Ayr to Paisley Great British Railway Journeys


Ayr to Paisley

Michael visits the hometown of Robbie Burns, finds out how to make haggis, and discovers how the railways transformed the game of golf in Prestwick.


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Transcript


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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.

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His name was George Bradshaw,

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and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.

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Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see and where to stay.

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Now, 170 years later, I'm making a series of journeys across the length and breadth of the country

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to see what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.

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Using my Victorian Bradshaw's guide,

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I'm beginning a journey up the west coast of Scotland.

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The northern part of the West Highland Line

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was recently voted in one travel survey the world's most scenic railway.

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Trains brought tourists to places previously accessible only to deer and sheep.

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19th century novels romanticised highland culture,

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and Queen Victoria began the royal habit of holidaying north of the border.

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Bradshaw's helps in understanding those social changes.

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As the railways reached the Highlands, the guidebooks provided useful tips

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for those travelling north.

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On this stretch of the journey I'll be discovering why 19th century Paisley was a magnet for Italians...

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-Lei parla italiano?

-Si.

-Si? Da dove e?

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..seeing how the railways helped golf to flourish in Scotland...

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It was 1925, and there were something like 20,000 people came on the railway from Glasgow.

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..and celebrating haggis in the home town of poet Robert Burns.

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Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face

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Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

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Fantastic.

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Starting on the Ayrshire coast,

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this journey takes me north to join the stunning West Highland Line.

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I'll be following its path through some of the Highlands' most dramatic scenery,

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and I'll end up on the Hebridean island of Skye.

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My route today begins in Ayr, then up the track to Prestwick.

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My last stop will be one of the great Victorian textile towns, Paisley.

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I'm travelling through a county with a rich industrial past.

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This is Ayrshire, and my Bradshaw's guide says it has "abundant mines of coal, also freestone, limestone,

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"iron, lead and copper, and from the great abundance of seaweed which is cast ashore,

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"vast quantities of kelp is made."

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Well, like in many places the railways were built originally for coal,

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but it wasn't too long before the companies realised

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that they had to make provision for passengers, too.

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This line opened to passengers in 1839, and in the first year alone was used by 137,000 people.

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It developed into a busy commuter route, linking Glasgow with the pretty coastal town of Ayr.

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TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT: 'This is Ayr, where this train will terminate.'

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My Bradshaw's refers to Ayr as "a port, at the mouth of the Ayr water, a picturesque stream,"

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and says that "about 5,000 tons of shipping are registered here".

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Before Glasgow rose to prominence, this was the stepping-off point for trade with the Western Isles.

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But even in Bradshaw's day tourists were coming here,

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for this is what my guidebook refers to as the land of Burns.

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Celebrity fascinated Victorians.

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Using trains they could visit places made famous by literature,

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or gawp at the birthplace of a popular writer like Robert Burns.

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It stands close to Ayr, and my guidebook says,

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"Innumerable pilgrims from all lands visit these scenes and the place of the poet's residence

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"to gaze on what has been charmed and sanctified by his genius."

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Bradshaw's listing for Ayr contains three columns of quotes from Burns.

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But no verse perhaps is more famous than that in which the great Scottish poet

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elevated a humble Scottish peasant dish

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to the status of international celebrity with his Address To A Haggis.

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The poem's recited each January at Burns night suppers.

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Although tongue in cheek, it's undoubtedly a proud celebration of Scottish cuisine.

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Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

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Those verses brought haggis to global renown,

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and the railways enabled many outside Scotland to have their first taste.

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'I'm meeting award-winning haggis maker Stuart Duguid to chart its rise to fame.'

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While I'm in Robbie Burns country I thought I'd find out a bit more about haggis.

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Well, you've picked the right place to come to.

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What's the history? How did it start?

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It goes back to the days when the gentry ate the lamb, and all the poor people, the peasants,

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were eating the offal, and they made the offal into a meal.

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So, traditionally, it was a pudding made for poor people?

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Oh, yes, without a doubt. It's immortalised now, though.

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-Well, immortalised by Rabbie Burns.

-Oh, absolutely, yes.

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Now, did he write... That Address To The Haggis, did he write that as a joke, forgive me?

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No, he didn't, my, God no. Don't say that to a Scottish man, either!

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It was a completely serious thing?

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It was a serious poem, yes. He was very serious about it.

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But then it becomes, I suppose thanks to Rabbie Burns,

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a dish that is craved even in London?

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Oh, yes. Not just London, all over.

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We... Well, fortunately the railway station is just along the road there,

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and we send a tremendous amount of haggis down south by railway.

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Do you think the railway itself helped the export of haggis to outside Scotland?

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Of course it did. It was the only way of transporting it in those days, the rail.

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It was a wee bit more difficult with refrigeration, but it still worked.

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Cos once it's cooked, it's got a seven-day shelf life.

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-I'm looking forward to...

-I'm certainly hoping so!

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..to seeing how you make them.

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We've got the coat, we've got the hat, and we're ready for you.

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-I'm ready for it, too.

-OK.

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HE CHUCKLES

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'Bradshaw's says of Haggis, "Its ingredients are oatmeal, suet, pepper,

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'"and it's usually boiled in a sheep's stomach."

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'But perhaps for fear of putting people off, it doesn't mention the most important ingredients.'

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This is what we call a sheep's pluck. This is the heart.

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Heart and lungs?

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-Lungs.

-Liver.

-Yeah. That's the raw material.

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We cook these. Probably cook about 200lb at a time for a batch size,

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-and that's the size it cooks down to.

-OK.

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'Once everything's mixed up, it's time to make the haggis.

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'Sheep's stomachs are still used for the largest, and intestines for smaller ones.'

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Right. Here we go.

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Hand over this end of it. That's it. And again. No. Hold it firm.

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-Oh, dear!

-We'll try another one.

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Firm. That's it. Keep it on there. Well done.

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Well done. Same again. Keep it firm.

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-Let it slide now, slightly. Perfect.

-Lovely!

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So what we're going to do, we're going to open the oven up and then bring out one just exactly like that.

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-Ah, lovely.

-You have actually made a haggis.

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Whoa!

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-Aren't they beautiful?

-Mmm.

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Now's your chance, Michael. We'd like you to taste this.

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That's a great honour.

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Before you do so, I'm afraid you have to recite the poem.

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-We'll ask you to do the first verse, make it easy for you.

-All right.

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Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face Great chieftain o' the pudding race!

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Aboon them a' yet tak your place Painch, trip or thairm

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Weel are ye wordy o'a grace As lang's my arm.

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-Now what do I do?

-You slice it open.

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Slice it open.

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Oh, look at that!

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It's not the way I normally do it.

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I just normally pick it up with my fingers.

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-Fantastic.

-Ain't that lovely?

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Mm. Marvellous.

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-Really got a bit of an edge to it, hasn't it?

-Mmm-hmm.

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Ah, it's a lovely, lovely haggis.

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'Bradshaw's said haggis is "a heavy yet by no means disagreeable dish,"

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'and I don't argue with that.'

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It's now time to leave Ayr and catch the train just a few miles up the line to Prestwick.

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'The tracks running up this stretch of coast offer wonderful views across the Firth of Clyde.'

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In the 19th century the new railway allowed wealthy Glaswegians to move out to this beautiful scenery,

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'turning Prestwick into a haven for commuters.'

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This is Prestwick Town, which scarcely gets a mention in Bradshaw's

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because it was just a tiny village on the edge of Troon.

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But when the rail link arrived here, that was the moment when the middle classes from Glasgow

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could build their magnificent villas here

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to take advantage of the sea views and the vista over towards the Isle of Arran.

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And with the railway coming here in 1840, it was just 11 years later that they put in the golf course.

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And the best view of the golf course is from the station.

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'When my guidebook was published, Prestwick was poised to become

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'one of Scotland's most important golf courses,

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'as club secretary Ian Bunch explains.'

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-What a fantastic golf course.

-Welcome to Prestwick.

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Where we're standing now, Prestwick, this is actually the home of Open golf in Scotland. Is that right?

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The home of... The first Open Championship was held here in 1860.

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Only eight people took part in that Open, and it was Tom Morris,

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it was his concept with the Earl of Eglinton and JL Fairlie,

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and they sent invitations out to the leading clubs for them to put forward players to play in this Open event.

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And I suppose, then, the railways did then make it possible for it to become a big spectator event?

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Oh, yes. I mean, the last Open that we held here was 1925,

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and there were something like 20,000 people came on the railway from Glasgow.

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How fantastic, but forgive me, it must have been quite difficult to control 20,000 people

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on this size of course?

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That's why we no longer have the Open Championship, because the crowd control, there was none.

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Everybody was on the fairways. They just followed the matches,

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and you have all these people bottlenecking.

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That was the last Open in 1925 that we actually had.

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Golf originated in 15th century Scotland,

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but in the railway age it spread rapidly.

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By the 1900s there were more than 1,300 courses in Britain.

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Have the railways played quite an important part

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in the history of golf?

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Oh, very important. If you think of a links course, it's beside a railway station.

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It was more holidays, industrial revolution, people had...

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The working week came down to 55 hours, so they had more time,

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and they were actually able to play golf.

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Of course in those days you didn't have a car, you wanted to take your clubs on the train.

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Absolutely. Well, it was horse and cart or a train.

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Railway companies offered cheap tickets and deals for golfers.

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And here, railway staff made special arrangements so players didn't miss their train.

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In days gone by the station master used to have a bell which he would ring

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which would ring in the bar to advise that the train was going to arrive within five minutes.

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So we had a wonderful relationship with the railways in days gone by.

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-Just time to drink up and go?

-Absolutely.

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In Prestwick the memory of the railway's heyday is cherished.

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Oh, I've got a good story about railways and golf.

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Well, a lady's playing at Prestwick long ago in the '20s of steam trains,

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and the train came into the station as she drove, and she sliced it over the wall out of bounds,

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hit the train, came back on the course and as she walks up the driver leaned out and said,

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"That was lucky. Are you playing tomorrow?" And she said,

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"Yes. I've got a tee time at 1pm." He said, "I'll try and be here."

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HE LAUGHS

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Have the same luck twice.

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Golf is something I'm leaving for later life,

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so I'd best just head off in search of tonight's hotel.

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Prestwick's good rail links to Glasgow led to a building boom in the 19th century,

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and rows of elegant terraces sprang up.

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'And one of them is rather special.'

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I'm now just a stone's throw from the golf course,

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and my bed tonight will be in one of those mid-19th century villas.

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And this one was built for John Keppie, who was an architect,

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and he was a friend of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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So I'm hoping that when I embark on my journeys tomorrow, my head will be full of grand designs.

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'Mackintosh, Scotland's most famous architect, often spent time in this house.'

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It's easy to see why he loved Prestwick.

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This quiet coastal town provided him with the necessary peace for creativity.

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Thank you, that looks lovely. Thank you very much indeed.

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'After a hearty Ayrshire breakfast it's time to continue my journey,

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'starting back at Prestwick station to catch my next train.

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'I'm on my way to Paisley, travelling through Renfrewshire.'

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Bradshaw's says that, "This county contains many manufacturing towns and villages.

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"It's bounded by the Firth of Clyde and the Clyde River".

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Then he talks about the industry and enterprise of the inhabitants

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and about "extensive machinery in immense buildings,

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"where hundreds of human beings are actively engaged in manufactures."

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It's a very telling description of an industrious and industrialised county

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at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century.

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'In Bradshaw's day, these parts were being transformed

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'from tranquil villages into substantial industrial towns.

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'My next stop is a good example.'

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Well, I've now arrived at the very Victorian-feeling station of Paisley Gilmour Street.

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My Bradshaw's says of Paisley,

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"Paisley is a thriving seat of the cotton trade,

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"with a population of about 47,952."

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Don't you love that combination of approximation and precision?

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In the 19th century, Paisley was one of Britain's most productive textile towns.

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It gave its name to the Indian-inspired shawls,

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patterned with the iconic teardrop.

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But Victorian Paisley also produced a fabric with origins closer to home.

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In the mid-19th century Paisley was a town of weavers,

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and the cottage industry had pretty much given way to big, new mills.

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With tourists pouring into Scotland on the trains, and with the royal interest in all matters Scottish,

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there was a tartan craze, and the mills were churning out mile after mile of the stuff.

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It was being exported everywhere, beginning its journey, of course, by rail.

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Sad to remember, just a century before Victoria's reign, tartan was almost lost forever.

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The Highlanders, who'd supported Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion,

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had been defeated by government troops at the Battle of Culloden.

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'The director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, Brian Wilton, knows the story.'

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After Culloden, what happens to the Highlanders?

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I think the first blow was that tartan was banned

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from 1747 until, in fact, 1782.

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That resulted in many of the old looms being lost, many of the old patterns being lost.

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That very proud and unique identity of the Highlanders was taken away from them.

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They were made to wear trousers, and trousers, as far as they were concerned,

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the majority of them were terrible things. Impractical, not Scottish.

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So that was a great slap in face for them.

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'The authorities tried to suppress the rebellious Highlanders by destroying their culture,

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'but they didn't quite succeed in killing off tartan.'

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Tartan goes from being banned in the Highlands

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to being a fashion accessory for the English upper classes. How on earth did that happen?

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That was due to a remarkable, lucky coincidence of events.

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The first one was probably George IV, who was invited to Edinburgh in 1822,

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a trip that was orchestrated by Sir Walter Scott.

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When George IV arrived in Edinburgh, he was kitted out from top to toe in tartan,

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and even, it's said, wore some pink tights, which didn't go down too well.

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In the invitation to the clan chiefs to come to meet the king,

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Walter Scott said, "Dress in your clan tartans."

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Many of them didn't know what their tartans were because of the previous ban,

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and they were scrabbling around, going to the weavers,

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talking to old people in the clans saying, "Can you remember our tartan?"

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At this point, two young men appeared.

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The Sobieski brothers professed to be grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie,

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and claimed to have discovered an ancient document that could solve the Highlanders' problem.

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They also let it be known that they had a very rare manuscript

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which detailed in minute detail the Scottish clan tartans,

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not just for the Highlanders, but also for the Lowlanders,

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and people in the borders, families in the borders,

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who'd never had tartans before.

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Walter Scott was very suspicious of this,

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but the rest of Scottish society welcomed these with open arms because of this Romantic wave.

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'The brothers produced a dictionary of tartans,

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'allowing many clans and families to lay claim to an ancestral pattern.'

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'Tartan sales began to take off.'

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Do you think the railways helped to spread the tartan mania in the Victorian period?

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We're positive that they had a very great effect.

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Not only did they provide a marvellously improved means of transport

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to get tartans from the Highlands down to the market in the south,

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but they also, on the return journey, brought the tourists with them,

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who would come into the Highlands and would buy tartan.

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So I think it was a marvellously symbiotic relationship.

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The public was so infatuated with tartan that the book's authenticity went largely unchallenged.

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Very many of today's tartans turned out, at the end of the day, to be forgeries.

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-What, the book was a fraud?

-Yes, gifted forgeries, because they were very imaginative.

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But the clans accepted them,

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and that makes up many of today's clan tartan books.

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-I've been meaning to ask you, what tartan are you wearing now?

-That's the Fraser tartan.

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Your family tartan?

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-Yes, my grandmother was a Fraser.

-And you're sure it's genuine?

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It better be, she'll be in trouble if it isn't!

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It seems that many supposedly ancient tartans were in fact invented in Bradshaw's day.

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Now anyone can design and register a new one.

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But for traditionalists, the idea of clan weaves has stuck.

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We're an off-shoot of the Mackay tartan, but I don't know a great deal about it.

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Would you have any idea what the Mackay tartans look like?

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Oh, it's a green background, I know that, but other colours, no.

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-Do you lay claim to any tartan yourself?

-No, I don't.

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I'm Italian and English.

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Would you ever wear a tartan, even so?

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I know that I can't. I've been told that I can only wear Black Watch because I'm not Scottish.

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-Did you know there was a connection between Paisley and an Italian town called Barga?

-No, I didn't.

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-It's all to do with fish and chips and ice cream.

-Is it really?!

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See, Italians know their food.

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The Italians know their food, they do indeed.

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Paisley has an Italian community that dates back to Victorian times,

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when the railways brought thousands of immigrants to southwest Scotland.

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I'm meeting Scots-Italian Ronnie Convery in one of Paisley's oldest fish and chip shops.

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-Hello, Ronnie.

-Hi, Michael.

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-I'm Michael, it's lovely to see you.

-Nice to see you.

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What's the connection, then, between Paisley and la bella Italia?

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Well, it goes back a long way.

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I suppose the main thing to say is that Italy,

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which we now regard as a kind of cultural and stylistic capital,

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in the 19th century had some of the characteristics of a developing country.

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There was incredible poverty, failures of harvests and so on,

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so basically Italian immigrants left Tuscany, which we would now regard as the ultimate holiday destination,

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to come to places like this.

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And this was regarded as a place to make a new life.

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They came basically through London, and then spread out from London,

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following the railway lines to centres like Glasgow and Paisley.

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So that here, in this part of Scotland,

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the majority of the Italian community come from one tiny little village

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high in the Apuane Alps in Tuscany called Barga.

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In the 19th century, the people of Barga were hit by famine.

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As the railways spread through Europe, some were able to escape,

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and many ended up in Paisley hoping to make their fortunes.

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Why have we met in a fish and chip shop?

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That's another story. When those first immigrants came, they were essentially hawkers.

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Ice cream became their trade, on barrows, and an interesting thing there is,

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in our health and safety obsessed world,

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in those days they used to sell ice cream in little glass cups.

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People would literally lick the ice cream out the cup and hand it back to the salesman.

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It was only in 1905 that an Italian from Manchester invented the cone,

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and thus made our current ice cream cone.

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That's got us to ice cream, it hasn't go us to fish and chips yet.

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Well, OK. Ice cream's not a great seller in the winter.

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So Italians being here, not wishing to take the jobs of the local community,

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had to find something new and original.

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Now, fish and chips isn't actually original to Italians.

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It had been sold in London by Greeks, actually, in the 19th century.

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But, seeing the market, they took it outside London, and it's a very easy thing to set up.

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There's an endless supply potatoes in Britain and a reasonably endless supply of fish.

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How big did this trend grow?

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Were there lots of Italian fish and chip shops and ice cream shops?

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Between 1890 and 1910, the Italian population of Scotland quadrupled,

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but the number of ice cream and fish and chips shops increased tenfold.

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-Tenfold?

-Yeah.

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'Out of the large number of Italian fish and chip shops that once graced Paisley,

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'only a handful have survived.'

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I've just come into this fish and chip shop,

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-an Italian fish and chip shop, but it has a Scottish name.

-Exactly, Allans.

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That's actually quite typical, there are a few like that called Savoy Cafe and things.

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It's because of the wartime experience of the Italian community, which was pretty awful.

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When Mussolini entered the war in 1940, Churchill famously said, "Collar the lot,"

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meaning collar the whole community.

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So men from about 14 to 60 or 70 were arrested and interned.

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So the impact of that wartime experience was extreme on the Italian community,

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it was a real scar on their psyche.

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So much so that after the war there was an incredible desire to integrate,

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to not stand out from the crowd.

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'Scots-Italians now feel so at home here that they invent their own tartans.'

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Recently, a member of this community, another chap who owns a fish and chip shop,

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decided it would be a good idea to create a Scottish-Italian tartan.

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And used all the colours - the blue of the Italian national football strip,

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the green, white and red of the flag,

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applied to the Scottish Tartans Authority,

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and obtained their permission to have the first approved ethnic tartan.

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Given your shirt and tie, you may actually get away with that today.

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That's an example of integration, isn't it?

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That is super. Do you know...

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I mean, that is fantastic, but I wouldn't have known that wasn't just a pure Scottish tartan.

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It could be Macbeth or MacDonald, couldn't it?

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But here I see the blue of the Italian football team,

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and, of course, the green, white and red of the flag.

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-That's the giveaway if you know where to look.

-Yeah.

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-Lei parla italiano?

-Si.

-Si? Da dove e?

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Where are you from?

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Sono scozzeze, ma io parlo anche un po' d'italiano.

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"I'm Scottish but I speak a bit of Italian."

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-So you know about your Italian roots, do you?

-Oh, yes.

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-This is my grandfather's shop.

-Your grandfather's shop.

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-This is my grandfather's shop.

-How lovely.

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And, by the way, do you do ice cream as well as fish and chips?

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-Yes. But our speciality's haddock and chips.

-Haddock and chips.

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I've got a nice haddock coming out of the pan if you want to see it?

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I just had a spaghetti, I'm so sorry.

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You come to talk about fish and chips and you eat pasta!

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I had a pasta, I'm so sorry.

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Look what you could have had!

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Oh! Isn't that beautiful?

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As Italian as they come.

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My Bradshaw's guide has helped me

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to understand the traditions and the myths that make the Scots special.

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It's struck me on my journey today how very influential Scotland has been in the world.

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Golf is a game that's played everywhere,

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and Scotch whisky is enjoyed universally.

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Wherever you go in the world, people know that haggis and tartan are Scottish.

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And for such a small country to have such an impact strikes me as remarkable.

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And since my mother is a Scot, I feel entitled to feel a little proud.

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'On my next journey, I'll be discovering how Queen Victoria

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'attracted trainloads of tourists to Loch Lomond...'

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This is very valuable, I can see it's signed by Victoria.

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That's a real treasure that you've got that.

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'..finding out how Scottish timber fuelled the railway boom...'

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We have fast-growing trees for things like railway sleepers.

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That was one of the big demands in the 19th century.

0:28:230:28:26

'..and learning how a great sailing ship took her name from a witch in a poem.'

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It comes from a Burns poem. Tam O'Shanter, he can't help himself,

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and he jumps up and he shouts, "Weel done, Cutty Sark!"

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

0:28:490:28:52

Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. Portillo travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains, as he journeys up the west coast of Scotland from Ayr to Skye.

Michael visits the hometown of Robbie Burns and finds out how to make haggis, discovers how the railways transformed the game of golf in Prestwick, and uncovers the story of the great Victorian tartan hoax in Paisley.


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