Browse content similar to Glasgow to Edinburgh via Caledonian Canal. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Scotland's vast west coast.
Bringing the industrial revolution to this galaxy of inlets and islands
was an epic engineering adventure.
Tough little boats were built
and massive waterways were dug,
shipping short cuts connecting coast to coast.
This extraordinary enterprise of genius and folly began some 200 years ago,
in Scotland's great maritime cities.
Bold pioneers steamed out from Glasgow in boats
both great and small. Now we're following in their wake.
We've crossed from western Ireland over to Glasgow.
Our new adventure takes a remarkable watery short-cut right through
the heart of the Highlands, from west coast to east coast.
It's a journey that will leave us in Edinburgh,
a mere 40 miles from where we begin.
This is the Vic 32,
the last surviving coal-fired steam-powered Clyde puffer.
You know, 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...magical.
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 just hear the beating heart, it's like a living thing,
it's not a machine, it's alive.
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, and so she should, seeing the steam's 90% water and 10% whisky!
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 bit of a character.
But for all these guys were sort of rough diamonds, in bed at night in our bunks, Willie Stewart,
the mate, would read Robert Burns, he had a Burns book and he used to read this every night.
-That's quite cultured.
-It was very cultured, I thought, it's really amazing, he loved Burns.
You kind of get the impression that the skippers were a law unto themselves, and risk-takers.
Yes, they were, they did their own thing. When they were sailing on these, between these islands,
they did it by sort of pilotage, they didn't have charts, as such.
They had their sturdy boats, but the puffer crews relied on a short cut
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 round 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, I suppose?
This is great, that's what the famous song says,
"The Crinan Canal for me, don't want the wild rolling sea."
# The Crinan Canal for me
# I don't like the wild raging sea
# The big falling 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 you turn pale
# Or shiver and shake At the knee... #
Even so, it's not exactly plain sailing.
Furthest away one, please, yeah.
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 of 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 Argyll coast,
the locals' export activities left some big holes in their lives.
Hermione is 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's researched her home's curious claim to fame.
-Here we are in 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 actually must have been quarried.
Yes, indeed, 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 slate 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 is 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, it's got a beautiful bluey-black colour.
Now, it's formed from mud that was originally laid down
on an ancient ocean floor more than 500 million years ago,
and 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.
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.
Southwesterly, coming from that direction, howling gale,
hurricane-force winds, massive seas, crashing in, filled the quarries with water.
The sea was reputed to be actually coming over the island,
running through the houses and out into the harbour on the other side.
Now, 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 a 120 feet of water.
So 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 re-invented 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.
You need to get a particular piece of slate, do we?
Brilliant! OK, let me give it a go.
No, that was hopeless!
And I wasn't trying to do a rubbish one, honestly.
The slate quarriers of Easdale made the best of what they had to hand.
It's a time-old tale for west coast folk who toiled to build communities on such tricky terrain.
As we cross back over to the mainland, the mountains rear up.
Much of this coast is sparsely inhabited,
like here at Loch Creran.
There are no sizeable settlements on the shores of this loch, at least not above the water.
Miranda's seeking the citizens beneath the waves.
Loch Creran is a conservation area
because of its incredible marine life,
but what makes it so special
are some very shy tube worms that are busy building their own city
out there under the water - and this I've got to see.
These waters conceal some curious little worms that build tube-shaped shells around themselves.
Those tube worms have created their own version of a tropical coral reef,
the largest of its kind in the northern hemisphere.
It's down there somewhere, and I've got to find it.
-Hi, how you doing?
My guides in Loch Creran are David Hughes, a marine biologist, and Emily Venables, an oceanographer.
David, it's a big old loch - where exactly are we going to find the worms?
Well, we'll find them just over there in the shallows,
all the way along the south shore.
This loch's global claim to fame is down to the shells that the worms build around themselves.
Each individual worm secretes a hard calcified tube around itself
that it uses to protect itself.
Normally, we find these worms just growing as single individuals
on stones or bits of shell,
but in a very small number of places
you get large numbers of worms settling together, growing on top of each other.
Those hard tubes are the building blocks of an underwater city, and I want to see it.
Emily Venables is my tour guide.
'And here we are.'
What's incredible about these tubular reefs
is that there's just silt everywhere on the bottom of the loch here,
and suddenly you come across this little oasis.
'Inside these tubes is a creature much like an earthworm,
'but the only part you can see is its delicate fan of tentacles,
'used to filter food from the water,
'and the slightest disturbance causes them to pull back lightning-fast
'into their hard tubes for protection.'
I love it when you just swim over them and they all...
It's like fireworks in reverse - they all just dart in very, very quickly.
'Their hiding places are built on top of each other, creating the worm city.'
It's wonderful how they grow, they're just like gnarly tree roots.
And incredibly tall as well, some of these look like two or three foot high.
'These shy little worms fashion their tubes out of the same hard material
'as other seashells - calcium carbonate.
'But because they form vertical branch structures, they build up a reef
'where other creatures come to hide or hunt.'
There's so many things living here.
We've got hermit crabs, we've got anemones, we've got sea urchins,
just a whole cast of characters living in this little city.
It's absolutely brilliant, teeming with life.
That's what we wanted to see, the scallop just swimming away,
it's like a pair of comedy sort of wind-up false teeth set.
These are queen scallops, they're fascinating.
They suck in some water and then they squirt it out really quickly like a jet.
There's a huge amount of marine life living in this one little spot.
And if it wasn't for the tube worms, there wouldn't be all these creatures here.
'Mooring boats and fishing are restricted in Loch Creran to protect the reefs.
'We should treasure our underwater worm city.'
Worms aren't the only big builders in these parts - the people have grand designs too.
Navigating these waters by boat can be fraught with dangers.
To sail from the west coast to the east coast
means braving the storm-battered northern coastline of Scotland,
a treacherous stretch of water barring the passage to the North Sea.
So what if there were a short cut for ships
right through the centre of Scotland?
Well, here is that short cut -
the Caledonian Canal.
Started in 1803, it was one of Britain's biggest, boldest building projects.
A mighty waterway running for 62 miles from the Atlantic
to the North Sea through the mountainous heart of the Highlands.
And we're embarking on a journey along it.
It starts with a tight squeeze,
which looks a little too small for today's ocean-going cruise ships, like this one I'm on.
I tell you, this is going to have to be a neat trick.
This is a big ship
and it's got to travel all the way across country
in a space no wider than that.
The Caledonian Canal wasn't built for narrow boats but for much larger sea-going vessels.
Still, ships have grown quite a bit in the last 200 years.
No sooner have we got through obstacle number one,
than we're confronted with eight lock gates in a row.
This is known as Neptune's Staircase.
Like everything to do with this waterway, it's on a colossal scale.
Neptune's Staircase took 900 men nearly four years to construct.
Step by step, the 728-tonne Lord of the Glens
is raised 64 feet into the air
to begin its voyage through the middle of Scotland out to the east coast.
We're just over halfway on our epic 400-mile journey around and through Scotland.
The Caledonian Canal has taken us from west coast to east. This is the North Sea.
And there's another huge construction project in these parts,
one that was designed to terrify the Highlanders into submission.
After the Jacobite Uprising and the bloody defeat of the rebels at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746,
the British government was determined to suppress future conflict at any cost.
Part of the solution they arrived at is hidden in here.
The entrance wasn't built for a warm welcome.
It's the gateway to a fearsome weapon
built by the British government to suppress Highland rebellion.
Welcome to Fort George.
It's as awe-inspiring now as it was daunting to Highlanders when it was built.
Any who harboured thoughts of rebellion had only to gaze upon these ramparts to think again.
It held a force of 1,600 soldiers.
Inside here, somehow, it still feels a little bit like 1769, the year the place was completed.
Even then, though, it was ready and prepared for a war that was already over.
Just like the Caledonian Canal, Fort George was a white elephant.
It went twice over budget and took so long to build that by the time it was finished
the threat of a Highland uprising had evaporated.
But the fort isn't the only legacy here of rebellious times.
The world-famous Black Watch Regiment
was established in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715
from Highlanders loyal to the British crown.
Now they use Fort George as their base for operations all around the world.
The Black Watch had originally been set up to watch the Highlands.
Now the conflict in Afghanistan means their eyes are on lands far from these shores.
We're working out way down Scotland's eastern shoreline.
It's a wonderful contrast to the mountainous west coast.
Endless beaches stretch down the shore,
waiting to be explored.
A long, straight run of sand is interrupted by the oil city of Aberdeen.
But we're headed a few miles beyond,
to the little fishing port of Stonehaven.
On the eve of every New Year, the villagers spend the day preparing for the big night ahead.
Susan Leiper's one of them.
Well, tonight in Stonehaven it's Hogmanay,
it's the night where we swing our fire-balls in the high street.
This will be my tenth year of being a fire-ball swinger, and I absolutely love it.
So this is what a fire-ball looks like when it's been made up
and before it gets lit.
In this there's old pairs of jeans, cardboard.
There's bits of newspaper and briquettes.
This one's about ten pounds in weight, which is heavy enough.
So at 12 o'clock, the piper starts to march down the road, and the first fire-ball swinger is off.
That's the point of no return, really.
-Five, four, three, two, one...
I'm shattered! I've got no energy left!
And you can feel the atmosphere's absolutely electric, and I just love it, I absolutely love it.
Stonehaven may sparkle with fire briefly at the start of each year,
but this coast is capable of spectacular displays at any time.
The grey North Sea is famous for its black moods,
when ferocious storms batter this shore.
And sometimes they feel the fury in the tiny village of Catterline.
A little line of houses perches high on the hillside out of the sea's reach,
but Catterline's most celebrated resident didn't shelter from the storms.
She embraced the raging water.
Alice is following in the footsteps of a famous artist.
I've got a photo here of a lone painter
working intensely on the shore.
You can see her facing the sea, which is boiling around the rocks,
and she's wearing her oilskins with paint pots around her feet
and some brushes over here.
And this is a very big canvas, which she must be having to stabilise
against the wind, and there's her motorbike propped up.
Now, the artist is Joan Eardley,
and the photograph was taken of her just here at Catterline.
Joan Eardley was one of Britain's most important modern artists,
and she had a long love affair with the shore at Catterline.
This little cottage was her studio in the 1950s and '60s.
Locals call it the Watchie.
The Watchie was Joan's vantage point on the sea
that so captured her heart.
To explore the attraction, I'm off to meet a young artist
who's also fallen under Catterline's subtle spell.
Anna King continues the tradition Joan Eardley started - women artists coming here to paint.
-How's it going?
-Are you feeling inspired?
-That's lovely, actually.
I've got this lovely photo here of Joan facing out to sea and painting this really stormy sea.
I think she painted everything around Catterline.
I think she kind of got to know every inch of the village
and the sea and everything.
In fact, if you want to have a look at some paintings,
you can see that's the south row of cottages there.
That's lovely, that's the row up on the top of the hill, isn't it?
A bit of a different day from today, with snow on the ground!
So was it Joan herself that first drew you to Catterline?
I like her paintings and I'd heard of her,
but it was more the opportunity of getting to stay in the Watchie, the wee cottage up there.
There's nothing to do except paint and make art, so it's pretty good for getting work done.
The Watchie works for many artists.
The potential of this special place was first spotted by Joan Eardley in the 1950s.
There's something about this space
that inspires canvas after canvas,
and it's not hard to see why.
This is a view that Joan Eardley would have been very familiar with,
and I've got a recording of her voice here that I'm going to listen to.
'When I'm painting in...in the north east,
'I hardly ever move out of the village.
'I hardly ever move from one spot.
'I do feel that the more you know something, the more you can get out of it, that is the north east.
'There's just vast waste and vast seas, vast areas of cliff.
'Well, you've just got to paint it.'
Joan Eardley painted the violent seascapes of Catterline time and again,
a love affair that became an obsession.
She asked her friends in this little coastal village
to watch for approaching storms, so they could call her in Glasgow,
and she could jump on her motorbike, dashing to the coast, ready to paint straightaway.
But she was racing against time.
In 1963, Joan put on an exhibition of her work in London,
and it was critically acclaimed, but tragically, just as her fame was blossoming, she herself was dying.
She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year,
and by August she was dead.
She was only 42 years old.
Joan Eardley was cremated and her ashes were scattered here at Catterline,
but she left us a precious gift.
Not only do her pictures survive,
the Watchie, the studio Joan loved,
is here for artists to discover for themselves
what it was about Catterline that so captivated Joan.
For me, it's the extraordinary emptiness that's so striking.
Maybe that's the inspiration Joan Eardley found here -
the space to be alone with the elements.
The stark loneliness of this shoreline is soon swallowed by the mighty River Tay.
On our journey down the east coast, we've reached Dundee.
This city's links with its proud industrial past
are measured out in bridges...
Discovery, the ship that took Scott to the Antarctic in 1901.
But I've come to rekindle an old passion of my own.
How about this?
Not a lighthouse, but a lightship.
Now that's a bright idea.
The North Carr lightship looks like a boat with a big light plonked onto the top,
but below deck there's something missing.
This is a ship with no propeller and no engine to drive on, either.
The ship spent months anchored off the coast of Fife, manned by a crew of 11.
Imagine 11 sea dogs moored at sea in this thing, an oversized tin can.
They kept the light burning, and no doubt saved countless lives.
But on December 8th 1959, this lightship wasn't saving lives.
It was claiming them.
As the east coast was lashed by terrible blizzards,
the anchor chain that had held the North Carr fast for so long snapped.
The lightship herself was heading for disaster on the very rocks she was there to warn against.
The crew sent out a mayday.
The lifeboat Mona responded to the distress call.
She battled her way through enormous waves,
attempting to save the lightship and the 11 men trapped on board.
But that lifeboat, the Mona, never reached the lightship or the men sheltering inside her.
Come daybreak, the crew aboard here had survived,
but the bodies of seven of the lifeboat men were found washed up on a nearby beach.
The body of the eighth lifeboat man was never found.
The North Carr lightship eventually finished service in 1975 and was moored permanently here in Dundee.
She leaves me with mixed feelings.
No doubt the North Carr saved lives,
but she also cost lives.
As the coast turns a corner into the wide waters of the Firth of Forth,
we're approaching our destination, Edinburgh.
Famously the financial heart of Scotland, much of the city's wealth
has been built on sea trade and in former days shipbuilding,
where the capital embraces the water at the docks of Leith.
Engineering excellence spilled out of Edinburgh along its shore.
The mighty rail bridge has become a global symbol for the city.
But there's a less well-known engineering innovation from these parts
that's had a huge impact worldwide.
Just over 200 years ago, the world's first practical steamboat was being invented not far from here.
In 1803, this coal-fired boat, the Charlotte Dundas,
became the first steamer powerful enough to pull more than her own weight.
This was the boat that launched the Steam Age.
Now goods and people could be transported faster and further than ever before,
and there are some who still keep their steam heritage alive.
Permission to come aboard?
Tom Peebles built the Talisker himself.
Those early pioneers of the Steam Age would be at home onboard.
What is it for you, or for anyone, about steam? What's the draw?
It's kind of hard to describe it, but you know when something
gets you going,
and steam, the smell of the engine, the coal, the whole thing.
You can feel, smell and hear everything that goes on.
They won't go without a lot of attention
and a kiss and a cuddle at night before you go away.
-That's entirely between you and your boat!
We've almost come full circle, after a 400-mile journey around and through Scotland,
to end up off the coast of Edinburgh,
only 40 miles from Glasgow, where we started.
My journey began with steam, and it ends with steam.