Joe Crowley enjoys a journey through some of Scotland's most epic scenery. Joe starts at Glen Coe, exploring the West Highland way, and kayaks on the Falls of Lora.
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Hello. Today, I am on a journey on the West Coast of Scotland,
where the lowlands meet the Highlands in Argyll and Bute.
I'm starting my journey
near Altnafeadh in the Highlands,
discovering how stepping off the West Highland Way reveals
a hidden world of beauty beyond the beaten track.
Well, it can be absolutely amazing.
It can be the best day of your life.
From up there, everyday life no longer exists.
Then I'll head down into Glencoe,
where the bloody events of 400 years ago still resonate today.
Moving just a couple of miles along the valley,
I'll come face-to-face with a modern-day scourge of Scotland - the midge.
And one woman's bid to fight back against this feisty foe.
So on a good day, or a bad day, if you are staying at this campsite,
-how full would this get?
-It could get completely full.
We could get up to 1 kilo of midges, which is about 2 million midges over a single night.
-A single night!
I will head south for an exhilarating experience
near Connel at the tidal cascade known as the Falls of Lora.
-What's ahead of us?
-Oh, some rather interesting water
which, if we don't get the amount of edging right,
will result in a certain amount of getting very wet.
Before finishing my journey at Ardmaddy Castle with an initiation into the art of warfare.
Yeah. I'll take that!
And along the way, I will be looking back
at the best of the BBC's rural programmes from this part of the world.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
Argyll and Bute covers much of the West Coast of Scotland,
as well as the chain of islands known as the Inner Hebrides.
It was one of the first areas to be settled
by those travelling over from Ireland sometime around the sixth century,
and is a land of breathtaking beauty.
The mainland alone boasts over 185 miles of coastline,
but today, this area is more famous as a gateway to the Highlands,
attracting over 2 million tourists a year,
including many walkers drawn here by this mountainous landscape.
And it's amongst these hills that I'm starting my journey.
Now, when it comes to walking up the Highland hills or mountains,
I don't have a huge amount of experience.
But thankfully, the guy that I'm about to meet
is a man who has quite literally written the book on it.
He's going to take me on a walk with a fearsome name.
But he assures me it is not as bad as it sounds.
I'm heading to the foot of the Devil's Staircase,
part of the hugely popular West Highland Way,
to meet Ronald Turnbull, the man who has written guides
to many of the major routes and who knows the history of these hills inside out.
-Good to see you. Thanks for coming to meet me.
-Shall we get started?
Ronald, Devil's Staircase is quite an intimidating name.
-Why is it called that?
-It's a wonderful name, isn't it?
The name was given to it by the soldiers who built it.
The path was built in 1745 after Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion.
They built hundreds of miles of paths - roads, they called them,
they were wider than this is now - all over the Highlands
as a way of pacifying the Highlands after the rebellion.
And what was it they hated so much about this stretch that they gave it such an austere name?
The soldiers, you have to think of them,
they got sixpence a day extra for the work of building these roads. I don't think it was worth it.
They had no midge repellents, they had awful boots. You have to think about things like that.
You have lovely modern boots here.
Their boots fell to pieces after 400 miles.
When Bonnie Prince Charlie was marching his army into England,
every 300 miles, he had to hold townspeople to ransom
for 1,000 pairs of shoes because they'd fallen to pieces.
They were living up here in tents, days, even weeks on end,
in tents that didn't keep the water out.
In clothes that didn't keep the water out, bitten by midges,
and their work was hauling boulders and gravel and wheelbarrows up here.
So...it's a bit surprising they didn't call the whole path the Devil's Footpath!
Pretty miserable existence. But I'm pleased they persevered, anyway.
It's a good path.
But the Devil's Staircase is just one small part of the 96-mile West Highland Way
that stretches from the outskirts of Glasgow in the south
through to Fort William in the north.
And how many walkers would come and do this route in a year?
Officially, the figure is about 10,000.
-That is significant, isn't it?
-It is a huge number of people.
If you come here on a morning when the ones who start it on a Saturday from Glasgow
are all coming through together, it will be one group of people behind the other.
All the way along the path.
You can walk down the path and past 200 people in an hour, sometimes.
Despite the popularity of this route, Ronald is encouraging walkers
to leave all this behind and go off the beaten track to see the beauty of these mountains
from a different angle.
So, this is so popular,
why would you write a book about the West Highland Way?
Well, for some people, including myself,
it's quite frustrating to be walking in a beautiful woodland path by rivers and all that
but in the bottom of the glen, looking up at all these wonderful mountains.
So the point of the book is that on each day of the walk,
if you are feeling adventurous, you can go high
and actually experience the top level, rather than the bottom level.
And how rewarding can it be if you stray off the path and get a bit of that height?
Well, it can be absolutely amazing. It can be the best day of your life.
On the other hand, it can be the worst day of your life,
very easily, it can be the worst day of your life,
when the rain is pouring down, and then somehow, paradoxically,
it even can be both at once.
When you are battling against the wind
and the rain is coming in here, and out at the bottom...
And, there is a sort of strange happiness that creeps over you
when you know that you are strong enough to cope with this.
Share with me a sense of the vista that you see from the top of these mountains.
There's this stretch here, the Black Mount, we have just seen the northern end of it there.
It's six miles of high-level ridge, way up above Rannoch Moor.
From there, you're looking right across the width of the moor.
You are seeing mountains which are 40 and 50 miles away on a clear day.
And you see all the small lakes down there, sparkling away in the sunlight.
And the miles and miles of heather.
The chances are that you will see deer, certainly more deer than people up there.
And when you are up there, when you hit the heights of these mountains,
how removed to you feel from everyday life?
Well, everyday life no longer exists. Especially if you spend the night up here.
Almost invariably, I sleep on the top of a hill if I possibly can
because it is so beautiful at sunset and in the morning.
It is the best time of the day. Most people, you know, they start at 9am and they get down again at 5pm.
So that is work, 9 till 5 -
but actually, before 9am and after 5pm
is the time when it is really wonderful in the hills.
Not just that there's nobody else there, but the light is amazing.
It is beautiful at that time of day, and the wildlife comes out as well.
It's clear you've got the bug and there is no chance of you losing it.
When I lose my legs, I suppose I'll lose it. Not until then.
When Ben Fogle came here on his West Coast journey,
he took to the roads, searching out the places that made Western Scotland special to him.
Between Fort William and Mallaig in the Highlands of Scotland
is a wild and spectacular landscape, full of high mountains,
deep lochs and stunning, unspoiled coastline.
It's a landscape steeped in history and legend,
with stories of exiled kings, of secret agents and hidden gold.
And even monsters of the deep.
And linking all of this history and landscape,
is the world-famous Road to the Isles.
That's the name given to the A830.
The 44-mile stretch of road
that runs from Fort William in the east to the fishing port of Mallaig in the West.
It's one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
But most people just whip along it to catch the Skye ferry.
Not me, however. I'm going to be taking it nice and leisurely,
stopping along the way to learn more about the charms of the road.
Right from the outset, this journey impresses.
That massive bulk rearing up behind is Ben Nevis.
At more than 4,400 feet, it's the UK's highest mountain.
'But I'm not stopping, as I'm off to see something
'that to Scottish folk is even more significant -
'the Glenfinnan Monument.
'It was here in August 1745
'that Bonnie Prince Charlie stood before his army of 1,200 men
'with plans to take back the British crown for the Stuarts.'
And it was on that spot that he planted his standard.
Or was it?
Iain Thornber is a historian whose research
on Bonnie Prince Charlie has thrown this into doubt.
So, was this the spot that Bonnie Prince Charlie
raised his standard, or wasn't it?
Well, he certainly raised his standard at the head of Loch Shiel.
But where is a matter of some debate.
He was here to reclaim the Crown.
But talk me through the scene. What would it have been like here?
When he arrived he was very disappointed,
because he was expecting thousands of clansmen
to be waiting for him here, because he had sent word in advance
that he was going to be raising the standard.
But when he arrived, in fact,
there were only 200 or 300 local people standing around.
And then he waited, and eventually they heard the pipes
from up on the glen behind us and then the Camerons appeared, 800 of them.
I have to ask, what is this sword you've got in your hand?
This is a basket-hilted claymore, and it was made about 1727,
and was actually carried here at Glenfinnan in 1745.
-See these grooves running down the blade?
These are called fullers, F-U-L-L-E-R-S.
And this was intended to lighten the blade,
otherwise it would have been top-heavy.
-Can I feel how...?
It's remarkably well-balanced, isn't it?
I thought it was going to go straight down, but...
It is very light. If you were swinging it the whole day, you wouldn't get tired.
So this actually saw battle, this would have killed people?
Yes, yes, as far as I know, and I have no reason to doubt it,
it was actually used at the Battle of Culloden as well.
So it may have killed a few Englishmen.
So, if the monument doesn't mark the spot,
where exactly did Bonnie Prince Charlie raise his standard?
Well, 20 years ago, a scrub fire a quarter of a mile away
revealed an interesting inscription.
-Looks Latin to me, I'm not very good. Can you translate?
It says, "In 1745, in the name of the Lord,
"the standards of Charles Edward Stuart,
"triumphing at last, were erected."
So basically insinuating that this was the place
-that Bonnie Prince Charlie erected the standard.
And to me, it is the preferred place
because it's on an elevated position,
rather than down on the plain at the head of the loch.
There are amazing views behind.
Indeed, that glen above the viaduct,
obviously the viaduct wasn't there in these days,
that's where the Camerons came down.
They heard the pipers, they could see them coming down the hillside.
They come across to here, and this is where they gathered.
-Where do we think the staff would have been raised?
-We've got this indication here,
there's an arrow with the numerals IV, meaning four.
And if you start pacing from the point of the arrow,
see where it takes you.
One, two, three, four. Into this little pit.
Into this depression here which was obviously carved out.
When the inscriptions were revealed,
there was a round stone in here with a hole in it.
Obviously, that is where the staff was put.
Having followed in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie,
it's time for me and Iain to travel a further nine miles up the road
to Lochailort, where the most famous fighting unit of them all began.
Believe it or not, we're looking at the birthplace of the commandos.
-The commandos, as in the SAS? Special forces?
It was called the special training centre.
What would this building have been used for?
This building was the camp canteen and also the cinema.
-Remember, there were 3,500 troops stationed here.
-All around here?
Yes, they were in Nissen huts and tents.
Getting them used to the hardy conditions.
Absolutely, because they then had to go out and climb the hills
and live under extreme conditions.
We're looking out here to these two buildings,
these were the ammunition sheds.
They were heavily protected, with bars on the windows
because they also doubled up as the cells.
Beyond that, you see, there's a gully going up
and it's still now called Snipers' Valley.
Snipers' Valley, up here in Scotland.
Because the detachments had to crawl up there on their tummy.
On either side there were people with machine guns, using live ammunition,
so they really had to keep their heads down.
So obviously, the commandos were the birth of whole new form of warfare, really.
Yes, at the outset of the war,
Churchill was very concerned to get small groups of men
who could go in and do the maximum amount of damage.
He had difficulty selling it to the government,
because some of them said, "That's not cricket."
He replied, "Hitler is not going to be playing cricket!"
And this, presumably, was where they were billeted.
Yes, this is in Inverailort House,
or Inverailort Castle, as it became known,
which was requisitioned by Lord Lovat in 1940.
And the owner had no idea what was going to happen,
and suddenly one day she got a telegram saying,
"Your house and estate is requisitioned, don't bother coming back."
It was a terrible shock to her.
There were many well-known people stationed here during the war.
But undoubtedly, the most famous of them all was actor David Niven.
Pictured here with an impressive haul of fish,
in these never before seen photographs.
One of the escapades he was involved with, and I think also enjoyed,
was trying to get some salmon out of the river to feed the locals and the troops.
They were using hand grenades and nets.
We've got some lovely photographs of all this happening.
From Lochailort, the A830 starts to twist and turn
as the landscape becomes wilder.
It takes you past pine-covered islands and wide open sea lochs.
Like Loch nan Uamh,
where Bonnie Prince Charlie left for France after the Battle of Culloden,
and which looks pretty much the same as it did back then.
It's well worth taking time to sit and take in the silence
and the unspoiled beauty of this landscape.
Now, there's a spot just off the road that you simply have to see.
It's one of my favourite stops
and never fails to stun me with its sheer beauty.
These are the world-famous Silver Sands of Morar,
and to find out what makes them that colour,
I'm meeting up with local geologist David Bird.
So, David, what I want to know is, why this sand is so white
and so light.
-It is, yes.
The sand here is, like all sand, made of quartz grains.
Quartz is a very resistant mineral,
it doesn't get broken down as easily as some of the minerals
in the rock, especially the ones which give it a dark grey colour.
They're broken down by the water.
And it leaves the quartz grains behind,
and the quartz grains are this lovely white colour.
So why does the sand here differ from the sand we get in England?
The sand you get elsewhere is that lovely golden colour.
That's derived from pre-existing sandstone
that's been worked by rivers or glaciers, and in these sandstones,
the quartz is usually bound together by calcite
or some iron mineral which gives it its rusty golden brown colour.
This sand here is derived from these rocks.
The sand grades are almost entirely quartz.
There's a little bit of mica in them as well, and it's very reflective.
If you catch this sand in the sunlight, it seems to sparkle.
That's where we got the name the Silver Sands of Morar.
Even on a cloudy day like this, the scenery is quite breathtaking.
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Caribbean,
with the white sand, the clear blue water and the odd yacht.
It's hard to tear yourself away,
but I've still got a few miles left to drive before my journey's end.
Oh! So, here I am at the end of the road in Mallaig.
It has to be said, that 40 odd miles from Fort William
must be one of the most beautiful, not only in the British Isles,
but possibly in the world.
And for many, Mallaig isn't the end of the road but the beginning.
It's from here that you catch the ferries to the small Isles,
and like this one just departing, to Skye.
My journey's taking me into Glencoe,
a beautiful vista
which formed the backdrop to a very bloody event
in the Highlands' history.
In an imposing and dramatic landscape like this,
it's quite easy to get a sense of history.
Generation after generation looked up at these walls of rock
on either side.
It was MacDonald clan that settled in the glen and farmed this land.
And today, their name is still associated with Glencoe
and famously, the day that so many of their number
were massacred back in 1692.
The Protestant William of Orange had just taken to the Scottish throne,
as Catholic James VII fled.
Fearing an uprising from the so-called Jacobites,
still loyal to the ousted king,
a decree was sent out to all the clans.
They must sign an oath of allegiance to William
and his wife, Mary, by 1 January 1692,
or be considered traitors
and punished with the utmost extremity.
No-one knows when that decree reached Glencoe,
but the chief of the clan set out from here on 29th December
with just two days until the deadline.
Travelling conditions were tough. There was thick snow on the ground.
He eventually signed the oath of allegiance two days late.
Even so, he returned here believing his clan was safe.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The authorities in Edinburgh
decided to make an example of the MacDonalds,
to strike fear into the hearts of other Jacobite sympathisers.
When 120 redcoat soldiers arrived in Glencoe,
asking for food and board,
the clan put them up, in accordance with the Highland code,
which demanded hospitality be provided
to any people passing through.
What neither the MacDonalds nor the troops themselves knew
was that the reason they had arrived was to wipe out the clan completely.
The troops stayed with the MacDonalds for 12 days,
sharing their houses and their food.
Then, at 5am on 13 February 1692,
Captain Robert Campbell shared his orders.
That on his mark, the troops were to kill their hosts as they slept.
The MacDonalds numbered about 600.
The soldiers' orders were that no-one was to be left alive.
At signal rock in the west, a fire was lit,
giving the go-ahead for the slaughter to begin.
Then all the way up the valley, as soldiers saw that sign,
they set about their bloody business.
In the moments that followed, the clan chief was shot in the back,
reports tell of a young boy begging for his life,
and people were tied up and executed.
But the wholesale slaughter didn't go exactly to plan.
Only 38 MacDonalds died here.
It's thought many of the soldiers were appalled by what they had been asked to do
and had no appetite for this cold-blooded killing of their hosts,
some of whom were warned in advance
and given a chance to flee before the bloodshed started.
For those MacDonalds who were warned and fled the massacre,
knowing these hills and retreating to a spot
where the army couldn't find them saved their lives.
Julia Bradbury followed in their footsteps to discover
the hidden valley that offered them a safe haven.
On a rainy day like today, it's easy to identify
with its history of clan warfare
and the infamous massacre of 1692.
This is where the familiar story of the MacDonald clan took place.
38 members of the clan were murdered
by their treacherous neighbours, the Campbells.
And so Victorians would flock here to soak up the morbid atmosphere.
The south side of the valley is bordered by the majestic mountains
known as the Three Sisters.
And they conceal a secret chapter in the story of the massacre.
On that cold February night,
running from the sound of gunfire,
some of the MacDonald clan fled here and began to climb.
I'm following their route into the mist.
Certainly a wild and windy day!
'It isn't the easiest path.'
Not sure how we're going to get over this.
'But the place I'm heading for has a long history and many names.'
This place is known as the Hanging Valley,
the Lost Valley, the Valley of Capture and the Hidden Valley.
It is pretty difficult to find!
'The very inaccessibility of this place
'is why it's managed to stay so secret.'
It's a tough old scramble,
and generally I find the better the scramble, the better the reward.
'And finally I find the special place the MacDonalds were heading for on that cold night
'more than 300 years ago.'
And there she is - the Hidden Valley.
Looking very moody under the mist.
Definitely worth the climb.
'Invisible from the glen, this flat valley floor is entirely unexpected.
'The treacherous climb to this valley
was the MacDonalds' only hope.
'It was their secret refuge.
'Somewhere they knew they'd be safe.
'Today, it's a peaceful place.
'A part of Glencoe you can have entirely to yourself.'
Glencoe's secret hideaway.
Well, I've travelled just another mile down the glen
to the Red Squirrel campsite.
But I'm not here to spend the night under canvas.
I'm here tracking down a bloodsucking carnivore.
The creatures I'm interested in blight many a visit north of the border.
And leading me to them is expert Dr Alison Blackwell.
So, Alison, basically you spend your life
trying to find what most people are trying to avoid - midges.
That's right. I mean, we make a living of tracking midges,
finding out about how they interact with the environment,
whereas most people want to keep away from them.
Yeah. I know nothing about them at all. I've seen them and know they're very, very small.
What are they and why are they such a pest?
They're tiny biting flies. Just like any fly, they've got
two pairs of wings, six legs. It's the females that bite.
They need a blood-meal to mature their eggs. The males are nice.
They just sugar-feed on plant nectar, so they don't harm you at all.
So, every time you feel a bite, it's a female and you're basically
-contributing to the continuation of the midge species?
The Highland midge, which is the one that bites most people, is really clever
in the fact that it can lay its first batch of eggs without taking blood-meal.
It uses its own fat reserves to mature its eggs.
But every subsequent egg batch has to have blood-meal.
They have two cycles every year,
so we have two big batches of midges occurring in Scotland -
beginning of the summer and then halfway through.
And they spend the winter time in the soil as larvae,
just a few centimetres below the soil surface
where they act as mini-earthworms,
helping break down decaying organic matter.
It's always Scotland in my mind that we associate with midges.
Is that fair? Are they all over the country, really?
Midges occur everywhere in the UK, almost everywhere in the world.
Scotland has a great habitat and they love breeding in damp, acidic soil which we have here.
And we've got vast areas -
uninhabited area for them to breed in.
They're absolutely tiny. So why are they so painful?
Why do they irritate so much?
Partly because they are so small, you don't notice them biting you.
But also they have a different way of biting you than mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes kind of inject their mouthparts into your blood capillaries and suck,
and it's relatively painless until you start reacting.
Midges are bit more primitive and they have a set of shearing scissors as mouthparts
and they cut a hole in your skin
which creates a pool of blood which they then feed from.
And that biting itself can be very painful.
And then, as they feed, they pump in saliva to keep your blood flowing.
And our body reacts to that saliva, and that's why some of us
come up in big, red lumps and itch for days afterwards.
Just how to combat these critters
has left experts scratching their heads -
not to mention their arms and legs - for generations.
But now Alison's able to forecast exactly where
the miserable midges are going to be,
by enlisting the help of a neat gadget.
Right, so here we are. But what is it?
It's a midge trap, and we use them across Scotland to help us
monitor midge numbers and help with our online midge forecast.
OK. I mean, it looks like a tiny patio heater or something.
How does it work?
It's very similar to a patio heater in the fact that it burns propane gas to produce carbon dioxide.
CO2 in our breath can be detected by midges from about 200 metres away.
-200 metres away, in every direction? That's incredible.
-Every direction. So, the trap produces CO2.
It comes out of the top of the trap here, and as it comes out it gets warmed up
to body temperature and also it passes over some smelly attractants
that makes the CO2 smell like the kind of odour that a cow would produce, basically.
-And we've got flashing lights in it as well,
which add to the attractiveness of the trap.
They're actually starting to swarm now, I can see a few of them, so where's the smelly cow bit?
Smelly cow goes in the top - comes off like this, and if you...
-That's it, there?
-..Place your nose there...
-Oh yeah, wow.
-It's kind of like rotting mushrooms.
-It is mushroomy!
OK, yeah. And suddenly they're all around us.
We're standing in the worst place now, we're giving them extra,
we're telling them there is a free meal here.
Exactly. Each trap represents about four-cows-worth of CO2.
Wow, four cows, that's quite a lot of CO2.
So, they get sucked in and where do they end up?
They end up down here in a collecting tray which comes out,
and they get collected in the bottom.
OK, so not many there at the moment, why's that?
This has just been set up and normally we'd put some
water in which would help drown the midges.
So on a good day, or a bad day if you're staying at this campsite,
just how full would this get?
It could get completely full, we can get up to a kilo of midges
which is about two million midges over a single night.
In a single night? That is staggering!
OK, so you've got all this,
you've collected two million midges in a night,
how does that help with the midge forecast?
What we're doing with the midge forecast
is trying to help people out and about plan their days
around what the midges are going to be like.
So very much like the pollen forecast,
we do a prediction of midge risk from one to five.
Um, for nearly every town in Scotland on a seven-day basis.
The forecast runs on a set of models,
but we need live data from traps like this to help us
verify our model output and modify it if we need to.
OK. And the good news or bad news for Glencoe,
where does this fall on the midge scale of things?
Um, Glencoe is often right at the top of our scale -
a nice, big, red five is not uncommon.
At the minute, it's a kind of five/four -
the nice warm weather recently has bumped the numbers up.
Really? So there's a little swarm on the way is there?
-I think so.
-Oh, OK! Well, I hate the idea that this thing is working hard
and I'm holding the basket in my hand
so all the midges are escaping again so will we put this back on?
-We'll let it do its job.
Thanks to Alison's forecast, more tourists might make it
out of Scotland without the tell-tale sign of a midge bite.
When Neil Oliver came to this part of the world,
he found that working here can also leave its mark
when he visited Glensanda on the banks of Loch Linnhe.
The entrance to the loch is guarded by Glensanda Castle,
once home to the MacLean clan,
descendants of the Vikings who roamed these waterways.
A thousand years ago,
the islands of the west coast were ruled by Vikings.
More Norwegian than Scottish.
In fact, the name of this place -
Glensanda - is old Norse and it means the glen of the sandy river.
But it's not the sand that's drawn me here, it's the rock.
This tanker is about to be loaded with 85,000 tonnes of granite
from Europe's biggest super quarry.
It's the rock that will make the roads of Britain roll.
It's quite terrifying actually. Just the sheer mass of it.
It's just a big, steel cliff.
Glensanda Quarry sits at the mouth of the Great Glen Fault -
an area rich in granite.
Although the quarry's on the mainland,
it might as well be an island.
You can't get here by road because there aren't any,
but who needs roads when you have the sea
and water deep enough for huge ships?
Europe's biggest super quarry relies on the coast.
Rock and machinery all come and go by sea -
a challenge for deputy manager, David Lamb.
-Hello, Neil, welcome to Glensanda. Nice to meet you.
-That was all very exciting with the boat.
-It certainly was.
-So where does it all happen?
-It all starts at the top of the hill, basically at the top of the mountain.
It's 2,000 feet from sea level to summit,
but suddenly I get the full picture.
Well, from here you really do get a sense of super quarry!
You certainly do, it's a big hole, isn't it?
How much of the mountain have you already taken away?
Out of this area we've already taken 100 million tonnes.
And how much remains to be taken?
There's still almost 800 million tonnes left to go.
So you're kind of scratching the surface at the moment?
A big scratch but only a scratch so far.
-Can we go and blow things up?
-We certainly can, Neil, come on.
100 million tonnes of rock extracted in 20 years.
Now, with 18 tonnes of explosive primed,
I'm about to see how they do it.
-Pretty impressive, isn't it?
-Can we do that again?
-If you're happy to wait another few days, yes!
It's the way it's just the slow motion ripple...
Where does all this material go? I mean, who uses it?
A lot of the rock goes into road-building -
into construction, sub bases for roads, your motorways,
almost all the rock for the English side of the Channel Tunnel
was supplied from Glensanda.
The granite here is hard enough to withstand the pounding of trucks
and trains under our roads and railways,
but what's really special is this quarry's coastal location.
The rock's crushed,
graded and washed before it even gets to the quayside.
There, it's loaded onto huge ships to be sent anywhere in the world.
The rock might not stay around long
but the workers can sometimes stay here for weeks on end.
At least they've got some big toys to play with!
It's like Jurassic Park in here.
-Do you like it here?
-Yes, very nice.
-Why? Is it the big toys?
-Big toys and the views on a good day.
-The views on a good day are nice.
-How much do you pay for a set of tyres on them?
-8,000 a tyre.
So 32,000 for four tyres.
-So, it's not the sort of vehicle you keep for a hobby, is it?
It kind of feels like the wild west out here. It's like Frontier Town.
You get used to it. You get used to it.
Hardworking lifestyles are nothing new on the west coast,
but this machinery is new - it's on a whole different scale.
New connections to the wider world are changing these communities.
Neil Oliver there, having quite a blast.
On my journey along the west coast of Scotland,
I've headed south to the village of Connel...
..and the natural wonder of the Falls of Lora.
The Falls of Lora are a tidal cascade and when they're in full flow
they provide the ultimate ride for thrill-seeking kayakers
who surf the waves created by these unique currents,
risking wipe-out in the swirling undertow.
I'm heading down to the water's edge to experience the power of the Falls for myself,
putting my safety in the hands of kayak instructor, Tony Hammock.
So this is the Falls of Lora - what are we looking at,
where's all this water coming from?
OK, Falls of Lora is a tidal overflow
at the mouth of Loch Etive, which is about 16 miles long.
And there's about 30 square km of water out there
and every time the tide goes up and down, the sea tries to fill it up
and it can't because this entrance here is only 300m wide.
This is basically a bottleneck and that's what's making the water rush through?
That's right, yeah, and when the tide level in the sea drops,
the water tries to pour out of Loch Etive
but it can't keep up so as - this hand's the sea, this is Loch Etive -
as the sea drops, the water pours out
through this constriction creating the gradient.
The tide outside drops, the whole thing drops,
and then you get to low water outside in the sea
and Loch Etive hasn't caught up yet,
so the sea level outside starts to rise again,
but the water is still pouring out of Loch Etive.
Eventually you get to the same level, the sea's rising outside,
the water pours back into Loch Etive,
the whole thing goes up and up
and when you get to the high tide in the sea,
Loch Etive still hasn't got there
so you've still got this current pouring out.
And as it pours over the rock shelf and hits the slower water,
it creates the hydraulic jump - the waves.
That's the Falls, isn't it, as it goes over that rock shelf?
This is actually really tame today. This is just an average tide.
When you get the big spring tides
when the sun and the moon are in line
at the spring and summer equinoxes,
the range is more than double what it is today.
You get about a four metre range. An astronomical amount of water.
Wow. And it's all power... Do you get big waves then?
Yeah, over by the north bridge pier,
over there, you get waves about one and half metres high that break.
When it's really big, it's pretty scary in a sea kayak.
We do go out there.
You get experts turning up and we go out and play with them.
-We usually get a good thrashing, actually.
Now, I'm a bit of a novice,
so a day like today - is that going to be OK for me?
With your expert guidance, of course.
-Hopefully. There we go.
There's the element of jeopardy, in-built.
Yeah, we'll see how it goes.
'Now, I'm not the most experienced kayaker in the world,
'so even with these lower summer tides,
'it'd be dangerous for me to go out there alone.
'Fortunately, though, Tony is going to be my guide in a two man kayak,
'but even so,
'I've got my work cut out to avoid capsizing
'in these treacherous currents.'
Right, then, Joe. Are you ready for this?
-For your Falls of Lora experience?
-Yeah, it feels quite stable.
-Well, that's deceptive.
-It's nice to be out on the water.
-It'll be stable if we paddle it right.
-So, what's ahead of us?
Some rather interesting water which,
if we don't get the amount of edging right,
will result in a certain amount of getting very wet.
Tony, how fast is the water going up here, where it rushes across?
Today, it's probably doing seven or eight knots.
On the really big tides, it's more like 12.
It absolutely hurtles through here.
So, here we go. What do we do here?
OK, when I say, right knee up. Three, two, one, go.
OK, edge a bit, now. Whoa!
There we go. And this time, we're right out in the current.
Suddenly, you see the bridge moving over the top of you
-and realise how fast you're going.
-You don't get a feeling of speed
until you look at the shore going past.
It feels like we're standing still, but we're whizzing along.
OK, let's get some power on for the tide of the rapid, here.
-Big whirlpool on your right.
-It was a whirlpool, wasn't it?
Here we go. It's a bit choppy.
I tell you, that's fantastic.
It's much harder to paddle in the moving water.
You've got to put your arms into it.
It's like paddling in treacle, isn't it?
Great experience, though.
'When Matt Baker visited here,
'he headed north into Loch Etive itself,
'taking a more leisurely voyage
'through what was once known as the gateway to the Highlands.'
'We might call it a loch,
'but this narrow tongue of water is actually a spectacular fjord.'
Loch Etive in Gaelic translates as little, ugly one.
That's not entirely accurate.
'Today, the loch is deserted.
'A well-kept secret among locals and the kayakers
'for whom it's on the list of the best places to paddle in Scotland.
'Marine scientist Mark Carter has lived here for 12 years
'and he's taking me on a tour.'
'The best way to explore Etive's riches is from the water.'
So, Loch Etive, it's a sea loch, isn't it?
Yeah, I mean, down at Connel and Dunstaffnage,
it's joined into open ocean,
so from there, you can go right round the world.
The area's really very special.
We're at both the northern and the southern limits of species.
We've got the Gulf Stream offshore,
which then comes into the North Atlantic Drift.
That brings us our climate and makes it very warm.
We've got the continental shelf
which comes up from Bay of Biscay, that sort of area.
That brings up some warm currents.
We've got the boreal Artic currents coming down
and it's that junction of the warm and the cold,
so we get both warm species and cold species all at the same time.
'These special conditions mean the waters here
'are home to more than 80,000 salt and freshwater species -
'from tiny bacteria through to eels and cod.
'Although the glassy water only gives a hint of the world beneath.
'I'm hoping to spot a few of Etive's larger residents, though.'
There is maybe a chance of us catching a glimpse
of some common seals.
Seals and kayaks don't normally go,
so we have to be very careful as we approach.
They're quite close to this point that we're at now, then?
They're half a mile ahead of us.
Right, Matt. If you come over to me now
and if you look very carefully over there.
You see where the rock comes down?
-You've got two little bits sticking up.
-Well, they're seals.
-Oh, yeah. I can see them.
That's the Loch Etive colony.
'It's a rare glimpse of some of Etive's shiest inhabitants.
'We leave them to the serenity they enjoy here.
'Today, this loch is hard to visit with no road access
'for half its length,
'unlike its more celebrated cousins, Loch Ness and Loch Lomond.'
There's quite a few impressive things about Loch Etive.
Of course, there's the magnificence of these mountains and hills
and the beauty of the water that just seems to kind of
cut and carve itself through the landscape.
But I think the most special thing,
the most impressive thing is that we have paddled and paddled today.
We've travelled about 13 miles and we haven't seen anybody.
We've simply had this place to ourselves.
'Matt Baker paddling upstream.
'For the final leg of my west coast journey,
'I'm heading further south to Ardmaddy Castle
'on the outskirts of Oban.'
I'm going to a place that's been used
as a training ground for Scottish warriors
for over 500 years,
to learn one of the ancient arts of warcraft.
But first, wherever you're heading in the next seven days,
here's the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
I'm on a journey down the west coast of Scotland,
through Argyll and Bute.
I began near Altnafeadh,
finding out about the beauty hidden just off the beaten track,
before heading into the valley below,
the scene of the gruesome Glencoe Massacre.
Nearby, I met a woman fighting to beat the bane
of Scottish holiday-makers - the infuriating midge.
Then to the village of Connel, where I went out on the water
to experience the swirling currents of the Falls of Lora.
Now I'm heading for my last stop, a few miles outside Oban
in the grounds of the imposing Ardmaddy Castle.
Today, most people come to the castle
for its glorious walled gardens.
But back in the 16th century, these grounds
had a far more fearsome purpose - for training Scottish warriors.
Sean, the art of the longbow,
you're very much keeping an old tradition alive, aren't you?
Yes, these traditions have been in this country for thousands of years
and it's nice to keep these things alive, and the craft too.
Tell me about this field, it has a special significance, doesn't it?
Yes. This field is called Lon a'Chuspair in Gaelic,
and it means "the meadow of the bow marks".
It's where the MacDougalls of Reray used to practise their archery.
How far back are we talking? Hundreds of years?
-Hundreds of years, maybe as far back as 700-800 years.
Is that why the field is the way it is? It's very long and straight.
Yes, very long, straight and flat.
Why is the longbow such a significant weapon?
-Strength, power, accuracy?
-It's a combination of them all.
They're very accurate bows to use
and very easy to kill a large animal with these.
So it follows on that you could kill men with them.
How recently did people continue to use them in everyday life,
like hunting or at war?
In the Highlands, it was a cattle economy,
so guns came here later than they did in the rest of the UK.
So the Highlanders were using the bows for war much later than
anywhere else. Up until, certainly the 1680s, there were recorded
-incidents of them using the bows in war.
-This is a modern one, is it?
What would they traditionally be made of?
I can see two woods on this one.
Two woods on this one, it's a lamination.
Traditionally, they would've been made of yew which would've been
a combination of the heartwood and the sapwood on the outside,
which makes a perfect natural spring.
Nowadays we can laminate.
So they'd get a strip of wood that was almost a cross-section
of the outer and the inner wood and they'd make one bow out of that?
Yes, exactly what they would do.
-What are these two woods in the modern bow?
-Bamboo and ipe.
Bamboo and ipe? Why are they chosen?
Because of the characteristics.
Ipe's excellent on the compression, bamboo's excellent on the tension.
Sounds an obvious thing,
but it's the length of the longbow that gives it its power, right?
It is, partly because the length of the longbow allows us
to draw a long arrow on it.
And the longer the arrow is on the bow,
the more of the energy is imparted to the arrow.
How hard is it to pull it back? How strong do you need to be?
It takes a bit of practice, but nowadays,
because we use bows of a lighter weight because it's recreational,
it isn't too difficult to learn how to do it and to get up to speed.
I kind of imagine people would have been lopsided,
with one really strong arm. Was that the case?
Not one strong arm, because you shoot with your back.
But some of the skeletons they found in the Mary Rose, for instance,
they have distortions in the spine.
So their bodies had evolved? They'd moulded from constant longbow usage?
Constant use with the heavy war bows, which would be
maybe 120lbs-plus to pull.
That's incredible. Just to give us a sense, what's this to pull?
-This is about 55lbs.
-So, over double that?
Right, to give me an idea...
Yeah, OK, that's pretty stiff, isn't it?!
The ones they were firing from hundreds of years ago
were double that strength?
-What sort of distance can you get on a bow like that?
Probably round about 200 yards, but with the big heavy war bows,
240 yards with big heavy arrows
that weighed as much as a quarter of a pound.
Crikey! What sort of damage would a big heavy arrow do?
It would just burst straight through you.
-Even with armour?
-How long have you been doing this?
-About 15 years.
How long does it take to get really good at it?
You can be proficient within a year or so.
Then you progress as you go along.
OK. And the better guys can do it at all different ranges?
I am absolutely itching to have a go. Have you got a beginner's bow.
-I have one over here.
-Brilliant, let's do it.
OK, we're kitted out. First of all, what's this?
This is a bracer, to keep your sleeve out of the way of the string
-and protect your arm from the whip of the string.
This is a tab, to protect your fingers from the pull of the string.
-OK, so you have it either side of the arrow?
-It's obviously a beginner's bow.
-How powerful is it?
How much strength do you need?
If you pull for 28 inches, you'll have about 30lbs on your fingers.
-That's a quarter of what the big bows used to be like?
That's the kit. Without any more ado,
I think we should see how it works.
-Take it away.
-Feet shoulder-width apart.
-Pick your arrow.
-So it's over the top.
Over the top. To the string.
-Over to you.
So, let's lock and load, as they probably don't say with archery.
So, over the top.
-You had the white feather facing you, didn't you?
-It just clicks in.
Lock your shoulder down, slight bend in your left elbow.
Don't clamp arrow with your fingers. So slight bend in the elbow.
-Just keep drawing that back, do I?
-When do I let go?
-Hey, excellent shot.
-Wow, really flies, doesn't it?
Yeah, I'll take that. That's brilliant. Amazing to think...
-You have a competition in August, don't you?
-Yes, we do. 6th August.
-6th August. People come from all around?
-All over Britain.
To have it right here, amazing view, hopefully the sun shining,
but more importantly, in almost the home of the longbow,
where people have practised this for centuries.
Yeah, it's a great privilege for us
to be able to shoot on such an ancient field.
-Long may it continue.
-We hope so.
Travelling down Scotland's west coast has been
a truly memorable experience.
From a natural landscape that rises majestically from the earth,
dwarfing all that passed through it, to the history and natural wonders
that define the character of this dramatic slice of the British Isles.
It's a land built by warriors, but today defined by the beautiful
and unspoilt wildness of these surroundings.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Joe Crowley enjoys a journey through some of Scotland's most epic scenery. Joe starts at Glen Coe, exploring the West Highland way, and then heads down the valley to the location of the horrific Glen Coe Massacre. From Glen Coe, Joe also learns about Scotland's most vicious native - the midge. Joe kayaks on the dramatic Falls of Lora before ending this journey on Ardmaddy Castle's historic archery field, trying his hand at the longbow.