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Today I'm on a journey along the Great Glen of Scotland,
following the Caledonian Canal as it weaves its way
from the Atlantic in the west
through to the North Sea in the east.
I'll be travelling the length of the canal,
starting from high above Fort William on Aonach Mor mountain
through Neptune's Staircase, across Loch Oich and Loch Ness
and up to Chanonry Point in the north-east.
From there, I'll head out into the Moray Firth.
Along the way, I'll be looking back at the very best
of the BBC's rural archive from this part of the world.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
I'm starting my journey by heading to the top of Aonach Mor
on this amazing gondola system to take in the breath-taking views
of the Great Glen and the canal that runs through it.
Think of a canal and you'll probably picture flat towpaths through gentle countryside,
or murky strips of water running through our industrial cities.
The Caledonian Canal, which runs for just over 60 miles
along the Great Glen of Scotland, is only one third man made.
The rest is provided by nature - Loch Lochy...
and Loch Ness.
The gondola was originally built to lift skiers up to the slopes,
but now it's widely used as a short cut
for climbers and mountain bikers.
The 80 cabins run on a continuous steel cable,
which itself weighs 40 tons.
I'm being supported by 18 pylons, two masts
and two stations at either end, anchored in 200 tons of concrete.
It's actually quite a serious hill, this one.
In fact, it's the eighth highest peak in Scotland.
I've just climbed over 2,000 feet, and I did it in about 14 minutes.
Starting my journey up here is a great way to get my bearings.
Can't quite see, but just round to my left is Ben Nevis.
Then if you look across that loch on a good day, you can see the Inner Hebrides.
But the most important bit, and very exciting too, is I can see the route I'm about to take.
The Caledonian Canal winds its way through the start of the Great Glen here in front of me,
and I can even catch a glimpse of Loch Lochy.
The paths carved into the side of Aonach Mor
are mountain bike tracks made for the crazy folk who get their
pleasure from racing headlong down this steep and treacherous descent.
Adam Henson took on the challenge in the forest beneath me.
A few miles from the canal is Leanachan Forest.
It's got four world-class championship courses,
including cross-country and the heart-stopping downhill.
To show me around is mountain biker and Forestry Commission officer, Sarah McClellan.
Which part are we going to do today?
We're going to do the cross-country course.
It's about 8.5 kilometres and it'll take about an hour.
The athletes do it in 22 minutes per lap and they do six laps, so...
Crikey! Is it pretty tough for a novice like me?
Yeah, it's a red grade so there's enough to get your teeth into.
You'd want to do some other mountain biking if this was
-going to be your first, you wouldn't dive straight into this.
-Let's get to it!
Oh! Ha, ha!
-That's so hard!
-Yes, pretty tough.
So what's the technique?
You've got to slide your bottom right forward on the saddle.
It doesn't sound very comfortable and it isn't, but it's the only way to do it.
I soon discovered muscles I didn't even know I had.
Control the speed, it's not too scary.
If you let it go, it can be.
Sarah, that was quite a climb!
A magnificent view making it all worthwhile.
-That looks fairly extreme, going down.
This is our black section on the cross-country trails.
What's the technique?
Weight back off the saddle, level pedals, feathering the brakes gently so just squeezing gently.
No grabbing of the brakes.
-I'll follow you. I'll try not to scream too much!
Are you sure about this? Remember it's black.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
'If at first you don't succeed...'
Ha-hey! THEY LAUGH
My route downhill has been much more sedate. I've come down from
the mountain to the beginning of the Caledonian Canal at Corpach basin
to sail through Neptune's Staircase.
This impressive feat of engineering is essentially a ladder of eight lochs
which raises vessels travelling along the canal to a height of 70ft above sea level.
Skipper Mike Lofts has invited me aboard.
Obviously, the best way to see Neptune's Staircase is to travel up it
so I'm joining this boat, aptly named The Caledonian.
-You're our skipper for the day.
This looks quite exciting ahead of us. Are we approaching it now?
-Yes, this is Neptune's Staircase.
It's actually so close together, you can see all the levels going up.
What's the importance of this?
The importance is manifold really,
it's to save ships going round the top of Scotland.
It's the short cut through, which is a lot safer,
and also for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars.
It helped the Navy to hide from the French so they could surprise them on attack.
So they would just bring their ships inland and hide here, and then pop out when the French came along?
-Yes, and attack.
-It sounds so simple.
Because these guys, these are hefty sea-going vessels, aren't they?
Would they be doing what you said,
doing a short cut instead of going all the way round Scotland?
Yes, but also doing the Caledonian Canal as a tourist attraction.
Was there another way of doing this? Because at some point,
somebody stood at the bottom and said, "We should make the river go up that hill,"
which must have seemed ambitious.
Was this the only possible route to link up the lochs?
It was Thomas Telford who designed it. He did his studies
and reported back, and he had the all clear to build it.
Now we've got this fine structure.
It's incredible, it must have taken some time to build back then.
Yes, he started in 1801 and finished in 1822.
-They thought they would do it in six years, but they were wrong!
So 21 years later and three times the budget...
-But it's complete.
-The Millennium Dome of its day!
That's the one!
I suppose, I mean, it's such a beautiful setting,
this must be one of the most picturesque lock networks ever.
We're kind of in the shadow of Ben Nevis there, aren't we?
Yes, Ben Nevis just in the distance there.
Absolutely beautiful. A lot of people must come through just to do the route.
Without a doubt, yes. It's part of Great Glen Way as well
so cycleways, walkways, it's used by a lot of people.
As we go up here, am I going to be able to have a go at opening some of the lochs?
-Sure, course you are.
-Is that OK?
That's good! And if I'm really good, you might let me drive the boat?
You look nervous, suddenly sweating! Gosh!
We've got two crew on board, a guy at the front, a guy at the back,
both have got ropes, but are we being flanked by your heavies?
No, these are the boat's crew.
We have a guy to tend the bowline and a guy to tend the stern line
so when we come into the locks, we can throw the lines ashore and bring the boat safely against the wall.
-Hi, I'm Joe.
-I believe you're the lock keeper here?
What are you looking out for now?
The sluices have been opened now and the water has levelled off.
-When the disturbance stops there, I know we can open the gate.
-So the pressure is equal?
Yes. The gates won't open unless they're equal.
Got you. Is that what you're looking for? That looks still.
That's calm so we can go and open it.
-So this is the magic box of controls?
-It looks quite simple.
-It is, yes.
So what do you do next?
First thing, power on.
OK, now open the gates.
This lever here, this lever here, up and your two gates open.
-And they fully open?
-They will, yes.
-Keep the levers up until it's fully open.
-So I can do that?
-Here we go then.
-The gate is opening.
-One going there.
So the boats are all through.
Yes, close the gate.
-So this time...?
-The lever down and the gates will shut.
There we go, getting the hang of this!
So will they just stop when they come together?
No, when they come together,
you'll see them vibrate slightly and you'll know that they're shut then.
-And switch off.
-Just like that.
-Probably leave the next five or six to you!
It looks like we've come to the end, is that correct?
-Yes, this is the top of the staircase.
A quick favour to ask, do you mind if I have a go on the old captain's wheel?
-Sure, come on in.
-Excellent. So everyone is pulling away...
-Yes, you've got a back thruster.
-You need to use it. It's nice and clear.
The crew are clear, that's good news.
The throttle on the right. One click to just engage the engine.
-There we go.
-If you find you're going too fast,
-pull it back into neutral.
The back thrusters will only work when the engine is in neutral.
Just to push away from the sides?
Yes. As you can see, you're coming into the side now.
Wind it round. Quick hard. That's it, you find it's responding,
and then get back again on to the port.
-There you go, that's fine.
Step it up one.
# When the weather is fine
# Then you know it's a sign
# For messing about on the river. #
I think I'll leave the skippering to Mike,
but if we keep going in this direction,
we'll eventually get to Loch Lochy and then Loch Oich.
This is Loch Oich in the Scottish Highlands.
At four miles long,
it's the smallest of three lochs found in the Great Glen.
Its neighbours are Loch Lochy and the infamous Loch Ness.
The Highland lochs are stunning at this time of year
with their autumn colours, in spite of the weather.
This area is renowned for its wildlife, much of which is rare or extinct elsewhere in Britain.
Because the human population in the Highlands is so sparse,
this ensures that the wildlife is allowed to thrive, making it a haven for lovers of nature.
Tourists and locals alike flock to the area, attracted by its flora and fauna.
Many stroll through the forests enjoying the peace, tranquillity
and chance to take things at their own pace.
But the local forest rangers
have come up with an altogether more adventurous way
of seeing their local wildlife.
You can forget the conventional walks.
The latest way of seeing the Scottish woodlands is from the water.
Hi, Adele. You're the inspiration behind Woods From The Water tours.
-How did you come up with that idea?
-It's during my time working
for the Forestry Commission as a forester over the last seven years.
I've learned to think not just about growing trees, but about the wider picture.
I'm a very keen canoeist myself, and I'm lucky enough to live and work in the forest.
It just seemed a natural way of linking the two.
Does it mean that people who aren't all that keen on walking can just sit in a canoe?
Yes, and it's still good for you.
It's healthy, it's a good way to enjoy the environment.
You get an excellent view of the forest from the water.
You get into areas that are inaccessible any other way
so you can see some good relics of ancient semi-natural woodland.
You can also see wildlife,
and just the beautiful remote forest we see around us.
It's a good way of seeing the forest.
For this wildlife trip, you can leave your hiking boots at home.
You need your waterproofs and your life jacket.
My canoe partner is local wildlife ranger, Jeff Dymond.
More used to life on dry land,
Jeff has recently taken to the water to guide the tours.
Is it a good way to see the forest and the wildlife from the canoe then?
Yes, the beauty about going from the canoe is that
wildlife doesn't associate danger from man coming from the loch.
With a large group of people like we have here today,
you can get quite close to animals that are very shy,
like the otter.
The wild deer tend to come to the loch side
because of the richness of the silt
that has been deposited over the years -
it creates a very good vegetation.
You can see deer in this area, like sika, red deer and roe deer.
At this time of year,
it's rutting season for the deer so they're very vocal.
Jeff has his own unique way of attracting their attention.
Everybody get ready because they can swim as well so...here we go.
LENGTHY HIGH-PITCHED SQUEALING
o far, no reply from the hills. Maybe I'll have more luck.
I think I've got a bit of a sore throat!
I think there's a duck coming!
And what is this up here?
It's Invergarry Castle. It was a stronghold of the MacDonnells.
They were a very fierce, warlike clan
and they exploited the woodlands
in their time here.
I've been 29 years as a ranger in the wilderness
and I'm seeing things
that even I haven't seen before from the loch side.
There's more to the tour than going in search of wildlife on the banks of Loch Oich.
As well as highlighting the value of the Scottish woodland,
the Forestry Commission also teaches people how to respect it.
If people get into a place and they learn about it and they grow to love it, they'll look after it.
More practically, we're doing things like teaching people to camp more sensitively.
One thing we want to try to avoid is, for instance people camping,
leaving behind fire sites, bottles, that type of thing.
The idea is you go into a place, enjoy it,
and then leave it exactly as you found it.
The final part of the tour is a welcome, warming supper,
cooked over a forest friendly camp fire.
-Why did you want to come along on this trip?
-I think it was the fact
that we had adventure and a chance to see some wildlife,
led by experts that knew what they were talking about and could show us what to look for.
What things have you seen from the water that you wouldn't otherwise
had you been walking on land?
We got quite close to a swan that came right up to the canoe.
We saw other bits and bobs of wildlife,
but it's just fine being on the water,
looking at the forest from a different perspective.
We haven't seen a huge amount, but you can't expect to see everything.
No, that's the beauty of looking for wildlife.
It's elusive, and if you saw it every day,
you wouldn't enjoy what you did see.
Look at this, just to finish the day off nicely,
some thick Scottish broth! Who's got the whisky?
Food and a camp fire sound pretty good to me,
especially with the weather starting to turn.
But for now, I have taken to two wheels to enjoy the shores of this breathtaking loch.
I am heading north along the Caledonian Canal
following the edge of Loch Oich towards Loch Ness.
Loch Oich is just over four miles long, making it the shortest of the Great Glen Lochs.
Not to be outdone, it is the highest of the three
at just over 100ft above sea level.
Well, Adam's adventure looked very nice, but I'm after something a little bit faster,
something you wouldn't normally expect on a loch in Scotland.
I'm going water-skiing.
There's loads of activities you can do here on Loch Oich,
but I've never tried water-skiing before
so I'm all kitted up and ready to get stuck in.
First up I need to get to grips with balancing on water
so I'm starting off on what's called the boom.
This feels fantastic! It feels surprisingly natural.
I'm almost trying hard to concentrate
because I'm just taken in by this incredible beauty all around.
It's quite a surreal experience.
It's almost relaxing. I didn't expect to say that,
but you're kind of just sitting down on it.
What did I say about sitting down on it?!
You're pretty good,
I think you're ready. Do you fancy a go on the short rope?
Yes, graduating to the short rope!
I'm almost doing it properly!
Well, that was absolutely fantastic. I'm still grinning from ear to ear.
It was so much fun! To do it in such a beautiful location,
I'm pretty sure I could stay here all day, but I can't.
Onwards with the journey. Next up, Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is one of the most famous lakes in the world,
not just for its outstanding beauty.
It's big, it's the largest lake in Scotland by volume
and second only to Loch Lomond by area.
But it's the depth of this vast expanse of water which astounds people
and which provides a fertile setting for the myths and mysteries which surround this magical place.
So there it is, the famous Loch Ness.
It's one of these places you learn about as a kid at school. I can't believe I've never been before.
It's fantastic. I'm quite glad I'm seeing it now
because this light looks beautiful.
But there's also patches of mist and cloud.
It looks a bit eerie, mysterious,
which of course fits the reputation perfectly.
I'm certainly not disappointed.
So not only is it legendary, it's simply stunning.
What else can you say?
On a glorious autumn morning,
I'm taking a boat ride in a northerly direction towards Inverness.
My companion is a man who's spent many years studying the mysterious loch in all its moods.
We're sitting in the middle
of what I believe is Britain's most significant geographical feature -
the Great Glen of Scotland.
Divides Scotland in half.
At one end is Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, to the south
and here is Britain's greatest lake, Loch Ness.
And just how deep is it?
230 metres. A bit hard to visualise
but if you were sitting in the restaurant that used to be at the top of the Telecom Tower in London,
then that would be underneath us now.
The rest would be water. Talking of water,
it's actually in volume that Loch Ness is truly pre-eminent.
It's got more water in it than the whole of England and Wales put together.
This great volume causes what's called thermal inertia.
No summer can warm Loch Ness up significantly, no winter can freeze it.
In the wintertime, the water can be warmer than the air.
This causes mirage close to the surface on calm days
which tends to extend images of quite small things into quite tall things.
What might he be hinting at?
Ever since the first reports in the 1930s,
searching for Nessie has almost become a national obsession.
Special observation teams have been set up.
Over the years, sightings have been dismissed as fakes,
floating debris or bow waves from boats.
That hasn't stopped the excitement and intrigue,
and in the summer of 1967, a constant watch was kept on the loch
and every unusual object was filmed.
Still today, many people are convinced that they have seen something.
We were sailing up the middle of the loch.
We had gone just past this area
and we were going up towards Urquhart Castle.
All of a sudden, this black object rose up in the water.
It just broke the surface and it just went straight across
-the loch and disappeared.
-How long was it?
I would say it was about 25-30 foot.
You couldn't tell which end was which, it was just like a hump.
The one and only time that I'd seen it, whatever it was,
we'd got the camera and we missed it.
It's like a fatal attraction - once you know it's there,
you've got to keep going and looking again!
Christine dismisses the idea that what she saw was a bow wave.
Despite all the scepticism, everyone who sees the loch with their own eyes
must secretly wish that, from its deep, dark waters, something will suddenly emerge.
No joy for John that time.
Looks like Loch Ness won't be giving up its secrets any time soon.
I'm travelling along Scotland's Caledonian Canal.
I started out near Fort William,
negotiated the locks at Neptune's Staircase and cycled past Loch Oich.
Now I've reached Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness.
There are many people who live and work the land near Loch Ness,
but I'm heading to a farm to get a taste of real farm life.
Caroline and Ian Urquhart live in a typical farmhouse with some remarkable views.
They've signed up to the Farm Stay UK scheme which means they regularly
take visitors into their B&B who want to try their hand at the farming way of life.
This is where I come in.
Hi. Ian, Caroline, hi, I'm Joe.
Nice to meet you.
-Don't mind if I do! Thank you very much.
After dumping my bag, I'm straight out in the rain to meet Ian's pride and joy -
his herd of cattle stoically enduring the Highland weather.
Ready to roll.
Ian has gladly saved some work for me to do.
We are kitted out with fly spray for the cows to keep the bugs off in the warm summer months.
First, a little treat for one of his favourites.
We'll start with Taggart.
I'll introduce you to one of the more friendly animals on the farm.
-This is Taggart.
-I'll just tie that on there.
What are we doing for Taggart today?
Taggart likes to be hand fed and hand groomed.
-It's a bit of grooming for Taggart at this time.
If you want to groom him anywhere, he's happy.
-Is he going to be happy with this?
-Oh, yes. ..That's a good boy.
-Well done, Taggart.
-There we go.
The art of good husbandry is...
healthy and happy animals so how content do you want?
Is this to make him content or is this actually for a specific reason?
If you were showing them, there would be a more specific reason,
-but it's just contentment that this is all about.
Tell me about your farm. It's not a normal farm, is it?
It's... It's a mix of livestock
and bed and breakfast which goes very well together
because the visitors are interested in the working farm,
and then they arrive here and find they've got the glorious scenery
and Loch Ness all thrown in.
It's a real bonus for them.
What sort of people come and stay?
Obviously, people who are interested in farm animals and how farms run?
People from all the UK, Europe, worldwide.
Quite a lot of farmers from abroad
because they're interested in how we go about farming in the UK.
Is that right? So when farmers take holidays, they go to other farms!
I know, busman's holiday.
It does happen. ..Good for you, Taggart.
A little bit of a parting.
Taggart was never this stylish! Maybe a little quiff...
-Perfect. Look at that.
-A bit like mine.
What could be better? Well done, Joe.
Such a bonny boy!
Taggart is now one very happy, very pampered cow.
Next up, warding off those flies.
OK, so this is Hamish. He is first up for treatment.
Basically, what you're doing is squeezing and moving at the same time.
You want to get an entire dose of the swish along the back.
-A nice, even coating?
-A nice, even coating.
-Then it spreads over the animal.
What happens to Hamish? He comes out and we do the next one?
-There, little swish of the tail to finish.
-Now this is Hamish's mother.
-Come on, lass.
-There we go.
-She doesn't have a name this one, is that right?
Since you're here, if you wish to name her...
Well, I think we'll call her Flora.
-Is that all right?
-We don't have a Flora on the farm at the moment.
-You had a Morag already, so she's going to be Flora.
-Come on, all the way.
-She wants company.
That's for sure.
I think we might have earned ourselves a cup of tea?
Well, also a wee dram of Ardbeg. LAUGHTER
-You're twisting my arm.
-It's traditional to
have a wee shot of whisky after working heavily all day.
In you come, Joe,
-and Caroline's prepared some scones and something else.
You must be a mind reader, this is exactly what I feel like.
-You'll be needing it after your journey?
Just some scones I baked earlier on
with cream and jam and that's clootie dumpling,
-which is traditional up here served as a dessert.
And then, the next day,
-you fry it with bacon and have it with breakfast.
-You're being subjected to all our traditions.
-You need some cream with it.
-Do I? OK, great.
-You like cream, yes?
-Yes, go ahead.
This is a treat, it's fantastic. This is just what I feel like,
because I've been water-skiing, cycling and all sorts today.
So you will be needing calories?
Yes, calories in the cream and the scones are perfect.
That's a cloth pudding. That's steamed for three hours in a cloth
-in boiling water and it keeps for quite a long time.
-Here we go.
-Mmm! That's delicious, isn't it?
-Do you like it?
-And this is the perfect location for doing what you do, isn't it?
Looking out of your window to see Loch Ness behind us, and it's stunning.
Well, people, I tend to have difficulty getting them out of the breakfast room in the morning.
They just want to sit in here and look for Nessie.
I've got to ask, have you ever seen Nessie?
I've not seen Nessie,
but my father, who was a great salmon fisher, saw it in the '50s.
He saw something like a malformed reptile
and he definitely did see it,
he wasn't the type of person to say he did.
He said it was about 30ft long. There was something there,
I don't know if it still is, but I am a firm believer in Nessie.
-A lot of people, they play it up, don't they?
But you believe that something...?
I do believe there was something there of some type.
I don't know if it still is. Lots of people come here,
and come for the scenery as well,
but at the back of their minds is a chance they might see Nessie.
Sometimes they sit here with binoculars, especially children.
At breakfast time, you can see them scoping it?
"What's that in the loch?!" And it's a boat.
But definitely, there certainly was something there.
I didn't expect you to say that.
'It's been great meeting Caroline and Ian and getting
'an insight into life here on the edge of Loch Ness.
'With a full stomach and a warm glow from the whisky, I'm continuing north towards Inverness.'
I'd expect to see Highland cattle and Aberdeen Angus in Scotland,
I didn't realise however that wild boar are becoming popular in some farmyards.
Adam Henson saw them first hand.
SNORTING AND SQUEALING
'Six years ago, Lucinder Spicer swapped the bright lights
'and expensive restaurants of the Square Mile to set up
'one of Britain's most northerly wild boar farms in the remote hills near Inverness.'
Why did you move out of central London to come to the Highlands?
We'd always promised ourselves we wouldn't stay
in London permanently and we got to the stage in our careers
when it was OK to do so. So we upped sticks and moved.
We wanted to do something that was economically in tune with where we were settling
and everyone does sheep and cattle and that kind of thing, and we wanted
to do something a bit different, wilder and alternative.
-Did your friends think you were nuts?
-They always have thought I was nuts!
'Wild boar in the UK disappeared 300 years ago,
'although farms like Lucinder's are helping bring them back.
'These boar came from stock originally from the harsh wilds of Siberia.
'They're a tough breed, as I was soon to find out.'
You can see some lovely little piglets in there?
Yeah, they are. There's 20 there with the four sows there.
They're obviously feeding peacefully, but you can see Anthony moving up round the corner
and he's coming in front to come between us and his family.
Oh, and... Now he's tearing up the ground
with his feet, so I think we need to...
We need to just retreat and leave him to it.
'Anthony, the father of these litters, quietly asserted himself to protect his family's space.
'Thankfully, it was all show and no action.'
How many wild boar have you got?
On the farm at the moment, we've got 200,
roughly 40 breeding stock and 160 which will go for meat this year.
And then we've got 35 little ones that have been born in the last couple of weeks.
-That's a lot of pigs, isn't it?
-It is, and then more will arrive,
so we could have up to 200 born this year, if we have successful farrowings.
If I keep them in good condition, they'll farrow again in the summer,
so they'll go twice through if the conditions are good.
And to keep wild boar, you need a wild animals licence?
You do. The councils in England, Wales and Scotland require you
to be licensed under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.
And that's a statutory requirement.
I notice you've got electric fencing, is that part of the Wild Animals Act criteria?
It's one condition for keeping them secure and it keeps the animals from digging up fences.
Do they ever escape and get on to your neighbours' farms?
No, we're completely covered here by outside deer fencing,
which is 6ft high and they have low fencing to the enclosures.
In theory, they can jump over,
but they don't because they've got everything they need inside.
Amazing the change in the weather, isn't it?
One minute, beautiful sunshine, the next minute it's blizzarding.
Some people say pigs wreck the place?
LOUD SQUEALING Well, actually, they do.
These animals have been in here for three weeks and you can see they have
totally flattened the bracken and they've taken the gorse down.
You can see the way they are clipping the tops of the gorse to make nests
-and to make shelter.
-How many months before they're ready to be
made into meat and go for sausages?
We take them off between 12 and 18 months of age, so they get a pretty good life span.
They are mature by the time they go.
We don't, as a matter of policy, sell young animals, suckling pigs.
There is a demand for them on the Continent, they eat them at six months of age.
We don't feel they've had any kind of life by then.
-I understand your husband might have some sausages on the go?
-Um, we're hoping, we are hoping.
-I'm looking forward to tasting it, let's wander back up the hill.
-Chef, you got the easy part of this
-rearing pigs, just the cooking?
-I think that's about right.
I do actually help out from time to time.
Let me give it a taste.
Wow, it's really lovely, very different to the domesticated pigs I rear at home.
It is far more like beef. It is a very high-protein meat and it is a dark meat.
Any regrets, Lucinder? Do you think you'd like to go back to the city?
Absolutely not, I would never go back.
I do really enjoy being out on the hill and dealing with
things that are real and important, it's very satisfying.
I think I'll stick with my Highland cows. Taggart was much friendlier.
More importantly, I've just reached the very northern tip of the Caledonian Canal,
where the waters finally flow out into the North Sea.
My journey has cut diagonally across Scotland,
taking me from Fort William, along three incredible lochs
and now finally to the coast at Inverness and beyond.
One of the most dramatic views Inverness has to offer is the view of the bridge over the Ness
and the fantastic panoramic of the city behind it.
Inverness is known as the capital of the Highlands, it became a city in the year 2000.
A real contrast to the rural areas I've explored so far.
To the north of the city, the Caledonian Canal finally reaches the open water as the landscape
changes to a coastal scene set off by the lighthouse at Chanonry Point.
The Moray Firth has some famous and well-loved residents.
Its own pod of bottle-nosed dolphins.
I've come down here to Chanonry Point, one of the best places in the UK to see dolphins from the shore.
And if you're lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of Charlie Phillips.
Charlie is a professional photographer who comes here most days
to observe and photograph the dolphins. He takes around 60,000 photos a year.
Hopefully we'll get a sighting today.
-Morning, Charlie, how are you?
-Very good morning.
-Anything out there this morning?
-Four dolphins out here this morning.
-A couple of big males over there, see big Nevis, he's just poked his dorsal fin up.
And we have Keslet and wee Charlie, our 18-month-old calf.
They are hunting just in the tidal current, they're only about 20ft off the beach.
I never thought they'd be so close, it's amazing.
Yes, the water around here is really deep.
-That's why this beach is excellent for land watching.
There you go, see? The seagull's right on top of the dolphin just now.
Hoping to get a bit of the fish.
You mentioned a load of names. Do you know these dolphins well?
Yes, when you're watching them and studying them for quite a while,
you begin to get the nick marks and scratches on the dorsal fin
almost imprinted in your brain.
We also have a catalogue of animals,
Aberdeen University for the past 20 years have been compiling, basically,
a Who's Who of Moray Firth dolphins.
Really? Using your photos?
Some of them are mine, some are from the lighthouse field station.
-You have been doing this for a long time now?
-Quite a while, yes.
-You're still learning new things?
Absolutely, bottle-nosed dolphins are very complex animals and they have a very complicated social structure.
And we're only beginning to just peel back the layers of the onion now
and it keeps me down here almost every day.
-I was going to say, are you here every morning?
-Almost, it depends on when the tide is running.
For land watching in this area, rising tides are very important,
-that's when the dolphins are coming in.
-Is that what we've got now?
Yes, if you imagine, this tidal current is almost like a conveyor belt.
-A supermarket conveyor belt of food coming towards the dolphins.
They're at the end of the conveyor belt waiting for the fish to come, and the rising tide brings new,
especially at this time of year, migratory salmon coming in
and the dolphins are intercepting them without wasting too much energy.
It's a bit harsh on the salmon, almost, it's quite an obstacle course getting past these fellas?
-Yeah, and the thing is, these are big, big dolphins and they will take some big fish.
We see them throwing around 15lb salmon.
-Some pretty big stuff.
-Wow! What about the photos?
I've gone whale-watching before and I've got a lot of pictures of water!
-Is that a big problem as they only pop up briefly?
-It can be, it depends on what they're doing.
If they're coming to the surface, as they are just now, they're foraging for food,
in fairly much the one place, so you have a reasonable chance of getting them with a camera.
But once they start rocketing around, maybe chasing fish,
that can be more difficult, because they're moving at 20mph plus
-and trying to film that or photograph that can be quite difficult.
'Charlie has brought along part of his identification catalogue with him today.
'And when identifying dolphins, it's all about the dorsal fins.'
So, big Nevis, who is out there just now.
-See the scratches on his dorsal fin?
-Incredible, what would make those?
Other dolphins' teeth. This is interaction with other animals.
You see the way the skin's bitten away at the back?
Males quite often have this, they're competing with each other for access to females.
-It may be territory as well.
-I wouldn't be able to spot that from here.
No, you might need to be looking through binoculars or if the animals were really close in to the beach,
once your eye becomes accustomed to different dorsal fins...
-Which yours has?
-Yeah. I've been doing it for a while.
In conclusion, you need to keep doing this and keep going and getting more information.
Say one of these animals got into a fight with another dolphin
and that other dolphin took a bite out of the back of the dorsal fin.
-The likes of Rainbow has a very small nick there.
She could quite easily pick up another and that'd change the whole look of her dorsal fin.
So that next photograph becomes your latest passport photo for that dolphin.
And the calf out there now, I believe is named after you.
Yeah, wee Charlie.
Keslet, his mother, who is around here somewhere,
she has been my favourite dolphin in this population
for a long, long time.
She had her own calf in 2007.
He's just like her when she was small, he's cheeky.
He's got a real attitude and he's wonderful to watch.
He'll be coming up to about 18 months old now.
-You have a duty to keep looking out for him?
-Absolutely. You've got to look after your namesake.
'It's no surprise these superb creatures are a huge draw for tourists and visitors.
'But the numbers of people wanting to see them brings with it challenges.'
Back in 1995, Jilly Parton reported on some of the issues facing this precious but fragile population.
If you really want to get close to nature, this is a fantastic way of doing it.
Wind in your hair, the faint smack of salt on your lips and masses to see.
'The waters of the Moray Firth are beautiful, deep and dark
'and they are home to around 150 bottle-nosed dolphins.
'Watching them is magical and the joy is,
'they're not just passing through, they're born and bred here.
'People are drawn to the dolphins, so much so, not even a good drenching
'on the wettest Scottish day in 10 years can put them off.
'It's misty out there, but no-one's complaining.'
We've driven about 30 miles to come on this trip.
Hopefully to see some dolphins in the wild.
You know they're here, so it's nice to be able to see them.
The dolphins'll come alongside the boat and then jump out
and turn and fall back and splash everyone on the boat.
We've had that happen quite a few times.
But to see them doing it, because they want to do it,
they're not being fed to do it, not being paid or looked after,
they're doing it cos they're free and want to do it. It's brilliant.
And it's big business.
September alone will see around 40,000 trippers in Inverness.
This shop will shift 1,000 T-shirts.
And there's always something for the mantelpiece.
So, the word has spread about the Moray Firth dolphins
and as it has done so, more and more people are turning up to enjoy them.
But the souvenirs and the T-shirts are one thing.
What's really causing concern, though, are some of the boat trips.
Let me put you in the picture.
This is the Moray Firth and the dolphins absolutely love it here.
Why? Because it's an excellent feeding ground.
There are really good strong currents, which the dolphins like,
and it's nice and sheltered. But some of them go further.
They swim all the way down here and under the bridge
and into Kessock Narrows or what's known locally as the Kessock Channel
and this is the problem area.
And here it is, the ribbon of water that flows from just out there beyond the bridge and into the narrows here.
At the moment, two boat operators ply this route and one of them is Moray Firth Cruises.
Between them, they make about 12 boat trips every day in the summer
taking sightseers out to watch for dolphins.
What's the problem? Well, Scottish Natural Heritage
and the Scottish Wildlife Trust want to limit the number of trips,
they say to protect the dolphins and the environment that they love from too much human interference.
'They've done it by introducing the Dolphin Space Programme,
'asking everyone to respect the dolphins' need for room.
'It includes a voluntary code of conduct for the six regular boat operators on the Firth to follow.
'Its key points are, maintain a slow, steady speed throughout the trip.
'Follow an agreed route without stopping or deviating.
'Slow down if dolphins appear directly ahead. So far, so good.
'The sticking point for the boatmen in the Narrows is this.'
We have asked in this particularly sensitive area, which is considered
the most sensitive area in the Moray Firth for the dolphins,
we've asked that trips
going round and about this particular area be limited to four overall a day.
And since there are two operators, it would be two each.
Science at the moment indicates that boating behaviour can have an effect on the dolphins.
And short term effects have been seen and they've also been seen here where the animals dive for longer,
they stop communicating with each other.
There are various different short-term studies which have been done.
In fact, it will be another 10 to 11 years before we know whether this population is remaining stable
or whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing.
What if you had to do 2 trips a day, then, what would that do to business?
We'd be bankrupt. The bank would have the boat, the boat would be sold,
which is annoying when Scottish National Heritage
knew last year before we invested in the boat that we'd be doing five, six and even seven trips a day.
But they never said anything about restricting trips.
We are not here to upset the dolphins at all, we've been born and brought up here.
We've seen them all our lives.
There has been a ferry boat service here, there's been 60 to 100 trawlers which used to fish in here.
So when they've been here for four or five years and say, "We think this is what'll happen,"
they've no evidence, no proof.
The proof we have is the dolphins play with the boat.
Every time we go out, the dolphins play with the boat, the calves come near the boat.
If they felt threatened, they wouldn't come near us at all.
The harbourmaster is confused, too. After all, there are 3,000 ship movements in the Channel every year.
The environmentalists can't stop that, but he says, why pick on the boatmen?
I do think the boatmen are being targeted unfairly,
because I see the main problem, in fact, as
the people involved in the leisure watersports sector.
Mainly the high-speed boats,
the run-arounds, the jet skiers, the water-skiers.
In fact, only a couple of weeks ago, we had a complaint from the coastguards
wanting to know if the lifeboat could be launched because it was the only boat fast enough
to try and get under control a powerboat that was in actual fact actively chasing the dolphins.
It must be said, the jet ski generation is on the hit list,
but limiting the boat trips takes priority for Holly Arnold, even if it means legislation.
In a number of other countries where there are whale and dolphin watching operations,
they have regulations, which are legal licensing systems, if you like,
to allow people to go and look at the dolphins from boats.
And it's that sort of thing we would then, let's say,
might be the next step if the voluntary and co-operative approach doesn't work.
14 years on, I'm interested to find out how the Dolphin Space Programme is going.
Deborah Benham has agreed to take me out on a trip to find out.
-You're the project officer for Dolphin Space Programme.
How's it been going? Did you have to introduce legislation at any point?
No, we didn't. The Dolphin Space Programme has been very successful.
We've been going 14 years now.
Over those years, the scheme's expanded over a much broader area in the Moray Firth,
so we now have 12 members all the way from Portmahomack in the north,
all the way over to Aberdeenshire, Banff and Macduff.
It's really developed into a nice partnership.
Everyone comes together and we do a lot of collaborative work, so I think it's been a success.
Have you had to get really tough with anyone?
Nothing really tough.
We're asking operators to adhere to a voluntary code of conduct and sometimes that gets broken
when it's just too tempting to go to where the dolphins are hanging out or something like that.
But usually, just by talking with the tour operators
and reminding them how sensitive some of these areas are, like for feeding or resting,
that usually brings people back into line with the code of conduct.
Obviously, some tour operators were worried that this programme might end their livelihoods.
-Has that happened?
-I don't think so.
Several of the ones that joined back at the beginning are still in business and still going strong
and lots more operators have started in the last few years.
There's a perception that dolphins always want to spend time with us,
they're very social creatures.
They are quite sociable compared to, say, a lion or something,
but they do need their own time to feed and look after their young and to rest as well.
So the most important thing for recreational boat users to realise
is that they need to let the interactions be on the dolphins'
or the other animals' own terms.
So maybe approach to within 50 or 60 metres and then let the animals come to you the rest of the way.
If they leave, let them leave, cos they have something else to do.
-So reining in the human ego?
It is exciting sometimes to be with the animals, but yes,
just letting them have their space
to do their own natural behaviours as well, that's really important.
I was very lucky this morning.
We went to a beach, we saw some dolphins. It was fantastic.
So I've shared in that excitement. What can we see out here?
We're coming a bit further out into the Moray Firth now.
As you get further out, you start to see species like common dolphins.
We get minke whales up here. There's lots of places along the coastline
to see fantastic bird colonies.
And there's lots of other wildlife. Harbour porpoises, killer whales.
We've had all sorts of wildlife.
It really is a very rich, fantastic area for wildlife watching.
-Wow, what a variety. You've got your binoculars to hand.
-I hope so.
-It's a beautiful day for it.
-Let's keep our eyes peeled.
If you see any splashes or birds circling, then have a look through the binoculars.
The temptation is to quickly glance round, but you see nothing.
If you've got dolphins,
they can be down for a few seconds or even a couple of minutes,
so it's good to do a slow scan one way, back the other way, looking for any birds or anything like that.
-Oh, that's a guillemot or something flying there.
-You can see the short, staccato wing beats.
-They've got really short wings.
Yes, they look like little round penguins, so they have quite short wing beats.
'There doesn't seem to be a lot out there today,
'but the sun is shining and it's a great way to appreciate this fantastic coastline.'
Well, I've seen a seal and a handful of guillemots, which is pretty good going.
But looking out to the North Sea here makes you realise just how incredible the Caledonian Canal is.
I mean, here, we've got the north-east coast of Scotland,
but it's linked to the Atlantic way over there to the west,
despite the indomitable mountains that seem to stand in the way.
Three stunning, natural lochs, linked up by a man-made canal,
have allowed me to make this absolutely amazing journey.
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