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We all think we know Skye...
or do we? In my view it's an island with not just one but the two of the finest mountain ranges in Britain.
So join me as I walk from one end of this island to the other to meet the people who live and work here.
You know, Alasdair, any argument that says
this is not the most astonishing landscape in Britain is surely indefensible.
What a day, eh? Just cracking. The feeling you get here is sort of boundless.
Welcome to Rubha Hunish at the very tip of the Trotternish peninsula.
The most northerly part of the Isle Of Skye and this is the spot that
I've chosen to begin a weeklong walk through this magical island.
Taking in what I believe are the two most fascinating landscapes that we have in Britain.
Now most people will be familiar with the savage grandeur
of the Skye Cuillin, but not so many people will be aware of the natural wonders of Trotternish.
And I really believe that this long walk has the potential to be the finest walk in the whole country.
Not many people get to this northern outpost, and that's a huge pity.
It's worth spending some time here before you start putting one foot in front of another.
At Rubha Hunish you're a million miles away from the pressures of modern life,
so I've begun by camping out amongst the cliffs and the rocks
that surround this superbly atmospheric headland.
You know I've really been longing for a beautiful sunset tonight
to help start off my walk through Skye, but it wasn't to be.
But what I have seen is some fabulous wildlife. I'll tell you,
this place is amazing. Gulls of all kinds, seals
and minke whales.
Oh, fantastic. Look at that!
You know, we don't have to go abroad. We've got it all here.
During the next week I will be travelling about 70 miles,
starting from the most northerly point of the mainland and finishing in Broadford.
The first leg of my journey takes me past the historic Duntulm Castle,
down the Trotternish roads to Skye's capital, Portree.
And I can't wait to get started.
On a day of crashing surf and gale force winds,
there are few places in Scotland as inspiring as Duntulm Castle.
There's not an awful lot left,
but there is enough to give you a sense of the grandeur of the position of this castle.
You can almost sense, you can almost imagine
the war galleys sailing in to the shelter of the bay down below me here,
and over the centuries two highland clans fought for ownership of this particular castle -
the MacLeods and the McDonalds.
And there's a lovely story that tells of a race between the chief of the clan MacLeod
and the chief of the clan McDonald and the first one to land at Duntulm could claim ownership of the castle.
And the story goes as the two galleys approached, the chief of the clan McDonald
cut off his right hand and cast it onto the shore to claim ownership.
And during their reign this was a very grand and special place.
It's said that they created gardens here out of the earth of seven different countries
and during that time they were visited by King James V.
But all that grandeur came to an end one night when the heir to the clan
chieftainship was being nursed by this window, and for some reason the nurse
dropped the baby out of the window and it crashed to its death on the rocks below. The nurse was taken,
she was bound and she was cast off in an open boat, cast adrift on the sea.
And it's said that even to this day, on wild and stormy nights you can hear her cries and screams.
No-one really knows why the McDonalds eventually left Duntulm,
but there is a school of thought that says that they came out in support of the Jacobite cause in 1715
and after the battle of Culloden in 1746, the Highland clans were proscribed.
They were banned. So it's quite likely that at that time the McDonalds left Duntulm,
left it to the ravages of the sea and the wind.
On the way at last.
It's a fairly inauspicious start to what is really one of the great walks of Scotland.
Who'd guess that this simple sign heralds the start of 20 miles or more
of the finest ridge walking in Scotland?
The Trotternish escarpment runs unerringly north to south from summit to summit.
It's also one of the most distinctive landscapes you'll find anywhere.
A place where the forces of nature have sculptured a succession
of free standing pillars, sheer cliffs and isolated tables of rock.
And you meet the first of these almost immediately you step foot on this volcanic ridge.
Natural events over thousands of years have shaped a place that is geologically unique.
This is the Quiraing,
a name originally from the Norse which means pillared enclosure.
You know, I first came here as a youngster. I was brought here.
I was actually scared. The place terrified me.
I could almost hear the wind just moving around these
tall, distorted fingers of rock and the water was oozing from the rock, oozing and dripping.
And looking down these dark corridors of scree everywhere, I half-expected to see orcs or hobbits and dwarfs.
But I have been back here several times since and, you know, even on a day like this, a nice sunny day,
the place just has this extraordinary atmosphere.
There are three main features here in the Quiraing,
the Prison, which is the fortress-like block of rock down at the start of the path,
the Needle, which is the 200ft tall tower of rock
that kind of guards the entrance to this inner sanctum,
and then there's this amazing feature, this great big elevation of turf known as the Table.
And local folklore suggests that every New Year's Day, two teams would come here and play a game of shinty.
I've some doubts about that.
Most of the shinty players I know would do well to be up and about
and sober on New Year's Day, never mind play a game of shinty.
It's a great view of the ridge from here
as it rollercoasters its way all the way
down to Portree, and it stays as spectacular as this all the way.
I've just crossed the road that runs between Staffin and Uig...
over the spine of the Trotternish peninsula.
A lot of hill walkers stop here because there's a van in the lay-by,
and they sell teas and coffees and things like ostrich burgers
or kangaroo burgers and coming soon, a speciality, zebra burgers.
All good Scottish traditional fair.
But before I head up Bioda Buidhe and then on to Beinn Edra and the rest of the ridge,
I'm going to take a wee diversion down to the coast where I've been promised something really special.
Just something I've got to do. Won't be a second.
I've taken a detour from my route to meet one of Skye's more recent residents.
A patriotic Frenchman, he loves Scotland so much he wears the kilt
and is a living example of the Auld Alliance.
Flodigarry was once the home of Flora MacDonald.
Now it's one of a number of places on the island serving excellent food.
Almost there now.
I've arranged to meet the chef here, Pascal Rivault.
a man who, somewhat surprisingly, is now an enthusiastic ambassador
not for French cuisine, but for Scottish cuisine.
And he wanted to show me just how fabulous the local produce is.
As always, I'm a willing student.
So we've got langoustines, fresh langoustines and lobster.
Are the oysters...are these local?
Yes, they have just been delivered.
-Straight from the sea?
'I thought I might get a quick taster, but didn't realise this was the start of a banquet.'
Smoked salmon in Scotland is a must, but we smoke it ourselves.
We've got a duo of langoustine and pan-fried scallops.
-Oh, I love scallops.
-Cooked with sesame oil, spring onion, ginger.
'Never a man to do things by halves, Pascal is just getting into his stride.'
-Scottish lamb just roasted, mint and honey juice.
It's all looks absolutely fantastic, and it will be accompanied by a French wine.
It's a pity we don't do wine in Scotland.
No. But you do your whisky pretty well so we'll forgive you.
Straight from the sea to my mouth.
Gosh. Down the hatch.
You get the taste of the sea from that oyster.
It's like the sea exploding in your mouth.
They haven't been travelling, they haven't been sitting in fridges for...
Wonderful. And the important bit, Slainte.
'French wine there may be, but Pascal recommends an 18-year-old single malt whisky with the oysters.
'And who am I to argue?' Wonderful.
It's very encouraging for me as a Scotsman to hear a Frenchman say that we have such good produce.
The scallops, the langoustines when you get them are still crawling around.
It's just unbelievable.
It's so fresh, isn't it?
-That's the beauty of it.
-It's the taste of the sea.
I think Lamb is probably my favourite meat.
-Join the club.
-Yeah? You're a pro-lamb fan?
I love this lamb.
Ok, lets try this.
Could get used to it?
I've got to go back to beans and sausages tomorrow night.
In a little tent up there somewhere.
You can always order takeaway.
Will you come up the hill and serve it in your kilt?
Why not? Why not?
Today, we often think of our Western Islands as places of great beauty...
of wide-open spaces, of peace, solitude and comparatively few people.
But that's not always been true.
Our ancestors settled here from earliest times
and one of the things I want to do is get under the surface of this island.
Literally beneath the ground.
There's something here I'm really keen to show you.
People have lived on Skye since the earliest times, and relics of our past lie everywhere.
New discoveries are being made even today.
In the north, the local community came together to excavate
this underground chamber called a souterrain.
I'm only just a few feet down, but I've already stepped back countless generations.
Isn't this fantastic?
It's an iron age cold store, if you like.
If you can imagine a township above us 2,000 years ago, and this is where
people would come and bring the butter and cheese and their milk.
Really just to keep it cold and cool under the ground.
It's beautifully constructed with lovely lintels, solid walls...
While I'm really fascinated by these early settlers in Scotland, the early
hunter-gatherers, I don't know an awful lot about them.
But shortly, I'm going to meet someone who does.
The Isle of Skye is an archaeologist's treasure trove
and new evidence is being discovered all the time.
Karen Hardy is a specialist in prehistory.
She took me to one of the newest discoveries, but I wasn't sure what I should be looking for.
-You're standing on it.
In this remote cave is a midden...
the remains left by people living here thousands of years ago.
Karen's showing me a system of caves that she's only just starting to explore.
Look at this.
Now look at that. That is shell midden.
Look at all of those shells.
I think we have got the shell midden continuing here.
We've got the dung, not a very thick layer of dung by the look of it, and we've got the shells.
This is a shell midden, or rubbish heap, right in the southern tip of the island.
It may not sound exciting, but it can provide Karen and her colleagues
with a huge amount of detail about the people who once lived here and the lives they led.
I would have thought people who lived 5000, 8000, 10,000 years ago
would be one step removed from animals.
Not at all. No, no, no.
These were highly sophisticated people living in a highly sophisticated social structure.
They would have had a very detailed and in depth knowledge of their surroundings.
The people who lived here, whoever they were and however long ago it was, were here to exploit the sea.
It's possible they were Mesolithic, but I can't be sure of that.
I looked at shell middens in lots of different places and had
shell middens carbon-dated
and we've discovered that,
in fact, people created these shell middens right throughout history.
We have dates dating to the 1700s and we have dates going back to 8,000 years ago.
And so all the way through human history, different sorts
of people were using the caves, probably for different things...
It could take years before this cave system is properly excavated and we know who lived here.
But this site is yet another important discovery on the island.
It gives us a really good insight into our past.
I found this recently and no-one has explored this since the people left, however long ago that was.
I couldn't help thinking, walking up to the cave, that we were approaching
a lost world and a society that's vanished forever.
It's not just one cave, it's got several chambers to it
and I haven't even been in past the first chamber yet. It's so big.
How do we know that all these shells haven't just been brought here naturally?
Do birds bring shells into a place like this or have they just been washed up here?
No. These have been brought here by humans.
The reason we know that is that we have lots of other evidence in amongst the shells.
Artefacts that have been worked into tools.
We've found animals, bones, bones that have got cut marks on them,
we've got fish bones, we've got charcoal, we've got ochre in some places, we've got hematite...
They must have been using this for colour of some sort.
So these are real dumps, not just shell middens.
They're living areas. I don't know that you can call them dumps.
Maybe it's because I come from Glasgow originally, but my sense of the word midden is just that.
-Well, who knows? Let's see.
-Well, you're from Edinburgh.
You don't have middens in Edinburgh, do you?
I have to say that this is a wonderful opportunity for me because the last couple of times I've been,
I've forgotten my torch, which is why I've never been
underneath here, and finally we've come with a torch so we can go.
-I've never been under here.
Well, me being a thorough gentleman, ladies first.
-OK. You'll be following up close behind will you?
-I will be.
What have we got here?
Oh, wow. Look. You see that?
You see the shells? Let's go further in.
How far in can we get?
Oh, gosh. This is so exciting.
-This goes on and on.
-Does it really?
Look. We can't actually get any further down, but this just extends and I can't see how far it goes.
I think the exciting thing about this is where it is.
It's just the location of it.
It makes is quite exciting.
And it's obviously very big.
-So it continues.
-It does, doesn't it?
But I don't think I'm brave enough to squeeze in there.
-Will you be back?
-Oh, I will be back.
That's for sure. I'm just going to peep under here while I have the torch.
'It'll take Karen years to fully explore what's in this cave.'
Back on the ridge, I'm walking off the calories and beginning to eat up the miles.
Heading south, a succession of summits bring me to the other famous landmark of Trotternish.
The Old Man of Storr can be seen for miles, and is a fragile pillar of rock
that looks as if it might topple over at any moment.
And it's in the amphitheatre below the Storr that I've arranged to meet botanist and ranger, John Phillips.
John grew up in Barrhead just outside Glasgow, but now he's delighted to be an adopted son of Skye.
But what brought him here?
My wife and I had both had time spent on islands.
My wife on Mull and myself on Arran for a period.
That was part of it.
We had come to a time when we knew we wanted to get away from the city.
So I just started looking for jobs.
The first thing that came up was a job here.
I'm far happier out here.
I've described the Trotternish Ridge and the Cuillins as possibly
the two most remarkable landscapes not only in Scotland, but in Britain.
The Trotternish Ridge is the longest landslip
feature in Britain. It's something like 22 miles
of tumbled rock.
The top end of Skye, the Trotternish area, is a series of about
25 blankets of molten rock solidified on top of each other.
-This is volcanic rock?
-It's volcanic rock.
The molten rock welled up out of the ground rather than
The later layers are just molten rock oozing out.
The Earth's crust was stretching,
cracks appearing, molten rock coming up through the gaps and solidifying.
We've got a massive, very unstable sandwich of basalt here.
The Earth's crust has tilted.
It's been under ice
many times in the past.
Every time the ice comes, it wears away a little bit more
and the whole lot slips down again.
And there's about 5 different layers, landslip events.
The last one probably about 6,500 years ago.
-That's not long.
We've already heard that in Metholithic times, 8,000 years ago
people were living here in quite idyllic conditions.
So possibly, this would all look quite different.
The pinnacle of the Storr probably wasn't there at that time.
-It appeared subsequently.
-It really has resulted in quite friable rock.
You get the feeling when you walk up here that the rock is quite...
It's very loose.
It breaks very readily.
It forms a very rich soil. There are rare plants here that you won't find in many other places in Britain.
I think the Iceland purslane must be one of the star attractions.
It's fascinating that these amazing landscapes have provided
a home for rare plants like the Iceland purslane.
It's found high on the Trotternish Ridge and even
in the rapidly worsening weather, I was determined to see it for myself.
The first specimen was discovered here in the mid 1950s
and created a stir amongst naturalists of the time.
Botanists came flocking here
and got local people to guide them up to where they would find this plant.
Iceland purslane really is a tiny plant...
it still takes some finding today.
-Oh, well spotted, tiny little plant here.
-Look at that.
be people who would say to you, John, you've got me up
here on a wild, windy day like this to see that!
It gives me quite a lot of satisfaction.
To know a little about it and to be able to find it again, and
given that this is an annual plant, you never know where it'll be next year in this rough area.
But you do need to hunt about a bit.
This is a genuine rarity.
Exceedingly rare. There are only 2 places in Britain where you can go to see this plant.
One is Trotternish Ridge and the other one is Mull, that's it.
It just shows you that even precious rarities like this Iceland purslane
can look quite insignificant in this kind of landscape.
22 miles, over a dozen summits, and some fantastic views ranging from
the Outer Isles to the mountains of mainland Scotland,
and from here it's downhill to the end of the Trotternish Ridge and, for a short time, back to civilisation.
Formerly known as Kiltaraglen, the town was renamed Port Righ,
or King's Harbour, after a visit by King James the 5th in 1540.
Today it's the largest town on Skye, and a great place to take a wee break.
You can't do a long walk through the Isle of Skye without popping in to Portree, and down here by the pier
is an ideal place to while away an hour or two, have a fish supper and just prepare yourself for the next
stage of the journey, down through an area called the Braes, the scene of the last land battle in Britain.
It's a short distance from Portree to the little
string of small crofting hamlets that make up the area collectively known
as the Braes, and when I was here earlier in the year I was surprised to hear someone call my name...
someone I'd not seen for about 35 years.
I first met Lorne Nicolson when we were both young Glasgow coppers.
Like many people in these parts, Lorne's family had left Skye to find work in Clydeside.
But after retiring from the Glasgow police force, he's returned to the island
and the family croft right next to the site of the battle of the Braes.
In 1882, following a dispute with the landowner, a fight took place
between the local crofters and a contingent of policemen who had been drafted in from Glasgow.
I asked Lorne to tell me what conditions would have been like for local people at the time.
The people were in wretched poverty here.
The herring had gone,
the potato blight,
there was no money for the sheep,
the kelp had gone because the Germans started producing pot ash,
so they were reduced from earning £30 a season in herring fishing to £1.
If you put yourself in the position of those
policeman in the 19th century, the sergeant says to them,
"I need 50 volunteers to go up to the Isle of Skye for a week."
Would they have seen that as a bit of a jolly?
Yes. I can see the mindset of the police was, "Lets get away from Glasgow, lets get away up somewhere,
"and lets do our job, and you know, we'll march, we'll look good, we'll do everything."
They marched from Portree all the way to Braes and they
arrested them and they brought them back to just this spot we are here.
The Braes folk had prepared for them coming...
The stramash happened here and they rolled stones down the hill at the police.
A lot of the police were injured, and through time they said it was a massive battle, but this battle was
only the catalyst that caused problems all over the island.
Do you think the police, when they came here, were surprised with the reception?
I think more than surprised.
They got a real shock. I don't think they expected this.
They thought they'd march up the hill and down again, nothing would happen.
So someone who was a crofter and someone who was a policeman for about 30 years...
Where would your sympathies have lain?
Basically, my sympathies were with the people.
With all people who are downtrodden, but I still have a wee sneaky one for the cops who came up here.
I know how the cops would think.
They didn't deserve what they got because nobody told them.
But again, they obeyed the orders.
They came, they got a hiding, they went home and being a Glasgow boy with...
I have a balance.
So the events of the battle of Braes here really sparked off
unrest throughout the Highlands and Islands.
What was the outcome of all of that?
The outcome was the Napier's Commission.
When the landlords and the legal advisors
brought forward the Crofting Holdings Act of 1886.
They were able to pass their property onto their children.
Most of the rents were reduced by 50%.
It was the best bit of legislation that the crofters ever had. It was wonderful for them.
I actually grin and smirk when I see it.
It was really, really good for them and really is a thing that we must try and hold onto to.
Not change the system too much.
What a pity this momentous occasion doesn't warrant more than
a small monument, because it did have a profound effect on changing conditions for crofters everywhere.
From the Braes, you look east to skyline of Raasay...
a place I've seen for years from various mountain summits but never managed to visit.
But that's about to change.
I'm making the short ferry crossing in the company of Meg Bateman.
She was brought up in Edinburgh of English parents, and as a university
student discovered an affinity for Scotland's native tongue.
Since then, she's become a champion of the language, dedicating her
adult life to learning, teaching and writing in Gaelic.
I remember my father saying to me, "Do you think Gaelic has any philosophy?"
I think he felt it wouldn't be as deep or as culturally wide as doing a major European language.
But I have found that it has taken me on a very interesting journey.
If you think what an unnatural thing it is not to teach your own child
your native language, it sort of felt,
not of laziness but that a terrible violence had been done
to your culture through the education system.
I think we owe it to Scotland, and in a way we owe it to
humanity to preserve what is a distinct window in the world.
Meg's an accomplished poet, and she's taking me on a pilgrimage
to the spiritual home of one of our foremost poets, Sorley MacLean.
We've come to the eastern shore of Raasay and the site of one of his most famous works, Hallaig.
To many people, Hallaig seems like an evocation of the horrors
of the clearances with its famous first lines, "The window is nailed
"and boarded through which I saw the West."
But Meg told me that there's far more to this poem than that.
It's a work rooted deep in Celtic culture and its landscape.
I think he's working with very old Gaelic ideas
in that poem about the other world, and about circular time.
Although in Gaelic culture, the clearances
are a terrible tragedy in linear time I think in that poem, because of
the redemptiveness of art, I think he does reach some sort of
acceptance of what has happened, because
he has had this vision
of the continuing significance of people who are no longer there.
And anyone who reads the poem can share that vision.
In circular time, what was past can also be present and can also be future. Like the stars we see now.
We think they're there but they're in the past.
He wrote a lot about landscape. Why?
Well, I think poetry is a sensuous language.
It's not the same as academic writing. It's not working
by ideology, it's working by something that becomes an emotional trigger for someone else to feel.
I think the landscape
gives Sorley the plastic quality he needs to describe
So it makes agonising poetry, and I think he expresses that agony
through this landscape.
This landscape becomes the rollercoaster of his imagination.
I think Sorley has made what might have been a sort of
frightening, wild landscape into an epic landscape of human striving.
A sort of moral landscape.
Meg, could you describe to me what Raasay means to you?
In English, and then tell me again in Gaelic.
For me, Raasay is just shot through with Sorley's symbolism.
The power of beauty to let us see beyond tragedy.
And maybe Sorley, being the first one to open my eyes
to the possibility that we don't have to think of the last thing that happened as the final word on it.
Now I have to say that in Gaelic!
SHE SPEAKS GAELIC
Back on Skye, and I'm about to start on the second half of this magnificent walk...
first through the heart of the Cuillins to Loch Coruisk, then round the coast
and up to one of the finest summits in Scotland, Bla Bheinn.
From there we descend to the cleared villages of Suisnish and Boreraig
before a final walk to journey's end at Broadford.
But right now, I'm heading southwest along the shore of Loch Sligachan.
It's about three miles to the Sligachan Hotel and one of the best-known views in Scotland.
And that's no small feat from an island boasting magnificent scenery at every turn.
Yet since the 1950s, when electricity first came to this part of Skye,
that view's been blighted by unsightly poles.
But in a remarkable initiative between the electricity company
and the local community, that's all about to change.
It's pouring with rain, the mist is low, there's a howling wind,
but today's the day the poles are finally coming down.
I think it will improve one of the most iconic views in Scotland markedly.
Where did the idea come from to get rid of the poles?
Well, this is really a side effect of a large initiative on the
part of a community group based on the Isle of Skye
to commemorate two of the early pioneering climbers in the Cuillins,
Norman Collie and John MacKenzie.
What we intend to do, on a wee knoll over there, is to create a bronze sculpture
to the two men, MacKenzie and Collie,
and it did seem to us that the thing would be really improved if
the poles were removed as part of this.
Once the poles are down, this view of the majestic Cuillin will be restored to its former glory.
This is iconic. I mean, there are a lot of
other things going on here as well with the park and statue,
but the views of the Cuillins from here...
This is exactly the kind of projects we'd want to do.
It's a great one to be involved in.
-You're obviously delighted by all of this.
It's a bit of a pet project for you.
It does make me feel a lot happier...
Seeing that we've benefited, not only myself
but future ramblers.
And of course, Norman Collie and John MacKenzie will now have an unobstructed view of the Cuillin.
That's right, yes. There's a lot of history here.
It's a fantastic thing to have done.
Sorry! I'm not overcome by emotion.
I'm overcome by the Skye weather, I'm afraid.
Not much of a day for walking, so instead, I'm heading inside
to dry out in a place that has often been called the cradle of Scottish mountaineering.
I'm looking through an old register in the Sligachan Hotel,
and it's amazing how many names of climbers you see recorded here.
But you know, it's maybe not that surprising because
the Sligachan Hotel has always been recognized as one of the spiritual homes of Scottish mountaineering -
situated, as it is, below what Sorley MacLean
once beautifully described as the antlered profile of the Cuillin.
And it was here that one of the great enduring partnerships of Scottish mountaineering
was formed, between two men of quite contrasting backgrounds.
Professor Norman Collie was an eminent Victorian scientist.
His great friend and mountain guide, John Morton MacKenzie, was born just along the road here
in Sconser, and between them they mapped the Cuillin, the climbed lots of new routes in the Cuillin,
they explored the Cuillin, and became very firm friends.
MacKenzie pre-deceased Collie, and after Collie's death he was buried
beside his old mountain guide, just along the road at Struan churchyard.
If you ever get a chance to come in to Sligachan Hotel, have a look at the museum. It's well worth a browse
and especially on a day like today, when it's pouring wet outside, you can spend a happy hour in here.
What a difference a day makes.
Yesterday, when the engineers were taking the poles down,
you couldn't even see the mountain, but look at it today...mountain perfection.
This is the sort of view people come to Skye to see.
I'm going to take this opportunity to take a picture without these dreadful poles.
Having enjoyed the hospitality of the Sligachan Inn, it's back into the wilds again.
I'm going to head down Sligachan with the Red Cuillin on one side and the Black Cuillin
on the other, and I'm going to cut over to one of my favourite places in Scotland, Loch Coruisk.
But though the weather has been fantastic this morning, I've got a feeling that
the sky clouds are gathering, and it may not be so nice this afternoon.
Sometimes you kind of realise what a privilege it is just to be amongst the Scottish mountains.
On a day like this morning,
it's just great to be here with the looming presence of Sgurr nan Gillean
on one side of the glen, and this great mountain called Marsco.
It's marvellous just to be here.
I've been trying to remember the first time I came to the Cuillin.
I'm pretty sure it was around 1965, and I was just a lad at school
and I had gone on a course to Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms -
the national mountaineering centre -
and it was a course organised by Glasgow Corporation education department.
I went for a month, and it cost 19/6.
It was probably the best 19/6 I've ever had in my life.
We had a week at the lodge learning some rope work, learning some navigation and then they brought
us over here to Skye and the Cuillin and we travelled over in the back of
an open lorry with a big tarpaulin covering the back.
It was tremendous.
We walked round from Glenbrittle round
to Coruisk, round the coastline, we climbed up the ridge, we climbed Inaccessible Pinnacle,
we climbed Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Bastier, Bruach na Frithe...
a fantastic experience.
So it's kind of great to remember back at those times.
I think that experience was probably my first taste of the freedom of the Scottish hills.
It's been a long, long walk
down a very waterlogged Glen Sligachan.
But you know, as I splashed my way along the Glen, a curious thing has happened.
In these sombre surroundings, just started gazing down at my feet, I allowed my mind to open,
and I have sort of remembered, in extraordinary clarity, some of the old tales of our Celtic heritage.
And then coming down here and into this cradle in the mountains
that holds Loch Coruisk, with the river just running past to my
left and out to sea, it's as though I have come down into the stronghold of Finn MacCool.
It really is an marvellous place.
But when you think of the peaks up there, and you think of
hillwalking and first ascents and bagging peaks,
it all seems so unimportant in a place like this.
It's good just to sit here and soak in the heritage of this place...
probably the grandest place in the whole of Eilean a' Cheo.
It's marvellous. What I want to do is just to
sit here for a while and connect with this landscape a wee bit.
If you would like to go and have a look at some of the
great views round about here and leave me be for just a few minutes, and then I'll join you very shortly.
From Loch Coruisk, I'm heading southeast to Camasunary -
but before I get there, there's one small barrier to negotiate.
I'm just approaching the infamous bad step.
Now, one of the legends of Skye suggests that even seasoned mountaineers will jump into
Loch Scavaig here and swim around the obstacle rather than cross it, but it really is just a legend.
It's actually not that bad.
Although I would suggest if you don't have a head for heights, it could just be a tad formidable.
In the dry, the step is pretty straightforward,
but in conditions like these, it requires just a little more care.
Safe at Camasunary...
and it's time to head onto the tops.
At 3,044 feet, Bla Bheinn attains
Munro status, and is one of the finest mountains in Scotland.
I'm heading up the southern ridge with Alasdair MacPherson, who works for the conservation organisation
the John Muir Trust, managing the three estates on the island.
Alasdair is a native of Skye, but like so many other Highlanders, moved away to work.
Now he's back on the island where his forefathers have lived and worked for generations.
Well, I was born in Heast, which is about 20 miles away from here and my mother's people are from Elgol.
My grandfather was a shepherd here for many years on the estate,
and he was actually born over on Marsco, on the base of Marsco.
It's the only ruin there within about a radius of 5 to 6 miles.
-He was born in a black house there?
-Right, you can still see the ruins.
They're about a foot high, but not much more than that.
There's actually a funny story about the christening in Marsco.
It's a famous one. I don't know if you've heard of it?
Because the children had been born there, they hadn't seen
anyone in their lives walking past there - no walkers then -
the minister was called from Portree to come and baptise them, christen them,
and the father had to physically come and drag them out from under
the bed and cupboards because they had never seen anyone before.
The minister threw the water on them and they were back where they came from.
That's quite a famous story in Skye circles.
What does this landscape mean to you?
How do you feel when you come up and see this sort of landscape?
I suppose you feel a lot of freedom.
After being away for a long time down south, it's good to come home,
and the freedom you've got here is sort of boundless.
When you're working here, the beauty is
part of your job.
Two bonuses in one.
I think I enjoy being out and about.
I'm not an office fella and I don't think you can be in this kind of job.
I enjoy the stalking on the hill and I enjoy the forestry.
The forestry takes up probably 70% of my time.
Working in the wood, getting rid of the conifers and replanting with broad leaves,
going back to the natural woodlands in the area, biodiversity.
I enjoy that, and you can see the changes over the years you've been here already.
A fine viewpoint as this may be, I know it gets better the further up the hill you go,
-so I think we should head up there.
-HE SPEAKS GAELIC
-Er...shall we go?
Oh, right! Good, good.
Look at that, look at that.
What is it, Alistair, about grown men when they see something like
a golden eagle like that
and say "Oh, wow!" It sends us off into euphoria.
I think it's a fact that they were so rare years ago
and now we've seen three in the space of two minutes.
It's just magnificent.
-It's still a thrill, isn't it?
You do see a lot more sea eagles coming in.
Although they are not nesting on our estates,
they come in quite often and hover above the office at Streferie.
And the goldens are doing quite well in our estates as well.
They're breeding quite successfully.
The John Muir Trust is named after the famous Dunbar-born conservationist.
It has achieved a huge amount of success
in buying tracts of wild land
and looking after them in a way John Muir would have approved.
One of the fundamental principles
is that the land should be allowed to revert to its natural state.
-Can we stop for a wee minute?
How difficult is it for an organisation like the John Muir Trust
to come into an area like Skye and be accepted by the locals?
With conservation bodies, there's always suspicion
that people don't know what's going on and the suspicion is still there.
It's always going to be there,
but I'd like to think we do have a good balance
with the three crofting communities on our estates.
There are, not frictions, but there are differences.
They will always be there, but at the end of the day we can still talk to them.
It must help an awful lot having someone like yourself
who's local and Gaelic speaking.
Yes, I think it does because a lot of the people
you were in school with and you've grown up with them.
You've always liked them or you've always not liked them.
You can't talk about the John Muir Trust without mentioning John Muir.
How important a figure is John Muir to you and the work you do here?
The organisation possibly wouldn't be here without him.
It sounds kind of corny but you wonder who would have the estate
if it wasn't for him and the fellas that founded the organisation.
A very important guy all round. Not just for Scotland,
but possibly the whole world.
The first man of his kind that came in to the conservation idea.
Are those principles he had at the end of the 19th century
still relevant for us in 21st century Scotland?
I think they are virtually all relevant. Maybe more now than they were then.
Then, I think he was thought of as possibly a bit of a crank
and now to certain people, he's almost a demi-god.
So I think more important than ever.
You know, Alistair, any argument that says
this is not the most astonishing landscape is Britain
is surely indefensible.
Absolutely. What a day, huh? It's been just cracking.
Where else in Britain, indeed in Europe,
can you see anything like this?
As far as I'm concerned, nowhere.
The weather has just made it too, of course.
-Your Celtic gods are looking after us.
-I think so.
I'm wandering through the village of Torrin,
a place where the traditional ways of making a living
by crofting and fishing still exist.
But from here, I'm heading south to the cleared villages
of Suisnish and Boreraig.
Till the mid 19th century, these were both thriving communities.
Then the landlords decided they could make more money
by removing the people and bringing in sheep instead.
I've been looking forward to meeting up with an old friend
and an expert in the Highland Clearances, David Craig.
David's spent many years seeking out the stories of the evicted people.
He achieved what many thought was impossible.
By delving into the memories of the descendents of the cleared people,
he established an oral history of that cruel period.
It's been a while since David was last here
and as we made our way east along the coast to Boreraig,
it was obvious he was still very emotional about what he'd heard.
In Mull, I met a woman called Mary Morrison.
This was 20 years ago. I hope she's still alive.
And she was told the story of the Boreraig clearance by her father.
When they came in and cleared the people and their gear out,
and of course the basins were standing ready to make the butter,
well, they extinguished the fires,
which might have been on the floor or the hearth,
by pouring the family stock of milk onto the fires.
Putting out fires with milk.
It makes me squirm to think of it.
-Even the smell must have been horrendous.
You know the smell of burnt milk when the pan boils over...
It certainly went on up in Suisnish, that we've come through,
because a postman, Alasdair Mackinnon,
told me about his Grandmother Robertson and they were evicted
from Suisnish and walked out through Boreraig
and walked on by the loch side.
And he says "The estate officers put us out with the usual cruelty,
"burning the roofs to make the houses uninhabitable
"so we could not come back and pouring the basins of milk outside."
And she had told her little grandson that
"My mother shed more tears that night than we got milk from the cows."
Is this the first of the houses I see ahead of us, David?
That's it. This is the frontier. It feels like a frontier.
That horrible black rock has finished and it's healthy brown rock again.
I call this the start of Boreraig.
There will be more houses to see once we get up there.
It's a while since I've been here.
Everything's always bigger than you remember.
This is five times as big as I remember.
It's what I call a cradle of civilisation.
You just enter into it and you suddenly feel easy...
You've arrived. There's a bit of shelter and a bit of grass...
the sense of calm,
of well being that comes into you in such a moment as that.
Today these villages are deserted,
but, once, they were teeming with life.
Children played here, people were born here, people died here,
there was laughter and, no doubt, tears,
just like any other village in Scotland.
Everything was going on here and, for all they knew in the 1840s,
it was going to go on going on here.
I mean, they were building a super track up the hill there
and they used to get their mail left
under a stone up on the hill for them.
So they were building a future.
The place was as likely to have a future as not.
As like any village we live in today and then bang.
Who can tell how well it would have gone on living in Boreraig
had they not been cleared,
but by the look of it, there's a lot of room
and a lot of arable ground, a lot of room for beasts
and we know there is good fishing
because that rock out there, the big bulge,
is used as a landmark by lobster fishermen.
So it's a place that has a lot of resources for life.
Who knows what it would have been like?
The manner of the Clearing was so harsh that it's hard to think of.
You've visited many cleared villages throughout the Highlands.
How significant is Boreraig and Suisnish compared to these others?
I think there's so much visible, so much in the way of good building
and there's spaciousness in both the places.
The best historian about clearances is called Eric Richards, an Australian professor.
He says it was a bleak place but it's a matter of taste.
It's not Bournemouth. It's not Sauchiehall Street.
Is it bleak? It would look less bleak
if there was potatoes and oats growing and kale and carrots.
And if there were children running about.
When you wrote your book on the crofter's trail,
you spoke to descendants of the people who were cleared.
How emotional an experience was that?
It harrowed me. It made my blood boil.
At least if the story is passed on,
we've got pieces of the lives that were lived.
Throughout this walk I've been aware of the echoes of the past
round every corner, and even now the route is still steeped in history.
I'm on the final three or four miles now
of my journey through the Isle of Skye.
I'm in Strath Suardal and this today is a very peaceful kind of a glen.
Sheep grazing in the fields,
the slopes of Beinn na Caillich rise on one side
and the slopes of Ben Suardal on the other side.
But you know, 100 years ago, this was a real hive of industry.
Marble was quarried from the high slopes of Ben Suardal here,
brought down into the glen, where it was cut and dressed and prepared
and taken by narrow gauge railway up the length of the Strath
to Broadford and Broadford Bay,
where ships would take it all over the world.
And it's said that this marble from Strath and Skye was even finer
than that quarried in Carrara in Northern Tuscany in Italy,
where Michelangelo and some of the great sculptors got their marble from.
And the marble here from Strath
was used in the building of the abbey on Iona.
The middle of last century,
the mine workings here fell into disrepair
but I'm delighted to say the Highland Council
have taken the route of that narrow gauge railway
all the way up the Strath to Broadford,
and that's the route I'm finishing this walk on.
Three or four miles to Broadford and journey's end.
Seven days, 70-odd miles
and I'm almost there.
It's always a bit sad coming to the end of a long walk like this one,
but in this case the sadness has been tempered by some wonderful memories,
some great experiences and I think of our high camp above the waves
at the very tip of Trotternish by Rubha Hunish,
watching minke whales just offshore,
or wandering down the long ridge of Trotternish,
searching for Iceland purslane, that very rare plant.
I think too of wandering down Glen Sligachan
with Sgurr nan Gillean rising on one side and Marsco on the other side.
And that wonderful ascent of Blaven.
Surely the finest of mountains on this island of fine mountains.
And at this time, at the end of a journey, I think of
that great symbol of the Celtic world, the endless knot.
The knot without beginning nor end.
As I sit here at the end of this journey,
I like to think I'm going forward to a new beginning
and I'll tell you, it's not going to be very long
before I return again to Eilean a' Cheo, the Isle of Skye.
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