An Enchanted Land Grand Tours of Scotland's Lochs


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An Enchanted Land

Paul Murton tours Scotland's lochs. He explores some lochs close to Scotland's densely populated central belt, starting on the banks of the Lake of Menteith.


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In the heart of central Scotland lies an area of exceptional beauty -

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a place of quiet lochs, mesmerising reflections and mysterious woods.

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This is an enchanted land.

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It is hard to believe out here, but I'm just an hour's drive north

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of Scotland's biggest bustling city,

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and there's not a soul to be seen

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in a stunningly beautiful landscape

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that has cast a romantic spell over visitors for centuries.

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Lochs are Scotland's gift to the world.

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It's reckoned that there are more than 31,000 of them.

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They come in all shapes and sizes, long fjord-like sea lochs,

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great freshwater lochs of the Central Highlands,

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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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In this series I'm on a loch-hopping journey

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across Scotland,

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discovering how lochs have shaped the character of the people

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who live close to their shores.

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For this grand tour I'm heading to a place

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where water and lochs have an almost magical quality.

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My journey takes me from a loch

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famous for being a lake, to the romantic charm

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and beauty of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray in the Trossachs,

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to finish on the summit of God's own mountain in miniature, Ben Venue.

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This is the Lake of Menteith,

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and is famously known as the only lake in Scotland.

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But how did this loch become known as a lake?

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The story goes that a 16th century Dutch map-maker was enchanted

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and delighted by this beautiful body of water,

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but he didn't know its name.

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When he asked local people,

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they thought he was referring to the whole area round about,

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which is known in the dialect as the laich of Menteith

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meaning a low place, a boggy place.

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The map-maker misheard,

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and thought they had just called this loch a lake.

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And the name has stuck ever since.

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The lake covers just two and a half square kilometres

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and has three islands.

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The largest, Inchmahome,

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is big enough to have supported a 13th-century priory.

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In spring and summer, a ferry carries passengers to the island.

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Aha! Are you the ferryman?

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-I am indeed.

-Simon Lennox ferries me over.

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He knows the lake and its history well.

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We are heading to Inchmahome, is that right?

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That's right, yeah. So that's Inchmahome, "inch" obviously island,

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so island of Malcolm or island of Colm if you go

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further back into the kind of... into the Gaelic on that.

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So it's Malky's Island, then?

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Malky's Island, basically,

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if you want to drop into the vernacular on that one.

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And who was Malky?

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Malky was a Christian missionary back in the Dark Ages

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who came out to spread the word of Christianity.

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And who would have been out there? Would it have been monks out there?

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Well, it was canons out there.

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One of the reasons people ask why it is a priory

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is because it was run by a prior,

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but also it was canons there rather than monks,

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and canons actually had a pastoral duty.

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So rather than just being completely secluded and isolated

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on the island, they went out to the community, effectively,

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and kind of spread the good word,

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ministered to the locals, all that kind of stuff.

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Throughout history,

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islands have been sought out as refuges from the world,

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places of peace and quiet and contemplation.

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An island in a loch is even more special,

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a form of double isolation from the everyday.

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For such a small island,

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there's a lot of history packed into Inchmahome,

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and it has been visited by the great and the good

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down the centuries.

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Robert the Bruce, no less, visited,

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and so, too, did many of his Stuart descendants

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including Mary Queen of Scots.

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And when she came here,

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she was just a little princess and only four years of age.

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She and her mother,

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the French Queen Marie de Guise, were hiding from an English army.

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Henry VIII of England had wanted to force a marriage

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between Princess Mary and his sickly son, Edward.

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To achieve this union, an English army invaded Scotland,

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a bloody episode known to history as the Rough Wooing.

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Desperate to avoid capture,

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the future Mary Queen of Scots spent three weeks on Inchmahome

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before she and her mother fled to France.

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It is amazing how quickly legends can develop.

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Mary Queen of Scots was only on Inchmahome for, what,

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less than a month,

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but she is supposed to have planted this boxwood bower.

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When she wasn't busy gardening or doing needlework,

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or even learning languages,

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she played at being Queen with an imaginary court

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attended by the four Marys,

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"Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael and me,"

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as the old song goes.

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It sounds to me that Mary Queen of Scots

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might have been a bit of a princess,

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which is what she was.

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It's highly unlikely that even the gifted Child Queen

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planted the boxwood, but I'm told it's very old.

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Old enough indeed to have been around

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when the future Queen of Scots hid on this sequestered isle.

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Leaving Inchmahome,

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I head back to the shore

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to meet my new steed which will get me to my next destination

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in classic style.

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Now I've very kindly and rather generously

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been lent this 1957 Francis Barnett motorbike

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which, I have to say, I'm approaching with some trepidation,

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partly because she's extremely old and valuable,

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and partly because I've only just passed my motorbike test.

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ENGINE REVS

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This is trickier than I thought

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because the gear is where I would normally expect

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the brake to be.

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And that is because this is an old British bike,

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and everything is a wee bit back to front.

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Oh, let's see, get in the right gear.

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Thankfully, it doesn't take that long to adjust.

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And it's a rare pleasure to be rolling along

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in the spring sunshine.

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Heading west without mishap, I reach the village of Aberfoyle,

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which narrowly avoided being rebranded as Scotland's fairyland.

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Some welcome sign that would have made.

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The reason for the rebranding proposal

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was to market the area's fairy connections,

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which begin and end in the old graveyard

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just outside the village at Kirkton.

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By a strange twist of serendipity, fate or whatever,

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the minister of Kirkton was a Kirk in his own right,

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being the Reverend Robert Kirk,

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author of the celebrated book

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The Secret Commonwealth Of Elves, Fauns And Fairies,

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which he completed in the year of our Lord 1691.

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And this grave marks the spot where his body lies.

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Or does it?

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The Reverend was a local man,

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steeped in the Gaelic folklore of the area.

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He claimed second sight

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which gave him privileged access to the invisible world

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of the fairy folk.

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To get to know them better,

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he took to walking on the wooded slopes of a hill

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overlooking the village.

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Called Doon Hill, this is the gateway to fairyland.

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In his secret commonwealth,

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the Reverend Kirk wrote about the spiritual beings,

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the Sidhe of Celtic folklore that he'd encountered on the hill.

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He explained how they lived unseen amongst us,

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and how many human beings have a spectral fairy double.

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There is a bit of a fairy in all of us, it seems.

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But within a year of finishing his book, Kirk was dead.

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And his body, or what appeared to be his body,

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was found up here on Doon Hill.

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But local people said that it wasn't Kirk,

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instead, they said it was his fairy double.

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Kirk himself had been imprisoned by the Sidhe

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whose trust he had betrayed

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by writing the book in the first place.

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And some local people believe that Kirk's soul is still here,

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trapped beneath the roots of this ancient tree,

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the only pine...

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..in a forest of oaks, which is really rather strange.

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An air of enchantment hangs over Doon Hill to this day,

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amplified by the messages and wishes

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pinned and hung on trees and branches all around.

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It's an echo of an ancient Highland custom

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that the Reverend Kirk would have understood.

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But do people here still believe in fairies?

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Personally, I like to keep an open mind.

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Now, I'm not saying I believe in fairies,

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but I'm not saying I DON'T believe in fairies either.

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Just remember what happened to the poor Reverend Kirk.

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And be careful what you wish for.

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Fortunately, my disappearance is only momentary,

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and I continue my journey, unharmed by my encounter with the fairy folk,

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following a path through ancient oak woods,

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which once provided cover

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for one of the most notorious outlaws in Scottish history -

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Rob Roy MacGregor.

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Rob Roy lived with other MacGregors in the area around Loch Arklet.

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From here, he combined cattle raiding

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with his support for the Jacobite cause

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which was dedicated to restoring

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the exiled Stuart monarchy to the British throne.

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But defeat in 1715 brought government reprisals.

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Troops burned houses and drove off livestock.

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Rob Roy fled,

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and the army built a garrison to crush future lawlessness.

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Now that's what I call a view and a half.

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But it's one that's changed a lot since the days of Rob Roy MacGregor.

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Now, I've got an old map here from about 1700,

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which shows Loch Arklet as it was

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before it was dammed and the land flooded, back in the 19th century.

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It's about half the size on this map as it is today.

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Now, over there, you can see some trees, the tops of some fir trees,

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now that is a place called Corrie Arklet.

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It's where Rob Roy MacGregor married Helen Campbell

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before the place was burned to the ground

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by government troops, stationed here at A,

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the garrison.

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Looking for evidence of those times,

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I make my way to the site of the garrison.

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Unrecognisable today, it's now a bed and breakfast

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run by Kelly Bray and her husband.

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-Nice to meet you.

-And you.

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So this is the garrison?

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Yeah, welcome to the Garrison of Inversnaid.

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Doesn't look much like a garrison to me.

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It's been put to other use, I think, since then.

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It has indeed. So, originally it was...

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..built by the Duke of Montrose in 1718,

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after the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

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This was a three-storey barrack block in front of us here.

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And then our barn was a three-storey barrack block.

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Our house is in the location

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of what would have been a two-storey guardhouse.

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This was the original external wall.

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There would have been a bakehouse on the corner there

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and another external wall there and a perimeter external wall, as well.

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We're standing in the middle of the old parade ground,

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and although the garrison is now enjoying life as a smallholding,

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there's still compelling evidence as to its former usage.

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So, just here, Paul,

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this is where the guys when they were barracked here,

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would sharpen their bayonets as they walked through the door here.

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That's amazing, isn't it?

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And it's still here. It's like a signature, almost.

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Yeah, 300-year-old signature of the guys that were stationed here.

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Now, the barracks are converted

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to house Kelly's extraordinary menagerie of animals.

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So we have two Highland heifer calves,

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we have two pigs and four piglets, they have now.

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We have three ewes and two lambs off of one of them.

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We have nine hens, one cockerel, two geese.

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And you know them all?

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I know them all.

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And what happens when you have to send them off to market?

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My husband does that bit.

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-Does he?

-Yeah. I'm a vegetarian.

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I give them love and the rearing that they need

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to make sure that they're good meat.

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And then he takes them off for market, yeah.

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Leaving Kelly to feed the animals,

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I head towards Stronachlachar,

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which nestles on the shores of Loch Katrine,

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by far the biggest loch in the Trossachs.

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Since Victorian times,

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it has supplied the city of Glasgow with drinking water.

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Clean water's something we all take for granted

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and don't really give much thought to at all.

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But 150, 160 years ago,

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it was a scarce resource in a rapidly changing world.

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By the 19th century,

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Glasgow's burgeoning population

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was in desperate need of a freshwater supply.

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Hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians

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depended on the polluted River Clyde,

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and drew water from just 30 wells.

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In 1832 and in 1848, two major cholera outbreaks killed thousands.

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Spurred into action,

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the Corporation of Glasgow took control

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of the city's failing water companies,

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and set about finding a clean and healthy supply.

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In 1856, work began to bring the crystal clear waters of Loch Katrine

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to the heart of the industrial city.

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Now, this was a monumental task

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and the engineers at the time boasted

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that nothing like it had been seen since the days of ancient Rome.

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To show me around this monument to Victorian ingenuity and ambition,

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I'm meeting up with Archie Stevenson

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who shows me where Loch Katrine water

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begins its long journey to Glasgow.

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It flows about 26 miles from this point,

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a drop of probably about ten inches every mile.

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It just drops down gradually.

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It's a great feat of engineering.

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That's incredible. Do you know what the flow is here?

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At the start it was 40 million gallons a day, which was...

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They thought would be enough, but as it's developed,

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Glasgow takes almost 90 million gallons a day.

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-Really?

-Somebody's obviously liking the water.

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Loch Katrine lies about 41km from Glasgow,

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and the challenges to get such huge amounts of water

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to Scotland's largest city were immense.

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Over the course of three years, 80 tunnels,

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some over two and a half kilometres long,

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were dug through the hills.

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And 22 bridges carry the water high over river valleys.

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Over 3,000 navvies were employed

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to complete this extraordinary undertaking.

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You're talking about 1850s,

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there wouldn't have been any electric lights.

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They didn't have any mechanical digging equipment, did they?

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This is all hewn out by human muscle, blood, sweat and tears.

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Blood, sweat and tears, and a real undertaking.

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Now, tell me, what's the water like here to taste?

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It's probably the best water in the world, so it is.

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Biased, but by far the best.

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The opening ceremony

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of the Loch Katrine water supply took place in 1859,

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with Queen Victoria as guest of honour.

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Now, it was, of course,

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a very wet day when the great Queen arrived with Prince Albert

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and two of her daughters,

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as reported by the Scotsman of the time.

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"The rain," it says, "poured down in incessant torrents,

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"soaking everyone to the skin."

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Fortunately, the Queen was able to avail herself of all the mod cons

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of the modern world in a purpose-built cottage nearby,

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just in case she was caught short.

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Royal Cottage, as it's now known, was a very expensive umbrella,

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with royal loos attached.

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Meanwhile, the Queen turned a ceremonial handle,

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opening the sluice gates to allow Loch Katrine's water

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to begin its slow progress to Glasgow.

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And in the pouring rain, a military band played the National Anthem,

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and several cannons fired a Royal Salute.

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CANNONS FIRE

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GLASS SHATTERS

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According to popular myth,

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the shock waves produced by so much explosive going off

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shattered the windows of the Queen's cottage.

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When the time came for the Queen to leave,

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she was transported across the loch by a steamer,

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a stylish and noble tradition that continues to this day.

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STEAMER HORN BLOWS

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This is the steamship Sir Walter Scott,

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named after the famous author

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who did so much to popularise this part of Scotland

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with his romantic novels and poems.

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Up on the bridge, I joined the captain, Debbie Whyte.

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Why were you so keen to become a skipper of a steamship?

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I don't know. I really liked being out on the boat.

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It's so different, you know,

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it's not like being in an office or anything like that.

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It was one of the other skippers, actually,

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who'd said to me, "Why don't you go for it?"

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And I kind of laughed at him. And he was like, "What's so funny?"

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And I went, "I've never really thought about it."

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-So I just... It felt like a challenge.

-Yeah?

-Yeah.

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I've been here for six years.

0:19:130:19:14

The surroundings are still amazing.

0:19:140:19:16

There is a lot going on in your head, though...

0:19:160:19:19

..because you're always constantly aware of what could go wrong,

0:19:200:19:23

or the weather, things like that.

0:19:230:19:26

So, my head's very busy.

0:19:260:19:29

-A lot to think about.

-Yeah.

0:19:290:19:30

There's an awful lot to think about.

0:19:300:19:32

And this is a really historic boat, as well.

0:19:320:19:34

Yeah, 118 years old.

0:19:340:19:36

118 years old?

0:19:360:19:37

-Yeah.

-Do you know where she was built?

0:19:370:19:40

She was built in Dumbarton, by William Denny Brothers.

0:19:400:19:43

-Right.

-Then she did her sea trials to Arran and back.

0:19:430:19:47

Dismantled, put into sections, took her up the River Leven,

0:19:470:19:51

across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid.

0:19:510:19:53

Then they got horse and carts to drag her to Stronachlachar.

0:19:530:19:56

-In bits?

-In pieces, yeah.

0:19:560:19:58

-Five sections.

-Really?

0:19:580:19:59

Yeah, then they reassembled her and launched her in October of 1899.

0:19:590:20:03

And she's been sailing here ever since.

0:20:030:20:05

Can I possibly have a shot?

0:20:050:20:06

-Aye, of course you can.

-Really?

-Yeah.

0:20:060:20:08

Fantastic. Being at the helm of such a historic boat.

0:20:090:20:14

Debbie communicates with the engine room using the ship's telegraph,

0:20:180:20:22

which signals everything from full steam ahead, dead slow, to stop.

0:20:220:20:26

Leaving her at the wheel,

0:20:290:20:31

I head off to find out what powers this little ship.

0:20:310:20:33

Below deck, I squeeze in beside the ship's engineer, Derek Dunn.

0:20:350:20:39

We're standing beside an extraordinary piece of engineering.

0:20:390:20:43

What is this machine?

0:20:430:20:44

She is an 1899 Matthew and Paul triple expansion steam engine

0:20:440:20:49

built in Dumbarton.

0:20:490:20:51

And she's never really been touched very much.

0:20:510:20:55

-She's almost original.

-Mostly original?

0:20:550:20:57

-Mostly original.

-That's amazing, isn't it?

0:20:570:20:59

And this is steam that's propelling us along?

0:20:590:21:02

Hot water, boiling water.

0:21:020:21:03

Yes. I think she is the only steam propelled,

0:21:030:21:06

passenger-carrying vessel on fresh water in Scotland.

0:21:060:21:10

But I can tell from the way you're talking about this engine,

0:21:100:21:12

you're quite passionate about steam.

0:21:120:21:15

Well, I was a ship's engineer, and I started off life on steamships.

0:21:150:21:19

And then coming here at the end of my working career,

0:21:190:21:22

it's an absolute pleasure to be on the vessel.

0:21:220:21:24

-It really is.

-Yeah.

-I've been here about three and a half years now,

0:21:240:21:27

and every day's an experience.

0:21:270:21:29

I suppose it's an honour to be associated with this engine,

0:21:310:21:34

and to give a couple of years of my life

0:21:340:21:36

just to maintain her and make sure she continues to run.

0:21:360:21:39

And, hopefully, when I go,

0:21:390:21:41

somebody else will take on the mantle and run her properly.

0:21:410:21:44

It's clear that Derek is a man in love with engineering,

0:21:460:21:50

which is just as well, given the heat and noise of the engine room.

0:21:500:21:54

But for me, it's time to take some fresh air and a turn on deck,

0:21:540:21:59

where I admire the passing scenery,

0:21:590:22:01

and reflect on the man this little ship is named after -

0:22:010:22:05

Sir Walter Scott, whose pen made the loch world-famous.

0:22:050:22:09

Now, views like these inspired Sir Walter Scott

0:22:090:22:13

to write his epic poem

0:22:130:22:15

The Lady Of The Lake.

0:22:150:22:17

And when it was published in 1810, it caused a sensation,

0:22:170:22:21

selling over 25,000 copies in just six months.

0:22:210:22:26

The lake of his poem was Loch Katrine,

0:22:290:22:32

and the lady in question,

0:22:320:22:34

Ellen Douglas, was caught in a web of love, intrigue and murder.

0:22:340:22:39

The book triggered floods of visitors

0:22:390:22:42

to see for themselves the scenes of the drama.

0:22:420:22:44

Scott believed that wild nature was the guiding force of mankind,

0:22:470:22:53

not reason or logic.

0:22:530:22:54

Other famous romantics followed him,

0:22:560:22:58

including the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge,

0:22:580:23:01

and painters like John Knox,

0:23:010:23:04

who transformed the landscape they saw

0:23:040:23:06

into an idealised romantic world.

0:23:060:23:09

About 50 years later,

0:23:100:23:12

two like-minded friends and a young bride

0:23:120:23:15

followed the romantic trail

0:23:150:23:16

right here to the heart of the Trossachs.

0:23:160:23:19

They were the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais, his friend,

0:23:190:23:23

the great Victorian art critic, John Ruskin,

0:23:230:23:27

and his young bride Effie Gray.

0:23:270:23:28

What happened when they holidayed here together at Brig o' Turk,

0:23:290:23:33

near the shores of the magical and mysterious Loch Achray

0:23:330:23:38

caused a scandal and a flood of speculation.

0:23:380:23:42

Millais joined Ruskin and his wife Effie on holiday

0:23:440:23:48

because he'd been commissioned to paint Ruskin's portrait.

0:23:480:23:52

After a long search, he found the perfect location in Glen Finglas,

0:23:520:23:57

above the village.

0:23:570:23:58

Now, my own quest is to find the exact same spot,

0:23:580:24:02

which isn't easy after all those years.

0:24:020:24:05

But to help me, I've got this postcard of the portrait,

0:24:050:24:09

which must have been made somewhere down here near the river.

0:24:090:24:12

OK, a bit slippery, these rocks here, got to be careful.

0:24:150:24:18

But I think this may well be Ruskin's stone,

0:24:180:24:22

the spot that Ruskin stood on for has portrait painting by Millais.

0:24:220:24:26

He must have been over there somewhere.

0:24:260:24:28

We've got the waterfall behind me.

0:24:280:24:30

We've got a waterfall behind Ruskin here.

0:24:300:24:33

You can clearly see a rock, looks like the head of a lizard,

0:24:330:24:36

very similar to that rock behind me.

0:24:360:24:39

Now, since then, obviously, that tree has fallen, filling in the gap.

0:24:390:24:43

But I reckon this is the spot where this portrait was made.

0:24:430:24:47

And the whole idea behind it was to try and express something

0:24:470:24:50

that both Ruskin and Millais shared about the nature of art

0:24:500:24:53

and the kind of art that Millais excelled at,

0:24:530:24:57

and that was painting from nature in the open air.

0:24:570:25:01

But it did more than that,

0:25:010:25:03

because it helped end Ruskin's marriage to Effie Gray.

0:25:030:25:06

Effie was young, outgoing and playful,

0:25:090:25:12

unlike her socially awkward husband Ruskin,

0:25:120:25:14

who was ten years her senior.

0:25:140:25:17

He'd met Effie when she was just nine,

0:25:170:25:20

and had courted her for many years.

0:25:200:25:23

Seeing off younger rivals,

0:25:230:25:24

he'd narrowly avoided a duel because of her.

0:25:240:25:27

But their marriage was a disaster,

0:25:280:25:31

and Effie fell in love with the charismatic Millais here

0:25:310:25:34

among the hills and lochs of the Trossachs.

0:25:340:25:37

She eventually asked for an annulment

0:25:370:25:39

on the grounds that her union with Ruskin had never been consummated.

0:25:390:25:45

The hearing that followed led to salacious gossip and rumour,

0:25:450:25:49

which Ruskin did nothing to contradict.

0:25:490:25:51

It was even suggested that Ruskin had never seen a naked woman before

0:25:520:25:57

in the flesh, and was shocked to discover

0:25:570:26:00

that the female body was not like the smooth and unblemished forms,

0:26:000:26:04

that, as an art critic, he was used to.

0:26:040:26:07

Odd for a man who believed in the moral power of raw nature.

0:26:070:26:11

I just wonder what Ruskin was thinking about

0:26:130:26:15

when he posed for his portrait.

0:26:150:26:17

Did he know that Effie and Millais were already in love?

0:26:170:26:21

Whatever the truth behind this love triangle,

0:26:210:26:24

Effie, at least, seems to have found happiness,

0:26:240:26:27

because she went on to have eight children with Millais.

0:26:270:26:30

Ruskin, on the other hand, never married again.

0:26:300:26:33

The enchanted landscape of loch and wooded hill

0:26:390:26:43

had woven its spell over Ruskin and Millais.

0:26:430:26:46

Love had blossomed and died beneath the shadow

0:26:460:26:49

of one of the prettiest mountains in Scotland,

0:26:490:26:52

which is my final destination in my grand tour from lake to loch.

0:26:520:26:57

Ben Venue is a Highland mountain in miniature,

0:27:000:27:03

rising in rugged grandeur above Loch Achray and Loch Katrine.

0:27:030:27:08

Early guidebooks to the area waxed lyrical about Ben Venue,

0:27:100:27:14

and quoted Scott's Lady Of The Lake to make the point.

0:27:140:27:18

"Crags and knolls and mounds confusedly hurled

0:27:180:27:21

"The fragments of an earlier world."

0:27:210:27:24

Because of Scott's famous poem,

0:27:250:27:27

Ben Venue became one of the earliest and most popular peaks

0:27:270:27:31

to be climbed for pleasure in Scotland.

0:27:310:27:34

Since then, clothing and footwear might have changed a good deal,

0:27:340:27:39

but the mountain in miniature hasn't got any lower,

0:27:390:27:42

and it's still a stiff climb to reach the summit,

0:27:420:27:45

where countless thousands have stood before.

0:27:450:27:49

Ooh! Here we are.

0:27:490:27:51

At last. At last, at last.

0:27:510:27:55

The summit of Ben Venue.

0:27:550:27:56

Just kiss the cairn, as you do.

0:27:580:27:59

Now, this might not be a particularly mighty peak,

0:28:010:28:04

but the views live up to all the expectations of Scott

0:28:040:28:08

and the Romantic artists that came after him.

0:28:080:28:11

Down there is Loch Arklet, and behind me is Loch Katrine,

0:28:110:28:16

and down there is Loch Achray,

0:28:160:28:19

which makes this the perfect place for me

0:28:190:28:22

to end my grand tour from lake to loch.

0:28:220:28:26

In the final programme in the series, Paul explores some lochs close to Scotland's densely populated central belt. Starting on the banks of the most famous lake in Scotland - the Lake of Menteith - Paul wanders through an enchanting landscape, visiting Loch Ard, Loch Arklet, Loch Katrine and Loch Achray, before climbing a mountain in miniature, Ben Venue.