WHAT makes a good loch? Size, location, geology are all up there, but for Paul Murton none of that matters without three crucial things: stories, people and history.
The presenter has newly returned to our screens with the fourth outing of the BBC Scotland travel documentary series Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs.
Making this latest instalment, though, was a different experience than in previous years. The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown meant that filming was pushed back.
“Normally, we would be on the road from the end of April up until the middle of June,” says Murton. “We were delayed by three months. The weather was completely different. We got lots of fantastic autumn colours and some late summer sunshine.”
This postponed travel schedule also meant grappling with a dreaded adversary: the midge. There is a shudder in his voice as Murton recounts the voracity of these tiny flying beasts.
“We got the worst of the midges,” he says. “I am used to midges. But the midges last year were unreal, particularly on one tour I did where I walked from Kinlochleven up past the Blackwater Reservoir and across the moor to Loch Chiarain.
“The midges were exploding out of this boggy ground with every footstep. It was horrendous. We had planned to spend the night – me, the cameraman and the sound recordist – in a bothy around halfway, but because of Covid restrictions it was locked.
Paul Murton during the filming of Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs. Picture: Neil McLennan/Tern TV/BBC
“I had a tiny wee tent and the sound recordist had a bivvy bag. But even with midge nets on, there is a lot of psychology involved when it comes to midges. You only have to think of them and you start scratching, knowing they were buzzing around in such thick mass …”
The midges even managed to claim their five minutes of fame. “When we finished filming and were back in Kinlochleven, the cameraman was setting up to do some shots of the loch,” he says. “Again, there was this huge swarm of midges – the air was thick.
“I recorded them on my phone and they were crawling all over the camera. I put it on Twitter and within an hour I got 63,000 views from that one little clip. Normally when I am on the road, I manage to miss them, but they outdid Covid in making life difficult for us.”
Murton has a few series of Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs under his belt now. Is he getting bored of traipsing round the country? Not one jot. Each odyssey brings fresh adventures and a raft of new tales. Here, he shares some of his most memorable loch-themed moments.
LOCHS STEEPED IN HISTORY
After kicking off the new series on Skye last week, the second episode will see Murton venture to Loch Glashan, above Loch Fyne, in Argyll where he travels back in time.
“Loch Glashan is not a pretty loch but historically it is interesting because they found an ancient crannog and artefacts from the Iron Age and the Bronze Age there,” he says. “I met someone who is deeply involved in reconstructing the past and very passionate about Iron Age and Pictish culture.
Paul Murton paddles a coracle on Loch Glashan. Picture: Tern TV/BBC
“He showed me how to go out in a coracle he had built: basically, a wicker basket covered in cured deer hide. I was given a wee paddle and attempted to paddle this contraption across the loch.
“I found it almost impossible. There was a wind blowing. I was putting all my effort into a strange figure of eight stroke you have to make with one paddle but still remained stationary.”
“The most beautiful loch would have to be Loch Coruisk in Skye,” says Murton. “It sits at the centre of the Black Cuillin mountain range which forms a horseshoe around the loch. It is a freshwater loch and lies just a few feet above sea level. There is a short river that connects it to the sea.
“Loch Coruisk is at the bottom of an ancient volcano and extraordinarily beautiful. The day we were there was absolutely perfect – there wasn’t a breath of wind. The sun was beating down. The mountains all around – the rocky peaks and spires of the Cuillin – were reflected in the water.”
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF LOCHS
“I was brought up on the shores of Loch Long where my parents had a hotel in Ardentinny,” he says. “The school bus to Dunoon Grammar School went around two lochs: the southern end of Loch Long and then Holy Loch which, when I was a kid, was occupied by the US Navy.
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“Growing up, we went to Loch Sween and a place called Kilmory. I remember the fantastic views across the rocky skerries towards the Paps of Jura and Islay, and the beautiful white sand.
“As a teenager, I would often hitch-hike to see friends in Glasgow and go over the Rest and Be Thankful, down to Arrochar and Tarbet, then along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”
ALL-TIME FAVOURITE LOCH
“It is impossible to pick,” says Murton. “That is like trying to answer: what is your favourite album? It depends on who you are with and what was going on at the time.
“I am fond of Loch Achray in the Trossachs. It is not far from where I stay. It is beautiful. Many years ago, I was a student living with a bunch of other students in an old manse house on the shore.
Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs. Picture: Paul Murton/Tern TV/BBC
“I have fond memories of parties and all sorts of cavorting going on in this picturesque place. It is still somewhere I visit regularly and cycle round on my bike.”
FAVOURITE WAY TO EXPLORE LOCHS
“If it is a sea loch, I would love to sail in it – I love sailing. I have a share of an old boat, but I rarely get the chance to go out in it because I am always filming and working when everyone else is sailing,” he says.
“There was one autumn I went sailing with my friend up into Loch Hourn and we went as far as we possibly could and anchored up. It was remote with not a single living soul for miles, not a light on the shore, no sound of any internal combustion engine – nothing.
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“It was an incredibly still night and you could hear the stags rutting up on the hills all around us. It was magical.”
Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs continues on BBC One Scotland, Wednesdays, 7.30pm