Western Isles and Shetland Coast


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Western Isles and Shetland

Coast embarks on an island-hopping adventure in Scotland, around the stunning Western Isles and out to the northern outpost of Shetland.


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The seas around Scotland

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are a paradise of islands -

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700 at least.

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Some rise up in majestic splendour,

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others barely break the surface.

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The Scottish Isles are home

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to some of the most close-knit communities in Britain,

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people ringed by the sea.

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It's their provider, their adversary

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and their inspiration.

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We're sampling the delights of the Scottish Isles.

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My journey will take me across the islands of the Outer Hebrides.

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I'll be heading for Port of Ness,

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but I begin in the south, on Eriskay.

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Arriving somewhere new,

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my first instinct is to make for the centre of town.

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Never mind the centre, where's the town?

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There are just 100 or so islanders,

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but they're spread over six square miles.

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With so much space to do their own thing,

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I'm keen to know what binds Eriskay people together.

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What is it that creates an island's special community?

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The focus of village life is the local shop.

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This is a real Aladdin's cave.

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The islanders run the shop themselves, to suit their needs.

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-Wooden clothes pegs!

-Yes.

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I didn't know those were still available.

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-Special socks for wellington boots.

-Yes.

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-Does it rain here?

-Oh, not really.

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This isn't just the only shop on Eriskay, it's the Post Office too.

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-Hello.

-Hello.

-Are you Patrick?

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-I am Patrick, yes.

-How do you do? I'm Nick. Can I come round the back?

-You can indeed, yes.

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-Hello there.

-Hello.

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Are these all your customers on the island, the people you deliver letters to?

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That's all the customers on the island, yes.

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-You've got them labelled by all their Christian names.

-Labelled by name, yes, yes.

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I'm continuing my journey north along the Outer Hebrides

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to the island of Benbecula.

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This causeway links the communities of South Uist and Benbecula.

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But back in the 1960s,

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it wasn't only locals who were making this crossing.

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Trucks were rolling along these roads laden with rockets.

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That's because Benbecula

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was the headquarters of a missile testing range.

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It was the height of the Cold War

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and Britain was desperate to keep up with the nuclear arms race.

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As the military mobilised in defence of the realm,

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the islanders were preparing to face an invasion of their own.

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With the rockets came soldiers,

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young men from all over the UK.

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Watching over his "young chaps" was the redoubtable Colonel Cooper.

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They get on very well indeed.

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They have settled down very nicely, I think,

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and the locals have accepted them,

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and I think our relations are extremely cordial. I can say that.

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British military bases had their own shops and bars run by the NAAFI.

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Here the army and civilians might rub shoulders.

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Benbecula was no exception.

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'I've come to meet Margaret Macdonald.'

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Hello, Margaret.

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-'A local girl.'

-Hello.

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'She was just 19 when she went to work in the NAAFI shop.'

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This was where the NAAFI shop was.

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So you were in the NAAFI with your friends, who were also islanders?

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Yes, they were, they were all island girls.

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It was a meeting place in the NAAFI shop in these days.

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They knew the girls that were in the shop and we knew them

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and they used to come in...

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It was sort of a social event, really, they didn't come to shop.

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Really?

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'So it was good fun for the island girls. But what about the squaddies?

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'Lance Corporal John Saxton was 22 when he was posted to Benbecula.'

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Have you got room for a hitchhiker?

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-OK.

-Hello, John.

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I'd been told before I got here that there's a girl behind every tree.

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-Well, you've seen what like it is here.

-There's no trees.

-Exactly.

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'John's taking me to the site of his old barracks.'

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It must have been a floodgate opening for the girls up here,

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because if you've only got a very small community

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and then you get 300 fellas coming in...it's heaven for somebody.

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It was really good, it was a very good social life,

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and they had lots of dances on the actual camp itself, in the NAAFI,

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and that's when I remember the buses - the green buses -

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going round the villages of North Uist and picking up local girls

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and taking them to the army camp.

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Jiving and twisting and things like that in those days.

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So if you went to the local dances, it was a hop,

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it was one of these things that had a single fella

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sat on a chair playing the accordion.

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And out of the hundreds of men who poured into that NAAFI,

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-did you meet anyone special?

-I did, I did.

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He was in the Royal Signals here, he had come in from Germany.

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Oh, I met the wife up here.

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I met him in the NAAFI, I think, and, erm...

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I was at one of the dances and I spied her over - that'll do me fine.

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-I think it was a NAAFI...

-You can't remember where you met your husband!

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This is me on my wedding day in 1969.

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It's a wedding photograph.

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I can see why you went for John, a handsome man, eh?

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'John and Margaret married.'

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Then John was posted to Cyprus.

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But for Margaret, the Mediterranean was no match for Benbecula.

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The pull of the island community was just too strong to resist.

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When John left the army, they came home.

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It's not just locals like Margaret who are connected to Benbecula,

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we all have a link to this island.

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Benbecula is still protecting us.

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It's the frontline of national defence.

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4023.

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'Behind this fence

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'is a piece of kit that's been guarding Britain since the Cold War.

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'Squadron Leader Mark Philipson

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'has agreed to throw open the doors of his base to Coast.'

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'And there are lots of doors.'

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Wow, it looks like something from a James Bond set!

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This is the radar Type 92.

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It sees aircraft out to about 250 miles and up to about 90,000 feet.

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It is here to guard and look out into the western Atlantic, over the western part of Scotland.

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Now the Cold War is hopefully history, why do you still need this radar?

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Well, as 9/11 proved, you still have to be able to defend your airspace.

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The enemy, of course, has changed now

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and without bits of equipment like this,

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we wouldn't have a chance of finding the potential rogue airliner.

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And this is what the radar picks up.

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Each flashing green dot is a plane in airspace covered by Benbecula.

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And if among these innocent green dots there was a rogue aircraft,

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how would you spot it?

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By elimination,

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because we have to maintain awareness on what all of them are.

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So if we find something that we can't correlate or resolve,

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then by default that has to be a problem.

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In the Battle of Britain you picked up a phone and said, "Scramble",

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but what would you do if you found a rogue aircraft?

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We pass that up the chain and if they really don't like it,

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then we pick up a phone and say, "Scramble",

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and the fighters get airborne. So actually, not a lot has changed.

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While the RAF scans the skies for hostile intruders,

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others seek out the Scottish Isles for native wildlife.

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One of the most enchanting and elusive animals

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can be found on Shetland.

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Miranda's there on her own spying mission.

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I'm on the hunt for an animal that I've only seen a couple of times in the wild before,

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and here in Shetland is one of the very best places to find them.

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I'm looking for otters.

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Around one in ten of the UK's otter population lives on Shetland,

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but that doesn't make them easy to find.

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John Campbell is a full-time otter spotter.

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He's taking me to a bay

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where he's seen a family of these shy creatures.

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Fingers crossed, but the weather isn't helping.

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We can hear one of them squeaking, so we know they're out there,

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but it's just so misty we just can't see them, but hopefully...

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Do you hear that squeaking? OTTER SQUEAKS

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If we listen to those calls, that's them communicating with each other,

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the cubs trying to find the mother.

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'If you want to spot otters, it's a waiting game.'

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'We've been sitting here for ages and we still haven't seen them.

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'I've seen a seal...'

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'..and the midges are biting,

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'but no otters.

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'To cap it all, it's raining.'

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You'd think these watery beasts would be happy in the rain,

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but they're not.

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If they've been fishing in the sea for half an hour or so

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they get chilled,

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and they like to come ashore, get themselves dry,

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get themselves warmed up again.

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-Obviously, if it's pouring with rain they struggle to get dry.

-Yeah.

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So what they tend to do is they'll go and fish

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and then go back to the holt,

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-which makes life awfully difficult for the likes of us trying to find them.

-We can't see them.

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'At last, our patience is rewarded.'

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We've got a couple of cubs just playing in the water in front of us.

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It's just beautiful. They're completely oblivious to the fact we're watching them

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and they're just doing what kids do,

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just playing and rolling around each other

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and look really happy and very relaxed. It's really special.

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'There's one more member of the family who makes an appearance.

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'It's a male otter, it must be dad.'

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You never know where they're going to pop up,

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what they're going to do next

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and that for me is the excitement of seeing wild otters.

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I've watched wild otters for the last 35, 40 years

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and every time it's a buzz.

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-Yeah.

-I absolutely love it.

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We're on a tour of the Scottish islands,

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some 700 individual worlds,

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separated and united by the great seaway between them.

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For hundreds of years,

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sailors and navigators have charted courses over the water.

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But until recently,

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what lay beneath in the deep ocean

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was a complete mystery.

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The quest to discover the secret life of the sea

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began in the waters off Scotland.

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Historian Tessa Dunlop is in Oban on the west coast.

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She's on the trail of a great 19th-century adventure.

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This state-of-the-art research vessel

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owes its existence to a voyage undertaken in the 19th century

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by HMS Challenger.

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Challenger was at sea for nearly four years.

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It was an epic voyage around the globe

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to make the first ever survey of the world's oceans.

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The voyage of HMS Challenger

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revolutionised our view of what lives in the deep sea.

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It was one of the greatest adventures in science

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and it began off the coast of Scotland.

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'It took 50 volumes to report the findings of Challenger's global odyssey.

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'Professor Laurence Mee knows the secrets of these books

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'and their rare creatures.'

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It's one of the original specimens from the Challenger expedition.

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Obviously it's a starfish, it comes from the deep sea off Nova Scotia,

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so these animals live at depths below 1,000 metres.

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Before that, people assumed there was nothing down there.

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This was a colossal scientific endeavour.

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The brains behind the Challenger expedition

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was a brilliant Scottish scientist, Charles Wyville Thomson.

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-Hi, Laila.

-Hi, good morning.

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'People used to think the deep ocean was a barren, dead zone.

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'Wyville Thomson thought otherwise.

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'He set out to find proof of life below.

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'In 1868, Thomson began his search in Scottish seas.'

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Wyville Thomson was actually based at the University of Edinburgh, up here in Scotland.

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He persuaded the Admiralty to lend him a small ship,

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which set off and studied the region between the Faeroes and the Scottish coast.

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They found sponges,

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they found cold-water corals on reefs just beyond us,

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and organisms with multiple legs

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that people did not believe could live in those dark, deep, high-pressure depths.

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If such wonders were to be found in home waters,

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what would be discovered elsewhere?

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Buoyed with success,

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Wyville Thomson persuaded the British government

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to fund the Challenger expedition,

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the most ambitious scientific endeavour of the age.

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In 1872, they set sail on an epic voyage around the globe.

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They journeyed for three and a half long years.

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Challenger crossed all the great oceans.

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They travelled as far as the Antarctic,

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zigzagging their way across the Atlantic,

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before finally returning home.

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Everywhere they went,

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they took samples and looked for new creatures.

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The Challenger was also the first official expedition

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to have a photographer.

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They captured images of new cultures around the world, all on photographic plates.

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The people, costumes, traditions

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were recorded for the first time photographically.

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They took the first ever photo of an Antarctic iceberg.

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This is a rare image of a warrior from the Philippines.

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The Challenger revealed a world never seen before,

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above and below the waves.

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This is a dredge.

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It's very similar to the one used on the Challenger

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and it's used for collecting animals that live on the sea bed.

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We can use similar dredges even in the very deep ocean,

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thousands of metres deep.

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-That is chock-full, isn't it?

-It is.

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It's mainly mud, stones, old shells, but there will be some animals.

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-What is that? It's got purple legs.

-That looks like a hermit crab.

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Yes, little spider crab here.

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-It's always exciting. You never

-know what you're going to find.

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And, of course, if you're doing this in deep water,

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-you can find species that no-one's ever seen.

-Which is what they were doing on the Challenger.

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They were sampling down to over 5,000 metres depth,

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so they were catching things that no-one had ever seen in human history.

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And now, today, how many species do we know of?

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There may be somewhere in the region of 1.5 million species in the oceans,

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most of which we haven't even discovered yet.

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Once, scientists believed the deep sea was lifeless.

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Now, thanks to Wyville Thomson,

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we know the depths are teeming with weird and wonderful creatures.

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140 years after the science of oceanography started in Scottish waters,

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we've still only discovered a small fraction

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of the secret life of the sea.

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My journey along the Outer Hebrides

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continues towards the port of Leverburgh.

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This is a tale of a business tycoon with a big appetite for fish.

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Imagine, nearly 100 years ago,

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trying to turn this tiny port

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into the centre of Britain's biggest fishing business.

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That was the vision

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of an extraordinary English entrepreneur.

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Who was this man?

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Well, the answer's in the name he gave this port - Leverburgh.

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It was christened by the irrepressible Lord Leverhulme.

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At the turn of the 20th century,

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he was one of the richest,

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one of the most powerful men in Britain.

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In 1919, he used his vast wealth

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to buy the entire island of Harris.

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Lever had made it big making soap,

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Sunlight soap.

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Now he planned to clean up in the fish trade.

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His grand design centred on this little port.

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Back then, it was a town called Obbe.

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He spent a fortune,

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the equivalent today of £21 million.

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And yet, some 90 years on, when you look around,

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there's remarkably little to be seen of Lever's huge investment.

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'What happened to his big fish business?

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'I've come to meet Tony Scherr

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'who knows all about Leverhulme's ambitions for Harris.

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'He started with some unconventional home improvements at Borve Lodge.'

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When he came, all he could see was this cliff going across,

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and then he could see Taransay above the cliff.

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So, being Leverhulme,

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he decided the best thing to do was to get rid of the cliff,

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so he blew it up.

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That was the man, really.

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If he didn't like it, he blew it up.

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Or he changed it.

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Leverhulme was never one to sit back and admire the view.

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He was a man with a mission -

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to transform the lives of the islanders

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by building a monumental business.

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His plans were to make Leverburgh into a large fishing port

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and he produced a map with this in mind.

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And all these were the fishing grounds,

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but everything centred around the port of Leverburgh.

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He could put up his curing sheds, he could put up his kilns,

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-and to get as many as 10,000 people...

-10,000?!

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..10,000 people living in Leverburgh, yes.

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In Hebridean terms, that's a city.

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It is indeed.

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This was ambition on an epic scale.

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At the time, Leverburgh's population was less than 200,

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but Leverhulme was a man of extraordinary vision.

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He could see a more affluent Britain developing,

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a busy population demanding better, fresher food.

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'Harris didn't have many people, but it did have a lot of herring.

0:21:500:21:56

'Donald MacLean knows these waters better than most.'

0:21:560:21:59

-Have you got one?

-Here he comes!

0:21:590:22:02

He's not very old.

0:22:030:22:05

Donald, back then, Lord Leverhulme was chasing the herring shoals,

0:22:050:22:09

and, you know, the catches were absolutely enormous, weren't they?

0:22:090:22:13

Yes, big, big catches of herring, very plentiful.

0:22:130:22:15

My grandfather worked for Lord Leverhulme,

0:22:150:22:17

he was a foreman round about the pier when they were building it.

0:22:170:22:20

My auntie worked there as well.

0:22:200:22:22

She worked at the herring, sorting the herring and curing the herring into barrels.

0:22:220:22:27

Did that make him quite a popular figure with local people then?

0:22:270:22:30

Oh, certainly, yes. Yes.

0:22:300:22:33

Leverhulme invested a fortune in the port.

0:22:350:22:38

He built a new pier,

0:22:380:22:39

a smokehouse,

0:22:390:22:41

and a refrigeration plant.

0:22:410:22:44

On the face of it, a crazy scheme,

0:22:440:22:47

but Leverhulme was the shrewdest of entrepreneurs.

0:22:470:22:51

His plan was to control the fish business from sea to shop.

0:22:510:22:57

To create an outlet for the catch landed at his Scottish port,

0:22:570:23:00

he bought up 400 fishmongers throughout Britain

0:23:000:23:04

and called them Mac Fisheries.

0:23:040:23:07

By 1924, his plan no longer seemed so mad.

0:23:070:23:11

Steam-powered trawlers landed a huge haul of herring -

0:23:130:23:18

so many that women from the mainland were brought in to help.

0:23:180:23:22

Leverhulme and Leverburgh had success within their grasp,

0:23:220:23:27

yet within months,

0:23:270:23:29

the entire business came crashing down.

0:23:290:23:34

In 1925, Lord Leverhulme caught pneumonia and died.

0:23:360:23:40

30,000 paid their respects at his funeral in Port Sunlight.

0:23:450:23:51

In Leverburgh, sirens sounded on the pier and work stopped...

0:23:510:23:56

for good.

0:23:560:23:58

When Leverhulme died,

0:23:580:23:59

his vision for Harris died with him.

0:23:590:24:02

Today, there are just a few bleak reminders of his grandiose scheme.

0:24:020:24:09

What do you think he'd think or say if he saw Leverburgh today?

0:24:100:24:14

He would be an extremely sad man, I think,

0:24:140:24:18

to see his dream come to naught.

0:24:180:24:22

Many of the Scottish Isles

0:24:290:24:31

have managed to export their products far out across the seas.

0:24:310:24:37

The Outer Hebrides can boast their own global brand.

0:24:370:24:41

That's what's brought me to Tarbert, on Harris.

0:24:420:24:45

This is what I'm after.

0:24:490:24:51

Harris Tweed.

0:24:520:24:56

-Hello there.

-Hi there.

-May I look at your jackets?

0:24:560:24:58

Yes, of course. Just got some over here.

0:24:580:25:00

-Look at those. They're very evocative.

-Yeah, they are.

0:25:000:25:03

They're the colours of Scotland, with the grey rock, the heather...

0:25:030:25:07

And then this one seems to have little traces of blue in it, and awesome colours.

0:25:070:25:12

It's got lots of colours in it. Would you like to try one?

0:25:120:25:14

-Yeah, why not?

-We can try this one.

0:25:140:25:17

This will be a sartorial leap for me,

0:25:170:25:21

to get rid of the old anorak and present Coast in a genuine Harris...

0:25:210:25:25

-Oh, it's very comfortable.

-How's that for you?

-It's lovely.

0:25:250:25:29

Oh, yes. Now that really is an improvement, don't you think?

0:25:290:25:32

-Yes.

-Coast and beyond!

0:25:320:25:34

There's a reason why the colours of Harris Tweed mirror the landscape.

0:25:370:25:41

Originally, the dyes were produced by local plants and lichens.

0:25:410:25:45

'Textile designer Alice Starmore

0:25:450:25:49

'is going to show me how it was done.'

0:25:490:25:51

-Very good to meet you.

-You too.

0:25:510:25:53

-Looks as if you've got things started already.

-Yes. I have lit the peat fire.

0:25:530:25:56

I have the water, which obviously you need for dyeing as well.

0:25:560:26:00

I have the fleece, and the only thing I need now is the crottal lichen,

0:26:000:26:04

which is going to actually give me the colour.

0:26:040:26:07

What are we looking out for?

0:26:070:26:08

Well, we're looking out for a very unassuming

0:26:080:26:11

and drab, grey, crusty stuff,

0:26:110:26:15

which actually is black crottal.

0:26:150:26:17

And here is a very nice crop of it.

0:26:170:26:20

Oh, is this it here?

0:26:200:26:21

-This is it.

-It looks like a spillage of very old porridge.

0:26:210:26:24

It does, but the dye comes out of it very easily.

0:26:240:26:29

It's a beautiful rich bronze-brown shade that you get from it

0:26:290:26:32

and you can see that it's actually ready to come right off the rock here.

0:26:320:26:36

The Harris people would say that was ripe and ready.

0:26:360:26:39

'Some lichens are protected, but this one's safe to pick.

0:26:390:26:44

'Even so, we're just taking enough to dye one small fleece.'

0:26:440:26:48

-Now for the exciting part.

-Time to get the pot.

0:26:480:26:51

'First, take one scoured fleece and moisten with peat-rich spring water.'

0:26:510:26:57

We're not just bunging it in, we're going to layer it a bit.

0:26:570:26:59

It's important that the dye should be as even as possible.

0:26:590:27:03

-It's a bit like making lasagne!

-It is a bit, yes!

0:27:030:27:06

And it is - the whole thing is a little bit like cooking.

0:27:060:27:09

Pour in the water.

0:27:090:27:11

Yes.

0:27:110:27:13

And as it slowly comes to the boil, rather like a stew,

0:27:130:27:17

all the products will come out and dye the fleece.

0:27:170:27:22

'While we wait for the chemistry to cook,

0:27:220:27:26

'Alice has some samples to show me,

0:27:260:27:28

'all colours produced from local lichens and plants.'

0:27:280:27:30

-Look at that.

-It's like silverweed and ragweed.

0:27:300:27:35

Here are the crottal colours

0:27:350:27:37

and here is the rich dark colour that you would get from cooking it overnight, as it were.

0:27:370:27:43

OK, it's been cooking for some time now, Alice.

0:27:430:27:46

-It's a rich, deep colour, isn't it?

-It's beginning to get orange.

0:27:460:27:50

Look at that.

0:27:500:27:52

That's it in the early stages, so you can see what a slow and painstaking process it was.

0:27:520:27:57

The rules governing the Harris Tweed trademark are strict.

0:28:010:28:04

The cloth must be woven by the people of the Outer Hebrides

0:28:040:28:09

in their own homes.

0:28:090:28:10

MECHANICAL WHIRRING

0:28:100:28:13

I can hear clattering machinery.

0:28:130:28:15

'Donald John MacKay has been busy with the fabric for over 40 years.'

0:28:180:28:22

My goodness!

0:28:220:28:24

So, Donald, how is the loom powered?

0:28:240:28:26

-By my feet.

-Oh, I see, so handmade really means...

0:28:260:28:31

-Means foot power, yes.

-So you cannot have an electric...

-No! No, no, no.

0:28:310:28:36

What's this roll going to be used for?

0:28:360:28:38

This is going to Nike for shoes and bags.

0:28:380:28:41

-Really?

-Yes.

-To Nike?

-Yes.

0:28:410:28:45

-The big sports manufacturer?

-Yes, the big... Yes, yes, yes.

0:28:450:28:48

That's incredible. And what about the threads themselves?

0:28:480:28:51

See, each thread is made up of many, many colours.

0:28:510:28:54

-Isn't that extraordinary? When you look closely, it's a whole rainbow of colours.

-Comes alive.

0:28:540:28:58

Comes alive, exactly! It really comes alive.

0:28:580:29:01

Well, that's Harris Tweed for you.

0:29:010:29:03

'The colours of the island

0:29:030:29:04

'inspire the blends and patterns of the cloth.

0:29:040:29:08

'So I want to see what it looks like in the landscape.'

0:29:080:29:11

-Now, let's have a look, Donald.

-Now...

-Wow!

0:29:110:29:15

I can see the yellow of the wild grasses out there, coming on the cloth, and the heather.

0:29:150:29:20

And you can see there the marram grass, the lighter one there.

0:29:200:29:23

The roots, the grass, the darker one down there.

0:29:230:29:26

There's blue in there too. See the sea beyond?

0:29:260:29:29

It's all there in front of us.

0:29:290:29:31

It's as if you've unrolled the surface of the Outer Hebrides and carried it into your loom.

0:29:310:29:36

Harris is separated from Lewis in name only.

0:29:460:29:50

They're parts of the same island,

0:29:500:29:54

separated not by water,

0:29:540:29:56

but by a range of mountains.

0:29:560:29:58

Across those peaks, on the east coast,

0:30:000:30:02

lies the capital of Lewis, Stornoway.

0:30:020:30:05

A disaster at sea nearly a century ago shocked this community so much,

0:30:090:30:15

the pain is still raw today.

0:30:150:30:18

It's a tragic tale, not often told to outsiders,

0:30:180:30:24

that Neil knows well.

0:30:240:30:26

In the First World War,

0:30:300:30:31

half the male population of Lewis served in the armed forces.

0:30:310:30:35

Many never returned,

0:30:370:30:39

but some perished cruelly close to home.

0:30:390:30:43

More than 200 servicemen died in a disaster off the Scottish coast,

0:30:430:30:48

just days after the Great War ended.

0:30:480:30:51

It's late on New Year's Eve 1918,

0:30:570:31:01

a cold, dark end to a terrible year.

0:31:010:31:05

But the men onboard the Iolaire are in high spirits

0:31:050:31:08

because they're going home.

0:31:080:31:09

The war is over.

0:31:090:31:11

These are just a few of the 280-odd souls who were packed aboard,

0:31:110:31:17

mostly sailors of the Royal Naval Reserve,

0:31:170:31:19

men from the islands, the Outer Hebrides,

0:31:190:31:22

who'd survived the horrors of the First World War.

0:31:220:31:25

They were on a large civilian yacht pressed into war service

0:31:280:31:32

and renamed Her Majesty's Yacht Iolaire.

0:31:320:31:36

By 1.50 in the morning, the boat was almost home.

0:31:360:31:39

The servicemen aboard could see the harbour lights of Stornoway.

0:31:390:31:44

They knew their loved ones would be lining the quayside at Stornoway,

0:31:440:31:48

just half a mile away.

0:31:480:31:49

But most of the men crammed aboard the Iolaire that night

0:31:490:31:52

would never see their families again.

0:31:520:31:56

Minutes later, in stormy seas,

0:31:560:32:00

the Iolaire struck a notorious reef - the Beasts of Holm.

0:32:000:32:04

They were only 30 yards from land,

0:32:070:32:10

but of the 285 men on board, just 80 survived.

0:32:100:32:15

More than half of those that did survive

0:32:180:32:20

owed their lives to one man aboard the stricken ship,

0:32:200:32:23

John Finlay MacLeod, a Lewis man,

0:32:230:32:26

a boat builder, in fact.

0:32:260:32:27

Somehow, amid the chaos,

0:32:270:32:29

he managed to half-scramble, half-swim ashore

0:32:290:32:32

with a line tied around his wrist.

0:32:320:32:34

This monument stands on the spot where John Finlay swam ashore.

0:32:370:32:41

Interviewed in 1973, he recalled that night.

0:32:410:32:46

40 survivors owed their lives to the courage of John Finlay MacLeod,

0:33:130:33:18

but 205 men died on that last night of 1918.

0:33:180:33:23

When dawn finally broke that New Year's Day,

0:33:230:33:26

the people of Lewis were greeted to a dreadful sight.

0:33:260:33:29

There's a photograph showing the wreck of the Iolaire,

0:33:290:33:33

the bulk of her still submerged, and just the mast sticking out.

0:33:330:33:39

As news of the Iolaire disaster spread,

0:33:420:33:45

people walked the coastline, looking for relatives.

0:33:450:33:50

At Sandwick Bay, they found only dozens of bodies...

0:33:500:33:53

..servicemen returning from the Great War.

0:33:550:33:58

These Scots didn't die on a foreign field, but in home waters,

0:33:580:34:03

within sight of safety.

0:34:030:34:06

Relatives and friends, looking for loved ones,

0:34:060:34:10

picked their way through the wreckage of the Iolaire

0:34:100:34:13

and what they found were toys,

0:34:130:34:15

presents that fathers never got the chance to give to children.

0:34:150:34:20

In a remote part of Lewis,

0:34:240:34:26

four-year-old Marion Smith was waiting for her father.

0:34:260:34:29

-Oh, hello. Come in.

-Hello, Marion.

0:34:290:34:33

'Kenneth Smith survived the Great War, but only his suitcase made it back home.'

0:34:330:34:38

In his possessions that they found on the beach,

0:34:380:34:41

-they found this box that we have here.

-Mm-hm.

0:34:410:34:43

Inside it are ration cards,

0:34:430:34:49

with which they were issued.

0:34:490:34:52

-So that's your dad, Kenneth Smith.

-Yes.

0:34:520:34:55

And he should have been on leave from the 30th December 1918

0:34:550:34:59

until the 14th January 1919.

0:34:590:35:03

That made it home and he didn't.

0:35:030:35:05

What do you remember about your mum

0:35:070:35:10

on the night when the news arrived at the house?

0:35:100:35:12

She was sitting down, and the neighbours were coming in,

0:35:120:35:17

and also people whom I didn't know were coming in.

0:35:170:35:21

And they all hugged her and they all cried,

0:35:210:35:25

and my grandfather just sat,

0:35:250:35:28

and I would go over and lean across his knees.

0:35:280:35:33

And I remember the tears dropping off his cheeks

0:35:330:35:38

onto the top of my head.

0:35:380:35:41

I couldn't understand what had happened.

0:35:410:35:45

The clock stopped

0:35:450:35:47

and the world changed.

0:35:470:35:50

The people of Lewis were grieving their loss,

0:35:550:35:58

but alongside grief came anger.

0:35:580:36:01

Why had the Iolaire foundered on the Beasts of Holm?

0:36:010:36:05

Why had so many died within yards of the shore?

0:36:050:36:08

'John Macleod has examined the events of that tragic night.'

0:36:100:36:15

The boat was very under-crewed,

0:36:150:36:17

the officer had never sailed at night.

0:36:170:36:20

It was quite stormy.

0:36:200:36:21

They weren't familiar with the waters and they lost their way.

0:36:210:36:24

The Iolaire didn't have enough lifeboats for all the men. There weren't enough life jackets.

0:36:240:36:28

It was a disaster waiting to happen.

0:36:280:36:30

You would think that they were so close

0:36:300:36:32

that it ought to have been possible to escape the tragedy.

0:36:320:36:35

You've these huge breakers hammering in,

0:36:350:36:38

so the men who'd jumped into the water were mostly beaten to death.

0:36:380:36:41

They weren't drowned, they were smashed against the rocks time and time again,

0:36:410:36:44

like being caught in the most nightmarish washing machine.

0:36:440:36:47

The appalling deaths in the Iolaire disaster

0:36:490:36:53

happened just after the Great War ended,

0:36:530:36:55

a war that had already killed 866 men of Lewis.

0:36:550:37:00

A terrible sacrifice.

0:37:000:37:02

Of those who'd volunteered, one in six were dead.

0:37:030:37:06

But the needless loss of all those men aboard the Iolaire

0:37:060:37:10

was the cruellest blow,

0:37:100:37:11

and yet for many years, the response from Lewis was silence.

0:37:110:37:15

Because what could anyone say that mattered?

0:37:150:37:19

And that's why, beyond the islands,

0:37:190:37:21

the name Iolaire is essentially unknown,

0:37:210:37:23

because this was a very private tragedy.

0:37:230:37:27

Amongst the list of names here, Seaman Kenneth Smith.

0:37:270:37:32

For his widow Christina,

0:37:320:37:34

his death and her grief

0:37:340:37:37

were not something to be shared.

0:37:370:37:39

Did she ever talk to you about your dad and about what happened?

0:37:390:37:45

No, she didn't.

0:37:450:37:47

She never talked about the tragedy at all.

0:37:470:37:53

I remember that she only wore black.

0:37:550:37:58

Black, black.

0:37:580:38:02

If she was baking, she still wore black.

0:38:020:38:05

And to this day...I remember.

0:38:050:38:10

I just didn't like the colour and I still don't.

0:38:100:38:16

To have come so close to coming home,

0:38:160:38:19

you know, to drown, to die on the doorstep of home.

0:38:190:38:22

Yes, well, as the song said,

0:38:220:38:25

these brave men

0:38:250:38:27

who'd gone so far

0:38:270:38:28

through the dangers of the war,

0:38:280:38:30

by the irony of fate

0:38:300:38:33

were drowned at home.

0:38:330:38:36

Many would envy the sense of community on the Scottish Isles.

0:38:490:38:55

Language and traditions

0:38:550:38:57

bind people together,

0:38:570:39:00

but some of those traditional customs

0:39:000:39:02

may seem at odds with life elsewhere in our islands.

0:39:020:39:06

I've reached my final stop at the tip of the Hebrides, Port of Ness.

0:39:090:39:15

It looks like the end of the line,

0:39:190:39:21

but this little harbour is actually the point of departure

0:39:210:39:24

for a group of men who set sail every August.

0:39:240:39:27

It's a voyage the men of Ness have been undertaking for centuries,

0:39:270:39:31

sons following fathers who followed their fathers.

0:39:310:39:34

They've all been heading for the same spot,

0:39:340:39:36

a lonely rocky island, 40 miles from here, called Sula Sgeir.

0:39:360:39:40

Nobody lives there,

0:39:430:39:45

but it's home to thousands of gannets.

0:39:450:39:48

The men of Ness come to Sula Sgeir to hunt for birds.

0:39:500:39:54

It was a tradition captured on film in the 1950s. Take a look at this.

0:39:560:40:00

They're after the young gannets, known in these parts as guga.

0:40:040:40:09

The guga-hunting season is August,

0:40:090:40:12

when the chicks are almost fully grown.

0:40:120:40:15

There's no shortage of people to buy them.

0:40:150:40:19

Guga is an age-old delicacy in these parts.

0:40:190:40:22

50 years on, the small boy in the film is doing as his father did.

0:40:240:40:29

John MacFarlane is now the leader of the annual guga hunt,

0:40:310:40:34

a time-honoured custom first recorded in 1549.

0:40:340:40:39

It's a big thing in Ness, our community,

0:40:390:40:43

in this part of the island, up the Butt of Lewis end.

0:40:430:40:45

If you mention the community of Ness to someone,

0:40:450:40:48

it's always associated with the guga, with the guga hunt.

0:40:480:40:51

The Ness gannet.

0:40:510:40:54

It's... It's a Ness thing.

0:40:540:40:57

Once, the men of Ness could take as many guga as they could carry.

0:40:570:41:02

But now, they operate under a licence

0:41:020:41:05

to take no more than 2,000 birds a year.

0:41:050:41:09

The Scottish Government licenses the hunt,

0:41:090:41:12

which it's argued is culturally important.

0:41:120:41:15

The ritual hasn't changed in living memory.

0:41:180:41:22

We lift them out of the nest with a 10ft pole,

0:41:220:41:25

with a clamp at the end, around its neck.

0:41:250:41:28

I pass it on to the next person behind me,

0:41:280:41:31

who gives it a whack on the head.

0:41:310:41:33

From the time I pick it out of the nest to the time it's dead

0:41:330:41:37

is about three seconds.

0:41:370:41:38

We start plucking them,

0:41:380:41:41

taking the feathers off.

0:41:410:41:43

The next part is what we call the factory.

0:41:430:41:46

Two of the boys actually take the down off the birds

0:41:460:41:50

by dipping them into the fire.

0:41:500:41:53

And they're passed onto the next two guys, who actually split them open,

0:41:530:41:57

to leave four quarters of ripe prime guga.

0:41:570:42:02

We then salt them and make a brown pile of them.

0:42:020:42:07

There's a special way of doing it so that the meat doesn't go off.

0:42:070:42:10

We build a chute to the bottom of the island.

0:42:130:42:16

When we're going home the gugas go down on the chute.

0:42:160:42:19

What do you say to people

0:42:190:42:22

who find the idea of killing wild seabirds...

0:42:220:42:27

distasteful, abhorrent?

0:42:270:42:29

I don't see any difference between that

0:42:290:42:32

and going into a supermarket and buying a chicken or a turkey.

0:42:320:42:36

Those who oppose us going to the island,

0:42:360:42:39

if you could put a guga and a chicken together,

0:42:390:42:44

how could you explain to the chicken why it should be killed

0:42:440:42:48

and the wild guga go free?

0:42:480:42:52

There's no difference.

0:42:520:42:54

It's for human consumption.

0:42:540:42:57

Guga and guga hunting may not be to everyone's taste,

0:42:580:43:02

but the annual journey to Sula Sgeir

0:43:020:43:05

is a centuries-old tradition,

0:43:050:43:07

one fiercely defended by the men of Ness and their community.

0:43:070:43:12

The Outer Hebrides are famously wild, rugged and beautiful.

0:43:150:43:20

They share a quality that's far less conspicuous.

0:43:200:43:23

The people I've met have a real sense of community, of belonging,

0:43:230:43:28

a conviction that their island is truly their home.

0:43:280:43:32

And that, maybe, is what it means to be an islander.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Coast embarks on an island-hopping adventure in Scotland, around the stunning Western Isles and out to the northern outpost of Shetland.

On Eriskay, Nick Crane gets unique access to the island's close-knit communities. On the Isle of Lewis, Nick meets the leader of the 'Guga Hunters', a small band of men following the age-old tradition of catching guga, young gannets which perch precariously on the sea cliffs of a remote and rugged lump of rock far out in the wild Atlantic.

Neil Oliver explores the tragic shipwreck of the Iolaire. On New Year's Eve 1918, over 200 servicemen returning home from the First World War drowned, within sight of their homes on the Isle of Lewis, as the Iolaire was torn apart in ferocious seas. The disaster is little known outside the Western Isles, but the community of Lewis still grieve in private nearly 100 years later. Neil seeks out the last witness, who shares her first-hand memories of the Iolaire tragedy, giving a unique personal insight into this rarely told tale.

Hermione Cockburn is on an expedition to Staffa. Armed with an acoustics expert, a violinist, and a starting pistol, Hermione conducts a curious experiment to explore the remarkable musical quality of Fingal's Cave. She discovers how the cave's extraordinary acoustics inspired Felix Mendelssohn to compose his famous Hebridean Overture.

Miranda Krestovnikoff ventures out to the tiny Isle of Noss to see the remains of a remarkable project to breed a super strong shetland pony, a beast of burden destined for a lifetime of toil in the coal mines of England.