Through the Rough Bounds Grand Tours of Scotland's Lochs


Through the Rough Bounds

Paul Murton tours Scotland's lochs. He travels into the heart of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart via Loch nan Umbh, Loch Morar, Loch Nevis and Loch Arkaig.


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Of Scotland's all lochs,

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some of the most stunning are found on the west coast,

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and in particular, in wild and rugged Lochaber.

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This is a remote and beautiful part of the country

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which is seldom seen by outsiders

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because it's a long way off the beaten track.

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Just getting here can be something of an ordeal,

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with no roads in or out.

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I'm on a loch-hopping journey across Scotland,

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where it's been estimated there are more than 31,000 lochs.

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They come in all shapes and sizes,

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many scoured out by glaciers during the last ice age.

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The great freshwater lochs of the Central Highlands,

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the long fjord-like sea lochs along our coast,

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and the innumerable lochans that stud the open moors,

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or nestle beneath high summits in dark mountain corries.

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All are both beautiful and mysterious,

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sustaining life and firing our imagination.

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Distinctively Scottish,

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I want to explore just how these lochs have shaped a people

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and defined a nation.

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For this grand tour, I'm taking the toughest of trails

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from the sea to Lochaber,

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in search of monsters, spies and hidden treasures.

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Starting on the west coast,

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my journey takes me to our deepest loch and its underwater secrets.

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I then make my way across Loch Nevis into the wilds of Knoydart,

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and onto the shores of Loch Arkaig

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where I search for Jacobite gold,

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and discover how these lands provided the perfect training ground

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for bloody warfare.

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But I begin here.

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These are the sheltered waters of Loch nan Uamh -

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the Loch of the Caves.

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A secluded part of the Scottish coastline,

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which has a special place in history.

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This is wild country.

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Ideal for clandestine activities and secret manoeuvres.

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It was chosen as Bonnie Prince Charlie's landing point

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on mainland Scotland in 1745,

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at the start of his doomed Jacobite rebellion.

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GUNFIRE AND SHOUTING

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The following year, on the run and with his army defeated,

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he returned here to make his escape to France.

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200 years later, this isolated loch and its surroundings

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provided the perfect cover for more clandestine arrivals and departures.

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It may seem hard to believe now, but during World War II,

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agents from Britain and Nazi-occupied Europe

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passed through this unassuming station.

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The agents were on their way to secret locations nearby

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to be trained in the dark arts of sabotage and spying.

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It's amazing to think of all the comings and goings that went on here

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during the dark days of World War II.

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I can just imagine undercover agents arriving with secret plans.

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But, today, it's just a sleepy request stop.

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When they disembarked, many made the short journey here,

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to the northern shores of Loch nan Uamh and Arisaig House.

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Today, it's a hotel. But, in the 1940s,

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it became the headquarters for a shadowy organisation

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known as the Special Operations Executive, the SOE.

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-Hi, Henrik.

-Ah! Hello, Paul.

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VOICEOVER: I've arranged a rendezvous with Henrik Chart,

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who's investigated this secret history.

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-This is your collection?

-This the collection.

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VOICEOVER: And he's unearthed some grisly artefacts from that time.

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-So these are detonators?

-They're detonators.

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-So you would attach it to, say, a door frame or a window frame.

-Yeah.

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This would then be attached by a bit of string to handle of the door

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or the window, and then, once it was in place

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and the explosives were put in charge,

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the safety pin was pulled out

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and then if anyone opened the door or opened the window...

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-Kaboom.

-..you blew up.

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VOICEOVER: The SOE was formed on the orders of Churchill,

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with the instruction...

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"To set Europe ablaze."

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And they were equipped to do just that.

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I find this absolutely amazing.

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It's like an Argos catalogue.

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It was simply a catalogue of all the various things

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that were available to the agents.

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So here we have the exploding rat.

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Where they would get a rat skin,

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and they would fill it full of explosive and then have time pencil.

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You have this, the time pencil, inserted into the exploding rat.

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And then you could then just leave it on the floor somewhere.

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This could then be ignited,

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that would then set of the primer

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and then here you had the explosive charge.

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-This is deadly stuff, isn't it?

-It's very serious.

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-I mean, they really meant business.

-They did indeed. They did indeed.

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VOICEOVER: It's thought that up to 2,000 agents

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came to this beautiful part of Scotland

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to be given an intensive course in death and destruction,

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and sent back to their native countries to wreak havoc.

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-That's a Sten gun.

-It is a Sten gun, yeah.

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VOICEOVER: And they were incredibly successful.

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Two Czech SOE agents, trained in Scotland, were sent to Prague

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on a mission to assassinate one of Hitler's highest-ranking SS officer,

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Reinhard Heydrich.

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In May 1942, agent Jozef Gabcik stepped in front of Heydrich's car

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and took aim...

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..but his Sten gun jammed.

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As Heydrich drew his pistol,

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fellow agent Jan Kubis threw a grenade towards the vehicle.

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EXPLOSION AND SCREAMING

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Heydrich was fatally injured and died days later in hospital.

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The two SOE agents were hailed as heroes.

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And they were trained here to become ruthless killers?

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Indeed. Hitler was determined to wipe these people out.

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The assassins were hunted down and found hiding in a church.

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Gabcik committed suicide.

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Kubis escaped under fire, but died later from his wounds.

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Meanwhile, back in Scotland, training continued.

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It was no-holds-barred. They had itching powder,

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and the German laundries would be infiltrated,

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and this would be sprinkled amongst their clothing.

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What, into SS officers' underpants?

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Quite possibly. Quite possibly. That would be an ideal target.

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That would get them marching, wouldn't it?

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Yes, the goose step would take a different angle altogether.

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This catalogue has helped Henrik identify many of the objects

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he's found in the local area.

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And with the lifting of the Official Secrets Act,

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he's been able to delve deeper into this fascinating period.

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You had French agents, we had Dutch agents, there were Danish agents.

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Agents from all the occupied countries.

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-From Greece, Italy.

-Men and women?

-Men and women.

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There was absolutely no difference.

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The women get didn't get a soft ride in any respect.

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When it came to anything like hard physical training,

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they had to pass.

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One of the women trained here was French-born Violette Szabo,

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captured and executed at just 23.

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She was posthumously awarded the George Cross

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for magnificent courage and steadfastness behind enemy lines.

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But these must been very, very brave men and women.

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I don't think you can imagine how brave they were.

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At the time, they knew it was dangerous,

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but I think they were just so determined.

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And they were a very effective force, too.

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They managed to shorten the war by a year and a half,

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and I think they were unsung heroes.

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One of the SOE's specialities was train derailment,

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and they perfected their technique on this stretch of track.

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Though, thankfully, not with real explosives.

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As I make my way up the beautiful west coast,

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I can see why many consider this

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to be the world's most scenic train journey.

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I'm getting off at Morar,

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home to Scotland's shortest river.

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But that's not its only claim to fame,

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because the source of the River Morar

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just happens to be Scotland's deepest loch.

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Incredibly, Loch Morar is 310 metres deep -

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that's over 1,000 feet.

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Deep enough to drown the London Shard,

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which is an incredible thought.

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What lies hidden in the depths here is the subject of much speculation.

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As far back as 1887, there were reports of a creature in the loch.

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I intend to find out

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if Nessie really does have a less famous cousin.

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Joining me on this monster hunt is Professor Eric Verspoor,

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an expert in aquatic biodiversity,

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and local man Ewen MacDonald,

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who says he's had a close encounter with a Loch Morar monster.

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-Have you really seen it?

-Oh, I have seen it.

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I've seen it just up there.

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We were sitting on the bank one day

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and we've seen this thing coming down the loch.

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-Like two submarines. Like that. Back like that.

-The hump?

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Aye, and it was driving down the loch,

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and the head come out of the water.

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Head down and it just disappeared.

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We were just dumbfounded.

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What did you think it was that you'd seen?

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What I heard in the old days from old people.

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You know, there's a monster.

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-The Morag.

-The Morag.

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Ewan's not the only one to have spotted Morag.

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In 1948, nine people in a boat claim to have seen

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a 20-foot long creature.

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And, 20 years later, two boatmen claimed it accidentally hit it.

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So do think we'll see Morag today?

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You never know.

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One man who hopes we do is Professor Verspoor.

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He's determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

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Eric, you are something of an expert

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when it comes to discovering what's in the depths. What do you reckon?

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Do you think there's much chance of there maybe being

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a strange and new species?

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I think undoubtedly we will find DNA that we cannot match,

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because this is a mystery.

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-It's a very deep mystery, too.

-Absolutely.

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There's a lot of water in here

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-that's not really been studied before.

-Absolutely.

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And lochs, they're like islands,

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and they have a unique evolutionary capacity

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-to evolve unique species of organisms.

-Really?

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So I would be very surprised if we don't find organisms

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that we have not encountered previously

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that will be unique to this loch.

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The professor has the equipment to back up the theory.

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This surprisingly low-tech device is called a Niskin bottle.

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Well, what we do is we put it on the end of the line,

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and you lower it to the depth

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that you want to get the water sample from.

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-To two metres.

-Down to two metres.

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This is your control sample?

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Yes, here we would expect to find DNA of the typical species,

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and then you send down a weight,

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and it triggers the mechanism to shut the tube.

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VOICEOVER: This is not just theory.

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Eric has already used these techniques

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to identify several new species of trout in Scotland's lochs.

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There we are. It's full of water. Rather heavy.

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And what we'll do is empty that into one of these bottles here.

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Right. So this is going to be number one.

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And that's all sterilised, is it?

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It is all sterilised.

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-That's our water sample going in.

-Yes.

-We've got a long way to go,

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if we're going all the way down to 1,000 metres!

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-We do.

-That's a lot of samples.

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It's a very slow process, as you can see.

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This is going to take a month of Sundays, Eric.

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-Sealed and...

-Number one sample.

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-There we go.

-And now we have to go deeper.

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Where it'll get even more interesting.

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VOICEOVER: For the professor, this could be the start

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of months of meticulous study.

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You need a lot of patience to be a scientist.

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And, who knows, perhaps we'll finally establish

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whether the Loch Morar monster belongs to the realm of science

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or superstition.

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But now it's time to hit the road again.

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Although, from this point on,

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actual roads become something of a rarity.

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I'm taking a track from the north shore of Loch Morar

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that leads to the Tarbet ferry,

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the gateway to the Knoydart peninsula -

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220 square kilometres of rugged terrain bounded by two lochs.

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To the north, Loch Hourn, which means hell in Gaelic.

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And to the south, heaven, or Loch Nevis.

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And as I cross it, I'm blessed with a heavenly vision.

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Look at him.

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It's a real privilege to see them this close.

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This ferry service is something of a lifeline for the people of Knoydart.

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With no road connection,

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the only alternative to arriving by water is a tough two-day hike.

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Our landing place is the pretty little village of Inverie,

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home to Britain's remotest pub.

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Today, Knoydart has a population of around 100 people.

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After a community buyout,

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many of them now own the land they live and work on.

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But that wasn't always the case.

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At one time, 1,000 people lived here.

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But an all-too-familiar story of famine, eviction

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and forced emigration saw many of them gradually replaced with sheep.

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In 1948, however,

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seven men stood up to their hated landlord

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and inspired generations to come.

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They became known as the Seven Men of Knoydart,

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and their famous land raid is still celebrated today.

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The story is told in this song

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performed by Eilidh Shaw and Drew Harris.

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Who were the Seven Men of Knoydart?

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They were just local men that worked on the land -

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Highlanders, estate workers, crofters, ferrymen,

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road men and boys that had just come back from the war.

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They were hoping for work, employment and food on the table.

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And they had a landowner who was holding on to the land.

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The landowner was the second Baron Brocket.

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A Tory politician, he bought Knoydart in the 1930s,

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evicting tenants and vehemently opposing land reform.

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A Nazi sympathiser who attended Hitler's 50th birthday party,

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Brocket was despised by the people of Knoydart

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and particularly by the ex-soldiers among the land raiders.

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-So they took it for themselves?

-Yeah.

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He tried to stop them, and put his lawyers onto it.

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I think he won in the courts

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but, morally, the Seven Men of Knoydart won the moral ground.

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When was the community buyout?

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1999.

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So the Seven Men of Knoydart..

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They're the forebears of opening up the land

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and holding on to it

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and giving the people that live on the land the rights to be here

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and work on the land.

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-So they're heroes in your eyes?

-Absolutely. Aye, they are.

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Leaving Inverie, I'm heading west, following the road

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that runs high above the dark waters of Loch Nevis.

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The views are stunning and the landscape dramatic.

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No wonder the Gaels who lived here called it Na Garbh Chriochan,

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or The Rough Bounds in Gaelic.

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A fitting name for a spectacular wilderness

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which dwarfs the human scale.

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On the edge of this wild land is a small settlement called Doune.

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And here, on this isolated part of the coast,

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lives a real family Robinson.

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-Hi, Paul. Good to meet you.

-Nice of you to meet me here.

-No problem.

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-Where do you stay?

-Doune here.

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-Doune here.

-Doune there. It's a little bit boggy.

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VOICEOVER: Jamie was a teenager

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when he and his parents were cast up here at Doune.

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They'd left Cornwall to start a new, simpler life.

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-It's a pretty remote place to come to.

-It is.

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And what was at Doune when your parents took it over?

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Very little. There was a small ruin

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which was built as a shepherd's cottage

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by Irish stone dykers following the clearances.

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And there was no roof, it was last inhabited in 1923.

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Jamie helped his parents turn this...

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..into this.

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And he learned to be resourceful.

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He can turn his hand to welding, boat repair

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and of course, house building.

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There's a hamlet of cottages here now,

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and he even found time to build himself a house.

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It's a school for self-reliance, really.

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Yeah, that is a very good way of putting it.

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It may be on the mainland

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but there's very much an island mentality here.

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This is the garden.

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This is more valuable than anything during the winter

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because I can grow enough food to keep us going.

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And when, after much travelling, Penny became Mrs Robinson,

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she bought a taste of the exotic.

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This is my Garden of Eden.

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Fantastic place.

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That is an apricot.

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It does really well in here.

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This is a kiwi and then a fig tree.

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A fig tree? My goodness.

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Is that the only fig tree in Knoydart?

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I think it is the only fig tree in Knoydart.

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I imagine that having a garden

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is actually a very important part of being able to survive here.

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Absolutely. And just adds a new dimension to the winters.

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But how do you cope living here in the wintertime?

0:19:270:19:30

Mentally, I find it tougher.

0:19:300:19:31

I struggle with the darkness and the isolation.

0:19:310:19:35

-But...

-You've got compensations, haven't you?

0:19:350:19:37

You've got great compensations.

0:19:370:19:39

I can lie my hammock with my radio on and my book

0:19:390:19:43

and I'm looking across to the Isle of Skye.

0:19:430:19:46

You've got the Cuillins there.

0:19:460:19:47

In the winter, they're just covered with snow.

0:19:470:19:49

I mean, there aren't many polytunnels with a view like that.

0:19:490:19:52

Leaving Jamie and Penny in their Garden of Eden

0:19:540:19:57

and feeling a little leg-weary,

0:19:570:20:00

I take to the water again, heading for the top of Loch Nevis

0:20:000:20:04

to make the cross-country hike to Loch Arkaig.

0:20:040:20:07

Bridge in dangerous condition...

0:20:080:20:11

Oh! That's very wobbly.

0:20:110:20:15

My path takes me below the magnificent summit

0:20:150:20:18

of Sgurr na Ciche,

0:20:180:20:19

which translates as, "the peak of the breast".

0:20:190:20:23

I can't think why!

0:20:230:20:24

But here, in this utterly spectacular landscape,

0:20:260:20:30

I have found paradise.

0:20:300:20:32

I'm at the heart of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart,

0:20:340:20:37

at the fulcrum between heaven and hell.

0:20:370:20:41

But this is no purgatory.

0:20:410:20:42

To me, it's more like God's own country - it's really beautiful.

0:20:420:20:46

But heading to the next loch on my journey,

0:20:530:20:55

my thoughts return to more earthly concerns.

0:20:550:20:59

Loch Arkaig may be just 19km long,

0:21:000:21:04

but believe it or not, there's gold in that there loch,

0:21:040:21:09

or at least somewhere on its shore -

0:21:090:21:11

and these guys are trying to find it.

0:21:110:21:14

But this isn't just any old gold -

0:21:140:21:16

it's Bonnie Prince Charlie's gold.

0:21:160:21:19

-Hi, Robert.

-Hello there, Paul.

0:21:190:21:21

And with the help of Robert Cairns and his fellow detectorists,

0:21:210:21:25

I plan to get some.

0:21:250:21:26

This is an old graveyard?

0:21:260:21:28

This is the old graveyard

0:21:280:21:29

where allegedly the gold was buried in a shallow grave.

0:21:290:21:34

So this gold was to fund the Jacobite rising of 1745?

0:21:340:21:38

Yes, to raise money to buy arms for the Battle of Culloden.

0:21:380:21:42

In April 1746,

0:21:430:21:45

two ships unloaded seven casks

0:21:450:21:48

of Spanish and French gold at Loch nan Uamh,

0:21:480:21:52

where my journey began.

0:21:520:21:54

It never made it to the Prince

0:21:540:21:56

in time to prevent catastrophic defeat at Culloden.

0:21:560:22:00

Before he fled,

0:22:000:22:01

Bonnie Prince Charlie gave the order for his treasure to be buried,

0:22:010:22:05

but no-one today knows where...

0:22:050:22:08

We've all picked up quite a strong signal here...

0:22:080:22:11

..but we might just have found some of it.

0:22:110:22:13

It would be a wonderful thing if you actually found Jacobite gold,

0:22:130:22:16

and we happened to be here to witness it!

0:22:160:22:19

We've found something down there.

0:22:210:22:22

Aye. Right along here.

0:22:220:22:25

How credible do think these accounts are?

0:22:250:22:27

The story is real.

0:22:270:22:29

-The gold is somewhere in Loch Arkaig.

-Mm-hm.

0:22:290:22:33

Sizeable, whatever we've got here.

0:22:330:22:36

What you need is a JCB!

0:22:360:22:38

Come and dig it up.

0:22:380:22:40

Sadly, it doesn't look like we've found any treasure.

0:22:400:22:43

An agricultural implement of some kind?

0:22:440:22:46

-Exactly, it could be.

-It's not gold, is it?

0:22:460:22:48

It's certainly not gold.

0:22:480:22:50

I suppose that's detectoring for you. A lot of disappointment.

0:22:500:22:52

Yes.

0:22:520:22:54

It's the hobby of the eternal optimist!

0:22:540:22:56

THEY LAUGH

0:22:560:22:57

But sometimes, detectorists DO strike gold.

0:22:570:23:01

In 2009, an Anglo-Saxon hoard was discovered,

0:23:010:23:05

worth a staggering £3 million.

0:23:050:23:08

DETECTOR BEEPS What's that?

0:23:100:23:12

Digging...with furious intent.

0:23:150:23:17

There's no telling what Charlie's gold might actually be worth,

0:23:180:23:22

but in Scots law, any find actually belongs to the Crown,

0:23:220:23:26

but an independent panel decides a finder's reward,

0:23:260:23:30

so I could still become a millionaire.

0:23:300:23:33

I might have something here.

0:23:350:23:37

Sadly, my treasure probably wasn't buried in 1746.

0:23:370:23:41

-What do you reckon? From the 1980s?

-1980s ring pull.

0:23:410:23:44

It's maybe more tin can than gold coin,

0:23:440:23:47

but Robert and his team are not giving up.

0:23:470:23:50

-So this at the start?

-Yes.

0:23:500:23:52

Hopefully, at some point in time, it will be found.

0:23:520:23:55

Leaving the ever-hopeful gold-seekers,

0:23:570:24:00

I continue my lochside journey on foot,

0:24:000:24:04

passing through country that's bound up with Jacobite history.

0:24:040:24:08

And along a stretch of road known rather chillingly

0:24:090:24:12

as The Dark Mile...

0:24:120:24:14

..which leads eventually to Achnacarry House -

0:24:150:24:20

the ancestral home of Clan Cameron.

0:24:200:24:23

But if clan history seems to belong to Scotland's dark and feudal past,

0:24:240:24:29

there was evidence, if you know where to look for it,

0:24:290:24:32

of the part that Achnacarry House

0:24:320:24:35

and its grounds played in more recent battles.

0:24:350:24:38

These crumbling concrete foundations

0:24:400:24:42

mark the outline of a typical World War II landing craft.

0:24:420:24:47

It was used to simulate landing on heavily-defended enemy territory.

0:24:470:24:51

It's an amazing thought that the men who practised here

0:24:510:24:55

went on to do it for real on the beaches of Normandy.

0:24:550:24:58

Those men were Commandos,

0:25:020:25:04

and Achnacarry House and its estate were requisitioned

0:25:040:25:08

for their intense training.

0:25:080:25:10

And it's here I meet clan chief Donald Cameron of Lochiel.

0:25:120:25:17

25,000 Commandos were trained here.

0:25:170:25:20

-25,000?

-Yep.

0:25:200:25:21

That's a lot of men.

0:25:210:25:23

They were here for I think about nine, seven to nine weeks.

0:25:230:25:26

Why did they choose Achnacarry?

0:25:260:25:28

This is wild country, good training country.

0:25:280:25:31

And also completely off the beaten track, so no prying eyes.

0:25:310:25:36

Only the fittest could become a Commando,

0:25:360:25:39

and here they were tested to the full.

0:25:390:25:42

Marching over hills, climbing cliffs,

0:25:420:25:45

zip-lining across Loch Arkaig,

0:25:450:25:47

were all part of a gruelling regime.

0:25:470:25:50

And they used live ammunition.

0:25:510:25:54

We had the bomb squad up a couple of years ago

0:25:540:25:57

to blow up some mortars which were found.

0:25:570:25:59

-That's kind of dangerous, isn't it? Bit careless of them.

-Very!

0:25:590:26:01

You have to watch where you put your feet

0:26:010:26:03

when you wander through the woods around here!

0:26:030:26:06

The enlisted men were billeted in Nissen huts in the grounds.

0:26:060:26:10

Achnacarry itself was reserved for the top brass.

0:26:100:26:15

What's fascinating for me are the murals that are painted on the wall.

0:26:150:26:18

We've got one here, would have been above the fireplace,

0:26:180:26:21

that shows a battle scene. We've got ships,

0:26:210:26:24

we've got aircraft on fire, a dogfight going on.

0:26:240:26:27

And behind us, where your ancestor is, there used to be a dartboard!

0:26:270:26:32

THEY CHUCKLE

0:26:320:26:34

And you've got this fantastic mural.

0:26:340:26:36

That's an extraordinary dramatic scene of a battleship,

0:26:360:26:40

we've got aircraft coming in,

0:26:400:26:42

we've got bombs going off.

0:26:420:26:44

Who painted these remarkable murals?

0:26:440:26:46

They were done by a chap called Brian Mullen,

0:26:460:26:49

who was an instructor here during the war.

0:26:490:26:51

So he was rehearsing D-Day with the Commandos here,

0:26:510:26:54

training them up in the lands around Achnacarry,

0:26:540:26:57

then in the evenings, in his spare time,

0:26:570:26:59

he was rehearsing in paint the scenes that he might encounter.

0:26:590:27:02

With the semi-nude mermaids -

0:27:020:27:03

-he probably wasn't expecting to encounter them.

-Oh, right!

0:27:030:27:06

Where are they? Let's have a look.

0:27:060:27:07

-Oh, yes - there we are.

-He was a good artist, I think.

0:27:070:27:09

-They're fun, aren't they?

-Mm-hm.

0:27:090:27:11

After the war, the house was returned to the family,

0:27:130:27:17

who decided upon a more traditional decorative scheme.

0:27:170:27:21

I'm afraid my parents didn't think they could live with them.

0:27:210:27:23

-So they got painted out?

-They got painted over in about 1951.

0:27:230:27:27

And what of the man who created these dramatic murals?

0:27:270:27:31

Tragically, Lance Corporal Brian Joseph Mullen

0:27:320:27:36

died at just 33 years old,

0:27:360:27:39

in one of the scenes he'd depicted.

0:27:390:27:41

He fell on the 6th of June 1944 -

0:27:410:27:45

D-Day.

0:27:450:27:46

Just a short distance from Achnacarry,

0:27:530:27:56

I reach the end of my journey from the coast

0:27:560:27:59

through the Rough Bounds to Lochaber.

0:27:590:28:02

This monument was unveiled in 1952.

0:28:020:28:06

And, as the inscription says,

0:28:060:28:08

it's dedicated to the memory of the officers

0:28:080:28:10

and men of the Commandos who died in the Second World War.

0:28:100:28:13

It also says that this country was their training ground.

0:28:130:28:18

And standing here in this magnificent setting,

0:28:180:28:21

I can't think of a more fitting place to end

0:28:210:28:24

my grand tour through Lochaber.

0:28:240:28:26

On my next grand tour,

0:28:290:28:31

I'll discover how geological forces have shaped the lochs

0:28:310:28:35

and landscape of beautiful Sutherland.

0:28:350:28:37

Paul travels into the secret heart of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart by way of Loch nan Umbh, Loch Morar, Loch Nevis and Loch Arkaig. He lifts the lid on the area's secret connection with the celebrated SOE (Special Operations Executive) which Churchill hoped would set Europe ablaze. On the shores of several lochs, agents were trained in the dark arts of sabotage. On Loch Morar, Paul meets a man who claims to have seen the legendary monster Morag (pronounced Voorag), before getting a ferry to Inverie in the heart of the Rough Bounds and searching for Jacobite gold beside Loch Arkaig.


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