Review | National Parks & Islands on the Edge
Two TV seasons focusing on Britain’s wild places began broadcasting in the UK this week; the BBC’s Hebrides – Islands on the Edge, and Caroline Quentin’s National Parks beginning in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. As a big fan of BBC Nature documentaries as a whole, and having spent many holidays in the Hebrides and long weekends in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, both seemed like a great excuse to be a couch potato for the week.
As I sat down to watch Caroline Quentin’s National Parks Episode 1, I was immediately captivated by the early sequence featuring the Loch Lomond sea-plane. Now, I’ve never been on the Loch Lomond seaplane, or any seaplane for that matter, but this is the third time in just over a week sea-planes have been brought to my attention (the first time was the Macs Adventure Glasgow to Inverness by any means trip pictured below, the second was my friend being given a trip voucher). I think it is a sign. I’ll be adding that to my things-do-do list.
As Caroline and her pilot soar over the Loch, I am genuinely captivated by the aerial view of the peaceful loch, with reflections of a moody sky and a magnificent backdrop of the south west highlands. I usually have the traditional Scottish reluctance to express enthusiasm for anything too directly, but in this case that other Scottish trait, fierce local loyalty (it’s alright for us to make fun of the country but woe betide a person of any other nationality to do so), takes hold and I think “that’s my country”. It is this point I’m looking around and nodding satisfactorily. Not that anyone can see me.
However, back to the narrative. After the seaplane, we move on to Inveraray Castle. Hang on a minute, Inveraray? I don’t think that’s in the national park. I consult my phone (what on earth did I do in the days before I could google all my questions and have the answer in less than 5 seconds?), I’m right. Nonetheless, tartanry ahoy, we are at the Highland Games. If you have never been, Inveraray is a lovely place to visit…just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a stone’s throw from Loch Lomond (well, unless you can re-direct the seaplane). Caroline gushes about how cute everyone is in their tartan and flirts outrageously with a man with a caber. It’s fun, it’s lighthearted….but I feel like I’m watching Brigadoon.
Ah, that’s the Loch Lomond I remember: Caroline and the leader of a team of wildlife volunteers are landing their small craft on an island pebble beach…memories come flooding back of picnics in the sunshine, delightful isolation…Hmmm, the midges seem to have got bigger since the last time I was there. Oh, wait, no, they’re bats on Inchcailloch Island. Less than an hour from the bustle of Glasgow, Loch Lomond’s islands are a haven of complete seclusion and peace. Most are privately owned, but usually happy for visitors to roam (observing the country code of course). It is at this point that Caroline summarises the sense of reassurance and harmony that places such as this can offer. As a moving aside, she mentions the recent passing of her mother, and the healing nature of the countryside around her.
Next, a wild swimming enthusiast with an undeniably Scottish complexion is wearing swimwear more suited to Marbella to dip into water that a penguin would balk at. I can’t help but wonder how Caroline kept a straight face. Having swam in Loch Lomond on a sunny day in mid-July, I can vouch for it being “chilly”. Astoundingly refreshing on a sunny day in mid-July, but this is far from a sunny summer’s day! Wisely, Caroline opts for a full wetsuit.
I learned an interesting fact: Caroline announces that Loch Lomond is deeper than the North Sea, having been gouged out by a vast glacier. Knowing that seems to enhance the majesty and mystery of it to me…goodness knows what’s been lurking beneath my feet as I have merrily practiced my front-crawl.
Incidentally, I thought I might share this shot of me on the summit of Ben Lomond. There is a story there, which is for another time perhaps! You never know what's round the corner in this particular national park.
Onwards to a local Ceilidh. I’m not saying that Ceilidhs pop up on daily basis (not to my experience anyway), but I have been to a few local Ceilidhs in the area, and it is an altogether more genuine experience than the highland games. If you are visiting Scotland, and get the opportunity to attend a small local Ceilidh in a bar or community hall – do it! After the Ceilidh, the episode draws to a close Caroline rounds off, summarising her positive experience of the area.
But hold on, what happened to the Trossachs? Admittedly, Loch Lomond is a big draw for visitors to the area, but the remainder of this 720 sq mile area has been largely ignored. What about the Trossachs, what about the Argyll Forest? Perhaps the area has so much to offer, the production team couldn’t possibly fit it into a 1 hour documentary and had to stop filming after Loch Lomond!
On to the BBC’s Islands on the Edge series, narrated by Ewan McGregor, which I caught up with on the BBC iPlayer.
Visually, in accordance with most BBC nature documentaries, this was just stunning. Ewan however, did not in any way manage to steal the crown of Mr Attenborough as far as narration goes. Throughout the hour long programme, he sounded a little…bored.
Still, it was a very informative hour, focusing around Jura, Oronsay and Colonsay. Swallows sheltered in a distillery, in peaceful harmony with the fermenting barley mash. We quickly move under the sea, squat lobsters and things with tentacles sway in the autumn tides. I always had a bit of a fear of rockpools.
Seals and Otters adapt to the changing season as the islands move into winter. The awesome power of the swells of the phenomenal tides are shown in wonderfully dramatic documentary film-making. I feel a bit seasick watching a small vessel wrestle with the conflicting tides as a drop in the sea floor means the sea literally drops into a cavernous space, churning like a mighty cauldron. A seal pup fights to survive against the highest tides of the year. Majestic red deer and soaring birdlife are also shown in splendid photography. The islands themselves seem glorious and rugged, and the sense of remoteness is prevalent.
Sadly, as big a fan of Ewan as I am, the narration was a bit flat, and I didn’t feel as drawn into the narrative as I usually am by this genre of programming. However, I could watch the landscapes of the Hebrides all day! I’m back on my web browser, following the path of the film-making across Jura, Oronsay and Colonsay.
I put down my phone and reach for the decanter. I’m out of Jura Single-Malt, and the closest I have in stock is Glenfiddich. Close enough for me! And I’m booking my summer holiday this weekend, my partner suggests the West Highland Way, I suggest the Hebrides. I wonder what influenced us?
BBC: Islands on the Edge
Caroline Quentin's National Parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Macs Adventure: Glasgow to Inverness by any means (Facebook Album)