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Highlands on Film

From crofters, mountains and midges to hunting, whisky and the Highland Games, newsreel archive gems and documentary collections create a portrait of the region and its people.


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-That's Upper Glendessary?

-That's right, yes.

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How on Earth do you pronounce that thing there?

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Sgurr Cos na Breach-laoidh.

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# MUSIC: "She's A River" by Simple Minds

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There's nothing that encapsulates Scotland's pride

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in its history and traditions quite like the Highland Games.

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# Shadow, let go, there's something you should know... #

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It's quite amazing the people you find wandering around the top of Ben Nevis at any hour of any day.

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# Like the air that led me to it

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# She's the wind that sucked me through it

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# She's a river and she's turning there in front of me

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# And I go blind Wasting my time

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# The river's in front of me... #

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Isn't it grand this stuff's made in Scotland?

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# That's where I'm going to be... #

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Are you listening? Loch Ness. The monster!

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# Shine on, get on... #

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I would like to see more people come to the Highlands for their holidays

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to appreciate the beauty that we live in all the year round.

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The Highlands - uninhabitable.

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Anyone who doesn't have to live here is lucky.

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That's what I was taught, and in a Scottish school too, but it's a lie.

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Mind you, if you select your evidence, like these rocks -

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the oldest in the world and the hardest - you can make out a case.

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You wouldn't last long here on the scarred slopes of chilled volcanoes

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with the eagles and wildcats for company.

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And what more glorious setting

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than the wild and solemn grandeur of the Highlands of Scotland?

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The country of wooded valleys and hills and lovely mountain lochs.

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It's here that nature rules in all her majesty.

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All over the Highlands, it's the same story.

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The eternal whiteness covers all. Scotland in the grip of winter.

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Thomas Cook began to organise tourist trips to Scotland in the mid-1800s

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and by the 20th century, a winter tourist boom was born.

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Winter sports enthusiasts now flock to Scotland,

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and if skiing or tobogganing isn't in their line,

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they can always enjoy something particularly Scottish in flavour - curling.

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Brushing, or sooping, the ice to allow the stone to slide more easily,

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is an integral part of the game

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and an expert sooper is a definite asset to any rink -

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rink being the playing area and the members of a side.

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The object of the game, like bowls,

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is to slide your stone as near as possible

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to the tee at the other end of the rink.

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A word of advice though - if you're in Scotland,

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don't liken the game to bowls.

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A mere Sassenach imitation!

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This morning, for the first time ever,

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we managed to get live pictures from the top of Ben Nevis.

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I think we can probably go over there now,

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because Ian McNaught-Davis is in the Arctic conditions up there on the summit.

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Mac, can you hear me?

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Well, if you've often wondered what the summit of Ben Nevis

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looks like in the middle of winter, this is it.

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A howling wind, thick mist, howling snow and altogether unpleasant.

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It almost makes Scott's last camp in the Antarctic look like home.

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If you're young enough to feel the exhilaration of winging down snowy slopes,

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then start from the Cairngorm peak of Scotland's Grampian mountains

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and ski to your heart's content.

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The chairlift has been designed to carry 500 people an hour

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in double-seated chairs.

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Quite a feat when you consider that in 1947,

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only one hotelier in the area was prepared to accommodate skiers.

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The rest laughed at the idea of Scotland becoming a centre for winter sports.

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So, now in Scotland, where winter once meant hardship,

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sportsmen can easily ascend to the level of their Swiss counterparts.

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If there isn't the appeal associated with Switzerland,

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you at least don't have to yodel for a nice fat glass of Highland whisky at the end of the day.

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It's an alpine-style school at Glencoe

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for training Alsatians in mountain and moorland rescue.

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It combines rescue techniques with methods pioneered by the Red Cross during the war,

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when dogs were used to locate the wounded on a battlefield.

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Until recently, only the RAF could provide fully-trained rescue units.

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Now, civilians are being trained to form voluntary teams

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and these dogs will provide invaluable support.

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Isn't it grand that this stuff's made in Scotland?

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Aye, but that's gey true.

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Yes, Scotch whisky is the true product of Scotland.

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If your steps take you into the Speyside district of the Highlands,

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you'll come across distillery after distillery

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in which the first stages of turning barley into whisky are performed.

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Now, here's the place for the connoisseur - the warehouse.

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Hundreds of casks, stacked and mellowing.

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A tap on the cask tells the expert ear

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whether it's still sound or not.

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That is the reason for the tapping - to make sure the casks are sound.

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Awfu' good stuff.

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The secret is in the water

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and there's plenty of it about in Scotland.

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Little springs that become clear, clean streams

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darting and flickering over the granite

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until they reach the dark peat of the moors.

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To guard it, they use geese, not dogs.

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Though from the gait of them,

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it seems they might well have had a tot or two before coming on duty.

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Dewar's biggest advertising hit was this.

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What you are watching is a priceless cinematic artefact -

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the first ever movie commercial to be screened.

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It was shot in 1898 at enormous expense.

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Watch the methods of the experienced old blender

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who carries out the tests in his sample room.

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Believe it or not, it's nose as does it.

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Thank you, Maureen. That's absolutely wonderful.

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HE CHOKES

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It's got me in the back of the throat.

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There are a few articles in this civilised existence which stand out as perfect examples of their kind.

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And Scotch whisky is one of them.

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My heart's in the Highlands My heart is not here

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My heart's in the Highlands A-hunting the deer.

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And a-hunting the deer is one of the few energetic occupations

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open to a gentleman in the Highlands.

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But the gentlemen are decidedly not Highlanders.

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Queen Victoria started it when she bought Balmoral

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and set up as a laird.

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If the wee German lady could be a laird,

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what was to stop a Glasgow bottle-maker

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or a soap merchant from Lancashire?

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The Highlands had become fashionable.

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Fine new hunting lodges,

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filled with hairless white knees and public-school accents.

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This stalker, an hotelier from Glasgow,

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has paid £150 for a day's shooting on this deer farm.

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The whole secret in deer stalking is you're out to deceive the deer,

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so that you can get close enough to them to get a shot which is sure -

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or as reasonably sure as you can get it -

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to kill them without them having any suspicion

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there's a human been anywhere near them.

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You must always come with the wind blowing towards you,

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away from the deer, because otherwise the deer will scent you

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up to a good mile in the hill.

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And as soon as they scent you, that's it. They're up and away.

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I cannae hold it steady enough.

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Ground can be quite difficult.

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Flat ground, you've got to go very often on your belly and that's it.

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You crawl across a big wet flat.

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You use a drain or a burn if it's available.

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WHISPERS: That's approaching now.

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Somebody once called it a sort of assassination.

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The deer is dead and that's it.

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There is really no stress in deer stalking.

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-Even the sound of a shot to the other deer - it's just a loud noise.

-Congratulations, well done!

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-Morning, John.

-Good morning, Jimmy.

-How are you?

-Very well indeed.

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This is some spectacle here. How many beasts are here?

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There's exactly 100 stags' heads here.

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-That's our season's kill.

-Just one season? That's our season.

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Is there one here that you'd call a really good head?

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Not really, because the state policy is

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that we don't really shoot any good heads at all.

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-I see.

-We leave the good heads to breed with the hinds

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and, once they get old, that's when we shoot them.

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We try to shoot the weak, old and poor, like I've got on the fence.

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This one here is what they call an Imperial, isn't it? It's 14 points.

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-That's correct.

-I would have taken that for a good head.

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You see, this head here is what we would call a very ugly head,

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a very goat-like head, very upright and very, very narrow.

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This is the type of stag that we try to preserve - some width, some beauty about it.

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So that's the reason for shooting that stag there.

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-And that's the reason he was allowed to get so old?

-Absolutely.

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There was something addictive about the killing.

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As one sportsman said of another, he had blood.

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Whenever a person kills a deer, it's like a dog killing a sheep.

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They can never keep away from it again.

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Whereas a traditional clansman might kill one for the pot

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and make use of the entire animal, these kills

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are only for the trophy.

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All they're interested in is the head. A natural coat rack.

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Which makes this place probably the biggest cloakroom in the world.

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Highland dancing is second nature to Duncan Maclean.

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After all, he learnt the finer points from his mother in Scotland

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a matter of 85 years ago. Now 88 himself,

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he regularly has a Highland fling in the front room,

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to remind himself of his days on the music hall

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and to entertain his wife, Elsie.

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Danced here by champions, this is by tradition a solo dance for men.

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An expression of sheer pride and exhilaration of race.

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It is a dance of fierce imagination,

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a medley of spring and lightness of foot.

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A fine and precise movement, robust and at the same time graceful.

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The credit for its birth

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was given to the antics of a courting stag on a Scottish hillside.

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An old shepherd was teaching his grandson to play the chanter

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when they spotted the stag.

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The old man asked if the boy could imitate it.

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Raising his hands above his head to simulate antlers,

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the boy danced about, copying the love dance of the great deer.

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These are animals the locals live in fear of.

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They approach silently and they hunt in packs.

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Once they've attacked,

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they return relentlessly in the pursuit of blood.

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Escape is impossible.

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They are...

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We tend to do a bit of fishing, so they just make it a misery.

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This is midge heaven, or, for the people who live here,

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midge hell.

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You spend the whole day blowing them away from your face and scratching.

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If I mush them around, there are midges all over my face and hands.

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Arrrgh!

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Right, that's it! I've had enough. These things are driving me mad!

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I'm afraid it's time for the net, the head net.

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The number one reason, sadly,

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that people don't come back to Scotland for a holiday - midges.

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The scene's near Braemar in the Deeside Highlands.

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And, in spite of rather miserable weather,

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the park was packed in readiness for the Royal arrivals.

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Princess Alexandra, wearing an Inverness cape.

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The Queen with a feather in her cap.

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Princess Anne and Prince Philip.

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The Queen Mother was also there,

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and, in salute to the Royal Family on holiday in Scotland, the skirl of the pipes.

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I now declare these games open!

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This is the hammer - another one of the heavy events.

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There's one other event, which also takes a great deal of technique.

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It's perhaps the most famous event in any Highland Games - tossing the caber.

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Unlike golf, this is a Scottish sport that has never found much favour south of the border.

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But in Glenfinnan a successful caber tosser

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is rated very highly indeed.

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Although the day Highland man first tossed the caber isn't recorded,

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it happened, legend assures, many hundreds of years ago

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when woodmen developed the technique of catapulting trees

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into the river for their journey to the sawmills.

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It has to land on its nose and pitch right forward.

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Otherwise, no go.

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Strength and perfect timing are two of the main essentials.

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Plus a certain amount of agility if things should not go the right way.

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It's yours.

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-It's mine if I want it. It is!

-Go on!

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Unlucky.

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That was dreadful.

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I don't know how many Highland dancers

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get killed by flying hammers in a year,

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or tug-of-war teams decimated by shot putters,

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or spectators squashed by freshly tossed cabers.

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With half the village of Newtonmore watching,

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I was determined not to be beaten by Purves.

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But something was about to happen that did make me drop the caber,

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even though it was only a small one.

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SQUEALING AND LAUGHTER

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Yes, there's room for more children and more people in the Highlands.

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It's terrible to think that little more than a century ago

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thousands of crofters were driven from their homes in the glens

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to make room for sheep farmers and sportsmen from the south.

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The sigh of tragedy still lies heavy on the land.

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Oh, I'll not deny things are better now

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than when Geordie Mackay was a boy.

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But, for all that, crofting is very much what it always has been.

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We have our three or four acres,

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and we have to work hard to grow our few potatoes,

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some vegetables for the house,

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a patch of oats, some hay

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and a few turnips for the beasts in the winter.

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And above the crofts, on the slopes of the hills,

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we have our common ground where the sheep and the cattle are grazed.

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Highlanders are often visualised as just purveyors of good fishing,

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shooting and glorious scenery.

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Yet the crofters are very different beings.

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With small farms and ancient implements, they toil for their livelihood.

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On the moors, the top layer of soil is removed

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to disclose the peat beds from which the precious fuel is dug.

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It takes several weeks before the peat is dry enough to use,

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and it's quite a common sight in the Highlands

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to see the dug peat hanging under the cottage eaves.

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Time seems to have stayed its hand in many parts of the Highlands

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and spinning and weaving is still the work of nimble fingers

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and inherited skill.

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But the whole world knows the wonderful cloth

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that these industrious folk produce.

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This is Ian, a boy with a question mark over him.

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He is growing up in the Highlands of Scotland,

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on a small farm above Loch Ness and the monster.

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What does the future hold for Ian

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and thousands of youngsters like him in this remote corner of Britain?

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For more than a century, there's been a steady drain

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of people from the Highlands.

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But some do stay. Young Ian's father and mother, for instance.

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They saw the Highlands as a place of opportunity.

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Mr and Mrs Jack gave up city life and secure positions,

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and bought themselves a tough job - a derelict croft,

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fields unfenced and choked with weeds.

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Certainly, it's been very hard work.

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It is hard but, it's morning till night. Every day, seven days a week.

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No breaks, no holidays, but I think, in the end, it's worth it.

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Worth it for the sake of Ian, to give him the heritage

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of a country upbringing in close touch with nature.

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The main idea, of course, is to get as much of this land as we can under grass.

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And with the grass we then can put cattle

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and I think it is in cattle and in young calves that is the future.

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At least our future lives, and the future of many small people.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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They call this the Skye Line, and it runs through

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some of the most gloomily beautiful country in the world.

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Country which looks and sounds as if it's out of Tolkien,

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with names like the Valley of Drizzle,

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Raven Rock and the Black Water.

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The lochs and lonely crags and empty moors it passes through

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are thick with legends of giants and beasts,

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and one particularly fearsome witch known in the trade as Hairy Agnes.

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Honestly, it says so in the British Rail brochure.

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This is without any exception the most magnificent railway journey

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in the British Isles.

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The Mallaig line, from Fort William to the sea.

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And the observation car lets you see it properly.

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Rivers and mountains, birch trees,

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heather, bracken, and trout rings breaking on the lochs.

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Perfect.

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Many of these little crofting communities in the Western Highlands

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are 60 miles or more from the nearest railway station.

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Aye, and before they made the new road

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it was three days by horse or five on foot over the hills to Lairg.

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But now we have the mail car.

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Every day, the mail car from Lairg comes over to Achriesgill,

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bringing letters and parcels, news from the outside world and stores for the shop.

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A son home on leave maybe.

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Hello, here's Andy Ross home on leave.

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By Jove, and he's looking well.

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It must be three years since he was home last.

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But the most devoted family must meet the outside world sometimes.

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So usually the farmer provides transport twice a week to the nearest village or town,

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so the wife can get her shopping done and her man meet his friends.

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Before the trains came,

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the 30-mile journey from Fort William to the coast had to be done

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in a horse-drawn coach, bumping crazily over rough cart tracks.

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It took 7½ hours to get there,

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so long that it could never get back the same day.

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The railway reduced this time to little over one hour,

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an improvement of something like 80%.

0:23:100:23:13

It was almost as if balloons had been replaced overnight

0:23:130:23:16

by Concorde, with nothing else at all in-between.

0:23:160:23:19

Loch Ness, on which the eyes of the world are focused.

0:23:300:23:34

The reputed haunt of a prehistoric monster, or monsters,

0:23:340:23:37

and the newly found adventure ground of modern Gullivers.

0:23:370:23:41

Mr Weatherall, the game hunter and his party,

0:23:410:23:43

who have been hot on the trail of the monster for some time,

0:23:430:23:47

set out from Foyers to comb the lake.

0:23:470:23:49

There is competition from local enthusiasts,

0:23:490:23:52

with ambitions to earn eternal fame

0:23:520:23:54

for the discovery of a species long thought fabulous.

0:23:540:23:57

One optimist has conceived the idea of baling out the lake,

0:23:570:24:00

and all along the lochside a well-fortified watch is being maintained by good Scotsmen.

0:24:000:24:04

Can you take me rope?

0:24:040:24:07

Lovely.

0:24:070:24:09

-Are you local?

-Yes.

-Do you believe in this Loch Ness monster?

0:24:090:24:13

Er... I've seen it.

0:24:130:24:16

-You've seen it?

-Yes.

0:24:160:24:18

-Have you?

-Yes.

-What's it like?

0:24:180:24:19

It had a long, thin black neck with a small head,

0:24:190:24:23

and it was moving a lot.

0:24:230:24:25

Whereabouts was it?

0:24:250:24:27

It was about half-a-mile out from the shore.

0:24:270:24:30

-Were you frightened?

-Yes.

0:24:300:24:32

-Were you?

-Yes.

-You were on shore, though?

-Yes.

0:24:320:24:34

# I'm the monster of Loch Ness

0:24:340:24:38

# Och, aye, och, aye, oh, yes!

0:24:380:24:41

# Folk get the needle all around the Isle of Wight

0:24:410:24:44

# When they hear me growling in the middle of the night

0:24:440:24:48

# I'm the monster of Loch Ness

0:24:480:24:50

# I can beat the Scotch Express

0:24:500:24:53

# I'm the terror of the north I could drink the Firth of Forth

0:24:530:24:57

# I'm the monster of Loch Ness. #

0:24:570:24:59

One man who firmly believes in the legend

0:24:590:25:02

is a lowly Sassenach called Frank Searle.

0:25:020:25:05

For seven years, Londoner Searle has scanned the loch

0:25:080:25:12

for sight and sound of its elusive tenant.

0:25:120:25:15

He's a firm believer that the monster, or monsters, exists,

0:25:190:25:22

and his Lochside Museum sustains interest in Nessie herself.

0:25:220:25:27

The Crusader, Britain's new jet speedboat,

0:25:320:25:35

arrives at Loch Ness under the watchful eye of John Cobb, the man who is to drive her,

0:25:350:25:40

and his manager, Captain George Eyston, another speed king.

0:25:400:25:43

The Crusader is swung over the side for her first taste of the water.

0:25:430:25:48

John Cobb's wife was up there at Loch Ness with him,

0:25:480:25:50

watching his trial runs and, indeed, his last fatal run.

0:25:500:25:53

It was just as he'd completed one run over the measured mile at the record speed of 206.8

0:25:530:25:59

that the crash happened.

0:25:590:26:00

This is the filmed story of the fatal run.

0:26:000:26:03

Crusader has plunged to destruction.

0:26:120:26:14

John Cobb, a gallant, reserved and truly modest man,

0:26:140:26:17

who devoted his life to speed on land and water,

0:26:170:26:20

lost his life in a daring attempt to win more laurels for his country.

0:26:200:26:24

Rising two-thirds of a mile into the sky,

0:26:320:26:35

the West Highland mountain Ben Cruachan

0:26:350:26:38

seems to be a magnet for people with big ideas.

0:26:380:26:40

The Celts peopled it with mythical beings.

0:26:440:26:46

In the '60s, engineers hollowed it out for a power station,

0:26:460:26:49

and now there's a sculptor with a truly monumental ambition -

0:26:490:26:54

to turn the mountain into the massive figure of a fallen Celtic hero,

0:26:540:26:58

to celebrate the contribution of Gaelic culture to Scotland.

0:26:580:27:02

The design of the figure, called Oscar,

0:27:020:27:04

only exists as a drawing so far.

0:27:040:27:06

But even this has led critics

0:27:060:27:08

to rechristen the very obviously male form "Chilly Willy"

0:27:080:27:11

and to accuse the driving force behind the plans, Sandy Stoddart,

0:27:110:27:15

of trying to wage war on nature.

0:27:150:27:17

The next job for the monument's backers is to see what it will cost,

0:27:170:27:21

and that's only a tiny part of the mountain

0:27:210:27:24

they will really have to climb to realise this vision.

0:27:240:27:27

You are now looking at another ancient piece of Scottish history.

0:27:270:27:32

And I don't mean me, I'm talking of course about Ben Nevis.

0:27:320:27:36

The highest mountain in the British Isles. It's over 4,400 feet high.

0:27:360:27:40

Climbing it is quite a good sport, so we'll join the party at the hostel.

0:27:400:27:44

The sturdy ponies are useful for carrying camera equipment and baggage.

0:27:440:27:48

And they're so sure-footed they won't spill a drop.

0:27:480:27:50

But the most amazing ascent, I think, took place as far back as 1911,

0:27:500:27:55

when a man reached the summit, but in a motor car.

0:27:550:27:58

Mind you, I can understand their enthusiasm

0:27:580:28:01

for it's really a wonderful view.

0:28:010:28:03

It quite amazing the people you find

0:28:040:28:07

wandering around the top of Ben Nevis at any hour of any day.

0:28:070:28:11

This lady declined to be interviewed, quite rightly,

0:28:110:28:13

on the grounds that what she was doing was nobody's business.

0:28:130:28:17

To climb to the summit takes between two and three hours

0:28:170:28:20

and from the top you can look down

0:28:200:28:21

upon a view as gloriously wild as you could wish.

0:28:210:28:24

The Hielans of bonnie Scotland.

0:28:240:28:26

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:29:030:29:06

E-mail [email protected]

0:29:060:29:08

From crofters, mountains and midges to hunting, whisky and the Highland Games, key archive gems from newsreel and documentary collections combine to create a portrait of the region and its people.