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24 September 2014

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Western Scotland - The Coast and Western Isles


Islands and Inlets

map of the programme's journey

Scotland's west coast has the most jagged and dramatic coastline in Great Britain. It's only 300 miles as the seagull flies, but once you add in the dozens of islands anchored off this rugged coastline it is thousands of miles.

Glasgow, Govan - Clyde Built

shipFor centuries the River Clyde which lies at the heart of Glasgow was home to the most successful and skilled shipbuilders in the world. The words "Clyde Built" were once synonymous with craftsmanship, quality and reliability; the famous luxury cruise liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth slid down the slipways of Glasgow's yards. During the post-war years, in the face of stiff competition from overseas, shipbuilding on the Clyde fell apart.

But a few of the yards are fighting back. In Govan, Alice Roberts joins the launch team of BAE Systems getting ready to trumpet the naming of their newest creation, the 11,000 tonne Cardigan Bay. The successful launch day heralds a new feeling of optimism in the shipyards for the first time in decades.

Clyde, Faslane - HM Naval Base

25 miles north-west from Glasgow lies Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. It's the largest military establishment in Scotland and home to the UK's entire nuclear arsenal: four Trident nuclear submarines properly known as Vanguard Class Submarines. At any given time one of these four submarines is silently patrolling the seas. Neil Oliver joins the crew of Trident submarine HMS Vanguard as it's escorted out of Faslane Bay to begin a gruelling set of sea trials designed to test the craft and her new crew to their limits.

Faslane is not open to the public, but you can find out more about its history and the Submarine Service on the Royal Navy’s website.

Jura - Corryvrechan Whirlpool

CorryvrechanThe gulf of Corryvrechan lies between the Hebridean islands of Jura and Scarba. In this spectacular setting is the third largest whirlpool in the world. The gulf is only one mile wide but four fierce currents converging over an underwater pyramid make it one of the most dangerous places to navigate in the British Isles. Mark Horton discovers what causes such a fearsome whirlpool.

The Corryvrechan Whirlpool isn't just one but a collection of whirlpools. They are not present all of the time; when the tide is slack the gulf is glassy calm. The appearance of the whirlpools is controlled by forces beyond our planet. The gravitational pull of the moon affects tides and in turn the appearance of the whirlpools. The best time to see the Corryvrechan whirlpool is in the autumn on a flood tide.

The public can go out to see the Corryvrechan whirlpool by boat and they can also dive around this area.

Tarbet - Frank's bunkhouse

Frank the HermitFrank's bunkhouse in Knoydart is in a place called Tarbet - across the water from Mallaig. It is only accessible by boat (there is an irregular ferry) or a seven mile walk in.

Walkers can stay over in the converted church for a few pounds on a drop in basis (but only if he likes them).

Eigg and Rhum - Minke whales

whalewatchingEvery spring Minke whales head to the west coast of Scotland to spend the summer months feeding on the rich supply of fish. Miranda joins researcher Brennen Fariburns on a trip around the islands of Eigg and Rhum in search of the Minkes.

Brennen and his team have been photographing and keeping a catalogue of the whales which return to the west coast year after year. The results of this study have shown that many whales return specifically to the coastal waters around Mull each year. This highlights the importance of this area for the Minke whales.

Skye - Linday’s Rutter

For centuries the islands and sea routes around the west coast were controlled not by the Scottish King but by the powerful local Scottish clans known as the Lords of the Isles. Seafaring was in these clan chiefs' bloods - they knew these waters like the back of their hands and weren't too keen on any east coast Monarch trying to exert any control over them.

In 1539 the Stuart King James V decided that he wanted to bring these rebellious clans to heel, but to do so he had to know how to navigate around those treacherous miles of coastline as well as the local clansmen. For this James would need a map, so the king commissioned Alexander Lindsay, the foremost navigator of his day, to produce Rutter - a list of sailing directions that would enable the King and his navy to sail into the heart of clan territory and wrestle control of the Western isles back from the Lords of the Isles.

Scarp - Rocket Post

diagram of rocketThe tiny island of Scarp now lies uninhabited just off the coast of the Isle of Harris in one of the most remote corners of Great Britain. But at the beginning of the 1900s Scarp had a thriving population who made a living crofting the land and fishing the local seas. In January 1934 Scarp hit the headlines when a young mother couldn't get a message to her doctor on the mainland and ended up giving birth to twin daughters on separate islands and two days apart.

rocket launchingWhen news of the twins' dramatic birth reached the ears of a German rocket inventor, Gerhard Zucker, he travelled to Scarp intent on solving the island's communication problems. His solution was air mail – delivered not by aircraft but by rocket. In July 1934 Zucker made two unsuccessful attempts at firing his rocket mail between Scarp and Harris. Neil Oliver and Mark Horton joins two modern rocketeers and take up where Zucker left off.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge

Battle of the Atlantic Animation
Scottish Timeline: Last Lord of the Isles
Ages of Treasure timeline
Jacobites and the Union
Battle of Culloden
The Jacobite Cause
Bonnie Prince Charlie's Journey of Rebellion Animation
Scottish Timeline: Jacobites
The Bizarre Basking Shark

On the rest of the web
Scottish Maritime Museum
Royal Navy
Marine Life Information Network: Minke whales
National Library of Scotland: Maps
British Postal Museum and Archive: Rocket post

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

South West & Ayrshire
Western Highlands & Islands
Highlands & Northern Isles

Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

Life on the Edge - Cape Wrath to Orkney

Nick takes part in a NATO exercise at the Cape Wrath bombing range; Neil meets the descendants of the people displaced by the Highland Clearances; and the survivors of the worst loss of British Naval life in Scapa Flow; whilst Alice visits the Dounreay reactor.


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