In this series, historian Paul Murton sets out to experience life on Scotland`s magnificent islands. He uncovers the past and reveals its connections with the present, pointing to all that makes these islands quirky, surprising and beautiful.
Life at the Ends of the Earth
Paul Murton travels to the Outer Hebrides and the beautiful islands of Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay. Meeting local people on Eriskay he discovers how this island`s remote location helped preserve a unique way of life for centuries and also allowed the locals to hide thousands of bottles of whisky from the excise men who came visiting when a ship laden with a valuable and thirst-quenching cargo ran aground here in 1941. This was one of the less sober chapters in the island`s history and was the inspiration for the famous film Whisky Galore.
Moving on to Barra, Paul visits the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach, finds out about the island`s tradition of crofting and goes foraging for cockles. Heading across the causeway to Vatersay, Paul joins local fishermen trawling for lobsters and ends his journey at spectacular Barra Head, which has been uninhabited for more than a hundred years.
Far from the Madding Crowd
For this grand tour, Paul Murton is exploring the Isle of Mull and its satellite islands to discover why they have become boltholes from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Beginning his journey on the tidal island of Erraid, which inspired famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul is then island-hopping to beautiful Ulva, the final resting place of Lachlan MacQuarrie, one of the first governors of New South Wales. MacQuarrie is known as the father of Australia, but Ulva is where this celebrated Scot was born and it is where he chose to be buried.
Leaving peaceful Ulva behind, Paul heads off to explore Mull itself and is given a whistle-stop tour of the island by rally driver Louise Thomas, who regularly competes in the world-famous Mull Rally.
After seeing Mull at breakneck speed, it`s time for some tranquillity and Paul travels to the mysterious little island of Inch Kenneth. This is where some of the earliest kings of Scotland are buried, but in more recent times Inch Kenneth was owned by the aristocratic and eccentric English family, the Mitfords, and Paul discovers the island has a dark secret. This is where Unity Mitford, who was a Nazi sympathiser, was hidden by her family when, distraught at the news that Britain had gone to war with her beloved Germany, she shot herself. The badly injured Unity was taken to Inch Kenneth to recuperate and hide from the world.
To raise his spirits Paul heads to his final destination, the beautiful and remote Treshnish Islands, where he experiences a spot of puffin therapy.
A New Island Life
In this episode Paul Murton is visiting two islands of the Inner Hebrides, Gigha and Jura, which are only a few miles apart but couldn`t be more different. He begins his journey at the stunning Achamore Gardens on Gigha, which were created in the 1930s by the malted drink millionaire Colonel Sir James Horlick. Sir James loved Gigha`s mild climate so much that he bought the island and made it his home. Today Gigha is owned by the community and many of its residents are incomers attracted by the opportunity to begin a new island life on this small and fertile place. Where Gigha is small, lush and verdant, Paul`s next destination, Jura, is rugged and awe-inspiring. Despite being one of Scotland`s largest islands, just 200 people live on Jura alongside more than 5,000 deer - but then Jura does mean deer in Norse. Paul continues his exploration of the island by taking a boat trip to experience the infamous Corryvreckan whirlpool at the north of Jura, which nearly claimed the life of author George Orwell, before visiting the remote and beautiful Glen Garrisdale Bay and getting a lesson in how to cut peat.
So Near, So Far
For this grand tour, Paul Murton is travelling by puffer to explore a little-known string of islands just off the west coast near Oban. Paul`s first landfall is the island of Kerrera, which Paul discovers played a hugely important role during the Second World War as a base for the RAF`s Seaplan Squadron. It was from here that the enormous Sunderland seaplanes took off to give air cover to vulnerable convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic. Leaving Kerrera behind, Paul hops back to the mainland and heads by road to cross the famous `Bridge over the Atlantic` to Seil Island and then by ferry onto Easdale. For nearly 200 years, Easdale and the neighbouring islands of Luing and Belnahua produced slate to help build Britain`s empire. Tragically, a terrible storm in 1881 flooded the quarries with seawater and put an end to the slate industry here, but Paul discovers that Easdale itself remains little changed, with its whitewashed cottages and a vibrant, though small, community. Paul`s last destination on this grand tour is Eileach an Naoimh, one of the Garvallach islands, and home to the oldest Christian burial site in Scotland, which is believed to be the final resting place of Saint Columba`s mother.
Keeping It All Together
There are some seventy islands in the Orkney archipelago but just how much of a challenge is it to keep all these islands connected? To find out, Paul Murton is making a grand tour of Outer Orkney and begins his journey at North Ronaldsay. This may be the most northerly of the Orkneys, but Paul discovers that it`s actually surprisingly well connected with a regular airline service - in fact it`s easier and quicker to get here than to many isolated spots in the Highlands. From here Paul is island hopping to Papa Stronsay, which is now populated by an order of monks who have chosen to make this isolated island their home.
Paul`s final destination is the most southerly of the Orkneys, the island of Stroma in the Pentland Firth, which sadly is no longer inhabited. Despite only being two miles from the mainland, life on this island became just too difficult and it was abandoned in the 1950s. Paul makes a poignant journey to visit Stroma along with one of the last islanders to live there and who remembers what it was like when it was still a thriving community.
The final episode of the series sees Paul Murton visiting the `Atlantic Twin` islands of Coll and Tiree. Paul begins his journey on Coll where he meets the charismatic owner of Breachacha Castle, Nicolas Maclean Bristol, a descendant of the ancient MacLeans of Coll, whose history on the island goes back to the 14th century. The population of Coll has slumped in recent years to just 200 people, but Nicolas runs a charity on the island which encourages young volunteers to come and work here from all over the world, and so this tiny, remote island has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel to it.
Leaving Coll behind, Paul heads for Tiree, which boasts one of the best sunshine records in the UK. It can indeed be beautifully sunny here, but it can also be extremely windy. Tiree is one of the stormiest places in Europe and, with a gale blowing 160 days of the year, life here is always something of a battle against the elements. But resourceful locals have found interesting ways to harness the islands` assets - Tiree is one of the best places in Britain to windsurf and also to sand yacht, a relatively new sport which involves racing up and down the beach in a go-kart with a sail, which Paul discovers is an exciting - if slightly alarming - experience.
To end this final Grand Tour, Paul takes a boat trip out to the iconic lighthouse on the rocky outcrop of Skerryvore.