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'Glasgow was put on the map in the 18th century
'by Scotland's first millionaires -
'merchants whose wealth was founded on trade across the sea.
'Their artery to the wider world, the River Clyde,
'became famous for ship building.
'Most of the old docks are overgrown now but, at the industry's height
'in the early 1900s, this was home to 31 shipyards,
'squeezed into a 15-mile stretch of river.
'60,000 workers churning out world-class ships.
'And I've come to the birth place
'of the greatest of the Clyde-built liners.'
It's hard to believe, walking past all these sapling trees
and the modern buildings in the background, but this was once
the mighty John Brown's Shipyard - the birth place of the Queen Mary.
'The Queen Mary began life in December 1930
'as hull number 534.
'Slowly, the ship plan as the world's foremost
'passenger experience took shape.
'Launches on the Clyde were always celebrated,
'but none more so than the Queen Mary.
'As she slid into the water on September 26th, 1934,
'a mighty cheer echoed round the river.'
My mum and dad were both one year old in 1934 when the Queen Mary
was launched and they were both brought down by their respective
families to witness the launch.
'Two years later, the Queen Mary clinched the Blue Riband
'for fastest passage to America,
'taking just four days and 27 minutes to reach New York.'
These supermodels might have provided the glamour
for the world stage but the Clyde was also home to some different
characters that the locals fell in love with - the Clyde puffers.
Tough little working boats that connected Glasgow
to the Western Isles.
'The steam-powered puffers took coal, timber and grain
'out to Britain's furthest flung communities.
'For the myriad of isles scattered the length of Scotland's west coast,
'the puffers were a lifeline.
'And their crews became local heroes,
'immortalised by writer Neil Munro
'in his creation of Skipper Para Handy.'
Aye, she's making good speed, eh? Must be doing ten knots at least.
Aye, so she should. The steam is 90% water and 10% whisky.
'The puffers are all gone now.
'Well, almost all.'
This is the VIC 32 - the last surviving
coal-fired, steam-powered Clyde puffer.
There are some things I get to do, some places I get to go,
and there's only one word to describe them and the word is...
Look at that.
That's all the atmosphere you need.
I wish you could smell it. There's this hot mineral oil smell
and you can hear the beating heart.
It's like a living thing. It's not a machine, it's alive.
'Few of the men who sailed these boats westward remain.
'Stewart Pearson is one of them.
'He was a deck hand on the puffers.'
What was the life like for you? How were the crew with you?
We were a cheery lot. The skipper had a great sense of humour.
The mate was a character.
But all these guys were rough diamonds.
In bed at night, in our bunks, Willie Stewart, the mate,
would read Robert Burns. He had a Burns book. He'd read every night.
-That's quite cultured.
-It was very cultured.
I thought it was amazing. He loved Burns.
You kind of get the impression that the skippers
were a law unto themselves and risk-takers.
They actually were. They did their own thing.
When they were sailing between these islands,
they did it by pilotage, they didn't have charts as such.
'They had their sturdy boats,
'but the puffer crews relied on a shortcut to the isles -
'a seaway carved through the land. The Crinan Canal.
'For traders heading out from Glasgow,
'the construction of the Crinan Canal meant they could cut through
'a fearsome obstacle to the western seaboard.
'Before the canal's coast to coast route,
'boats had to navigate around the Mull of Kintyre -
'a 240-mile trek through some treacherous waters.'
So coming through here, by contrast, is just a walk in the park?
This is great. The famous song is,
"The Crinan Canal for me, I don't want the wild rolling sea."
# The Crinan Canal for me
# I don't like wild raging sea
# The big foaming breakers would give me the shakers
# The Crinan Canal for me
# It's the Crinan Canal... #
'The Crinan Canal starts life running parallel to the coast
'before cutting inland.
'It sliced journey times to the west coast from one and a half days
'to just a few hours.
'It might have started as an industrial trade way
'but it's now become known as Britain's most beautiful shortcut.'
# There's no shark or whale that would make your tongue pale
# Or shiver and shake at the knees... #
'Even so, it's not exactly plain sailing.'
Furthest away one, please.
'There are 15 locks to get through. It's all hands on deck...
'..and off deck
'and back on deck again and again.'
'But it's a magical journey.
'All too soon, you reach the last lock on the Crinan Canal.
'Once you're through that, there's nothing between you
'and the open sea off Scotland's west coast.
'A constellation of islands beckons.
'Only a small fraction of them inhabited.
'This is Britain's wildest frontier.
'Many of the scattered communities out here once depended
'on the irrepressible Clyde puffers to bring them the necessities
'and to export their goods to far away markets.
'On one group of tiny islands off the Argyle coast,
'the locals' export activities left some big holes in their lives.'
'Hermione's on a voyage to see what vanished.
'She's heading off to the little isle of Easdale.'
'Easdale's one of the slate islands,
'so-called because of roof slate.
'Lots and lots of it.'
Welcome to the islands that roofed the world.
'I'm meeting local author Mary Withall,
'who has researched her home's curious claim to fame.'
Here we are on Easdale.
There seems to be an awful lot of slate still here.
Not all of it's gone!
It is the result of the slate quarrying activity.
When they pulled the slate out of the ground,
only about 60% of what they actually produced
was usable slate
The rest of it was waste.
It gives you a sense of how much must have been quarried.
Nine million slates a year at the peak of production,
which was about 1860.
'Nine million slates a year. That's an awful lot of roofs.
'The Vikings may have used the slates for gravestones,
'but it wasn't until the 18th century that the slate became big business.
'Men began chipping away at the ground beneath their feet
'and, steadily, the holes got deeper.
'The quarrying was so intensive,
'the landscape looks moth-eaten on a massive scale.
'Big chunks of Easdale have been removed, slate by slate.
'On nearby Belnahua, the quarries in the middle took away so much material
'the island's now almost as much water as land.
'And this damage was done by hand.
'Quarrymen worked with picks, shovels and muscle,
'shifting slate loosened by gunpowder.'
'The waste from their labours lies in piles all over the island.'
If you look at the slate close up, you can see that it's made up
of lots of thin layers and it's got a beautiful bluey-black colour.
It's formed from mud that was originally laid down
on an ancient ocean floor more than 500 million years ago.
That mud was then heated and compressed and formed a rock -
this slate, that splits very easily into fine sheets,
making it absolutely perfect for making hardy roof tiles.
'Easdale's tiny, yet the village is surrounded by
'no fewer than seven quarries.
'And as you tour the island, suddenly they come into view.'
Just look at that. A beautiful clear pool.
You can see over there all the slate banked up
and disappearing into the water.
There's something almost a bit magical about it.
All that history preserved underwater.
It's just beautiful.
'There's still plenty of slate here, so where did all the quarriers go?
'Iain McDougall from the local museum has done some digging of his own.'
What happened at the end? What led to the demise of this whole industry?
The initiating factor would be the gale in November 1881.
The once in a century gale.
South-westerly, coming from that direction,
howling gale - hurricane force winds,
massive seas crashing in filled the quarries with water.
The sea was reputed to be coming over that island,
running through the houses and out into the harbour on the other side.
If you bear in mind, in those days, the quarry companies did not supply
tools or anything like that.
The men supplied their own tools. Where were their tools?
Under 120 feet of water.
The island was destitute.
No tools, no work. No work, no pay. No pay, no food.
'Quarrying limped on until the early 1900s
'but, as a major industry, it was all over.
'Fishing became more important
'and, in the 1950s, Easdale was wired up with electricity.
'Tourism brought new work
'and descendants of the original slate quarriers began to return.
'Now Easdale has about 60 residents.'
There are people here but no cars so it's a great place
to let kids run wild
and they've even found a use for all the abandoned slate.
'Easdale has reinvented itself as the stone skimming capital of the world.
'The championships are held here every autumn...
'..and I've got a couple of experts to show me their skimming secrets.'
We need to get a particular piece of slate, do we?
Excellent. How do you stand? Is it all in the stance?
Put your foot there, your back foot there,
and then lean back and go forward with your arm.
-What about holding the stone?
-Hold it like that.
-Thumb on top so...
-Hold it like that.
OK, you go.
Brilliant. OK, let me give it a go.
That was hopeless!
I wasn't trying to do a rubbish one, honestly.
Ah, not bad!