Winter Special

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Duration: 1 hour

The Countryfile team heads north to experience winter on the Hebridean island of North Uist. Matt Baker meets the family who are setting up home there after moving six hundred miles from Cornwall, and he heads to a ceilidh to learn some traditional Scottish dancing.

Meanwhile, Julia Bradbury finds out about the extreme weather that hits the island in winter; John Craven barters his away through North Uist, swapping some of his local produce with some traditional Hebridean food; and Ellie Harrison goes hunting for some of island's most elusive creatures.

Last on

Sun 5 Feb 2012 12:05 BBC One except Scotland

See all previous episodes from Countryfile


    Also known as The Western Isles, this string of beautiful but remote islands lies off the west coast of Scotland, only accessed by air or sea. The Countryfile team journeys to an area known as the ‘Uists'.

    Connected by causeways, these small islands - each with its own character - have an overall population of around 5000 people.

    Despite the unusually freezing conditions, our Countryfile presenters are met with the warmest of greetings from this close-knit community, whose traditions and values have created a haven for the flora and fauna of this stunning landscape.

    More about Uist
  • South Uist Hills

    South Uist Hills

    The Outer Hebrides provided the perfect setting for filming the Winter special programme.


    The Countryfile team saw some extreme weather during the making of the programme, when the islands were covered in snow and ice – a rare occurrence in a place that is known for its milder winters due to the Gulf Stream.

    On 11th January 2005, the islands and much of the west coast of Scotland were hit by the most severe storm in living memory. Hurricane force winds ripped roofs from houses. Roads, causeways and harbours connecting the low-lying islands were destroyed. Fishing boats were wrecked and livestock drowned. Uist and Barra suffered badly: five members of the same family travelling in two cars were swept to their deaths whilst trying to escape the devastation. Islanders always keep a keen eye on the weather forecasts in winter. There are several weather stations on the islands, including a large station on South Uist (located on MOD land). Julia finds out how the station measures wind speed, sea conditions, atmosphere and temperature and how that data is collected and distributed.

  • Braving the chill

    Braving the chill

    Julia and producer Andrew wrap up warm during the Winter snow.


    Ten years ago, the islands were joined together by a series of causeways, opening up trade opportunities between the communities. John embarks on a mission to gather – and trade – local produce from Grimsay to North Uist to Benbecula. He has to earn his prizes along the way however, by helping in their making, catching and collecting. Armed with two bottles of Yorkshire Ale, John meets a velvet-crab fisherman, visits a glow-in-the-dark greenhouse and gets stuck into the labour of making a traditional black pudding.

    Sustainable Uist website
  • Champion Black Pudding maker

    Champion Black Pudding maker

    Ena invites John and the crew into the warm for this traditionally prepared dish of black pudding.


    Adam joins a crofting family from the Isle of Berneray as they take their calves to the last cattle market of the year at Lochmaddy on North Uist. The market opens on a seasonal basis and buyers come from hundreds of miles away to pick-up strong, healthy stock. The cattle on the islands has special ‘high health status’ which attracts people from the mainland looking for guaranteed disease-free animals.

    Uist and Barra Cattle Breeders
  • Cattle droving

    Cattle droving

    Ellie and Angus drove Highland cattle on the island of Vallay.


    What better way to warm the cockles than a good old-fashioned knees-up? Matt and John learn some Scottish country dance steps when they join the local people of North Uist for a Countryfile Ceilidh.

    More about Ceilidh dancing
  • John at the Ceilidh

    John at the Ceilidh

    John Craven joins locals for a festive dance on North Uist.


    Rarer than rainforests, this coastal grassland is unique to the north-western fringe of Europe. More than 70% of it can be found in Western Scotland, mostly on offshore islands like the Uists. Working the machair is a huge part of Gaelic culture, supporting communities and wildlife like no other habitat.
    Low-intensity methods of crofting are what created this precious environment and Julia meets the crofter as he fertilises the machair with seaweed - in abundance on the shores after winter storms. Growing produce has been a tricky balance for many centuries with a choice between alkaline machair and acidic peat as a base. Julia meets the project workers testing the best conditions for a bumper crop.

    More about Machair
  • Sunset Over Benbecular

    Sunset Over Benbecular

    The crew witnessed many stunning sunsets over the islands.


    Matt meets the Cornish family who are making the bold move to the Hebrides. The Milburns are hopeful that their application for a croft of their own will be successful in the coming weeks, but in the meantime they are preparing for their first Christmas on the islands, with a helping hand from Matt. Children Cador and Isolde show him just a few of the animals they have moved from Cornwall so far!

    The Crofters Commission
  • At 'The Croft'

    At 'The Croft'

    Matt and the crew outside of 'The Croft' – which became Countryfile HQ during filming


    Winter is a great time to look for otters, especially on the Uists which is one of the best otter-spotting locations in the UK. Ellie discovers the clues left behind by the playful mammals and sees a wild otter for the first time. Freshwater otters on the mainland are often elusive, but on the Uists, otters rely on both marine and freshwater habitats for feeding so can be seen at all times of day at night.

    Otters in the Outer Hebrides


Julia Bradbury
Matt Baker
John Craven
Ellie Harrison


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