The Outer Hebrides
This rugged remote coast is a wonderland of stacks, secret inlets
and wind swept secluded beaches. The dramatic coastline is rich with culture
and traditions which are deeply rooted across the 120 islands that make
up the Outer Hebrides.
Island of Mingulay - Past occupation of the island
is the second most southerly of the group of islands known as the Bishops
Isles which are to be found at the Southern tip of the Outer Hebrides.
It takes its name from the Norse for "big island". It measures
two-and-a-half miles by one-and-a-half, and has an area of just under
1600 acres. Largely comprising gneiss rocks that have stood here for 3,000
years, they have eroded to form impressive rock stacks and majestic cliffs
rising over 150m in height.
hard to imagine that anyone could settle here. For 2,000 years a community
lived here until 1912 when Mingulay lost its community for good. In the
1880s the island had a thriving community with a population of 160.
Neil Oliver meets up with Callum MacNeil whose ancestral family once
owned the island and lived here for generations.
The community had an age old lifestyle with work being shared between
the men and women. When the men went out fishing the women would tend
to the cattle, do the weaving or pluck the sea birds so that feathers
could be sent to the neighbouring Island of Barra and onwards to Glasgow.
and traditions were passed on by word of mouth. Many people memorised
their family line by adding the names of their ancestors to their own
full names. It's a tradition that survived the test of time, and one that
means Callum can trace his family line back for 500 years.
Mingulay has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 2000
and two buildings still stand: the Schoolhouse, which was built in the
1880s by the Free Church Ladies' Association and later used as a sheep
farmer's bothy; and the Chapel House, a Catholic priest's house built
Island of Vatersay
causeway links the small island of Vatersay to the rest of the world.
In 1991, the population increased by over a third to just under 100 people.
With such a small population the local inhabitants are use to multiskilling.
Local postman, Michael Campbell can turn his hand to most things. He provides
a glimpse into his life, the community on the island, and one of his real
passions music and his band The Vatersay Boys.
Island of Eriskay - Whisky Galore!
During the Second World War merchant ships would gather at Loch Ewe before
heading out to sea in convoy - trying to avoid German U Boats.
Galore!' is a post war (1949) Ealing comedy film about a ship that ran
aground of the coast of Scotland. Based on the book of the same name by
Compton MacKenzie, the book and the film tell the story of how local people
tried to get their hands on its cargo - several cases of scotch. But one
story that isn't fiction is that of the convoy ship, the SS Politician.
In February 1941 the ship, packed to the gunnels with an unusual cargo,
a quarter of a million bottles of the finest scotch whisky left Liverpool
docks on course for the north west of Scotland where she was to rendezvous
with the rest of the Atlantic convoy.
But just south of the Outer Hebrides the weather took a turn for the
worse and with lighthouses working on reduced power due to the war, the
ship went badly off course and hit a rocky island between Eriskay and
The crew all abandoned ship leaving the cargo onboard. News of the precious
cargo spread around the islands in a flash. Within a short while nearly
every islander had a clutch of whisky bottles hidden in their homes.
of the crew was Maurice Watson, a 17 year old cadet at the time. Miranda
Krestovnikoff joins Maurice as he returns to the site for the first time
in 65 years.
A government salvage team stripped the SS Politician by day but the islanders
took their turn at night. One of the locals was 97 year old Iain Smith.
He tells Miranda about how he managed to salvage four cases of the ships
But local customs men weren't happy that all this duty free whisky was
flowing so freely across the islands. Homes were raided, whisky bottles
confiscated and even fishing boats were impounded. In all 35 islanders
were arrested and 19 were sent to prison.
Eventually the SS Politician was blown up, but the tale doesn't end there.
Today, if you happen to come across a bottle from the ships cargo it can
fetch up to £10,000 at auction!
Since filming, Iain Smith who contributed to this programme has passed
Askernish - Forgotten Golf Course
among the rolling dunes of the west coast of South Uist is an 18 hole
golf course designed by the god father of modern golf, Old Tom Morris.
There had long been rumours of a lost course. It had been concealed here
for 70 years by grassland and wildflowers and was only discovered last
year by local golfers.
Morris, a four times Open champion, criss-crossed the country by train,
steamer and donkey cart laying out courses ranging from the renowned Muirfield,
to Uist's obscure Askernish.
designed the 18-hole links course in 1892 at the invitation of the laird,
Lady Cathcart, laying it out on a coastal strip used as common grazing
for sheep and cattle. It lost half its holes in 1936 when the RAF needed
nine for a runway and when the military left it was never put back together.
Neil Oliver meets up with golf course consultant Gordon Irvine and Course
Architect Martin Ebert who plan to return it to its former glory, of 114
of Harris - Traditional Boat Building
For many years in these parts the most efficient way of getting around
was by boat.
Traditional boat builder John MacAulay shows the craftsmanship and skills
of traditional boat building, which have been passed on for generations.
Isle of Lewis - Birth of an Oil Industry
is the largest town on Lewis and the commercial hub for the islands. Over
150 years ago it saw the surprising birth of an oil industry.
In 1844 the island was owned by James Matheson who helped build the area
for the community.
Although Matheson had retired he was forever the entrepreneur, and it
was more than the natural beauty of the island that caught his eye - it
was the islands vast resource of peat.
years peat had been used as a domestic fuel. Matheson wanted to take it
one step further and use the peat to make hydrocarbon oil. At the time
paraffin oil was used for lighting and it came from fish and whales. But
how did Matteson make oil from peat?
Armed with a bag of peat and a metal drum, Mike Bullivant from the Open
University illustrates the magical properties of peat. By burning the
peat, tar is extracted and distilled further, extracting paraffin oil.
Matheson set up his works at his castle, but the process poisoned the
fish in his pond so he moved the process outside. But when all the fish
were poisoned in the nearby river, Matheson called in chemist Dr Benjamin
Paul to take charge of the distillation.
The process also gave of a flammable gas - which the night watch man
discovered when doing his rounds with a candle, resulting in the chimney
catching fire. Forever efficient, Dr Paul used the excess gas to burn
the peat, which was used to make paraffin lamp oil, candles, and the excess
tar was sold as lubricant and sheep dip.
Roberts joins Ali Whiteford and discovers how this area of peat land was
transformed into a full blown chemical works. The Lewis Chemical Works
was the first company to be a commercial success of converting peat into
oil. But Dr Paul left and his successor cooked the books, lining his own
Twenty two years later the site closed and all that's visible today is
the track of the Works.
Patrick Winterton's Kayak Trip
Winterton carried out a 750 mile kayak trip unaided and all alone from
Glasgow to the outer Hebrides, with a brief stop at St Kilda and onto
Muckle Flugga in the Shetlands, the UK's most northerly point.
Neil Oliver caught up with Patrick who tells him about this magnificent
journey, the perils faced and also the pleasure of arriving on islands
and beaches that have not been set foot on in years.
The Shiants - Puffins
Shiant islands are three small islands of the east coast of Lewis. Buzzing
with wildlife, it is one of the biggest puffin colonies on our coast.
Every April thousands of Puffins return here from the north Atlantic to
This is the perfect place for these dumpy, quirky birds who are at home
in the air, on land or in the water.
puffin's wings act as fins and webbed feet become a rudder making them
fly through water. They can dive to a depth of over 60 metres reaching
speeds of 5 ½ miles an hour - faster than a record holding Olympic
The sea here provides a rich source of food and they can dig out their
burrows in the soft peat soil quite easily with the peat acting as an
insulator, but it can get water logged. Miranda Krestovnikoff meets with
RSPB conservationist, Martin Scott, and takes a peak into their homes.
St Kilda - Conservation of the Island
The rugged islands of St Kilda have the biggest sea cliffs, the largest
sea bird colonies and also the remotest village street in the UK.
contact with the industrial world helped destroy the traditional way of
life and the last islanders left in 1930.
Archaeologist from the National Trust of Scotland, Samantha Dennis, is
joined every summer by a team of conservationists who come to the island
with a variety of skills to try and help preserve its past.
Isle of Lewis - Calanais Standing Stones
standing stones on Calanais are around 5000 years old. There are many
stories and theories as to why the circle was erected but no one really
Some say it's associated with the sun, stars and moon, but we may never
Isle of Lewis - Wind Farm
Outer Hebrides has a vast quantity of a natural resource - strong winds.
When coming across the Atlantic the north west of Lewis is the first place
the strong south westerly winds hit.
With average wind speeds here being 50% higher than the national average
it's a natural resource some locals tap into - but developers are keen
to take things one step further.
Cockburn join engineer and wind turbine expert Richard Tarves, who uses
a kite to illustrate high altitude pulling power and how wind speeds,
can make a difference. Basically the higher the kite goes, the higher
the wind speed and stronger the wind power.
There's a plan by developers to harness this natural resource and who
propose to make the worlds largest onshore wind farm.
Spread over 30 miles of moorland, they intend to put up 180 wind turbines
that are 140 metres tall to reach where the wind blows stronger.
scale and size of the wind farm horrifies locals - the size of it is the
equivalent of it stretching right across greater London.
Hermione joins Catriona Campbell from the local group 'Moors without
Turbines' to find out about the impact the wind farm would have on the
local area and community.
Would you like to find out what
music was used in this programme?
The Outer Hebrides: Thursday 7 Dec, 8pm on BBC TWO