Mind, Body and Spirit Grand Tours of Scotland


Mind, Body and Spirit

Paul Murton follows in the footsteps of Scotland's first tourists. Here, he travels from Loch Tay, across Rannoch Moor, and ends his journey in Strathpeffer.


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Without doubt, one of Scotland's most abundant resources has to be this.

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Magnificent scenery, enormous tracts of beautiful, varied countryside.

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A great outdoors that's attracted tourists and travellers

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for the last 200 years.

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Early visitors came and stood in awe of places like this.

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They still do, of course, but increasingly our mountains,

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lochs and glens have become a sort of

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giant playground where we can escape the pressures of the modern world.

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This is a place that exercises the body and expands the mind.

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In Victorian times, many holidaymakers followed routes

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suggested by the most influential guide book of all -

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Black's Picturesque Guide To Scotland.

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In this series, I'm taking my well-thumbed copy

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of this fascinating book.

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

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in the glove compartment of my father's car

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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

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of the early tourists to find out how Scotland became

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a jewel in the crown of tourist destinations.

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For this journey, I'm on the trail of health and the great outdoors,

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finding out how Scotland's landscape has drawn visitors with the promise

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of improving, mind, body and spirit.

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This grand tour starts on the shores of Loch Tay in Perthshire,

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goes north across the great wilderness of Rannoch Moor,

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through Glencoe and then across Loch Ness and north again

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to the old spa town of Strathpeffer.

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I'm in the picturesque Highland village of Killin,

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which makes the proud boast of being at the centre of Scotland.

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In the 19th century,

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Killin was a hub for road, rail and steamer connections that

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allowed tourists to get away from it all

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and benefit from an escape into Scotland's wilder country.

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When it comes to extolling the virtues of the Scottish landscape,

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my Victorian guide book doesn't hold back.

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Here it says, "There is no country whose ever-changing scenery

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"deserves more reflection than the Highlands of Scotland,

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"and we're bound to exclaim in the words of the modern poet,

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"then hurrah for the Highlands,

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"the stern Scottish Highlands,

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"the home of the clansman, the brave and the free.

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"Where the clouds love to rest on the mountains rough breast,

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"ere they journey afar on the boundless sea."

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But looking at the clouds today, I fear they have not journeyed quite far enough.

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But otherwise, pure genius.

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In Victorian times, it was easy enough for ordinary folk

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to get to this health-giving landscape.

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According to Black's guide, a tourist could leave Edinburgh

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or Glasgow and complete a circular tour to Killin in a single day.

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Until the 1960s, Killin had its own railway station

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and there were regular steam boat services on Loch Tay.

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But the public transport links that once served the village are now all gone.

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Nowadays, tourists and day-trippers usually do the round trip

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from Glasgow by car, or for the more adventurous, by motorbike.

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At a pub overlooking the Falls of Dochart,

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I'm meeting up with members of the Mercury Motorcycle Club.

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Killin is a favourite time-honoured destination.

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In Killin, just now, we hold a rally every year

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and it's certainly a great place to come and visit.

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The people here are lovely and there's a great selection of pubs.

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We love every bit. The west coast has become famous for motorcycles,

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because of the small roads, the islands.

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There's places we've never seen on the west coast, we've never been to.

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And you could take a lifetime to explore it.

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It's really fantastic.

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Giving up on public transport,

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I hitch a ride with the club to continue my journey north.

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Early guide books made the unwise claim that the roads

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to Highland of Scotland are the best and safest in the world.

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Now this was a wildly-exaggerated claim at the time

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and certainly not true now judging by the horrendous potholes

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we encounter on the drive north.

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But it seems that right from the start,

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travel guides were keen to encourage tourists on to Scotland's roads.

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They held out the promise of freedom, of exciting journeys

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through spectacular scenery,

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where there was always something new just around the corner.

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Anyone whose ever driven north from Glasgow to the Highlands

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will recognise this place.

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Tyndrum, which means in Gaelic the house on the hillside.

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Now despite this rather evocative name, I think it's only fair to say

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that Tyndrum is, well, just a wee bit challenged in the picturesque department.

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What most visitors to Tyndrum won't know is that this busy place

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once served the needs of a different sort of tourist.

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Unlikely as it may seem,

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people used to come here for the good of their health.

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For 1,000 years, pilgrims stopped on their way

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to take the waters of a nearby holy well.

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The first person to write about delights of Tyndrum was Sarah Murray.

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In 1796, this redoubtable lady traveller

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spent three months touring the Highlands.

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Forced to shelter from torrential rain,

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she spent an uncomfortable night at a hotel here.

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"There is little to see or admire in Tyndrum.

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"The landlord however wished me to see a holy well

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"near Strathfillan Kirk, whose waters, he told me,

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"cured every disease but that of the purse."

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I love Sarah Murray, she's never afraid to poke fun at her own failings.

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She completely misunderstood the man's Highland accent and thought

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purse must be a Gaelic name for some sort of disease.

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When she asked what purse might mean in English, he said,

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"Money, madam, it will not cure the want of that!"

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Indeed not.

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Just down the road from Tyndrum is the holy well the innkeeper wanted Sarah Murray to see.

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As a Highland version of the healing grotto of Lourdes,

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St Fillan's is a bit disappointing.

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But in the years before the Reformation,

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the priory of St Fillan stood nearby

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and pilgrims flocked here in the hope of a cure.

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The holy pool is actually on a bend in the river, but traffic

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on the busy A82 just over there

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does tend to undermine any religious atmosphere you might get.

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But this is where pilgrims in the Middle Ages came,

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looking for a cure.

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Now the holy pool was reputed to cure a range of diseases,

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but was particularly beneficial to those suffering from mental illness.

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I sometimes think that the cure was actually worse than the affliction.

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The poor patient, if you can call him that, was first bound

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hand and foot and then thrown into the icy waters of the pool.

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You might think it's an early form of shock therapy.

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Running close to the holy well of St Fillan is the West Highland Way,

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Scotland's most popular long-distance path,

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where modern pilgrims and devotees of healthy living

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can be seen making their way from the outskirts of Glasgow in the south,

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to Fort William in the north, a distance of 96 hard Highland miles.

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Now it often seems to me that distances in the Highlands

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are different from distances in other parts of the country.

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Especially if you're on foot.

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As the day wears on, the miles seem to grow longer and longer and longer.

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Now interestingly, this might not just be subjective experience.

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In the past, travellers were often amazed at how long it would take

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them to get from one place to another.

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They didn't realise that Scots miles were longer than southern ones.

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In fact, the lang Scots mile was 176¾ yards

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longer than the English mile.

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North of Tyndrum, the route of the West Highland Way

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follows the old military road, built by General Wade

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after the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

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The road was designed to provide easy access into the remoter parts of the Highlands.

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This was a wild place.

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And still is, which is why, for me, it is so attractive.

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But back in 1865,

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Black's guide describes this area in forbidding terms

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as a wild, dreary desolation, a wasteland without trees.

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Travelling across the wilds of Rannoch Moor on foot

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or in a carriage was tough going.

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Eventually, of course, places like Rannoch Moor

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stopped being seen as forbidding.

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I'm meeting up with geographer, Hayden Lorimer to find out

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how this magnificent scenery was transformed

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into a poplar destination for tourists and travellers.

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Scotland was changing a great deal in the 1920s.

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Prior to the 1920s, the Highlands had been largely the preserve

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of the rich and the landed and the titled.

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-The hunting, shooting brigade?

-The hunting and shooting, brigade, yes.

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In 1919, there was still something approaching

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3.5 million acres of land given over to sporting estates in the Highlands.

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But there was revolution in the air.

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The combination of cheap fares and increasing leisure time

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brought the masses to the wild places.

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For the first time in history,

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ordinary working people discovered a new kind of freedom.

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Both in the landscape and more interestingly in politics.

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Some of the people coming out of Glasgow and the west of Scotland

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carried with them radical politic ideas.

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These were people who had spent time working in the shipyards,

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in engineering works,

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and were great espousers of socialist ideology.

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So these were working people coming into the hills with ideological baggage, as well as tents?

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That's right, folks who were coming up from Red Clydeside

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certainly didn't like the idea that a very small number of people

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could own and dominate, control such a large proportion of the country.

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So socialism actually had its play in the landscape here, too.

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I think it not too much of an overstatement to say this was a place

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for social revolution to take place.

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Walkers and ramblers took on the big landowners and the sporting estates,

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eventually winning the right to roam.

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And all of us who enjoy the great outdoors today owe

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a debt of gratitude to those early pioneers -

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men and women who fought for the right to tramp the hills,

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a pleasure I've enjoyed ever since I was a teenager.

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This is Buachaille Etive Mor,

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an iconic mountain guarding the entrance to Glencoe.

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For the me, it's a view that's bound up with boyhood adventure.

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Now this is something I've not done since I was 15 or so.

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On a Friday night after school, I'd hitchhike up to here

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to Glencoe and pitch my wee tent beside the Jacksonville bothy

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on the other side of the river.

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That bothy was built by members of the notorious Creagh Dhu Climbing Club,

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whose members were really hardcore mountaineers and a lot of them were

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shipyard workers on Clydeside.

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Now legend has it that if you ever went inside that bothy,

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without their invitation, you would rue the day.

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Which I why I very sensibly always camped.

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For ordinary people, camping was a wonderful liberator,

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an affordable way to experience the great outdoors.

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As a youngster, I travelled all over Scotland with my tent on my back.

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It gave me enormous freedom and although Black's guide suggests

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some bracing walks,

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my own inspiration lay in the pages of a different book.

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Fortunately, I've managed to get the tent up before the rain's come on.

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But this is what I looked forward to all week as a schoolboy,

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it might be hard to imagine now.

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This was my inspiration.

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A magnificent book called Mountaineering In Scotland

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by my hero at the time, WH Murray.

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The reason why so many kids like me were bitten by the mountain bug

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and tomorrow, weather permitting,

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I hope to recapture some of that mountain magic.

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The following morning dawns with the usual cloud and rain.

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A damp start to my proposed ascent of Buachaille Etive Mor

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with professional mountain guide, Dave Cuthbertson.

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Mr Cuthbertson, how are you, sir?

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'Even before we can think of starting the climb proper,'

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there is an hour of lung-busting toil to the base of Curved Ridge.

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Scotland's mountains might be small, but they can be steep and punishing

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and I'm reminded of how Victorian guide books

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described the awesome spectacle of Scottish mountains.

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"We have wandered the Highlands with the citizens of Switzerland

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"and although their own hills are higher,

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"they have declared with enthusiastic rapture

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"that the mountains of Scotland outrival them

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"in point of variety and changefulness of aspect."

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Inspired by our own mountains, well-to-do Victorian climbers

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scaled the summits, clad in tweeds and hobnail boots.

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As we stop to rope-up, I ask Dave how things have changed

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since the days of gentleman climbers like my hero, WH Murray,

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who developed the sport in the 1930s.

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After WH Murray's time,

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the likes of the young Glasgow working-class climbers,

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particularly those of the Creagh Dhu,

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really started to make their presence here in Glencoe

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and moved away from the more traditional obvious features

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that had been developed by the likes of WH Murray,

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and on to the much steeper walls between.

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Interestingly enough,

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the Creagh Dhu were responsible for an incredible rise

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in Scottish rock climbing standards,

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predominantly by working classes, I suppose.

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Our route on Curved Ridge takes us into the rocky heart of the Buchaille.

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It was up here on the big walls and buttresses above us

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that working-class climbers tested themselves on the mountain,

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forging harder and harder routes.

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I haven't been up here since I was 17

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and it's something of a personal pilgrimage.

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This is where I learned the rudiments of climbing

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and looking at the awe-inspiring scenery around me,

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I have considerable respect for my younger self.

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Eventually we reach the summit of Crowberry Tower,

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a magnificent end to a classic day out.

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After all these years, it's great to get back in touch with

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the mountain that filled me with such awe and excitement as a boy.

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I think that's part of the attraction, isn't it?

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It's that sort of strange element of the unknown.

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Although the climb may have been done before,

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or it may not have been done before,

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that is part of the attraction, to explore the unknown

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and to, in your own way, feel that you are pioneering.

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It's very rewarding.

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On a day like today, one of the greatest rewards

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has to be the fantastic views across the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor.

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From up here, the tourist traffic on the busy A82 looks tiny

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and insignificant as it enters the dramatic scenery of Glencoe.

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In 1796, tourists were almost unknown

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this far from the lowland cities.

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In Sarah Murray's day,

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the road beyond the King's House Hotel

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was too rough for her carriage.

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Ever resourceful, she hitched a lift in a peat cart.

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In this undignified conveyance,

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she made her way through the wild and romantic glen.

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"Huge towers of rock forming a multitude of stages to the greatest height,

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"the whole mass appears an immense and inaccessible ruin of the finest architecture,

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"mouldering, defaced and become uneven by the vast lapse of time."

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Quite simply, this is a place of superlatives

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and there is nothing quite like this anywhere else in mainland Britain.

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Traffic passing through Glencoe slows down not because the road

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is dangerous in any particular way,

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but simply because drivers and passengers can't resist admiring

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this fantastic landscape.

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Most modern visitors reach for their cameras when they get here,

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but ever since Sarah Murray bumped and rattled her way through the glen,

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writers and artists have been inspired by what they saw.

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The landscape artist Horatio McCulloch came here.

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Images like his became icons,

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encapsulating the magical essence of the Highlands.

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Art made Glencoe a must-see destination on the tourist trail for 200 years.

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Leaving the glories of Glencoe,

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my route takes me north to Fort William.

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In Black's day, most tourists would have made the trip by steamer

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before sailing through the Caledonian Canal,

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an inland waterway that connects Fort William to Inverness.

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This is Neptune's Staircase, the entrance to the Caledonian Canal.

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Completed in 1822 and designed by the great Scottish engineering

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genius Thomas Telford, the staircase is a series of eight locks

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that lift boats 70ft above sea level.

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While tourists were encouraged to admire the genius

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of Victorian science and engineering that had made

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all this possible, the Queen herself was less than impressed.

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Sailing through Neptune's Staircase in 1873,

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Victoria found the whole business exceedingly tedious.

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To make matters worse, curious spectators were able to look down

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upon Her Majesty as she sailed below.

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Remarking on this role reversal, the young Queen was overheard to say,

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"We are not amused".

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The canal enters the southern end of the celebrated Loch Ness.

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There's more freshwater here than in all lakes of England and Wales put together.

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Today, Loch Ness is synonymous the world over with the monster.

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In fact, Nessie has made Loch Ness the most famous lake in the world.

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But what's striking is that neither Sarah Murray nor Black's guide

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make any mention of a mysterious beast

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lurking in the 800ft deep loch.

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I've joined Adrian Shine,

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who has studied the Loch Ness monster since the early 1970s,

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to find out when the modern myth of Nessie began.

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It was in 1933 that the manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel,

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now the Loch Ness Centre where the museum is,

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was driving back from Inverness when she saw something

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and yelled to her husband, "Stop! The Beast!"

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"The beast"?

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"The beast." Not, "Stop, you beast."

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"The beast." Which shows, there was a tradition,

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there was something that she knew about.

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Of course, you could say it's rather suspicious that it was a hotelier.

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Exactly, it's a bit of a conspiracy amongst hoteliers to boost

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the popularity of Loch Ness by inventing a Loch Ness monster.

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I had the privilege of meeting Mrs Mackay many years later.

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It turned out that she actually tried to conceal her story.

0:21:210:21:25

Despite Mrs Mackay's reticence, the press got to hear about the beast.

0:21:270:21:32

A series of silly-season articles quickly followed

0:21:320:21:35

and Nessie was born,

0:21:350:21:37

along with a string of photographs

0:21:370:21:40

that seemed to show something in the loch.

0:21:400:21:42

Adrian, you've studied this loch for the last 35 years.

0:21:420:21:45

What conclusions have you come to about the authenticity of

0:21:450:21:49

the legend, or whether there is in fact something living here?

0:21:490:21:54

Well, eye witnesses are sincere and my problem is that 1,000 people

0:21:540:21:59

have left recorded sighting reports.

0:21:590:22:02

People you would trust in your everyday life,

0:22:020:22:05

people who are sober,

0:22:050:22:07

and they insist they've seen large creatures here.

0:22:070:22:11

Yet science can't find them.

0:22:110:22:15

From what Adrian is saying, it seems to me that Nessie belongs to the realm of myth and legend,

0:22:150:22:21

feeding humanity's hunger for the mysterious and the unexplained.

0:22:210:22:25

Loch Ness is a lost world in the same way

0:22:250:22:29

that Jules Verne's great cavern under the earth was a lost world.

0:22:290:22:34

The idea of such a thing still being with us, something so mysterious,

0:22:340:22:39

so elusive, and yet, potentially, so terrible,

0:22:390:22:42

I think appeals to something deep in human nature.

0:22:420:22:45

From the mysterious waters of Loch Ness,

0:22:480:22:50

my journey takes me over the hills to the Beauly Firth,

0:22:500:22:54

where I join the route of a railway line that once took

0:22:540:22:57

health-seeking Victorians to the village of Strathpeffer.

0:22:570:23:00

Although the station is still here,

0:23:080:23:10

the railway line that once connected it to the outside world

0:23:100:23:13

has long gone, and my dramatic arrival

0:23:130:23:16

is literally all smoke and mirrors, to give the impression

0:23:160:23:20

of an busy railway station at the height of a great Victorian craze -

0:23:200:23:25

taking the waters.

0:23:250:23:27

Now a museum, the station once saw 20 trains a day arriving

0:23:300:23:33

and departing with visitors queuing up to receive the benefits

0:23:330:23:37

of drinking water saturated with mineral salts -

0:23:370:23:40

a practice begun in Continental Europe,

0:23:400:23:43

it spread to Britain in the 19th century.

0:23:430:23:46

Elevated to a medical science, it became very fashionable

0:23:460:23:50

to seek a spa cure for a host of medical conditions.

0:23:500:23:54

In Scotland, Strathpeffer was the premier Highland resort.

0:23:540:23:59

Today, Strathpeffer is no longer a spa,

0:23:590:24:04

but the glory days have left their mark in the architecture of the town.

0:24:040:24:08

Behind me is the Spa Pavilion, where all kinds of musical events

0:24:080:24:12

were put on for the benefit of patients and their friends.

0:24:120:24:16

Over there is the Pump Room, which is just about the only place

0:24:160:24:19

in town where you can still get a good drink...of water, that is.

0:24:190:24:25

Nowadays, the Pump Room is a curious combination of museum and bicycle hire shop.

0:24:280:24:33

Among the exhibits, some of which seem in need of a reviving glass,

0:24:330:24:37

I'm meeting up with historian Alastair Durie

0:24:370:24:40

to learn more about the science formerly known as hydrotherapy.

0:24:400:24:44

This is one of many such resorts

0:24:440:24:48

throughout all of Europe in the 19th century.

0:24:480:24:50

It looks like a bar here. We've got - what's that? Iron well.

0:24:500:24:54

They're arranged in order of strength.

0:24:540:24:56

The strongest here, the weakest down there,

0:24:560:24:59

in terms of how much sulphur is in the water.

0:24:590:25:02

That would help a doctor to schedule which treatment you would get.

0:25:020:25:06

Do you want to try some?

0:25:060:25:09

I think since I've made the effort to come this far I should have a wee sip, at least.

0:25:090:25:15

Well, it should be said that this is supposed to be good,

0:25:150:25:18

according to the label on the bottle -

0:25:180:25:22

"Excellent against any lethargy of the body."

0:25:220:25:26

So, that should cover everything.

0:25:260:25:28

The ideal patient was one who needed regular treatment.

0:25:330:25:37

An annual three-week break was quite often prescribed by doctors,

0:25:370:25:41

with the patient's best interests at heart, of course!

0:25:410:25:44

But not everyone was so impressed.

0:25:440:25:47

The writer Robert Louis Stevenson wrote bitterly about his experience.

0:25:470:25:52

"A beastly place inhabited by a wholly bestial crowd."

0:25:520:25:56

Oh, dear - not much of an endorsement there!

0:25:560:26:00

Do you notice an aroma?

0:26:000:26:02

-Rotten eggs.

-Yes.

0:26:020:26:04

No doubt about that at all.

0:26:040:26:07

And it tastes...

0:26:080:26:11

Strange. A bit like a flat old ale.

0:26:110:26:16

Right, brilliant.

0:26:160:26:18

To be honest, this is just a glass of smelly water.

0:26:180:26:20

It's not going to cure anybody, is it? It's all psychosomatic.

0:26:200:26:24

There are two things about this.

0:26:240:26:27

Firstly, there are people where it doesn't really matter what you give them,

0:26:270:26:31

it's if they believe it's going to do them good.

0:26:310:26:34

Secondly, there are conditions which are genuinely helped by these chemicals.

0:26:340:26:39

-Right.

-Don't forget also that this is just one part,

0:26:390:26:43

it's the most important part of the regime.

0:26:430:26:47

You're also getting baths, you're getting massage,

0:26:470:26:50

you're getting showers.

0:26:500:26:51

All of these things would help with treating things like skin conditions and whatever.

0:26:510:26:57

Excellent. I think you should try some of this, Alastair.

0:26:570:27:00

Perfect. I won't need any more for some time.

0:27:040:27:06

I don't think you want any more for some time!

0:27:060:27:09

It's sometimes amazing to think that patients survived the cures

0:27:090:27:14

that were prescribed at the spa.

0:27:140:27:16

These later included therapies that used electric shocks and radiation,

0:27:160:27:20

all for the good of your health.

0:27:200:27:22

But ultimately, the fate of Strathpeffer was determined

0:27:220:27:27

by something beyond the control of doctors and therapists - fashion.

0:27:270:27:32

People eventually got bored with the whole idea

0:27:330:27:36

of spas and health resorts and advances in modern medicine,

0:27:360:27:40

especially the discovery of antibiotics,

0:27:400:27:42

made taking the waters seem somehow primitive and old fashioned.

0:27:420:27:47

All this talk of health makes me feel in need of some therapy

0:27:510:27:55

of my own, and as I head for the nearest bar,

0:27:550:27:58

I reflect on how so many of us can be easily persuaded

0:27:580:28:01

by health fads of one kind or another.

0:28:010:28:03

In medieval times,

0:28:030:28:05

lunatics hoped for a cure by immersion in St Fillan's Well.

0:28:050:28:10

In the 1890s, people believed in the benefits of sulphurous water.

0:28:100:28:16

In the 1930s, my grandmother was told by her doctor no less

0:28:160:28:20

that smoking was actually good for her.

0:28:200:28:23

Personally, I've always been inclined to believe in the benefits

0:28:230:28:27

of vigorous exercise in Scotland's great outdoors,

0:28:270:28:31

followed, of course, by a life-affirming pint of beer.

0:28:310:28:36

Your good health.

0:28:360:28:38

On my next grand tour,

0:28:380:28:40

I'm in search of perfect isolation

0:28:400:28:43

in the elemental beauty of the far north.

0:28:430:28:46

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

7:29:397:29:42

Email [email protected]

7:29:427:29:45

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.

In this episode, he goes in search of the stunning landscape of the Highlands that has attracted visitors for the last two hundred years with the promise of improving 'mind, body and spirit'. In the 19th century, the Highlands were very much the preserve of the privileged elite, but as transport links improved in the 20th century, our mountains, lochs and glens were increasingly seen as a giant playground, where people of all classes could escape the dull routine of the modern world.

Paul traces the history of the great outdoors, travelling from the shores of Loch Tay in Perthshire, across the great wilderness of Rannoch Moor, climbs the iconic mountain of Buachaille Etive Mor, before ending his journey in the quaint spa town of Strathpeffer.


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