Nearly 20 years ago, I visited Scotland for the first time, and I became a believer in genetic memory. I had grown up in the foothills of Appalachia, surrounded by strong wry people, rolling hills and bluegrass music. Something about the Scottish landscape and its people felt oddly like home. It was only after that I learned of my Scots heritage, and somehow it all made sense. For the next ten years, I spent a good part of my summers exploring this new found homeland by rail and foot, camping off the beaten trail, watching dolphins in the western coastal waters, talking about music, getting takeaway and visiting friends.
With the Scotland series of DVDs recently released from BFS Entertainment, I no longer need a plane ticket to recapture some of my awe and love for Scotland. The 3 sets – Highlands, Mountains and Islands – each consist of 6 episodes and 150 minutes of aerial photography and panoramic views. The scale of the landscape is incredible, and each collection has its own focus and style.
Of the three DVD sets, Highlands is the most overtly historical perspective, with John Michie (of Taggart and Coronation Street fame) guiding us through a series of interviews and bite-sized historical facts as he takes us on a tour of the Highlands geography. The people he encounters include historians, rangers and local residents.
Unlike the other two Scotland DVD packages, the case for Highlands does not list the specific episodes or provide their content, partly because Michie provides a more comprehensive narrative approach to the history rather than a series of stand-alone travelogue-type portrayals of specific areas of the Highlands.
Episode 1 is titled “The Landscapes of Our Time” and introduces us to a recreated township in order to help us better understand the traditional clan system and way of life from medieval times until the 1800s. This first episode creates a context for us to view the following segments. The township is enlightening, castles are beautiful, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone has not heard of Loch Ness.
Episode 2 (“Perth”) dives more fully into a historical overview, concentrating on the Great Glen border between the Highlands and the rest of Scotland. Michie helps us understand the difference between Highlanders and Lowlanders. I was surprised by the fact that the English and Lowlanders of the time generally knew more about mainland Europe than the Highlands’ culture. The history of Fort William and the Glencoe Massacre is interwoven with breathtaking images of the region, so the history never feels ponderous.
Episode 3 gives us perspective on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the truth behind the myths of the Jacobites, while Episode 4 concentrates on the west coast of the Highlands and what happened to the highland culture after their Jacobite defeat: life after Battle of Culloden and the military occupation of the highlands.
Episode 5 brings us into the 19th Century, with the Highland Clearances and the migration of the highlanders to the coastal regions. Episode 6 picks up after the clearances and follows the Highlander migration south to industrial cities, such as Glasgow. This episode also becomes a bit wistful as it asks people to imagine what the Highlands would have been like if the Clearances had never happened.
For those interested in a better understanding of Scotland’s history, particularly the past several centuries, this is like walking along with your own personal guide and encountering the occasional local who weaves historical recollections with stunning landscapes. The episodes on this particular DVD work best if watched in order. However, the other two collections about Scotland are much more conducive to skipping around or even turning the sound off.
Described as an aerial adventure across dramatic Scottish Highland landscapes, Mountains is narrated by Fiona MacKinnon providing general information about the images on the screen. Overlaid maps help identify what will be covered in each specific episode. I quite enjoyed MacKinnon’s narration, but one of the advantages of this disc set is that you could turn off the sound and simply use the imagery as video wallpaper, the images are that good.
The packaging does include a listing of each episode and the areas covered; the first five episodes visit the Trossachs, Rannoch Moor, mid Scotland and the southern Highlands, Nevis, Glencoe, The Grampians, remnants of the Caledonian forest, Torridon and the far north, the far northwest, the isle of Skye, the mountains of Kintail and the Five Sisters.
Episode 6 is a “Best of the Mountains of Scotland,” kind of a recap of all the places visited in the previous 5 episodes plus additional footage. That in itself is
Gaelic broadcaster John Carmichael provides a voice over that includes a variety of facts, descriptions and anecdotes about the Islands around Scotland: Skye, the Orkneys, Islay, Jura, Colonsay, Gigha, the Shetlands, Mull, Coll, Iona, Tiree, Staffa and the Western Isles. Aerial photography provides sweeping vistas of the islands; as with Mountains, you can turn off the sound and simply enjoy the images as video wallpaper.
Having visited friends on Iona several times and traversing Mull to get there, Islands is probably my personal favorite of the three DVD sets, but that’s simply because it taps most of my many memories of good people, good food, good drink and good times, all things in abundance in any part of Scotland you could visit. For sheer vistas, Mountains is hard to beat, and for the history buff, Highlands is pure dead brilliant. Scotland is here waiting. Haste ye back.