Timothy and his wife Shane encounter several Scottish ports and islands in the misty drizzle and venture up the Caledonian Canal.
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So that's the Isle of Arran.
If it gets a bit nippy we can get over there and buy a sweater.
I'm Timothy Spall and with my wife, Shane, we're on an adventure
round the seas of Britain in our barge, The Princess Matilda.
So far, we've been to Wales, north west England and Northern Ireland.
And now our adventure takes into Scotland.
In our final leg this year, we say goodbye to the west coast of Britain.
We go up the Caledonian Canal and out into the wild North Sea.
Come on, baby! There you go! Hurray! Hello, darling!
For the first time, we take Matilda off the sea
and on to the Scottish inland waterways,
through the glorious Highlands in what the Scots call "God's Country."
It's like something out of a dream. Like living in a brochure.
Look at the dexterity of the way that is lifting 20 logs up there.
Just picking 'em up... like the hands of a surgeon.
Look at that. A little standoff there.
A little standoff. It's like looking at dinosaurs.
We're about 30 miles from Glasgow in the port of Troon.
Moored next to one of the biggest saw mills in Britain.
Over a million logs are brought here every year
to be turned into timber for the building trade and then shipped out again.
We've got work to do before we leave.
Shane's off to the shops and I'm going to tidy up.
Where do I start with all this shit?
Well, I'm a bit scared to leave you here to sort this shit out.
Why would you be scared?
Because we'd never find anything when you'd done it.
I don't know where to start!
Right, I can throw that down there. Seashore of Britain and Europe.
That tells you about molluscs.
We can't move Elizabeth Taylor cos Elizabeth is one of our talismans.
It's like a panda that's gone to sea.
MIMICS PIRATE: Arrgghh!! Take me back to the zoo.
The trouble is it's hard to clear up when most of the mess is actually good luck charms.
I'm superstitious by nature, absolutely superstitious. I'm always looking for signs.
I suppose that's one of the reasons I go through the nerve-wracking experiences of these trips.
It's because it increases my understanding of the human condition
and the ability of the human being to advance itself and what it does.
It's a compulsion. It's almost like we're not choosing to do it.
Anyway, this is just me yapping, not wanting to clear up the mess here.
There's a choice for this next journey.
We either go all the way around the tip of Kintyre
or we take a short cut up Loch Fyne towards the Crinan Canal.
I'm taking the short cut.
Well, that's if I can see where I am going?
There's only one thing to describe these conditions...
Our first stop on the way is East Loch Tarbert.
It used to be a big port for herring.
Where fishermen would search for the fish they call the "silver darling".
We, however, are just searching for the right marina.
I thought the marina was further down but this must be it.
It must be it because it doesn't go any further. Look, the town's there.
No, it does it goes much further down. Does it? Yeah.
My guidebook shows that the marina I've booked is much further down.
RADIO: 'Princess Matilda, this is Tarbert Habour, over.'
Hi, Tarbert Harbour. This is Princess Matilda. I'm just a bit confused...
Is your marina the first one
as you come in on the right hand side from seawards. Over?
Yes, as you come through, you'll see two like fingers.
Each one has a hammerhead and you can pick up either of them. Over.
We're right by it, thank you very much.
The guidebook said nothing about this new marina...
or the big fun fair that's right next to it.
It's extraordinary. People are at the funfair and it's pissing with rain.
It's going to drive me mad. I swear, it's going to drive me mad.
Talk about a contrast? You've got that...
bucolic, misty crocks, crags and islets. And there...
a funfair from 1976!
Welcome to the Waltzer!
Hold on, madam. Oh, don't be sick.
We've managed to pick the noisiest weekend of the year to visit Tarbert.
It doesn't look like we're going to be getting much sleep.
The funfair doesn't end until 2am.
Had a horrible night. It just makes me feel so ill.
As much I love and relish techno, I don't want another night of it
so I'm not sticking around.
But I can't leave without seeing one boat in this harbour that really intrigues me.
And it also does food.
It's a Dutch barge, similar to ours, but this was built in the 1920s
and like ours, it's also toured a considerable part of the British coast.
I thought we had a bit of room.
It was a journey that started in Holland.
It took the owner, Michael Casey, nearly 40 hours to cross the North Sea.
So Harlingen is in the north of Holland on the Wadden Sea
and the surveyor had written in the survey report you must take the most direct route.
We just drew a line on the chart to Whitby, straight across!
What did you do, about ten knots? No, no, six knots. Really?
It's a heavy old boat. It weighs about 100 tons.
So, this is our bridge. Right. Oh, look at this.
Isn't that fantastic? Yeah, that is beautiful.
Much of the equipment is original and still working after 90 years.
Is that the radio? That's one of the radios. There's two here. That's the original.
You still see them now on fishing boats.
These were built for freight, cargo of any kind and to pry the coastal areas and rivers and canals, right?
So that is why there is so much space on the inside.
When we had that big trip across the North Sea and so on.
When we eventually got to the Caledonian Canal the ship
just sort of settled in and kind of said, "Oh, I like this."
It steered better and just said I like being the canal. Like it was home?
Like it was home, yeah. Interesting.
Michael fell in love with Tarbert and now his barge is moored here permanently.
Have a nice time. Ear plugs!
We're off, earlier than planned, if only for Shane's sanity.
It was infuriatingly noisy.
It was horrible. I almost had a nervous breakdown.
Which is a shame because it's a pretty town and I'd really like to have got to know it.
And I know it's only two days of the year but I don't want to hear it, honestly I don't.
We're going to Ardrishaig, halfway up Loch Fyne.
This sea loch is sheltering us from the strong winds
and high tides we've endured on the unpredictable Irish Sea.
This is lovely, we haven't got any waves to contend with.
We haven't got any ferries to contend with...
apart from that boat coming towards us over there.
We haven't got any tankers. This is cherishable and relaxing.
# We're going to have smooth sailing Smooth sailing
# Like a ship at sea We'll merrily breeze along
# We're bound to have smooth sailing Smooth sailing
# The breeze may blow We'll merrily roll along. #
Ardrishaig sea lock, Ardrishaig sea lock, this is The Princess Matilda. Over.
We're now leaving the sea and going onto the inland waterways.
Ardrishaig is a landmark at the mouth of the Crinan Canal
and it's also a landmark for our adventure.
In 2005, we left the Thames to circumnavigate Britain.
We've travelled 1,500 miles which can only mean one thing.
Shane, you have to come with me.
I can safely say we're halfway round Britain.
I reckon we're halfway round Britain.
To celebrate, we're having a party.
Here's the cavalry. Here's the team!
When was the last time you had so many people on this boat?
Shane's sister, Jenny, our daughter Sadie and our old friends,
the Moore family, have come to help us through the Crinan Canal.
No nerves today, Tim?
No, not really. Just work. This is work. Graft.
The Crinan Canal is ten miles long and will take us up to 65 feet above sea level.
Between here and the Atlantic Ocean at the other end of the canal,
are 15 locks that take plenty of elbow grease...
Shane's elbow grease...
You get lots of married couples of a certain age
and the man often convinces the wife that she can't skipper it,
she can't helm it, so the women have to do all the work.
So they'll go, "Oh, no, no, darling..."
standing there having had the pies, smoking...
Darling could you... Yep.
God, I bet those rhododendrons will be beautiful, hey?
The Crinan Canal was completed in 1801 as a trade route
from industrial Glasgow to the Western Islands.
Clyde Puffers like this one once carried iron and coal to remote Scottish towns.
Nowadays, it's all about pleasure craft.
Over 3,000 travel along here every year, of all shapes and sizes.
Well, that guy said on that barge we visited yesterday
about when he got that boat on to the canal, the Caledonian Canal,
it felt like it was having a holiday. It breathed a sigh of relief.
Matilda's doing a bit of that at the moment. She's going, "Ah, a canal!"
They've sent me away to an old people's home.
Nah, I can feel her. She's really enjoying it.
# Oh The Crinan Canal for me I don't like the wild raging sea
# It would be too terrific to cross The Pacific or sail to Japan or Fiji
# A life on the Spanish Main I think it would drive me insane
# The big, foaming breakers Would give me the shakers
# The Crinan Canal for me. #
We've been up hill. We're on the plateau. What goes up has got to go down.
There's the sea-level there.
Look at that. This is wonderful, freshwater sea water.
This was once described as the most beautiful short cut in the world.
I'll race you. OK.
This ten mile short cut has taken almost nine hours.
That's slow going, even for us.
But the views are worth every minute.
Oh! Look at that!
The land of whisky.
This is just a little jaunt into the Atlantic Ocean before I take us inland to another short cut.
At least we can see this time.
My route to the east coast will avoid the brutal seas to the northern tip of Scotland.
Maybe we'll do those another time but not in a barge.
There's not many places to put in and the sea's pretty vicious up there. Not for us...
so we're taking a very convenient cut from west Scotland to north east
courtesy of the Caledonian Canal.
As we steam towards the Caledonian Canal we're making a quick
stop at an island called Kerrera to pick up an important guest.
We're in Oban marina in Kerrera and that is right opposite Oban.
The picturesque tourist attraction and proper Scottish town of Oban.
It's also a massive place where all the ferries come in
to take people to all the islands that are out here.
The Royal Family often sail around this part of the world
but today, we're meeting a princess of our own.
It's Princess Matilda, our darling granddaughter whom the barge is named after.
You're not allowed, you're not allowed!
She absolutely loves coming on board our barge,
which she calls "Princess Matilda boat", just so we don't get them mixed up.
Make it do a loop the loop...
Oh, it fell down.
It's always a joy to see our lovely granddaughter
but today is extra special. It's the first time she's travelled
with us on our round Britain adventure.
What happens if you fall in the water, Till and we can't see you?
We're saying goodbye to the west of the country
and heading towards Corpach, at the mouth of the Caledonian Canal.
As we get into Loch Linnhe, it's going to get narrower and narrower
and the hills, the mountains get steeper and steeper.
I've got a feeling it's going to be a little like that shot at the end of Lord of the Rings.
It's staggering to think these mountains are over 400 million years old.
They're formed along a fault line that cuts Scotland in half.
So, that's Ben Nevis.
That's the biggest mountain in the British Isles and it's got
a great big wig on. A cloudy bouffant and his builder's perm.
Where is everybody? There's nobody here. There's nobody here!
All this utter, natural beauty. This wonderment!
It's not everybody's cup of tea, of course.
Welcome to Corpach.
Right, well, this is the Caledonian Canal. It's a series of locks
joined up by man-made canals and it's built on a natural fault line.
A completely natural crack, from one side of Scotland to the other.
We've got 62 miles of locks and canals before we reach the North Sea at the other end.
This should be, on the whole, pretty benign
and pretty bucolic and charming and it's going to be beautiful, easy...
I don't have to do any navigation... What you on about?!
..I don't have to work out things. I don't have to work out passages.
Do you want a cup of tea? Yeah, I'll have five cups of tea. And a glass of wine.
You've not eaten anything at all.
Do you think I look fat? No!
Are you sure I don't look fat? You look inflated.
The Scottish Highlands get over ten foot of rain a year,
most of it falling today, I think.
It's going to make hard work of getting through the locks,
especially when you run into a great big hill.
This is Neptune's Staircase. If you look at it,
it's like a staircase, really, hence its name.
This is the longest staircase lock in Britain
and a wonderful piece of engineering from Thomas Telford.
It will lift us 65 feet in just under a mile.
It's amazing. It's extraordinary. And it's really wet!
Shane's job is to make sure Matilda doesn't scrape the lock walls.
And to fend off the Scottish midges.
They're everywhere. They're like clouds around here.
You wouldn't have thought that midges would...
Perhaps they like the rain?
Of course, I'd go out and help but as I'm the skipper and the only one who can drive
I simply have to stay in the wheelhouse.
It's pissing with rain, it's cold.
We are now going through a famous stretch of water.
We've just come up through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.
People'll be thinking, "Cor! Lucky buggers." You know?
Is he dry?...
Don't take any of his nonsense because, actually,
I can steer the boat into locks and he can actually come to the front.
So I can drive the boat, yeah. In fact, I'm very good at it.
Horrible? No, I'm fine.
It's taken us two hours to get to the top and that's enough work for today.
I don't want my crew getting mutinous.
Drive the boat! Of course I can drive the bloody boat, darling.
I can still feel some rain in this air.
It's an odd...
The word "melancholy" comes to mind about...
about coming back on a canal for a considerable amount of time.
Maybe it's just all the memories of being on canals before.
On our year canalling when we went back to a place where we've been to with the kids.
And all of a sudden, I felt like I'd seen our kids childhood
and they were growing up. It was sort of weird.
I went into an odd one.
That was one of the reasons we decided to bang on.
Get something that could go further and see more and...
you know, risk your life in a more positive way.
We've been joined by Matilda's mum, Pascale and her partner, Cyrus.
But even with our family on board, things don't feel right.
Having done 1,600 miles at sea,
I almost feel like a fraud or a coward,
like I'd taken safe refuge in a place because I wasn't up to doing the job at sea.
Feels like we're hardly moving. We're doing about four knots.
There's no rush is there, darling?
No, for a change... Well, there's never really a rush...
Wooooh. That's me hat gone!
It's over there. Do you want me to get it?
But this adventure isn't all about the sea.
It's about discovering wonderful places in our floating home.
Today, our address is number one, Loch Oich, Scotland.
Just look outside my kitchen window. It's amazing.
At 100 feet above sea level, Loch Oich is the highest point of the Caledonian Canal.
It's the highest point of our adventure.
Look down there, I mean it's like something out of a dream.
Through the pants, socks, bras and knickers.
Back through there, look.
Look at the swans on the bridge.
Drop the curtain of pants and socks.
It's also the home to Atlantic salmon who swim up the Caledonian Canal
to lay their eggs in the fresh water here.
Are they on a dinghy?
HE GROWLS INCESSANTLY Stop it!
I didn't realise it'd be this lovely.
It's a lovely respite from all the challenges of the ocean.
Let's see, where's this money spider?
I won't disturb it. I won't let it touch me.
Help it on it's way.
Give it to the midges.
The next loch on the Caledonian is the most famous. Loch Ness.
It's so deep you can fit Canary Wharf into it which could explain
why no one has yet found Nessie.
We can't stay to look for her either
because I can feel the call of the sea.
We're coming up towards the end of Inverness Firth here.
We get round that corner and take a sharpish right,
we're in the Moray Forth which is the North Sea.
This part of Scotland is further north than Gothenburg
so it's not surprising it's bloody cold up here!
This is our final journey before we moor up for the winter.
Come on, baby. Have a jump! Hooray! Hello, darling!
We've done nearly 1,000 miles this year.
1,000 miles in a barge.
We've done the entire Welsh Coast... There's the lifeboat station.
Where's the lifeboat station?
...been to Liverpool...
I can't remember seeing anything quite so spectacular.
And even across to Northern Ireland.
We're in Northern Ireland!
IRISH ACCENT: We're in Northern Ireland
And all of it on the unpredictable Irish Sea.
Hold on, Shane, hold on, hold on. Sit down.
I keep asking myself why I'm doing it
and it's a bit of a mystery to me, actually...
The sea is a metaphor for taking control, in a sense,
of the unpredictability of the world and life.
In a sense, running head first into it.
And as far as we know, we're the only planet that we can see that's got a sea.
I'm kind of quite proud of it in a weird way.
# She's out on the sea Sailing to me, sailing to me
# When shall I see my lover Come home from the sea
# Answer my plea Somewhere at sea. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
As summer comes to a close, Timothy Spall's trip around the coast of his beloved Britain reaches the halfway mark. He encounters several Scottish ports and islands, but mostly in the famous Scottish misty drizzle. Before the weather worsens he winds his way through the Scottish western islands and takes his barge Princess Matilda back to her roots by venturing up the Caledonian Canal, a short cut from the west of Scotland to the east which sets up next year's trip down the east coast and back home to London. This year Timothy and his wife Shane have travelled further than in any other of their previous six years at sea. All they need is somewhere to moor up for winter.