South Uist to Harris Coast


South Uist to Harris

Documentary series. Neil Oliver battles the elements on a golf course designed by legendary golfer Tom Morris.


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The rugged and remote coast of the Outer Hebrides.

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A coast of islands, skerries, and lochans.

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Nowhere else in the British Isles can match this wonderland of stacks,

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secret inlets and windswept shell sand beaches.

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The Vikings called them Havbrodoy - "islands on the edge of the sea".

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And the edge is exactly what it feels like.

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To my east are the islands of the Inner Hebrides

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and mainland Scotland itself.

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Over there to the west

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there's nothing but 2,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

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This island-hopping journey takes us over 120 islands

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and thousands of miles of spectacular Hebridean coastline.

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Welcome to the Island Coast.

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Odd things get washed up on islands.

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Places like this are great for digging around

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in the undisturbed past - hog heaven for someone like me.

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As an archaeologist, I've found some strange things in some unexpected places.

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I once found a chamber pot dropped by Zulus after the Battle of Isandlwana in South Africa,

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but here on South Uist, someone has found an entire lost golf course!

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Concealed for more than 70 years by a blanket of wild flowers and grassland, the discovery

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of this course is the golfing equivalent of stumbling across a forgotten Picasso masterpiece.

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But the artist here was golf legend Old Tom Morris.

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To find out about Old Tom's forgotten masterpiece,

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I'm meeting up with green keeper Gordon Irvine, and local golfer Donald MacInnes.

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So, tell me more about what Tom Morris did. Why's he such a name?

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Well, he was the original golf professional at St Andrews.

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He won the Open Championship on four occasions.

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His most famous work would undoubtedly be his work on the Old Course, as we know it, at St Andrews.

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Prestwick, Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch.

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For decades after, people came and studied his work,

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and that then went to other parts of the world - to help design courses there.

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There had long been rumours of a lost Tom Morris course here on South Uist,

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but until now, no-one believed it existed.

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The discovery of a 19th century golf almanac proved that Old Tom created a course

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here at the behest of Lady Cathcart, the owner of the island.

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After some careful detective work, Gordon and Donald located the exact site of the original course.

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Now, Gordon, my idea of a golf course is something carefully manicured.

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Where is the golf course?

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This is golf in its sheer, raw state, and here it's as much about playing against

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the harsh elements as it is about hitting the golf balls.

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You've got your classic dune system created by the Atlantic swell,

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as they had no earth-moving machinery back then, so they found and plotted the golf courses

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-through the natural terrain rather than trying to move anything.

-Right.

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This is the Holy Grail of golf. This is the one we've been searching for.

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It was lost for so long because it fell into disuse and became

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overgrown after the island was sold in the early 1900s.

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But Donald and the local club plan to restore the course to its former glory,

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and with Gordon's know-how, they have already worked out old Tom's original layout.

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I see you've got a flag in there.

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If that's the green, are we on the tee for that?

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As far as we can tell, this would be the teeing area. It would be somewhere in this location.

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What you're looking at here is that classic short par four links hole.

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Donald, you've played it.

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-How does it play?

-It's hard to believe, when you see the flag

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so close to you, that you can hit a fantastic shot, good clean contact and still only about 210-215 yards.

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What club would you recommend?

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Today? Probably a low flying rocket just to assist the flight of the ball.

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This is raw golf.

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For adventurous players, this is as exciting as it gets.

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What are the chances?

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You think a wide, low stance?

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Absolutely, keep your balance.

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You dancer! Look at that!

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-Not too shabby.

-That was a cracker.

-A disaster obviously!

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You wanted to play off the beach for your second shot!

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Oh, I'm great on the beach.

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This is going to be the best golf course in the world, mark my words.

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It's my tee.

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Is the secretary in?

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I tried the clubhouse, but it seems to be shut.

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Our journey up the Outer Hebrides continues along North Uist to Balranald.

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The coast here is dramatic and unspoilt.

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These fertile plains are one of the rarest habitats in Europe.

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This sandy grassland is known as machair.

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The machair forms on the coast as wind-blown sand

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settles like a dusting of pepper over the peaty land and nature blooms.

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There's an abundance of wild flowers, from humble daisies,

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through buttercups, to the more exotic-looking orchids and ragged robin.

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The flowers attract insects and birds, making the Balranald Nature Reserve a haven for wildlife.

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Leaving behind the low-lying plains of North Uist,

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we're heading north over the water to the mountainous terrain of Harris.

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Most of us do the majority of our travelling overland,

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but long before there were any roads,

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the fastest and most efficient way of getting around the place was by boat.

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I'm John MacAulay

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or Seonaidh MacAmhlaigh, as I prefer to be known in my own language.

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I was born and brought up here on the island of Harris.

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I'm a boat builder, traditional boat builder, working with wood all the time.

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I started an apprenticeship when I was 16, building steel ships in a Glasgow shipyard,

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but...I always preferred smaller boats.

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I came back to Harris about

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30 years ago,

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and have been working here ever since then.

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There's been a shed on this site

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as far back as I remember, and I built my first ever boat in here.

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I was probably about 20 or 21.

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Just a small boat - 12-foot rowing boat.

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So, strong feelings for this place.

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I think it's important with all craft skills, that these are passed on from generation to generation.

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They're basic survival skills.

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It doesn't matter what sphere of work you're in - the skills should be passed on.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2006

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