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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Scotland's Highlands

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-Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe.

This time, we're packin' light,

but there's always room for puppies, sheepdog puppies.

We're in the Highlands of Scotland.

[ Wind whistling ] Thanks for joining us.





The Highlands are where dreams of Scotland are set.

The land of kilts, clans, and lonely castles,

the Highlands offer the quintessence of Scottish charms.

In this episode, we'll connect with clan heritage,

be awestruck by Highland beauty,

marvel at early British engineering,

join in the search for a monster,

time-travel back to the Iron Age,

watch sheepdogs do their thing --

-[ Whistles ] Hold 'em back! Hold 'em back!

-...and check out some traditional folk music.


The United Kingdom includes England, Wales,

North Ireland, and Scotland.

Scotland includes a third of Britain's land.

Its main cities are Glasgow and Edinburgh.

To the south is the Lowlands and to the north, the Highlands.

Focusing on the Highlands, we'll visit Inveraray, Oban,

follow the Caledonian Canal to Loch Ness, Inverness,

and the battlefield at Culloden.

Here in Scotland, the Highlands have more than half the land,

and only 5% of the people.

Still, it's these Highlands, so vast, yet so sparsely populated,

that give us the classic image of Scotland.

The highest mountains in Britain are here in Scotland,

in the Highlands.

While only around 3,000 feet in altitude,

they offer a dramatic welcome and a backdrop

of constantly changing views for road trippers.

Long lakes, called "lochs" here, cut like fjords into a land

where the heritage remains strong.

-In this region, so much seems proudly Scottish.

Clans gather to celebrate traditional sports,

girls grow up dreaming to dance like their mothers did,

whisky is savored with reverence for the culture --


...and pipers still stir the Scottish soul.

And, in this land so steeped in culture,

Scotland's beloved hairy coo feels perfectly at home.

These shaggy Highland cattle

have evolved to fit the environment.

Their adorable bangs protect their eyes

from both insects and the persistent wind.

Historically, Highland society was centered

around the clan system.

In medieval times, long before being tamed

by any central government,

the Highlands were inhabited by a collection of proud,

and often bickering, tribes, or clans,

each with its own chief and deep-seated traditions.


Castles dotting the landscape evoke this strong clan heritage.

Scottish people, whether in Scotland;

or abroad, as part of the Scottish diaspora;

still relate to their historic clan

and many venerate a particular castle

as their historic capital and almost spiritual center.

Inveraray Castle, the residence of the 13th Duke of Argyle,

has a stately turreted exterior set in a delightful garden.


Historically, a stronghold of the Campbell clan,

its walls are well-hung with portraits

of the many dukes who've called this palace home.

Here's the first duke,

with dukes number two and three on deck.

As with many such castles, the aristocratic family

still lives here, like clan royals.

Displays are like a family scrapbook,

showing the current duke and his family,

who still occupy the private half of this palace.


The public half is a museum,

filled with precious, if you're a Campbell, artifacts.


This case features pendants

of esteemed family members through the ages.

This one's filled with dirks and daggers,

set against a nice Campbell tartan.

A highlight is the Armory Hall, which fills the main atrium.

Here, swords and rifles

are artistically arrayed in starburst patterns.

Docents are standing by and happy to answer questions.

-So, our halberds here date from the 1600s.

They come from the earlier castle, before this one.

-Now, what is a halberd?

-So, a halberd could be used against charging cavalry

and you'll notice they've got tassels on them.

It's not just for decoration.

Don't know about you. If I'm killing someone,

you don't want their blood dripping down your weapon,

making it all slippy.

-So, the tassels actually had a function.

-That's right. So, the tassels would soak up the blood.

-And these muskets?

-So, this is our Brown Bess flintlock muskets,

all dating from the 1740s.

These are all original

and they were last used at the Battle of Culloden, 1746,

the last battle fought on British soil.

Yes, so, we have, in this cabinet,

some of the belongings of Rob Roy MacGregor,

a kind of famous folk hero.

-The famous Rob Roy?

-That's right, Rob Roy MacGregor.

So, this is his sporran here.

-And what is a sporran?

-So, a sporran, if you think of a kilt,

there's no pockets in a kilt.

-Right. -So, you'd have your sporran

and, in your sporran, you'd have maybe a wee bag of oatmeal.

-So, this is your bag of essentials,

-Exactly. Yes, for sure, yeah. -hanging right here in front.

Yeah. -Yeah.

-You'll find castles like this all over the Highlands.

Today, countless Scottish Americans

make a pilgrimage of sorts to their ancestral clan capital.

If you're a Campbell, you'd come here, to Inveraray.

The main town of the west coast of the Highlands is Oban.


With the arrival of the train in 1880,

Oban became the unofficial capital of this region

and a destination for tourists.

Today, Oban's harborfront seems eager

to please its many visitors.

Victorian facades recall those early days of tourism.

Before then, its economy was dominated by whiskey --

its venerable distillery has been busy since 1794 --

and by fishing.

Even today, a tiny fleet stays busy.

When the rain clears,

sun-starved Scots enjoy their esplanade

and the beach brings joy to young families.

[ Birds squawking ] ♪♪

The town's port has long been a lifeline

to Scotland's Hebrides Islands,

earning Oban the nickname "The Gateway to the Isles."

But we'll save the islands for another episode.

We're driving north, deeper into the Highlands.

Of course, here in Britain,

you drive on the left-hand side of the road.

You get used to it.

The roads are good, the traffic's light,

and the scenery is gorgeous.

The stunning valley called Glencoe offers the essence

of the wild and stark beauty of the Highlands.

While the valley is massive in scale,

at its entrance is a tiny and practical home base.

Glencoe Village is basically a one-street town

gathered around its church.

There's the humble folk museum,

plenty of B&Bs...

We're staying with Jackie and Iain.


...and a memorial to a terrible tragedy,

a tragedy that, while three centuries old, still resonates.

[ Melancholy tune plays ]

To be sure we get the story right,

we're joined by my friend and fellow tour guide

Colin Mairs.

This is a beautiful valley.

-Yeah, well, it does have a sad story, though.

In 1692, there was a massacre here

and government troops -- Redcoats,

made up mostly of Campbells -- they were sent here by the king.

They were given the orders to ride

to the homes of the MacDonalds of Glencoe

and to await further instruction.

So, they enjoyed the hospitality,

the Highland hospitality, of the MacDonalds of Glencoe

and, after 12 days,

the further instruction arrived

for the Campbells to massacre the MacDonalds of Glencoe.

As the MacDonalds slept in their beds,

the Campbells carried out the order.

We know that 38 MacDonalds were killed as they slept.

Others fled for the hills.

This was midwinter, in the Highlands of Scotland,

and many others perished and died in the cold.

Ever since then, this has been known as the Weeping Glen.


-It's fitting that such an epic, dramatic incident

should be set in this equally epic and dramatic valley,

where the cliffsides still seem to weep.

[ Wind whistling ] ♪♪

Glencoe valley leads up into the vast Rannoch Moor.

This moor, the biggest expanse of uninhabited land in Britain,

is hundreds of desolate square miles,

much enjoyed by hikers and lovers of nature.

[ Wind whistling ] ♪♪

[ Triumphant music sweeps ]

When filmmakers want a stunning, rugged backdrop;

when hikers want a scenic challenge...


...and when Scots want to remember their hard-fought past,

they all think of Glencoe.


[ Mid-tempo tune plays ] As we drive north from Glencoe,

we find a massive fault line slashing about 60 miles

across the Highlands, nearly cutting Scotland in two.

The drive from here, northeast to Inverness

follows three long, skinny lakes,

created by the great Glen Fault,

and a series of 19th-century canals that laced them together.

This is the Caledonian Canal.


Perhaps the most idyllic stop along the canal

is the little town of Fort Augustus,

built around an impressive staircase of locks.

Today, this historic piece of British engineering

is a welcoming park.

[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪

200 years ago, as Britain was at full steam

during the Industrial Age, it connected these lakes

with about 20 miles of canals and locks.

That was so its ships could avoid the long journey

around the north of the country.

The Caledonian Canal took 19 years

and cost a fortune to construct.

It opened in 1822.

[ Upbeat tune plays ]

While these locks were an engineering marvel

in their day, they were quickly antiquated

and a disaster, commercially.

Shortly after the canal opened, ships were built too big to fit

and, shortly after that, with the advent of steam trains,

the Caledonian Canal became almost useless,

except for Romantic Age tourism,

and, today, the canal remains a hit with holiday-goers.

The most famous part of the Caledonian Canal route

is the long and skinny Loch Ness.

22 miles long and over 700 feet deep,

it's essentially the vast chasm of that fault line,

filled with water.

They say Loch Ness contains more water

than all the lakes of England and Wales, combined.

Loch Ness is deepest near Urquhart Castle.

While thoroughly ruined and little more

than an empty shell to climb through,

in its medieval heyday, this strategically situated castle

was one of the most important in the Highlands,

controlling traffic along the great glen.

Today, so gloriously situated,

with a view of virtually the entire lake,

it's extremely popular with tourists

and the perfect place to look for the Loch Ness monster.


While the lake is, frankly, boring,

the local tourist industry thrives

on the legend of the Loch Ness monster.

It is a thrilling thought, and there have been

several seemingly reliable sightings.

And, of course, there's a touristy exhibit

that would love to tell the story.

The Loch Ness Exhibition is spearheaded

by scientist and naturalist Adrian Shine,

who's spent decades studying the Nessie phenomenon.


Adrian, can you tell me the mission of this exhibition?

-Our mission is to be part of the essential sense of place.

We are not a monster show, but we will tell you a lot,

whether you like it or not, about Scottish lochs,

by arguing about the Loch Ness monster.

But we do it in a fairly entertaining way,

I like to think, because we're talking about the one thing

we would all like to have in Loch Ness.

What we do is take you through the history of the search

for an unusual animal in Loch Ness.

In the '60s, it was surface surveillance,

with big, telephoto-lens cameras.

Having failed,

in the '70s, we went underwater,

partly in my own little, photographic hide, Machan.

Having failed to encounter a beast,

we resorted to sonar in the 1980s --

sort of underwater radar.

We built a flatpack sonar search vessel on a beach in 1981,

patrolled up and down the loch.

The contacts led, in the end,

to Operation Deep Scan in 1987, with the fleet.

In the '90s, we got a bit canny.

We used an indirect method and we have been, ever since,

and it's general science.

What could the loch support, in terms of food resources?

What do the temperatures tell us about

what could live in Loch Ness?

And, finally, we have the environmental message,

in terms of the record within the Loch Ness sediments.

I would like our visitors to go away thinking

about what could live in Loch Ness,

when we have explained Loch Ness.

Go and see Loch Ness,

but, if you want to understand it, come here.

And, at the same time, and above everything,

we want them to go away knowing a lot more about Scottish lochs.

[ Tranquil tune plays ]

-Just beyond Loch Ness, I feel the real spirit of Scotland

most deeply at Culloden, the site of the last

major land battle fought on British soil.


About 300 years ago,

Scotland was embroiled in a bloody civil war with England.

Well, it's a complicated story.

Basically, the Scots were fighting for their culture:

to put a Catholic king on the throne

and to keep their ancient clan traditions.

The last leader of this cause

was Prince Charles Edward Stuart,

fondly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie."

His forces were called the "Jacobites,"

named for his grandfather, the deposed King James.

James was Catholic and his name was "Jacobus" in Latin,

and that's why the rebels were called "Jacobites."

For a long time, Bonnie Prince Charlie

confounded the English and their Protestant monarch.

Slipping from valley to valley,

hiding behind clever disguises and in sympathetic farmhouses,

Charlie kept the Scottish dreams of his Jacobite followers alive.

Those dreams ended here,

at the decisive Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The on-site museum tells the story vividly.


Docents demonstrate battle techniques

to give visitors context,

and a small theater captivates its audience

with a dramatic re-enactment.

-[Shouting] [ Blast ]

-This Scottish clans gathered every possible warrior,

but they were outnumbered and outgunned

[ Suspenseful music plays ] by the British redcoats.

While the clans fought fiercely,

the British were cool, methodical, and ruthless.


[ Gunfire ]


-The hour-long battle was a catastrophe

for the Highlanders

as the British army finally, and thoroughly,

defeated the Jacobites.

Survivors broke ranks and ran for the hills.

[ Suspenseful music climbs ]

-[Distant shouting]

-After the battle, the British army hunted down

and killed clan chiefs and sympathizers.

They banned kilts, tartans, bagpipes,

and even the local language.

Scottish Highland culture would never fully recover.

[ Melancholy tune plays ]

On the battlefield, flags mark where the two armies lined up.

This is where the hand-to-hand fighting took place.

As visitors wander the battlefield,

they pass mass graves and ponder how entire clans fought, died,

and were buried here, at this Scottish Alamo.


For many, this is an emotional visit.



[ Birds chirping ] [ Outro plays ]

Nearby, the town of Inverness straddles the River Ness,

near the eastern end of the Caledonian Canal.

[ Tranquil tune plays ] This town's charm lies

in its normalcy.

Inverness is a simple, mid-sized Scottish city

that gives you a taste of the urban Highlands.

It has a disheveled, ruddy-cheeked grittiness

and is well-located for enjoying nearby sights.

Check out the bustling, pedestrianized downtown

and stroll the riverside.

[ Outro plays ]

Inverness is a great place for music in the pubs.

Tonight, MacGregor's is hosting a session.

Not a formal concert, but just an open table

for local musicians to get together and jam.

While this is a modern pub, it embraces

traditional Scottish music, which is clearly alive and well.

[ Playing rollicking tune ]




Music brings the people of the Highlands together, even today.


[ Knocking ] ♪♪


It's an inviting conviviality.

Everyone seems eager to get to know each other

and visitors feel welcome.

You enjoy amazing music for the cost of a beer

and the beer is great.

-Yah! ♪♪


[ Playing outro ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Flute plays tranquil tune ] -We're driving south,

to learn how some of the original Highlanders lived.

Across Scotland, little round islands on lakes

are the remains of prehistoric fortified homes.

These are called crannogs

and date back centuries before Christ.

Here at the Crannog Centre on Loch Tay,

one's been rebuilt, using mostly traditional methods,

and now welcomes visitors.

-This is the Scottish Crannog Centre.

It's a reproduction of a 2,500-year-old crannog

that archaeologists are excavating,

as we speak, in Loch Tay, right now.

It was built out in the loch itself for defensive purposes.

In Scotland then, you had bears, you had wolves,

you had big cats called lynx,

other people roaming the countryside.

And if you're out here in the water,

there's only one way in and out, and that's the walkway.

So, if you can keep that secure, you, yourself, in here,

are going to feel a lot safer.

-Guides demonstrate Iron Age technology:

turning a lathe...


...grinding flour...

-Stones against each other.

-...and even starting a fire the really old-fashioned way.


Whoa. -That's how you make a fire.


You can give the tools a try yourself

and discover how easy the guides make it look.

Scotland is littered with reminders

of prehistoric people from an even earlier age.

At Clava Cairns, three Bronze Age burial chambers date

[ Strings play tranquil tune ] from about 4,000 years ago.

Each was once buried under turf-covered mounds

and surrounded by a stone circle.

The central "ring cairn" has an open space in its middle.

The two passage cairns each have an entrance shaft that,

on the winter solstice, lines up with the setting sun.


[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪

Visitors are caught up in the peaceful wonder

of this ancient and sacred site.

Enjoy the mystery of this place.

Were these stone circles part of a celestial calendar?

Was the soul of the deceased transported into the next life

when the sun was just right?

Nobody really knows.


-But everyone knows sheepdogs are fun.

A favorite experience when touring Scotland

is to visit a working sheep farm

and meet the farmer and his dogs.

Each afternoon, Neal Ross takes a break from farming

to show off his well-trained sheepdogs

and his son, Tristan, is learning from the master.

-The main purpose of the dog is go down the field,

get the sheep, and bring them back.

The voice commands, I'll explain

the voice commands to you.

This command means "stop that dog."

[ Long whistle ]

Stop command.

The dogs' hearing is like electric.

The command "away to me" means "right."

Wee Mark, wee Mark, wee Mark.

"Stop" is "lie down." Little Mark.

The voice command "come-bye" is "left."

Bo, come-bye. [ Double-tone whistle ]

That whistle sound [two double-tone whistles] means "left."

[Single down-tone whistle] means "right."

[ Three single-tone whistles ]

[ Two double-tone whistles ]

-Great, another foreign language

I can't understand.

The show ends with a demonstration

on how to shear sheep,

with the kids getting a chance to help.

The dogs love some attention when they're on break

and there's always lambs to be fed.

[ Laughter ]


We connected with spectacular landscapes,

[ Playing rollicking tune ] shared traditional music,

felt the power of history,

and were inspired by the pride of this resilient culture.


I hope you've enjoyed our look at Scotland's Highlands,

with its rich heritage and majestic nature.

Thanks for joining us.

I'm Rick Steves.

Until next time, keep on travelin'.



Rob Roy's sporran? -300 years old.

Yeah. For sure, yeah.

-[Laughing delightedly]

-Oh, that's okay. -Yeah.

[ Laughter ]

-This is my new dog for next year.

[ Laughter ]

-I hope you've enjoyed our look at Scotland's Highlands,

with its rich heritage.

[ Laughing ]

Loch Ness monster?

I just don't buy it.



The Description of Scotland's Highlands