE.
-Please, come on, get a grip! And this is the Triumph.
Yep. Tiger Cub.
-And a side car. Very good...an Escort.
-I hope you keep well clear of me.
-Oh, you're all right!
Wait till you see me driving!
'Tourists will be drawn to the Pass of the Trossachs,
'a well-made road full of sharp twists and turns
'but of moderate gradients.
'Careful driving IS imperative.'
92 corners in 7.5 miles.
Doesn't entirely fill me with joy, I have to say.
'It twists and turns, and rises and falls,
'the character of the bristly country
'appears in some fresh guise at every mile.'
It does require... quite a lot of concentration.
The car responds very well.
The Bentley is in third gear
and is quite happy chugging up some of these severe inclines.
'It is in this pass, in the space of about a mile,
'that the surpassing beauties of the Trossachs are encompassed.'
It's a lovely road. It's absolutely...
I mean, I think that the Duke's Pass in itself
is one of the best drives in Britain.
'Beautiful loch and mountain scenery.
'Altogether a delightful run through the famous Trossachs,
'and later, by a long and attractive descent to Aberfoyle.'
As Jimmy and Anne advised, I kept my eyes glued firmly to the road,
but the stunning vistas were frankly unavoidable.
I've seen so many spectacular views on my drives around Britain
and they've never failed to make my heart skip a beat.
I'm hoping my next passenger might be able to explain why.
-Richard, come in.
Get in and we'll set off. How are you?
Not bad, thanks, not bad.
You're from... Oops! You're from Glasgow University.
That's right. Department of Psychology.
-Department of Psychology.
Together, we'll be driving from Aberfoyle, alongside Loch Ard,
past Loch Chon, and as far as Stronachlachar,
on the banks of Loch Katrine.
A perfect road on which to pick Dr David's brains.
In fact, the views on this drive just get better and better.
-Like most people, I really enjoy looking at a good view.
What is it that is so, shall we say, life-enhancing
about coming across a view?
Well, some of the data actually suggests that
it sets up a particular pattern of brain activity
that we find rewarding, that we actually get a sort of a high,
-if you like. It's satisfying.
-It's a chemical thing?
That's one theory, but my own particular favourite
at the moment is that part of it
is to do with relaxing the eyes. That if you think about
working in an office, looking at a computer screen, looking at a TV,
it's nearly all reading, they're all close things,
so we don't often get a chance to see look at things in the distance.
'Loch Ard, on its own merits for natural beauty,
'is a paradise for the motorist.
'The run across its north bank, on a road that is mainly
'just at the water's edge, is an experience
'that provides a store of colourful memories.'
Another one of the reasons why we might like looking at scenic views
is a preference that we have, that that's maybe quite primeval,
for being in high places and being able to see all around us,
so that we are able to detect if there are
any enemies in the environment or any threats to us.
We did a survey of the undergraduates at Glasgow,
and we just asked them,
-"What's the most beautiful visual experience you've ever had?"
And so many of them said it was a sunset or a mountain scene,
or sunlight glinting on water.
-Nearly all of them said it was a natural thing...
..rather than something...
-Rather than a beautiful woman or a beautiful man or...
We also asked, "What's the most ugly visual experience you've ever had?"
-and all of them were to do with people or man-made objects.
None of the responses were to do with natural scenes.
Oh, that's amazing.
-It is amazing.
That's a view.
What's interesting, of course, is, we've got part of the view
now in sunlight and part is still in shadow,
-which creates a very interesting image, doesn't it?
But the science does suggest that people like looking at images
where there's an element of mystery.
-Yeah, that's right.
And we've got all the sounds of the loch around us.
-The lapping of the water...
-And that comes into it?
-I think so,
because we're part of the landscape. If we're just looking at photographs
or images on a computer screen, then we don't get the full effect
of being in a real environment, which this is.
-And this is a changing environment, as well.
-What makes it so fascinating.
-constantly providing us with interesting things to look at.
It's also interesting when the light, when these...
sort of sections of sunshine,
you see detail that you didn't see when it was in darkness.
I think some of the science would suggest that when that happens,
if you like, when the sunlight reveals the detail,
that's exactly when we get this little buzz, a frisson.
This drive, for me, has been all about landscape
and the final leg of my route from Stronachlachar,
past Loch Arklet to Inversnaid
# They asked me how I knew
# My true love was true
# Oh...oh-oh-oh... #
The area is utterly unspoilt, all the more extraordinary
when you think that the Trossachs only became a National Park in 2002.
My 1950s guidebooks are as accurate today as they were 50 years ago.
'Highways or byways are quiet by southern standards.
'One can drive from Aberfoyle to Inversnaid
'on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August
'without meeting more than two or three cars.'
Oh, this is nice. You see the road ahead now
is stretching ahead of us and the loch on the side.
The lochs here, of course, are particularly pretty.
But the ever-changing Scottish weather means the final few miles
of my journey are not quite as glorious as they might have been.
It's interesting to see the mist coming off the hills.
The interesting thing about Scotland, of course,
is, if the weather was good all the time,
say like Spain or Italy,
I suppose the Highlands would become a tourist paradise.
As it is, they are still fairly unspoilt.
And you can drive around some of the Highland roads with little traffic.
So it's a double-edged sword, isn't it?
Oh, Inversnaid Hotel - that's encouraging.
Oh, it's lovely,.
Now, this, one has to say, would be gorgeous in the sunshine!
I suppose it's quite a common sight in Britain,
given the weather we get.
Very often, when you're driving along,
you see cars parked up, with people in them,
chewing on a sandwich very often, looking at the view,
because the weather won't let them out.
Even sitting here in the rain is...
It's very peaceful
and very calming.
So, this is it. Loch Lomond is not only the conclusion
of my Scottish route, but also the final stop
in my tour of Britain's best drives from the 1950s,
a tour that has taken me from the beaches of Cornwall
to the moors of Yorkshire and through the mountains of Snowdonia.
And one has to say that, 50 years on, these routes
are still utterly inspirational.
But for me, this journey has been a lot more
than just a simple Sunday drive.
I suppose the thing about having driven all over Britain
is that it puts you in touch with your country again. You know,
it's an extraordinary experience to visit so many parts of it
and to meet all sorts of people from all walks of life.
So that's been a great privilege in a way.
I think it might be a good idea that some politicians try this some time.
Following the guidebooks and talking to the people,
many of the people thought there was a better lifestyle
in the '50s than it is now.
Maybe we don't value each other as much as they did then.
There was much more a sense of community in the '50s,
without a doubt.
Speaking personally, would I go back to the '50s? Prefer the '50s?
I'd say no.
I'd say there are too many advances have been made, socially,
since the '50s.
It's been a journey through the past and present,
of people as well as places,
and I have to say I feel I know my own country
much better than I once did.
And, well, gosh - isn't Britain a beautiful place?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Actor Richard Wilson takes a journey into the past, following routes raved about in motoring guides of 50 years ago.
For his final drive, Richard returns to the country of his birth in a splendid 1950s Bentley. He drops in on his sister, returns to the original 'Dr Finlay' house, takes to the water to find out how Sir Walter Scott inspired a deluge of sightseers to the region, drives Scotland's most famous road in the company of a bevy of vintage bikers, and discovers just what it is about great vistas that gives us all such a thrill.