Joe Crowley travels west from the mainland of Scotland to the Isle of Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, which has lots to offer the intrepid traveller.
Browse content similar to Islay. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Hello. Today I'm in Scotland, leaving the mainland behind me
and heading out to the Inner Hebrides
and the magical island of Islay.
'I'm starting out near Kilchiaran, on the island's west coast,
'where a deadly undertow wreaks havoc on this idyllic coastline.'
This is one of nearly 300 wrecks that we do know of
around the coast of Islay since the very earliest that we know of,
which would probably be the early 18th century.
-Wow. That's a phenomenal number, isn't it?
'I'll head around Loch Indaal to Bowmore,
'where a small group of islanders are making their voices heard.'
'Moving north, I'll explore the tiny settlement of Finlaggan,
'a place that for hundreds of years was a seat of power
'to rival the Scottish throne.
'Just above Port Askaig, I'll learn some of the legends
'that have arisen from this incredible landscape
'in the company of a globe-trotting artist.'
This giantess, on one of her many exploits, was chasing some young man
and tripped and fell, and that's the mark she made.
'Then it's down to the harbour to meet a chef who's been drawn here
'from halfway across the world.
'And he'll introduce me to some of the island's edible delights.'
I know there are challenges being a chef on the island
but this has got to be at the top of the list of benefits, hasn't it?
Yes, it's the best produce.
Along the way I'll be looking back
at the very best of the BBC's rural programmes
from this part of the world.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
Islay is the southernmost island
in the chain known as the Inner Hebrides.
It might be a remote outpost of the British Isles
but it's also an important one.
Its varied landscape provides a vital habitat for birdlife
and its eight distilleries produce some of Scotland's
most distinctive whiskies.
It stretches 25 miles from north to south
and about the same distance from east to west,
all wrapped in 130 miles of unspoilt coastline.
But the seas surrounding this idyllic isle have often been
a sailor's worst nightmare.
Islay's on one side of the main shipping route
from north-west Britain to North America.
But over the centuries,
a combination of heavy seas and the rocky coastline
has given these waters a fearsome reputation.
To find out more, I'm meeting Malcolm Ogilvie,
chairman of the Museum of Islay Life
and an expert on the island's nautical history.
Malcolm, why is this such a hazardous stretch of water?
It's a very rocky and windswept coast
with terrific currents running round it.
And in the old days, ships' navigation was imperfect,
there were no lights by which to navigate,
yet there was a lot of shipping
as Islay guards part of the channel
between Scotland and Northern Ireland
out of which ships are coming from Liverpool, Belfast, the Clyde,
going across the Atlantic or working their way up Scotland.
-And there are hazards.
So it was a major shipping route and the hazards are evident,
because we can see something right here.
What will we look at coming round here?
This is an early steam ship.
It would've been a wooden boat and you can still see a few of the ribs.
And in the 1850s, 1860s, which is about the time this was wrecked,
a ship called the Patty,
the boilers they used were low pressure.
They were called box boilers cos they were actually square,
and we can see some of the outline of it here.
All those years ago,
-what do we know of the circumstances that it ended up here?
-We know its name. Even there there's a question mark about it,
-but we actually have no history of this boat at all.
But this is one of nearly 300 wrecks that we do know of
around the coast of Islay since the very earliest that we know of,
which would probably be the early 18th century.
-Wow. That's a phenomenal number, isn't it?
There are other wrecks we know more about, aren't there?
Certainly, we do. There's one up in the north-west of the island
which was called the Exmouth. It was a sailing ship leaving Ireland
with people trying to make a new life in North America
because of the potato famine. This was in the 1840s.
And it had over 250 people on board and in very bad weather,
and again, inadequate navigation, it crashed into some steep cliffs
and all but three people were lost.
'This channel along the west coast of Islay
'wasn't just an important shipping route during peacetime.
'In the First World War it formed an essential part of the passage,
'bringing American troops over to the UK.
'And it was here one October night in 1918 that disaster struck,
'resulting in the largest loss of life at sea during the Great War.'
It seems all the graves we can see refer to just one ship, the Otranto.
-That was an armed merchantman.
She had been a liner before the war.
And she was in a convoy off the coast here,
6th October, 1918.
And there was a collision between two ships in the dark
in a very bad storm
and the Otranto sank with a great loss of life.
So what was she carrying? She was carrying troops at the time?
Yes. She had a crew of about 300
and she was carrying about 800 or 900 American troops.
-And the loss of life was 431 died.
Malcolm, you said it was a collision. What actually happened?
What happened to the other boat involved?
The two boats were in two different lines of the convoy,
and the captain of one boat thought the land they'd spotted
was Northern Ireland and turned left away from it.
Whereas the other captain thought it was Scotland
and turned to the right, and so they collided.
And the Kashmir, the smaller boat, about 8,000 tonnes,
collided amid ships with the Otranto, a rather bigger boat,
at around 12,000 tonnes,
and cut a great gash in its side which was a mortal wound.
And what hope is there for the Otranto at that point?
Very little, and indeed, for the 1,000 plus people on board,
but a very, very brave captain of a Destroyer,
which was an escort vessel, a Destroyer called the Mounsey,
defied the orders of the Otranto's captain and decided to come alongside
so that troops and crew could jump on board his ship.
There were still 400 people left on the Otranto
and the captain gave the order to abandon ship.
And these people were left to try and make it to shore.
Just 16 got to shore alive.
And then it was just a question of recovering
the many hundreds of bodies that littered the coast here.
And that was all very carefully recorded indeed
by the local police sergeant.
And he wrote it down meticulously in a notebook
which I've actually brought with me from the museum.
Let's see it.
Each and every person that the police sergeant recorded,
he was numbering them, 193, 194,
the dog tag that they would've been wearing, the name,
and then what ever they had in their pockets,
such as Bible and razors, etcetera.
-Tremendous mark of respect. It's very carefully detailed.
"Tattoo on right wrist of a swallow." And so it goes on.
So that he was getting as much description as he could
in case relatives would be able to identify their lost loved one.
These are all the crew.
You can see on the labels the ship's cook, Chief Petty Officer,
Officer Steward, and some they have to record as "A Sailor"
as they couldn't identify them.
-Yeah, there's a lot of "A Sailors" and "Known Unto Gods".
And then this really stands out, doesn't it?
This big one, this was Captain Davidson, the captain of the Otranto.
He lost his life as well.
So it's a really dark chapter in the island's history,
-a real loss of life.
-And if you think about it,
it happened just five weeks before the Armistice
-and the war would have been over.
'Shipwrecks like the Otranto mark some of the darkest moments in Islay's history.
'The natural landscape of the island is one that has shaped life here
'in a positive and varied way, as Ben Fogle found out
'when he visited these shores.'
'Islay has a rich and varied landscape,
'which is just one of the reasons that 150,000 tourists come here every year.
'It is a working island,
'but the natural environment underpins everything that happens here.'
It's home to 3,500 inhabitants who rely on the natural ingredients
the island provides.
One of the most important of which is this stuff.
It's peat, and it is the key to Islay's most important export.
'Each year, tens of thousands of barrels of whisky are made
'on Islay, and they are exported to countries all over the world.'
There are seven distilleries here,
and they all produce their own very distinctive tipple.
I take my research very seriously.
'Bruichladdich distillery has been making whisky for 120 years.
'It closed in 1995 but reopened under new management in May
'and is promising to return the art of whisky-making to its traditional roots.
'Its rebirth is good news for the island and for the Treasury.'
Oh yes, it is very lucrative.
Somewhere around 100 million a year created in revenue alone from Islay.
-That's in taxes?
-Taxes on the whisky, on the spirits.
Per head of population,
one of the most productive parts of the UK, I would say.
'There's not much that Ruaridh McLeod doesn't know about whiskey.
'He worked at at Bruichladdich for well over 30 years
'and remembers a time when there was a more relaxed attitude to working.'
The first question I want to ask is what is this?
That is the official dram by the company.
When you say official dram, what do you mean by that?
When you came into work, you got a dram.
You were given an official tot of whisky?
-That's a very big tot, there.
It's not that big.
You started work at six in the morning
and you got one at 7 o'clock in the morning.
Everybody got another one at 9 o'clock in the morning.
We got another one at 12 o'clock, you got another one at two
and you got one when everybody was going up again.
-So you got five of these every day?
That's about the equivalent of two shots now, I think.
Well, ah, well... One-and-a-half!
-Yes, I think so.
'Whisky has been made on Islay since the 18th Century.
'The basic principles remain pretty much the same.
'Barley is steeped in water and left to germinate.
'This produces chemicals which convert starch to sugar.
'The grain is then dried over a peaty fire,
'giving Islay's whiskies their distinctive flavour.
'And it's finally ready for milling.'
Boiling water is then added to the ground barley.
It's then mixed or mashed, as the experts call it,
to make this rather yucky-looking sugary substance
which is quite aptly-named wort.
This is where the yeast is added into these giant vats, here.
As you can see by these vapours, this is fermenting very nicely.
'What's left is a weak alcoholic solution.
'This is distilled twice, producing spirit which can then
'be transferred to oak casks, ready for the maturing process.'
-This is the end product.
-That's it, yes.
Last week that was malted barley in the bins and it was water.
Now you end up with a glass of plain British spirit.
What is the difference between plain British spirit and whisky?
Plain British spirit is a new make,
it must stay in a cask for a minimum of three years to qualify as whisky.
After that, it can go for blending or whatever in five or eight years.
To be a decent malt, it has to stay in a cask for a minimum of eight or 10 years.
Is this a lot stronger than whisky?
That is quite a bit stronger than whisky you'd buy in the bottle.
It tastes slightly different as well.
-Ooh! Very strong!
-It's quite a bit stronger.
30 years down the line, you should end up with something like this, if it's in the right conditions.
-30 year-old whisky?
-That is 30-years-old.
It was distilled in the distillery here and has been matured right through for 30 years now.
I think you'll find that it tastes much, much better.
I must have a try. I have been looking forward to this.
That is beautiful.
That really is amazing. It's very smooth, isn't it?
Very smooth. A lovely light, smooth whisky. Very drinkable.
'Peat is not just a raw ingredient for whisky.
'It is also used as a household fuel by islanders.
'Norrie Campbell is Islay's only professional peat cutter.
'He's been plying his trade since he was 12 years of age.'
Can you just explain exactly what peat is?
It is a mixture of sphagnum moss, heather,
white grass roots,
bog myrtle and cotton.
It doesn't actually grow because it is decayed.
It just multiplies up and up and up.
How old do you think that peat is that you have in your hand?
-How do you know that?
-Six inches represents 1,000 years.
When the turf comes off, that's 1,000 years.
When the actual peat is cut, you are in to 2,000 years.
If the peat was going to be longer, maybe another 1,000 years on to it.
You have been cutting peat for many years. Do you find it a lonely job?
A wee bit, at times. There is no doubt about it. No need to deny it.
If I come on to a tough bit,
I might just throw the spade down and walk away.
But I will come back tomorrow and I will start afresh again.
It is like a jigsaw puzzle.
When you put it away for a wee while and come back,
everything is forgotten about and you are fresh.
-Have you ever considered leaving?
-No. I did. I went to London once.
It was as busy in London at 5.30am as Glasgow was at dinner time.
I headed back as quick as I could.
'Given conservation concerns about peatlands,
'it's unclear just how long this work will remain part of island life.'
Islay is a relatively small island.
It is just 21 miles north to south, and about the same east to west.
Despite its small size, it is home to something very unique. This is it.
The world's first commercial wave power station.
'The energy from the Atlantic Ocean is the key to this ground-breaking project.
'It's already feeding electricity through to the National Grid.'
We've created an artificial borehole.
We have built a cave into the sea.
The swell comes in from the ocean, creates a head of water outside.
The water inside wants to rise to meet that,
which creates an air piston, effectively,
so the air above it is compressed and forced out through our turbine.
-So the turbine spins as the air goes through it?
The same happens in reverse, when the swell recedes.
-The swell outside moves away.
-It sucks the air back through it?
-How much electricity would this create?
-The installed capacity of the device is 500 kilowatts.
That is enough to supply about 300 houses.
We hope that this will move on and we will be able to construct
lots of these and put them around the coastline.
The wave energy that hits UK shores
could supply the needs of the UK five times over.
'The Archibald family have been growing oysters for over ten years
'on the shores of Loch Gruinart, which is fed by the Atlantic Ocean.
'The water here is clean and mild in temperature
'because of the influence of the Gulf Stream,
'making it an ideal location for this kind of farming.'
-What we do is we grow oysters on.
We buy them in at about ten grams at six months of age,
we put them into mesh bags.
The tide comes in and the tide feeds them.
They live on the plankton in the water and they grow.
Within a year, they are mostly grown.
Within two years, the first ones are ready for sale.
We sell them mainly to hotels and round to wholesalers.
-Is it quite labour-intensive?
-It's quite labour-intensive. It is all manual work.
We have to turn them maybe twice in their lives and grade them maybe four times in their life.
When you say grading, what's grading?
Taking out the big ones and the wee ones,
separating them so they grow more evenly.
If you leave them together, they will grow together.
Or the smaller ones don't get the right amount of food and they don't grow.
-Is that oyster there ready-to-eat?
-Yes. There is an oyster in here.
-I will open it for you.
-Are they quite tough to open?
They are very tough to open.
There we go.
How old is this one?
This will be 18 months old.
-Perfect. A vintage oyster.
-A vintage oyster.
-So, can I eat that one?
-There you go.
Mm. That's delicious.
Very salty. Surprising, that!
-Great, thank you.
'Islay's beauty and natural resources are not only key to making
'the island a viable place to live and work,
'but they are also the very thing that make visitors like me
'want to come back time and time again.'
'On my island journey I'm travelling around the banks of Loch Indaal
'to Bowmore, the island's capital,
'with a population of about 1,000 people.'
Bowmore is a town normally associated with whisky,
but I am not heading for the famous distillery, not this time anyway.
I'm actually going to the Gaelic College,
where another local export has started winning awards and set tongues wagging.
'Galic choirs have always been an integral part of life in Islay.
'At one time, every town on the island would have had its own.
'By the 1990s, this tradition and the Gaelic language itself
'were in serious decline, and just one choir hung on.
'Today, there has been a miraculous change in fortunes,
'with Gaelic speakers now making up 60% of the island's population.
'Boosting that revival is a new Islay-wide choir,
'led by conductor Iseabail Mactaggart,
'which boasts over 30 members
'and has already won three national awards.'
Iseabail, that sounded absolutely fantastic in there.
Has there be a problem keeping Gaelic going on the island?
I think, like a lot of places in Scotland,
Gaelic has gradually declined over the years, and the numbers bear that out.
I think in Islay there has been a wee bit of stabilisation,
you know, more and more people are interested in it.
Both locals and people who have come to the island
and visitors to the island are interested in culture and tradition.
I think that yeah, you can see I think there has been a wee bit of a rekindling of interest in it.
What do you put the rejuvenation of Gaelic on the island down to?
Bilingualism itself is a fantastic asset.
It doesn't matter what language you're bilingual in.
People are putting more children into bilingual education.
That is a good thing.
I think both people who are locals and people who have moved to the island
realise this is part of the island they have moved to.
This is part of the heritage and let's own it and let's know about it
and let's, you know, be proud of it.
When I came in, you were singing a moving song.
To the untrained ear it sounded like you were talking about fish.
What where the words and what do they mean?
Take this information.
Fios is information. Take this information to the poet.
The poet be the person to tell the world.
He is exhorting people, take this information to the Bard.
THEY SPEAK GAELIC
Crikey, quite a mouthful. They do it with real confidence, even the non-Gaelic speakers.
Yes, they do really, really well.
There is a lot of feeling coming out in your singing.
That is obviously very important to you?
Yes. Some of the songs,
one of the things we do do and we have been trying to do
is to take Islay songs that were perhaps not very well-known,
not sung, or not sung in a choral setting,
and try to take them.
We have done that in two or three songs. We love that.
I know it sounds brilliant,
but you have also have others tell you the same thing.
-You have won awards?
Our mixed choir has won both the kind of big mixed competition
and the Puirt-a-beul, this vast dance music.
We won that last year. Our ladies have won.
Our men have yet to win but one day we will.
We have a great group of select and very committed men.
-For the next challenge, maybe getting the men to win something?
-Yes. That would be lovely.
Just to really keep the consistency and go for it.
Part of it, as well, is taking, I would love to take more Islay songs
and to get them better-known and out there and having
the choir sing them with real pride and passion,
having other people hear them.
'When Valentine Warner visited neighbouring Jura,
'the sound of silence was the order of the day as he hunted the island's famous red deer
'to take home for his larder.'
For me, one of the greatest autumn treats is venison.
I've come to Jura in the Western Isles of Scotland to get some of the best.
'Venison, the dark red, succulent meat we get from deer,
'is a delicious alternative to beef.
'It has all the flavour but a 10th of the fat,
'and these days you can get it in many butchers and supermarkets.'
That's an exciting piece of meat.
'There are six types of wild deer in Britain.
'My favourite are red deer and autumn's the best time to eat them
'because they are at their physical peak after a summer of grazing.
'Scotland is home to the largest number of red deer in the UK.'
'Jura, an island where people are outnumbered by deer 30-1,
'is a spectacular place to hunt them.
I'm heading up the glen with Ewan McInnes,
'who has been working on the estate for 19 years
'and knows the 20,000 acres like the back of his hand.'
OK, Val. That's us.
-Get ourselves a rifle.
You just go up there and have a lovely day. The best of luck.
'Scotland's stag hunting, or stalking season, runs from July to October.'
-Best of luck.
If we just do single file.
'In autumn, stags are feeding on the high ground.
'To have a chance of shooting one up here,
'we are going to have to keep a very low profile,
'out of sight, smell and sound of these wary animals.
'It's hard to stay silent in the face of these spectacular views.'
-It's amazing, isn't it?
What a place!
'Finally, after two hours of hard climbing,
'we catch sight of some antlers.'
We've found a young stag grazing on the other side
and he's totally oblivious of our whereabouts.
We're going to stalk this deer, go back around and try and take him from higher ground.
(There he is.)
'Closing in on our prey, Ewan and I circle round to get the stag in range of our rifle.'
(This one. He's just here.)
'I get the stag in my sight, but something's not right.'
(I'm very uncomfortable. I didn't want to take it.)
The last stag we actually got right up to it
and had it in the sights of the rifle.
But it was kind of alert to the fact we were there.
I was very uncomfortable and it started moving
and as I was going to pull the trigger.
That's a shot you should never take, possibly resulting in an injury, so I left that one.
'After another two hours, we spot more stags on the hillside ahead.
'A huge stag steps towards us.
'But something spooks him and he vanishes.
(We were playing such a quiet game that they pretty much walked on top of us.)
We can try and crawl onto the edge, here.
'Six hours after we started hunting, we crawl to the crest of the hill
'and there before us is the perfect stag for the larder.'
(Oh my God, I can see it.)
(He's looking at us now.)
Do you see the one? The one on the right?
'Finally, I have got the chance of a clear shot.'
It's a clean kill.
Well done! Well done!
OK, we've done it. It's like a... HE EXHALES
Our deer has fallen on the other side of the hill, our stag.
I'm very pleased in the knowledge
that the bullet could not have gone in at a better place.
This animal died incredibly quickly.
You've got to make the effort to kill animals as cleanly as possible.
That's what we've done today. It's a good job.
You are going to feel in there and find the spleen...
'We gut the stag on the mountainside
'before Andrew comes to collect us and our quarry.'
Valentine Warner there, venturing into Jura's animal kingdom.
I have travelled north on my journey across Islay
to the banks of Loch Finlaggan,
heading to two tiny island which sit within the loch itself.
At first glance it may appear insignificant and forgotten,
but Finlaggan and its islands
once played host to some majestic visitors.
Despite its small stature and remote location, for over a century,
it was a power base as important as the Scottish throne.
Finlaggan was home to the Lords of the Isles,
the chiefs of clans covering the Hebrides
and much of the west coast of Scotland, who, in the 12th century,
combined their power to create a force independent of royal control.
It was these tiny islands within Loch Finlaggen that were the seat of that power.
The chiefs would sail to Islay by longboat
then they'd cross the loch from that boulder over there to a stone jetty on this side.
There are about 20 or so buildings on this island for the Lords
to stay in, but they travelled across to the smaller Council Isle,
where they would sign charters and settle disputes.
All the while they would be watched from the shore by a crowd of locals
who would gather, a bit like people do today
in the House of Commons, to see the great and the good
in the flesh and more importantly, to witness justice being done.
'The undisputed leader of these Lords was the head of the Clan MacDonald.
'The MacDonalds descended from a 12th Century Prince called Somerled,
'who returned to Islay and drove the Viking invaders out.
'This bravery and show of force secured not only Islay
'but the hereditary right to preside over the Lords of the Isles.'
It's in this chapel that the title Lord of the Isles
will be passed down from generation to generation.
Priests, bishops, clan leaders, would all gather in this tiny space.
The new McDonald leader will be dressed in white to symbolise
integrity of heart and the light with which he will guide his people.
In the climax to the ceremony,
the newly-installed leader stood in a footmark
on the reverse of this very stone,
quite literally following in the footsteps of his predecessors.
'Four lords held this title, and under them,
'peace and order ruled for over 100 years.
'When the 4th Lord of the Isles decided to go into battle
'with the Scottish crown, he was defeated and banished.
'It spelled the end of an era.'
The power of the Lord of the Isles may be long gone
but the name still lives on.
It passed into royal ownership and today the title
made great here is held by none other than the Prince of Wales.
Fascinating stories, but the island also boasts
a remarkable natural history,
as Bill Oddie discovered on a wild goose chase.
Right, then. I came here for wild geese
and today is the day that I am going to find them.
Barney's barnacle geese. GWFs, Greenland white-fronts
Should be able to find a couple of them, I think.
In fact, I have seen quite a few geese already.
And I do keep hearing them, too.
They talk about wild goose chase and I know why
because I've been chasing wild geese for 40-odd years.
And when you come to somewhere like this
and only got a couple of days, you have to promise yourself
that you're going to go away with some magic moments.
To be sure of that,
it's a good idea to get a little bit of local knowledge.
Right. This is the...
-All this is RSPB?
-That's right. This whole area.
'Actually, Dylan isn't really a local but he's been here so often
'he's become an honorary local.'
Right... Super close-up time.
What's the percentage of the world population of these birds?
I can never get my head round figures.
It's around 20% of the world population overwinter on Islay.
-Yeah, a significant proportion.
-Males and females absolutely identical?
-I certainly can't tell them apart!
-Presumably they can!
Feed, feed, feed. They have delicate little beaks
daintily plucking the juicy tops of the short grass.
And just now and again they have little bath break
to keep the feathers in good nick.
Having a good time, too. Must be cold.
'And the Greenland white-fronts - they feed in the longer grass
'and they tend to dig up the roots or pull them up.
'They've got bigger beaks to do that.'
It's a bit disappointing to those who've heard of white-fronted geese.
They expect it to be the whole front of the bird and it isn't.
It's just the forehead that's the white-front.
It should be white-foreheaded geese. How about that?
It makes more sense than barnacle goose, doesn't it?
Ah! Now, what is the story of that?
It's related to going back to olden days when people believed
that barnacle geese actually came out of the barnacles in winter.
Now, how they came to that conclusion...
There are a couple of North American species around
on Islay at the moment.
A genuine Canada goose from Canada, and a snow goose as well.
The Canada goose has been seen around this area,
but the snow goose is on the other side of the island.
-What's the Canada with?
-It has been hanging around with barnacle geese.
OK, well, let's have a scan through the barnacles.
If we go through them methodically.
Barnacle, barnacle, barnacle...
Hang on. Wait a minute.
At the end - on the right hand end of the flock, that's it.
-There's the Canada.
-You've got it?
Yeah. On the right hand there. Coming right out to the right hand end.
It keeps hiding behind tufts of grass.
-He's the right end bird.
-Oh, yeah, got you.
This one looks very similar to the sort of Canada geese
that I get on my local reservoir down in London,
but it's not tame,
it's with wild barnacles
and so, as sure as you even can be, a real Canada goose from Canada...
flying the Canadian flag.
'OK, and now let's see if we can find the snow goose. Now, snow goose...
'I wonder if that might be just a little bit easier to spot?'
'This bird probably bred in either eastern Canada
'or maybe in Greenland, there's just a few apparently nesting there now,
'but it thinks that it's a Greenland white-front because every year
'for the last few years it's come back to Islay to the same field!'
There are 40,000-odd geese on Islay.
I haven't seen that number. In fact, they are scattered around.
You don't see huge flocks.
If you want, though, the really, truly unforgettable spectacle
that Peter Scott experienced, you've got to go to a roost.
So, are they punctual, these geese?
Ha, I think they'll probably come in about 10.30pm,
just after we go to bed.
I would never have expected to come out at the edge of a salt marsh through there.
-That is great.
-Suddenly out in the open.
So...which direction do they come?
They could come in from both ends of the bay.
From this side and also from over there, beyond the woods,
because the reserve is on the other side of that area.
We should hear them before we see them, hopefully.
You can't help but go quiet, can you?
It wouldn't make any difference
but it's like a sort of act of worship or something.
Try and count down.
-You can hear them.
-Yeah, I can hear something.
Here they come!
QUACKING INCREASES IN VOLUME
They're going to do their whiffling drop.
-Oh, it's great, isn't it?
-From the sky.
It's another of those things. I don't even think we know why they do it.
It just looks like they enjoy it, don't they? Watch this, here I come!
-That's right. Yeah.
Let the wind...
It's their one chance to do something a bit exciting in a day
when they spend 90% of their time eating grass.
CACOPHONY OF QUACKING
That really is truly breathtaking.
I think it's something that, once in a lifetime,
everyone should experience. You don't have to be a birdwatcher.
But it isn't only the bird life that's lured back to Islay
time and time again.
The island also has a powerful draw for the people who live here.
People who have a special relationship with the landscape
and can't quite seem to resist the pull of its timeless charms.
I've come to the hills above Port Askaig to meet an artist
who's worked all over the world but who's been lured back to Islay,
drawing inspiration from the legends and landscapes that, for her,
make this little rock in the Atlantic Ocean such a special place.
Hey, Heather. How are you?
-Very well, thank you. Good.
-Nice to see you.
You've got quite a history here. I know you've lived away but what is your history here on Islay?
Well, I was born over there in that house
and I was brought up with Gaelic as my first language.
And I think that things like the old folk tales and things,
they were part of the oral tradition, which is what Gaelic really was.
An oral tradition.
Very little of it was written down in comparison to English.
And so the folk tales, I found them fascinating.
And this folklore, these sites, they still excite you
-and drive you on as an artist?
Is there any sense of how far back some of these tales go?
There was a well-known guy on Islay called John Francis Campbell
who collected a huge volume of old folk tales.
He discovered there were direct parallels with some of the Viking - the Norse - stories,
the Russian stories,
all these ones that went across Northern Europe.
And some of those are incredibly early so, yeah,
there is a big link but I'm not sure how the link has been formed.
But it suggests some movement of people, stories, communications.
-This interweaving of different cultures.
-Yes. There's that
but also, I'm wondering whether it's also to do with archetypes,
so you end up with similar types of stories.
-There are only so many good stories?
-Well, yes. And so many good morals.
While we're here, it's obviously close to home
but what significance does this site have?
Things like the giantess that lived on Jura.
Over there, on the Paps over there,
the left-hand pap has got a sort of "Y" scraped out.
And this giantess, on one of her many exploits,
was chasing some young man and tripped and fell
and that's the mark she made.
The water horse, which is another of these tales, I did a series on that.
I'm not familiar with that. What's the story there?
The story is, at a lot of lochs in Scotland, there's reputed to be
a water horse that lives in them
and he was an agent of the devil and he lured travellers into the loch,
drowned them, devil got the soul and he got the body.
But those were the kind of stories I really enjoyed.
And, as an artist, do you think, on this island,
you could ever run out of those sites?
Never. Because it's endless. It is, really.
And it's not just former residents like Heather that are attracted
to Islay as I'll be discovering on the final stop of my island journey.
I'm about to meet a chef who's been drawn here from half way across
the world and now he's seeking out the local produce that inspires him.
But first, if you're heading out in the next seven days,
you'll need the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
I'm in the Inner Hebrides on a journey across Islay. I started
at Kilchiaran discovering the stories
of the shipwrecks on this busy coast.
Moving east to Bowmore, I learned how the island's Gaelic choir
is winning awards and helping bring a declining language back to life.
Then I headed north, to Finlaggan,
once the heart of power in western Scotland,
before travelling to the hills above Port Askaig to meet
an artist immersed in the landscape and legends of this magical isle.
Now I'm heading down to the port itself to meet a chef
from halfway around the world, drawing his inspiration from Islay's local produce.
-Hi, Ranga, I'm Joe.
-Hi, Joe. Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
I know you're a chef, so I expected to find you slaving over a hot stove.
What are we doing down here at the quayside?
I came in to see any of my boys, getting our catch of the day.
Hopefully it's going to be the langoustines
and we'll wait for the good stuff to come and we'll get them.
I'm curious. What are the challenges being a chef in a place like Islay?
It's quite seasonal and I use the seasonal ingredients.
And nothing gets better than what we get from here.
-It's all fresh from the sea, from the land and everything. From the farm.
When you say seasonal, you're reliant on what can be sourced and found locally, are you?
Yes, of course. Our langoustines, lobsters, oysters, vegetables, meat.
Everything. We source everything from locally, most of the time,
when it is available.
So there's a lot of cattle and sheep on the island.
Of course, fresh meat, as well.
Straight from the farmer, it goes to the butcher, then gets sold to me.
There is no middle man to deal with.
I suppose you have the best of both worlds. Regular ferries with stuff you can't get on the island
but you also get the fresh local produce.
Yes, that's the advantage here in Islay.
We get the freshest produce from here
and top it up with produce from the mainland.
Trained in Madras, Ranga worked at a chef at some
of Southern India's most exclusive resorts before he decided to swap
it all for a life a continent away, on this secluded Scottish island.
I know you were a chef in India and you wanted to come to the UK,
but you could have gone anywhere at all.
Why did you end up here?
I just applied on my website in India, I got the job offer
from here, and I took it and came here.
It was quite different for me at first.
I didn't realise it would be so remote.
-But it's a great place to work, a great community.
-I find that funny
because you could have gone anywhere. You come here
and you didn't real realise how remote it was going to be.
Yes, yes. Of course. That's true. It's so remote.
-I came at the height of winter, and I thought about going back.
But I made a brave decision and stayed on and I'm here now.
So what were your first impressions, coming over?
-The wind and rain coming at you?
It was a typical winter's day, blowing at gale force
and landing up here, I wondered if I had landed or it was a plane crash, or what.
But it's a good place to live and a good place to work.
A few moments ago, I noticed a boat go behind us.
Is that your guys but shall we go and take a look at what's come in?
Aye. It shall be our guys.
We can go and check out what they have got in the boat.
It might be the catch of the day, and should be langoustines, hopefully.
-Let's go across.
-Are these your guys?
-Yes. They are my guys.
Hi, guys. I think we're looking for some langoustine.
-Have you been out this morning? What have you got?
-Yeah, we have.
We've got some here for you.
-How's that, Ranga?
-That's nice, aye.
-So, how long are they?
About nine or ten inches long, are they?
-I could take one out to show you if you like.
-Yeah, let's have a look.
-Check the quality, eh?
Brilliant. Make sure I don't drop him.
This is bigger than those in a supermarket.
-Is this a specimen langoustine?
-Aye, that's quite a good one.
But you will see quite a lot of bigger ones than you'll see in the supermarket.
Ones in the supermarket are very small.
Why is that? Do many of them go abroad?
-Yeah. Most of the bigger ones go abroad.
-Because of more demand?
-There's just more demand.
I think more people eat shellfish out there
than they do in Britain, which is a shame.
It would be better if more of our catch was kept at home rather than sent abroad, but that's just...
Everyone's got the idea of the Spanish seafood platter you get
but it'll be up to 80% Scottish produce that will be on it.
-And just how much of your stuff does go abroad?
-Probably about 80%, yeah.
Really? That much?
Yeah, and then maybe 20% will be kept on the island.
Definitely, there's none of my catch will go anywhere else in Scotland.
Only on Isla or away to Spain.
A lovely day for it.
Do you have to go out far today or can you stay in a bit closer?
Och, we're working just south of Jura just now,
so it's maybe seven or eight miles away from here.
-Wow, it doesn't get much more local than that, then, does it?
Not at all, that's it.
People always seem to be talking about food miles and where food is sourced from.
This couldn't be any more fresh and local, could it?
Better where possible that it's nearer to us. That's the best one.
-Even the sourcing is helping us a great deal in the quality of the food.
It's wonderful fresh produce, you know exactly where it's come from
and who's pulled it out of the sea. This must be one of the advantages of being an island chef.
Yes. It's some of the best produce and when you get that delivered
-to your door, you are happier cooking them.
-It's very nice.
-So you wouldn't swap for some fancy London restaurant?
-You're happy enough here, knowing where you get this food from?
No, I'm happy.
As a chef, wherever you work, you look for fresh produce
and that's what I'm getting here.
There is no chance of swapping and I'm happy with what I'm getting here.
-I'm more than happy.
Ranga, I'm hoping that if I hand that back to the guys, and those langoustine make it up to the hotel
-maybe I can have a taste, see what you're on about?
-Surely, you can taste the best.
-Very good. Thanks, guys.
-See you later.
Travelling around this small Scottish island
has been an unforgettable experience.
I've discovered a landscape both beautiful and breathtaking.
But for me it's the human stories, both old and new,
that make Islay a truly unique place.
And what a way to finish my journey - fresh langoustine,
eaten by the water's edge.
I really am being a bit spoilt.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Joe Crowley travels west from the mainland of Scotland to the Isle of Islay, 'Queen of the Hebrides'. Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides and has lots to offer the intrepid traveller.
Joe learns of shipwrecks, visits the historic meeting place of the Lords of the Isles, hears a Gaelic choir and tastes some of Islay's finest local produce.