In Search of the Real Scotland Grand Tours of Scotland


In Search of the Real Scotland

Paul Murton boards the Jacobite steam train to make the journeys from Fort William to Mallaig and the Isle of Skye.


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This is the beautiful landscape of Scotland's Highlands and Islands,

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a place whose secrets were seldom revealed to outsiders.

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200 years ago, travelling here for pleasure would have been unthinkable.

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But then this happened - the power of steam.

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Within a century, a network of railways had spread across the entire country,

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connecting the industrial cities of the south to the mountains and glens of the north,

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and with the trains came the tourists, all clamouring for a piece of the real Scotland.

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In Victorian times, many holidaymakers followed routes

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suggested by the most influential guide book of all, Black's Picturesque Guide to Scotland.

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In this series, I'm taking my own well-thumbed copy of this fascinating book.

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It's been in my family for generations and was always kept

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in the glove compartment of my father's car when we went on holiday.

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Now it's inspired me to make six journeys of my own.

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Letting its pages guide me, I want to retrace the steps of the early tourists

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to find out how Scotland became a jewel in the crown of tourist destinations.

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On this grand tour, I'm in search of the real Scotland,

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finding out how tourists came looking for an authentic experience in this fabulous landscape.

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On this journey, I'm catching a train from Fort William on my favourite scenic railway line,

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travelling west to the fishing port of Mallaig before sailing on to the fabled Isle of Skye.

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This is the West Highland Line, which has been voted

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the most beautiful stretch of railway in the world,

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and if that isn't impressive enough, it's also a star of the silver screen.

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Among many film appearances, it's had a major role in Harry Potter,

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when this train becomes the Hogwarts Express.

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But today, it has a different role to play as the Jacobite Steam Train,

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a tourist delight and a steam enthusiast's heaven.

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It's hard to imagine what would make a railway buff more excited

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than sitting on a famous steam train pulling period carriages travelling through such iconic scenery.

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The Jacobite train beautifully conjures up the golden age of steam railways when Victorian ingenuity

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cut distances and time in a way that previously would have been unimaginable.

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18th-century travellers to Scotland took eight days to get from London to Edinburgh by stagecoach.

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By 1848, steam trains had cut the journey time to 12.5 hours.

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For the first time in history, large parts of the Highlands had become

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easily and quickly accessible, but more importantly, the steam train had democratised travel,

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making holidays and tourism possible for more than just the very rich.

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Increasingly, Victorians were able to leave the dull routine of their daily lives

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and make the great escape, and what they wanted to see was their version of the real Scotland.

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Railways promoted themselves heavily in newspapers, magazines and posters.

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Images of dramatic landscapes, mountains and tranquil lochs offered the prospect of a quick getaway,

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an intoxicating idea for work-weary Victorians toiling in the big cities of the south.

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And to help them on their way, railway companies produced a variety

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of line-side guides pointing out sights of interest along the route.

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The writer of this line-side guide

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sees the railway line with its tunnels and cuttings and bridges as part of Scotland's heritage,

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part of Scotland's scenery and is at great pains to point out how unobtrusive it is.

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And he writes, "Never was there a railway that disfigured less the countryside through which it passed.

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"Like a mere scratch on the mountain, it glides from valley to valley." Indeed so.

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Watching the Jacobite steam train puffing its way across the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, it's easy

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to see why Victorians thought it actually enhanced the view.

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It's a sight that's still a major attraction.

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Just beyond the viaduct is Glenfinnan Station, a lovingly preserved example

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of Victorian railway architecture at its charming best.

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I met up with railway historian John Ransom in the station museum to find out

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how early tourism flourished on the West Highland Line.

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Firstly, the railways up from England

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were tremendously important in bringing people to the Highlands.

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Every member of the great and good in Victorian Britain had his

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shooting estate up on the Highlands and the whole lot came up here in the first couple of weeks of August.

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That was the grouse fortnight, as they called it, then they all went back again at the end of it.

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It wasn't just the landowner and his wife, it was his children and

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his nannies and his servants and his horses and carriages and everything else, all came up by train.

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The Old Station Museum is a shrine to the golden age of steam, but during the tourist season,

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holidaymakers can enjoy the excitement of the real thing.

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On the train it's just magic, you know, the, the clickety, clickety clack and, you know, and you

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hear the train chugging, the engine pulling and everything, that's just magnificent, that's really brilliant.

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I love the train and I love the sound of the train, you know, going

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really slowly and yes, not really, you know, you can see the landscape.

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It's unbelievable, it's unbelievable. I've been through some wonderful railway journeys in my lifetime

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but I think this will take an awful, awful lot of beating.

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Following in the tracks of early railway tourists, I'm leaving the station and

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making the short walk down the road to the shores of Loch Shiel.

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My guidebook teasingly describes this place as "a silent solitary spot, yet

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"it was here that the first movement was made towards rebellion which threatened to convulse the Empire."

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This monument was built with the tourist just as much in mind

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as the event it commemorates - the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

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There is probably nothing that competes

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in terms of tragedy and romance than the failed Jacobite Rebellion.

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The Jacobites were led by the romantic figure of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

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In July 1745, he landed here on a mission impossible

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to reclaim the British throne for the exiled Stuart monarchy.

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It was a doomed enterprise right from the start, but perversely it was precisely because it

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was such a tragic failure that the Jacobite Rebellion became the stuff

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of legend and popular mythology and in defeat, Bonnie Prince Charlie achieved celebrity status.

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The Jacobite Prince was only in Scotland for a year,

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but everywhere he went became hallowed ground for the Victorians.

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They just couldn't get enough of this tragic royal hero.

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To help them, obliging travel agents and publishers produced guides on all things Jacobite in Scotland,

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and even today, the eponymous Jacobite steam train recalls the time

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when Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced to flee through this wild landscape.

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Even Queen Victoria, whose great-great-grandfather, George II,

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had destroyed the Jacobite dream forever,

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felt a romantic connection with the tragic Prince.

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After visiting Glenfinnan she wrote, "I feel a sort of reverence in going

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"over the scenes in this most beautiful country which I am proud

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"to call my own, where there is such a devoted loyalty to my ancestors,

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"for Stuart blood is in my veins."

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Very "sturm und drang", blood and soil, very German, but then, of course, she was.

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The Jacobite trail takes me to Arisaig, where I leave the train

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and get my first view of the sea and the islands of the Inner Hebrides.

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Ever mindful of the Victorian passion for all things Jacobite,

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Black's Guide excitedly notes that gold was landed here at the height of the Rebellion.

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Two French ships were intercepted in the loch by the Royal Navy but after a fierce gun battle,

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they escaped, leaving the treasure behind them.

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Intriguingly, the treasure was never recovered and to this day, its whereabouts remains a mystery.

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And it's also treasure that links Arisaig with the fictional pirate

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Long John Silver, the loveable anti-hero of Treasure Island.

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According to local legend, an Arisaig man called John Silver

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was working on the construction of Barra Head Lighthouse when he met the architect Thomas Stevenson

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and his son Robert Louis Stevenson, who later became the famous author.

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Now this, say local folk, is how the pirate in Treasure Island got his name, Long John Silver.

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For me, Arisaig's greatest treasure has to be this,

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the stunning views of the Inner Hebrides.

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I'm meeting up with photographer Peter Cairns to ask him about the relationship between

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modern iconic landscape images of Scotland

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and the image promoted by my copy of Black's Picturesque Guide Book.

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I think the word picturesque is in many ways relative because if you're a Victorian

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living in an increasingly industrialised, urbanised environment in the south then, you know,

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Scotland was picturesque, Scotland was wild, this was a wild landscape and to a large degree it still is.

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Of course now we do paint Scotland, in inverted commas, or portray

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Scotland as this picturesque, wild landscape with minimal human impact.

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In reality that's not necessarily realistic,

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but I think it's that notion that we create, that dream, that aspiration.

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s a photographer, would that lead you, that idea of the

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picturesque and the wild, lead you to frame out objects like pylons or industrial plants or fish farms?

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Are you conscious that these things might be blots on the landscape?

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Yes, very much so, and I have to say I sort of wrestle with

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that whole conundrum all the time, and I'm not alone doing that.

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You know, most landscape photographers do that.

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Whether that creates a...

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misrepresentation of the landscape, I guess is debatable, but you're right,

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photographers, generally speaking,

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perpetuate this notion of pristine, of a pristine landscape which perhaps is unrealistic in this day and age.

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It seems to me there's a long tradition of hiding the real Scotland from the tourist,

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but in this place there's no need to airbrush the picture.

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There are no blots on the landscape, there's nothing to hide, and for my money,

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even a grey day like today has an authentic beauty of its own.

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It's grey, but still very beautiful.

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Absolutely, and it's Scotland, you know, it's a classic landscape of Scotland.

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It may not be a stereotypical postcard view

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but it has a beauty of its own, it's layer upon layer of grey.

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I think it's stunning.

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Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

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From Arisaig, the West Highland Line takes me to the port of Mallaig, from where I take the car ferry

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over the sea to Skye, a journey celebrated by the famous Jacobite song.

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The ferry makes landfall at Armadale Pier, where I'm the only passenger to disembark on foot.

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Everyone else, it seems, is making the onward journey by car or motorbike.

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Of course, in Victorian times people didn't have the luxury of bringing cars over to the island,

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so in my search for the real Scotland

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I'm going to see if I can't find some local buses to take me on my way.

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Now interestingly, Black's guidebook warns against some pretty sharp practices

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perpetrated by the islanders and here it says somewhat pompously, "numerous complaints have

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"been received from tourists about the extortions practised on the Isle of Skye.

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"Overcharging at hotels is commonplace, and charges for guides,

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"ponies and boats justly complained of."

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Now that was in 1862, and I'm sure things have changed.

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The guidebook expressed the hope that the evils of overcharging would disappear

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once local people experienced the wholesome influence of reasonable, educated tourists from the south.

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Interestingly, the early tourist Sarah Murray, who visited these parts

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at the turn of the 19th century, was also concerned about the influence of tourism on local people.

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She was worried that Highland culture was slowly being eroded and after a trip to the Hebrides

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she wrote that "the language and habits of the Highlanders will shortly be wholly laid aside."

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Now that's a concern that continues to exercise people to this very day.

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In many ways, Sarah Murray's fears have been realised.

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Over the last 200 years, much of the culture and language of the island has been lost.

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However, a number of recent Government initiatives now support Gaelic.

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Travelling the island, drivers can't fail to notice the bilingual road signs like this one here.

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Port Righ, Gaelic for Port of the King.

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In English, Portree.

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Caol Loch Aillse in Gaelic, Kyle of Lochalsh in English.

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Now the Government have also supported the publication of several handy phrase books like this,

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and to see how useful it's been, I'm going to put this one to the test.

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I want to ask how to get to the post office, or oifis a' phuist,

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and I want to buy a postcard - that's cairt-phuist - and a stamp - stampa.

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-Latha math.

-Latha math.

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HE STARTS TO ASK QUESTION No, you're wasting your time. I don't speak Gaelic.

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Cait a bheil oifis a' phuist?

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-Em...

-English.

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Cait a bheil oifis a' phuist?

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Oh, I'm, I'm sorry, my English was a little bit better.

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I'm not, er, I'm German.

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Cait a bheil oifis a' phuist? Oifis a' phuist?

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TRIES TO REPLY IN GAELIC

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Cait a bheil oifis a' phuist?

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HE REPLIES

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Tapadh leat.

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It works. It works! It's fantastic.

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-It's fantastic. Are you a Gaelic speaker?

-No.

-No?

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-Better than you, I think.

-Better than you.

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'That's me told! But it has to be said, in English.

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'So where are all the Gaelic speakers?

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'Perhaps I'll find one in the Post Office where I still have to buy a postcard and a stamp.'

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-Er...

-cairt-phuist.

-Cairt-phuist.

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SIMPLE CONVERSATION

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'A genuine Gaelic speaker at last, but as I've already found out

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'on this quest for the real Scotland,

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'things are not always as they first appear.'

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Did you learn the Gaelic at home or...?

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I had a bit from home, I learnt most of it at the Gaelic College.

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-Oh, right.

-Yes.

-Right.

-So I'm actually just finished my first year.

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-Oh, right.

-At the college, but I did have Gaelic before I came.

-Uh-huh.

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And where did you learn that?

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From a book, actually. My grandmother had Gaelic but she died before I was born

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-so I taught myself from a book.

-Where are you from originally? Are you from Skye?

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My family are originally from Skye, but I grew up in England when my dad was working as a minister.

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I've moved back in the last year.

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-So it's in the blood?

-Yes.

-It's in the genes.

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This modern, and I have to say rather belated interest in Gaelic,

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would have bewildered most Victorian tourists,

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many of whom considered the language to be evidence of Highland primitivism.

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Unfortunately, the few who might have shown an interest in Gaelic

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would have found my copy of Black's disappointing.

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It is resolutely silent on the subject, preferring instead

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to promote the romantic myth of the island's Jacobite connections.

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Interestingly, some Victorians were keen to have an alternative, more authentic experience, a piece of

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the real Scotland, and to find out more I've come to this church.

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THEY SING IN GAELIC

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Church going was an important event for all Victorians, but to English tourists there was something

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utterly exotic about a Gaelic service and Gaelic hymn singing.

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Historian Kathy Haldane Grenier has written about how church-going

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became a tourist attraction in its own right.

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One of the key differences

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between England and Scotland, as understood in the 19th century, was religious difference,

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so religion is an entry point into Scottishness

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that was seen as something that's genuinely Scottish,

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that this is an experience not staged by the tourist industry, that this is

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something ordinary people do and so you're able to take part

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in a shared experience with Scots.

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In a sense this is tied up with the idea of the search for the authentic Scotland.

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By coming to a Gaelic service you're participating in something which is

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authentically Highland, authentically Gaelic.

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Right, I think that's true, so I think they are looking at

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Scottish religiosity through their preconceptions of what they want Highland crofters to be.

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And to some degree if you're a tourist, you never really stop being a tourist, so as much as

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they see themselves as participating in a genuine local experience, they're still spectating, they're

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still looking through preconceptions, and understanding things in a way that works best for them.

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SINGING

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Personally, I've always found the sound of Gaelic psalm singing extraordinarily moving,

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even if I can never be anything more than a spectator, and I think it's fair to say

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that the desire to have an authentic experience when we're travelling is something that many of us share.

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But it strikes me that the very idea of being a tourist makes the search for the authentic more elusive.

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In the modern world, to be called a tourist implies being lumped in with the herd.

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To avoid the dreadful tourist label, we like to describe ourselves today in more exciting terms as

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backpackers, mountaineers, cyclists, kayakers, or whatever our particular bag is.

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The whole concept of tourism has been revised to make

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our own experience of Scotland seem like the authentic one.

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'Hopping aboard a Haggis Tour, I'm meeting up with guide Kay Gillespie.'

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I want to find out how the quest for an authentic experience

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of Scotland has re-invented the traditional coach tour.

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What makes a Haggis Tour different from other tours, do you think?

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-We pride ourselves in being passionate...

-Passionate?

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We've chosen what we think are the best places in Scotland to visit.

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We like to take our customers off the beaten track.

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-Right.

-We teach them the history, we show them the scenery.

-Uh-huh.

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-We let them try whisky.

-Right.

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-We take them for a party.

-Right.

-We have them dancing in the car parks outside the hostels.

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You've had them dancing in the car parks?

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We certainly did. We did Strip The Willow, courtesy of our lovely driver Joe.

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We start in Edinburgh.

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We make our way up through Stirling, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

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We do at stop at Glencoe. On this occasion we came right up to the Isle of Skye.

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-Right.

-We visit quite a few places. We try and pack quite a lot into our three days.

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The Haggis bus stops to allows its passengers to admire an incomparable view of the Cuillins.

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-Are you guys ready?

-Yeah.

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As Kay entertains her tourists with a quirky re-telling of an old folk tale,

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I'm left wondering how much has really changed since the Victorians came looking for the real Scotland.

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To be a bit philosophical for a moment, I think it's only fair

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to say that the search for reality has always been a bit problematic.

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That's because our expectations lead us to see what we want to see and even those Victorians who thought

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they got close to an authentic experience of Scotland failed to notice or to understand

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the social injustice and poverty that was tearing the Highlands apart.

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Here at the Museum of Island Life, modern tourists have another chance

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to understand the issues that most Victorians failed to see clearly -

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the reality of Highland poverty.

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Many Victorians didn't see the poverty at all.

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Instead, they made the idiotic assumption,

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and one that many modern tourists continue to make when they visit other cultures,

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that because the material lifestyle of the people is simple, the people themselves were simple

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and were therefore unaware of their circumstances.

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This allowed tourists to see poverty, not for what it was in reality, but as picturesque,

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neatly matching the images of the Highlands projected by Black's Picturesque Guide,

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and may explain why one lady visitor

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wrote indulgently of meeting "a kindly old crone who rejoiced in the peat smoke that filled her room."

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But at other times, tourists described these homes as miserable huts, and felt a sense

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of embarrassment when confronted by the obvious hardship facing the families that lived in them.

0:23:220:23:29

Tourist like this were the majority. They glimpsed the real Scotland and didn't like what they saw.

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Finding it all too uncomfortable and difficult to reconcile with their expectations,

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they blocked out the poverty and concentrated instead on the landscape.

0:23:400:23:46

This is the tiny harbour of Elgol.

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From here, the adventurous traveller can take a boat

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to reach the ultimate tourist destination on Skye.

0:23:550:23:59

I've come here to meet my old friend John Hambrey.

0:23:590:24:03

As students, we sailed the West Coast together. Today we're setting course

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for the dark heart of the impressively grim Cuillin Mountains.

0:24:070:24:11

I think it's very telling that my copy of Black's guidebook urges the Victorian tourist to visit a place

0:24:140:24:20

that is nothing but landscape, a place of no culture, of no history, a place of utter desolation.

0:24:200:24:28

It says a lot about the lengths Victorian tourists would go to,

0:24:280:24:32

just to have an authentic experience of Scotland.

0:24:320:24:35

But sailing into this heart of darkness confirms my belief

0:24:370:24:42

that the West Coast of Scotland is a sailing paradise.

0:24:420:24:46

Like me, John can't get enough of its watery delights.

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When did you get the sailing bug then, John?

0:24:500:24:53

Well, I sailed little dinghies when I was a kid.

0:24:530:24:56

But I was never actually that keen on it.

0:24:560:25:00

The first time I got really excited

0:25:000:25:03

was when I came with six students in a 24-foot boat that we hired out at Crinan.

0:25:030:25:09

-Right. Right.

-And we spent three weeks sailing, and fighting.

0:25:090:25:14

-Right.

-And drinking, and having a great time.

0:25:140:25:18

I thought, well, anyone could do this, I could charter a boat and come to these wonderful places.

0:25:180:25:24

But I think it was not far from here, on a beautiful sunset evening with

0:25:240:25:31

the sun setting over Eigg and Rum and the Cuillin all going purple in the background,

0:25:310:25:38

and a gannet dived behind the boat

0:25:380:25:41

in a shower of gold.

0:25:410:25:45

-So I had a kind of spiritual experience, I thought this is good, you know, this is pretty good.

-Yeah.

0:25:450:25:50

-There's not much better than this.

-That was your epiphany moment.

-That was it, yeah.

0:25:500:25:54

-Has it ever been the same again?

-No.

-Never is, is it?

0:25:540:25:58

It's always that first time.

0:25:580:26:00

I don't know, every time I get out there, I still get a kick actually.

0:26:000:26:05

And, in here especially, this place is

0:26:050:26:09

so different from your routine life coming in here that...

0:26:090:26:12

Oh, it's an extraordinary-looking place.

0:26:120:26:15

Leaving John and his boat anchored beneath the cliffs, I continue on foot

0:26:170:26:21

to what I believe is one of the finest scenic locations in Scotland,

0:26:210:26:27

an extraordinary body of water nestling beneath the towering rock pinnacles of the Cuillin Ridge.

0:26:270:26:33

The place is called Loch Coruisk and it never fails to take my breath away.

0:26:330:26:38

The geologist John MacCulloch first brought Loch Coruisk to public attention in 1819.

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"I felt transported as if by some magician.

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"It appeared as if all living things had abandoned this spot to the spirit of solitude.

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"I held my breath to listen for a sound, but everything was hushed."

0:26:550:27:00

In this impressive landscape, it's worth remembering

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the 19th-century cult of the sublime, an ideal that drew so many early tourists to Scotland.

0:27:070:27:13

The sublime was all about finding a landscape so impressive and awe-inspiring

0:27:130:27:19

it made you think of the power of God Almighty who created it all.

0:27:190:27:23

But this place was different. It was almost too much.

0:27:230:27:28

The alien, Godless atmosphere seemed to go to people's heads.

0:27:350:27:39

One tourist wrote that he felt on the brink of madness.

0:27:390:27:43

"I came with a beating heart upon Loch Coruisk, a deep,

0:27:430:27:46

"dark, solemn piece of still water surrounded by such terrors that one is really afraid to look at them."

0:27:460:27:54

The wild landscape of Loch Coruisk forced some tourists to

0:27:570:28:00

conclude that their search for the Almighty in nature was in vain.

0:28:000:28:05

The Victorians came and found only the echo of their own voices and their own footsteps.

0:28:070:28:13

This was a landscape so desolate and terrible a man could be driven mad with thoughts of suicide.

0:28:130:28:20

It made you think that there was no God, that mankind was utterly alone.

0:28:200:28:25

Perhaps here, in the dark heart of the Cuillins,

0:28:250:28:29

the Victorians had found what they were looking for, the real Scotland.

0:28:290:28:34

Ironic, really, because there's nothing here.

0:28:340:28:37

My next Grand Tour sees me on the trail of a healthy mind and body

0:28:390:28:45

as I follow Black's Guide into the elements.

0:28:450:28:49

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:29:020:29:05

E-mail [email protected]

0:29:050:29:07

Paul Murton follows in the footsteps of the first tourists to Scotland. With a Victorian guidebook in his hands, he travels across the country tracing the changes that have taken place since the birth of Scottish tourism 200 years ago.

Paul boards the Jacobite steamtrain, and star of the Harry Potter movies, to make one of the worlds most famous railways journeys and goes 'in search of the real Scotland'.

For centuries, outsiders had seldom visited the beautiful landscape of the west coast, but the power of steam changed everything. Within a century, a network of railways spread across the entire country, connecting the industrial cities of the south to the mountains and glens of the north. With the trains came the tourists - all clamouring for a piece of the real Scotland.

Paul's route starts at the foot of Ben Nevis in Fort William and continues along the beautiful railway line to Mallaig and onwards to the fabled Isle of Skye.


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