Travel documentary. Michael Portillo makes apple juice in the Clyde Valley orchards, scales the Forth Rail Bridge and relives childhood memories in Kirkcaldy.
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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.
His name was George Bradshaw
and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.
Stop by stop, he told them where to travel,
what to see and where to stay.
Now 170 years later, I'm making four long journeys
across the length and breadth of the country
to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
Using Bradshaw's, my 19th century guidebook,
and armed with an umbrella,
today I'm on the last leg of my journey from Preston to Kirkcaldy.
Today will take me to east Scotland -
a voyage not so much of discovery as rediscovery,
as I used to go there as a child.
So this will be a journey of nostalgia, for places as they were,
for people as they were,
for people who no longer are.
Today, I'll be braving the weather in Carluke
to see an industry being brought back to life.
Is it apple juice you make or cider?
Which would you like? We can do both.
You might have to come back in a year for the cider, though!
I'll be searching for a famous Scottish basement.
I'm looking for a cellar
where the act of union may have been signed, according to my guidebook.
Right. It's actually our ladies' toilets.
And I'll be realising a lifelong ambition.
It gives you an idea of the...
the scale, the complexity, the height.
And actually the beauty. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?
I'm almost at the end of my journey north from Preston.
All this week, I've been travelling up the west of Britain,
stopping at some of the most beautiful spots in the country.
Having crossed the border into Scotland,
I'm now heading for my mother's home town of Kirkcaldy.
Today I'm leaving Glasgow and heading for Carluke.
Then I'll hit the Scottish capital,
before crossing the Firth of Forth to my final destination.
My first stop will be in the Clyde Valley because I am intrigued by something in Bradshaw's.
"The line now passes through a district of country
"rich in mineral wealth, beautiful scenery,
"celebrated far and near as the orchard of Scotland,
"and famous for its fine fruit."
In Bradshaw's time, the Clyde Valley was lush with orchards.
Each season, trains rushed the freshly picked fruit to markets all over the country.
But today, many of the orchards are neglected and overgrown.
Here at Carluke, one small group of people is trying to revive this centuries-old industry.
-Lovely weather for it.
-How are you?
-Another fine day.
Tom Clelland's family have managed the trees here
for more than four generations.
May I ask what your own earliest memory is of fruit-picking?
Because it must still have been going strong when you were a lad.
Yeah, this road that I live in,
everybody made their living out of growing fruit.
In summer, they grew gooseberries, strawberries, blackcurrants.
And then in the autumn it was mainly plums but also apples and pears.
I remember it being put on the back of a cart
and the tractor driving the strawberries up to a railway station that's now closed at Lesmahagow,
and we loaded the strawberries on to the railway carriage
and they were bound for Manchester.
-So the railways were fundamental to this business?
The cooler weather here meant that fruit was still ripening
after the season had finished further south.
Picking was organised around the clock
so that the fruit could be put on the early freight trains to Birmingham, Manchester and London.
I didn't know much about the orchard of Scotland.
Does it still justify the name?
Um... No, not in the same way that it did.
It kind of reached its heyday round about the start of the 20th century
when there would be about 1,000 acres of orchards around here.
And about another 700 acres of soft fruit
on the other side of the valley and down that way.
So what are you down to now?
Less than 100 acres of top fruit.
I've got about 150 plum trees, some apple and some pear.
I need to plant up my orchard again.
I need to look after it, and I'm doing that
because it's part of my heritage, it's what I grew up with.
Tom is now caring for the fruit trees along with other local growers like Duncan Arthur.
So, I caught you pressing some apples.
We're at the start of it anyway.
-Is it apple juice you make or cider?
-Which would you like?
We can do both.
You might have to come back in a year for the cider, though.
All right. I'll have some apple juice.
So, you're a neighbour of Tom's and you're a grower here as well?
Yes, I am indeed.
'Twice a week, Tom, Duncan and the other growers harvest the fruit
'and produce apple juice that they sell locally.'
That's not too bad.
Yeah, it's a very efficient mechanism, isn't it?
It is. That works nicely.
I'm not sure I'd want to do it all day!
No, but one pressing will give us about 15 or 20 litres of apple juice.
-I'll just let that run through now, I think.
-Now, can I taste it?
-Absolutely. Why not?
At this point, it's a wee bit cloudy,
but it's as Mother Nature intended.
It's exquisite. It's quite different from apple juice in the supermarket.
I don't know, tangy and...fresh...
-Well done, Duncan. You're on to something there.
-Thank you very much.
It's uplifting to see the orchards being tended once more.
They perpetuate traditional varieties of apples and pears that Bradshaw might have eaten.
From Scotland's orchard, now to Scotland's capital.
I'm now bound for Edinburgh, 35 miles away.
-Just one thing, is that your umbrella?
Is there a lost property office at Edinburgh, do you know?
-In the Waverley Centre there is.
-Is there? I'll pop it in there.
Britain is very long from north to south,
but tends to be very narrow from east to west.
So even on the slowest train,
I have quite quickly crossed virtually from Glasgow all the way to Edinburgh.
We are just arriving at Edinburgh Haymarket.
And then between Haymarket and Waverley is one of my favourite stretches of railway line.
The railway runs through a ravine with the castle looming up above us.
Now I have a wonderful sheer vertical view
up towards Edinburgh Castle.
And we pass along the edge of the bottom of this fantastic rock
which dominates the city.
Arriving at Edinburgh Waverley Station,
my first task is to find the lost property office.
-Hi. Lost luggage?
-Yes, it is. Hi.
I found this on the train. I was on the 2.15 from Glasgow Central.
OK, that's lovely. So we'll just note down...
I imagine you get vast amounts of lost luggage, don't you?
We do in Edinburgh. We get a very sizeable amount of lost property.
It comes in, and at this time of year, more so.
Where do you keep it? There doesn't seem much room in here.
Yeah, we keep most of our items just through there.
-I'll just show you, if you'd like to have a look?
-Yes, I'd love to.
Have you any idea how many items you get a month?
Um, it's on average about 600.
-Over the year.
Lovely bits of old station showing through here.
This is mostly August's lost property for Edinburgh Waverley Station.
-Quite a lot of umbrellas. Pictures.
-Yes, the pictures are interesting.
It would be nice if somebody claimed them,
because those are army photographs.
This is an interesting spot, isn't it?
Yes. It's always nice to see behind the scenes of anywhere!
Oh! The bit the public doesn't see.
Downstairs, there's even more.
So, now this represents another two months' worth.
What are the most bizarre things you've had?
Um... The most bizarre thing probably is an octopus.
It was for food, it was dead. But it was in a suitcase,
-in amongst other things, it was a bit...
-An octopus in a suitcase?
Yeah, and another member of staff had live eels in a bag. A bag of live eels.
-So these are the most...
-That is bizarre.
Whatever people have, there is a potential for them to forget it.
Anyway, it's a very valuable service you provide.
Thanks very much for showing me.
-You're welcome. Pleasure.
Waverley Station lies in the heart of Scotland's capital.
Bradshaw describes Edinburgh as a modern Athens
and commends its fine views of the River Forth.
But he also points me to something that requires a little detective work.
My Bradshaw's guide
mentions Tron Church in the High Street.
It says it's marked by a new spire of 140 feet.
And indeed this tells me that the spire was rebuilt in 1828 after a fire.
But then my Bradshaw says, "Opposite the church is a cellar
"where the treaty of union is said to have been signed."
But that would appear to be now an Italian restaurant.
'The treaty of 1707 joined England and Scotland
'together under one parliament for the first time.
'It's a key event in the history of both countries, so I'm keen to see where it happened.'
I'm looking for a cellar
where the act of union may have been signed, according to my guidebook.
Right. It's actually our ladies' toilets,
but if you'd like to come down, I can show you if you want.
-I can go to your ladies' toilet?
-Of course you can.
-Thank you very much. Hmm!
Down and down we go.
-This is it.
-So, you haven't put up a plaque or anything?
No, we don't have a plaque.
-Do you get many people asking about it?
-Yeah, quite a few.
We just show them down here.
You just bring them to the ladies' loos.
Do you know much about it?
Um... A little bit, yeah.
But, um, we're not 100% sure that it happened here, but...
-That's the story anyway.
-Oh, you mean my guidebook might be wrong?
So, has my Bradshaw let me down?
One thing's for certain. At the time of the treaty,
many Scottish people were strongly opposed to the union, and riots broke out.
-Pleased to meet you, Michael.
-How are you?
'I'm hoping historian Dr John Young
'can tell me what happened in those feverish days.'
The leading Scottish politicians who wanted a union with England,
a full union with England,
were jostled and attacked on these streets on a regular basis.
And there is a good possibility that Unionist politicians actually escaped
to this cellar of this Italian restaurant which was a house.
Word began to spread that the treaty had been signed in secret,
by those politicians hiding in the cellar.
The ladies' toilet in the Italian restaurant
down here was known as Union Cellar.
This was something that was in circulation,
this rumour, certainly by Bradshaw's tour in the 1850s.
It's repeated in publications in the 1890s,
but unfortunately it is not true.
So, do we know where the act of union WAS signed?
Just up the road here in the old Scottish Parliament
was where the Scottish Parliament debated the treaty of union
and ratified the treaty of union.
Which is kind of what you would expect.
You'd expect it to happen in parliament rather than in a cellar.
Even if that cellar in those days wasn't a ladies' lavatory in an Italian restaurant.
And I can tell you, as a former British parliamentarian,
that it wasn't our habit to sign things in ladies' lavatories.
By the time Bradshaw was writing, England and Scotland had been riveted together.
Queen Victoria adopted Balmoral as the Royal Family's holiday home
and began wearing tartan.
In Edinburgh, too, names began to take on a hint of unionism.
Tonight I'll be staying at one of my favourite Edinburgh hotels,
the Balmoral, which until recently was known as the North British.
Built as the railway hotel, it sits firmly on top of Waverley Station.
-Mr Portillo, good evening, welcome to the Balmoral.
-It's lovely to be back.
It's really one of the great railway hotels, isn't it?
It is, yes. It used to be the old North British, dating back to 1902,
with a few of our other hotels in Scotland,
and we used to welcome the great and the good from London and further afield,
all over the world, to the Balmoral, absolutely.
Am I ready to check in?
I'm sure you'll agree that I would be failing you if I didn't take
full advantage of this luxury.
So I intend to shake off the day's travelling in style.
So, this is my suite.
No Scottish room would be complete without antlers.
My favourite in this room is this little turret.
Down to this side of the turret
is Waverley Station,
which is where I'm headed with my Bradshaw's now.
This next part of my journey is something I've been looking forward to.
-Morning. What happened to the weather?
Isn't it great?
-Great change, isn't it?
-It's absolutely superb.
I'm going up top on the Forth Bridge today, on the railway bridge.
-Which part of Scotland are you from?
That's, erm, nearby Munich. HE LAUGHS
I know that bit! Thank you. Bye.
From this station, I will relive the thrill
that my brothers and I felt as children when my mother
took us across the mighty Firth of Forth to her hometown.
We used to come and see my grandparents in Kirkcaldy when I was three, four, five years old.
We'd travel on the night train, but without sleepers, we'd be in second class.
But all night long, we wouldn't sleep for the excitement that,
in the morning, we were going to be crossing the Forth rail bridge.
No words can describe this iconic structure.
It is the king of bridges.
In fact, even now, on the whole rail network in Britain,
every bridge and every structure is numbered, except for this one,
except for the Forth rail bridge, which is called simply "The Bridge".
My grandfather as a youngster would row out in a boat
to watch the building of this masterpiece,
Britain's first major structure in steel.
The bridge took seven years to construct,
and was completed in 1890.
It feels as exciting today, I think, as when I was a child.
It's still the most incredible thing.
Of course, now I've been able to see it from underneath, from a distance,
I've seen many photographs of it, I know the history, I know how many people died building it.
All of these things simply made me more impressed by this amazing structure.
You cross the bridge by train in a few minutes,
and that's not the best way to appreciate the scale of this structure.
But down here, you see its iconic three diamonds.
This bridge is completely unique.
Show a photograph of this bridge to anyone on the face of the planet
and they'd know this was the one and only, the Forth rail bridge.
George Bradshaw didn't live to see it built.
Talking about North Queensferry, where I am now, he says,
"In the neighbourhood of Queensferry,
"by the sudden approximation of opposite promontories,
"the Forth river is forced into a narrow strait."
And then he talks about the winding bays and lofty shores bordering
"a fine sheet of water, a noble river, a broad sea."
It must have been difficult for George Bradshaw to imagine
that this broad sea would soon be traversed by a mighty structure.
Over 100 trains thunder across the bridge every day,
and although modern trains create less stress on the bridge than Victorian steam locomotives,
it still requires constant maintenance.
Wow, you have a privileged job.
You are responsible for The Bridge.
It's an absolute pleasure to be here, too. It's a wonderful bridge.
Project manager Ian Heath is in charge of repairing
and repainting the bridge, and he's taking me aloft.
-OK, lead on, please.
-On we come.
When we get out of this lift, where will we be?
We will be 367 feet above water level.
-We'll be on top of one of the diamond shapes?
We call it a tower - in the centre of each diamond, there's a tower -
and we're at the very top of one of those.
That's very, very thrilling. That's fantastic.
That is absolutely magnificent.
It gives you an idea of the scale,
the complexity, the height,
and actually, the beauty.
It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?
It is, it's a surprisingly lovely thing.
55,000 tonnes of steel were used to build the bridge.
It was bolted together in sections, using over eight million rivets.
And it's massively stronger than it needs to be.
Just a basic question. Why has it always been rusty red-coloured?
It probably goes back to the fact that we use red lead paints.
Principally, red was the colour of red-lead paint back in the day.
We maintained the colour throughout the history of the bridge.
And now you're doing some pretty major works.
-What is it you're doing?
For the first time, we're actually blasting all the old paint off.
It's never been blasted before.
We're turning it into a bare metal - shiny white metal - finish,
onto which we apply the new coating system.
And that new coating system has got a much longer lifespan
than any of the old simple paints.
It's going to last 25, 30...
We think even up to 40 years, this paint system.
Really? So that means that the old adage about "You never stop painting the Forth rail bridge,"
that's going to become a thing of the past, is it?
In essence, it probably is.
Working on the bridge, has it given you a greater admiration for the Victorians who built it?
The Victorians were a special breed, no question at all.
The engineers had vision unlike any others,
and certainly the workforce knew no fear.
They went and worked very, very well.
And sadly, quite a lot of them lost their lives.
They did, some 75 people died during the construction of the bridge.
Thankfully, today we have none of that. We've got a very good safety record on site.
It's been so exciting to realise a lifelong ambition
and look down from the summit of the bridge.
It ranks as one of the greatest engineering feats of our history.
Now I'm close to my final destination on this journey,
a place full of childhood memories.
When I was a kid, going to Kirkcaldy was not just exciting
because of the rail journey
and the fact we were going to another country.
My parents were not particularly well off, but my grandparents
were quite rich, and they had a big house.
My grandad would even send the maroon-coloured 1953 Daimler
to meet us at the station, with the chauffeur in his double-buttoned tunic
and his peaked cap and his great big chauffeur's gloves.
An image from a lost age.
More like a dream than a memory.
Bradshaw's guide says of Kirkcaldy very simply,
"A borough engaged in the linen trade."
My grandfather had a linen factory.
I was very fond of him.
One thing I remember was, he was very proud of Fife,
which had been a kingdom, he said, and he hated it
when people called it Fifeshire, as though it were a mere county.
Although it's 47 years since he died, very often
when I'm in Scotland I find time still to go back to Kirkcaldy
and to remember him.
My grandfather, John Blyth, ran a successful family business in Kirkcaldy, manufacturing linen.
The town had become famous for its linen and sale cloth in the early 19th century.
By the 1870s, entrepreneurs used linen
as a backing for an entirely new product called linoleum.
Soon, Kirkcaldy became the world's largest lino producer,
with factories all along the railway tracks.
Although John Blyth stuck to linen,
he did well, and bought a large house in Kirkcaldy.
One of the pleasures for my brothers and me
was the railway at the end of the street.
So that's what we used to do as kids.
We would come here and stand by the wall - there wasn't a fence on it -
and watch the trains go by. But in those days, they were steam locomotives.
Ever since, I've never got trains out of my system.
The house itself was an imposing building,
with a grandeur that astonished my brothers and me.
In this porch, my grandfather kept all of his walking sticks.
This was the hallway.
Under this tartan carpet is polished wood.
And this magnificent staircase
was my way every evening up to bed.
On these walls hung enormous paintings.
Seascapes and pictures of children being blown around on sea shores.
And I remember that lovely window as well.
And on and on.
And so to bed.
Today, my grandfather's pictures, bought with the profits
from the factory, are displayed in the town's impressive art gallery.
John Blyth's Victorian upbringing gave him and other businessmen
an intense sense of civic pride.
My grandfather was a big paintings collector, and became the first curator of the gallery.
And at the opening ceremony in 1926, my mother as a little girl
presented the posy of flowers to the guests of honour.
In the next two rooms are paintings that used to belong to my grandfather.
These are by William McTaggart.
He was born around the time that George Bradshaw died.
Some could be very, very sentimental,
but I remember paintings like this,
scary ones of children being battered by storms.
They really rather frightened me.
I remember my grandfather's house being full of still lifes.
This one I remember well.
This is obviously inspired by a French Impressionist,
by Paul Cezanne.
Even as a kid, I loved these
brightly-coloured, easy-to-understand pictures.
I love to see my grandfather's paintings on display for all to enjoy, just as he intended.
This has been a journey of legacies.
In the Clyde valley, the fruit growers are planting their orchards again.
On the Forth rail bridge, the engineers are building anew.
And here in Kirkcaldy, my grandfather's industry
is perpetuated through linoleum,
and his beloved collection of paintings still bears his name.
Time has eroded, but it has not destroyed.
On my next journey, I'll be travelling from Swindon down to Penzance.
Along the way, I'll be sampling the Spa at Bath.
-These things are great for wallowing!
-Yes! I can think of various...
You could deliver a nasty blow to someone with one of those!
I'll be travelling like the Victorians.
Not only did the trains make it possible for them
to do things they'd never done before,
they also brought them into the heart of countryside and landscape,
the like of which city dwellers in particular had never seen.
And I'll be tasting some of Cornwall's freshest produce.
-I could have another of those!
-You can have as many as you like!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. In a series of four epic journeys, he travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
Michael's second epic journey takes him north, from Preston to Scotland, on one of the first railways to cross the border. On this fifth leg, he makes apple juice in the Clyde Valley orchards, pays a thrilling visit to the top of the Forth Rail Bridge and relives his childhood memories in his grandparents' home town of Kirkcaldy.