by Andy Luck, Jerry Short and Charles Paxton
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If you say Scotland and ask most people what comes to mind, they will probably reply Kilts, Castles, Whisky and Tartan and while we covered all these things and more in our 2,500 mile, 3 week, non-stop shoot for Visit Scotland, this only provides part of the picture, because Scotland has always been a creative and innovative place and not surprisingly, even these traditional Scots icons have been subject to new ideas, they have changed, evolved, adapted to the times and things Celt are once again pushing creative boundaries and oh, so very cool!
Take Tartan for example, once the traditional and sometimes slightly cliched preserve of shortbread tins and hairy pipers, tartan is now reinterpreted, more muted, subtle, reflecting the landscape and adorning wraps and furniture throws in tasteful country homes like the beautiful Balone Castle, where we filmed fabulous heather toned tartans on carpets and curtains alike, perfectly set off against the old stone of the castle walls.
Just as tartan has changed, so has the kilt, a totally cool garment, whether they’re of the traditional clan type, or contemporary fashion statements, they turn heads and make hearts flutter. This became obvious as we passed the class leading hotel Missoni in the center of Edinburgh where we found the kilted doormen were attracting a lot of attention. Here were men seemingly hewn out of rock, sporting a completely new take on the kilt, with striking, bright and modern designs with patterns as radical as the primary-colour interior furnishings of the amazingly hip Missoni hotel itself, where we were again lucky enough to be invited to film.
As it turns out, the Missoni hotel doormens’ funky kilts are the handiwork of Kilt-maker to the stars, Howie Nicholsby who has created kilt designs that have moved the iconic garment well and truly into the 21st Century, which also happens to be the name of Howie’s company, 21st Century Kilts. Here at Howie’s workshop, we interviewed this spirited and cliche-busting designer. Howie is a thoroughly nice guy, full of great ideas and his work is questioning established assumptions and making waves in both the domestic and international fashion worlds, a great ambassador for a modern, creative Scotland.
Our 2,500 mile trip which took in the cities, museums, castles, lochs, highlands and islands of Scotland may be over, but our memories of filming Creative Scotland will stay with us forever. Scotland is famous for its dramatic and expansive scenery, its hauntingly distinctive sense of place and space. The 2012 Olympic Games is expected to draw a lot of international visitors and our filming attempts to set within this visually spectacular context some insights into the equally expansive creative horizons of this amazing land, in full and glorious HD, for both Visit Britain and Visit Scotland.
As the son of a Scot myself, I knew we were in for a treat and it was a real pleasure to see Jerry warming to this land and its people too. We were both well and truly impressed by the traditional and modern cultural bounty that exists here. A place and its people who are intimately entwined, interdependent and fiercely proud and for good reason! We met and filmed many wonderful people on this trip and it was fascinating to see Scottish craftspeople and their creative work in the context of the land.
The jeweler’s art, for example, as epitomised in the work of jewelry Designer Sheila Fleet’s Orkney workshop. Creative Scotland indeed. Her exquisitely sinuous work in vitreous enamel, precious metal and gem stones aroused within us a spontaneous and lingering longing to possess them.
There’s something of the ‘eternal’ encompassed in her Celtic jewelry designs, they’re elegant, distinctive cultural distillations of the natural forms that Sheila sees in the Orkney landscape, wrought in sleek silver, gleaming gold and platinum.
Having interviewed Sheila at the Edinburgh College of Art, we were later to experience the place of her inspiration, Orkney, for ourselves and thanks to gale force winds, found an amazing place of extremes, where even seagulls flew backwards! Orkney is renowned for being too windy to grow trees, but also increasingly famous for incredible stone age discoveries and we filmed some of Scotland’s most impressive archaeological heritage, such as the Viking graffiti carved into the ancient burial chambers at Maes Howe, a design cue which features in some of Sheila’s jewelry. We found the spirit of place here very old, strong and manifested in craftwork. The stone circle, the wonderfully named ‘Ring of Brodgar’ had an extraordinary resonant feeling to it.
Here in Orkney, we also interviewed the ebullient and effervescent Fraser Anderson whose infectious enthusiasm for his traditional craft, making the wonderful Orkney chairs from driftwood and straw, caught our imagination. Here again was a modern Scot, taking cues from his ancestors, but giving a new relevance to his craft.
Back at our hotel, we marveled at the profusion of antiques from around the world brought back by generations of seafaring men and sipped whiskey while sitting in one of Fraser’s traditional high backed Orkney chairs, a perfect remedy for the drafts! Perhaps impelled by the Viking blood-line, there are few shores if any, that have not been visited and explored by the doughty Scots and like them we moved on across the stormy Minch to the exotic shores of the Outer Hebrides, to Lewis and Harris.
Lewis and Harris have the most spectacular landscape and coastlines anywhere in the world and out at Luskantyre, we got a chance to see Harris Tweed being woven against a backdrop of the almost Caribbean blue waters of the stunning bay behind the croft. Harris Tweed weaving is a crofting activity and it was magical to see this quintessential island cloth coming off the foot powered loom of Donald John MacKay on the Isle of Harris. This warm and hardy cloth, for years the choice for country sporting activities, has also been reinterpreted and is now used in products way beyond the traditional jackets and hats to include all manner of things from bags to slippers and even purses, anything where strength and longevity are required.
Outside Donald’s croft, post-interview and having braved a fierce ram, we were greeted with a magical rainbow that seemed to seal the impression that yes, this was a very magical place indeed. There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just different kinds of weather! Another expression I have heard in Scotland is that this is a land of 7 seasons in a day and we certainly experienced some rainy seasons on our expedition. We were well and truly tested by the ‘different kinds’ of weather and we certainly saw Scotland in all it’s dramatic moods, even if it was not always possible to film it, even with the fastest lenses when the light dropped right off. We had snow, rain, hail, sleet and sunshine all on the same day in the same place, which presented continuity challenges!
In fact we were so busy and our schedule so intensive, that by the end, our Panasonic HD camera and Ninja hard drive required a skilled technical overhaul – and Creative Scotland came up trumps again for us with some nimble-fingered repair work in Glasgow by Richard Devlin of Mitcorp.
Filming Creative Scotland was a thirsty business. It won’t surprise you that we explored the traditional ambrosia – Scotch whisky. After all, visiting a distillery is an essential part of a Scottish holiday and we need to show that!
Our coverage of the Strathisla distillery was a heady experience! Highly informative and satisfying from the filming point of view of course too! It’s true what they say about the distinctive water quality being an essential part of what gives every Scotch its unique flavour. Uisquiva or water of life as it is known in Gaellic and from where we get the word whiskey, is very similar in colour to many of the peaty Lochs and Burns, (streams) that we saw. We were fascinated to learn about the process of creating fine Malt whisky at Strathisla, where we were even privileged to visit the Royal Salute Vault, where the very finest blends for Royalty are literally kept under lock and key, rather like the crown jewels!
Speaking of locks and keys, boy! Does Scotland have some great castles, huge castles, spooky castles, lonely ruined castles, impregnable castles, Royal castles, haunted castles!
They all have incredible history and stories to tell and while filming Edinburgh and Stirling Castles in particular, we were very impressed with the way the experience of visiting these places has been enhanced, with incredible exhibitions and recreations of medieval life.
The fabulous silk hangings in the throne room of Stirling Castle have to be seen to be believed.
We were also lucky enough to be allowed to film in the grounds of the Palace of Holyrood House, where we were rewarded with yet another rainbow arching over the stunning baronial architecture!
While castles were for the over lords, the architecture of the common people was of course the croft, but the crofting way of life suffered badly under the Highland Clearances, when crofters were cleared off the land to make way for
sporting estates so most crofts seen today in Scotland are ruins, but one place you can see traditional crofts intact is at the Gearannan Black House Village on the isle of
Lewis, a fantastic location where time seems to have stood still and rocks are still used to hold down the thatched roofs in the teeth of the Atlantic gales.
The standard of hospitality that we experienced personally, and saw others enjoying, was consistently very high. The hotels that we stayed in, extended a warmth and comfort that would make for an outstanding holiday – but we were on a busy filming schedule and sadly had to move on, but for anyone planning to visit Scotland for a relaxing holiday, then the gastronomic signs Jerry and I found are very good indeed!
Food was almost always locally sourced, with crabs, mussels and salmon from the lochs beside the hotels, game from the mountainsides outside our windows and whisky from distilleries just down the road, or right next door in Orkney! With food like this to look forward to, it seems small wonder that these people can toss cabers (heavy logs) about for sport. Savouring Scottish cooking really is an essential part of experiencing the country and the fresh air and scenic grandeur sharpen the appetite.
Down in beautiful Dumfries and Galloway, near Kirkudbright, famous for artists, we interviewed the celebrated Scottish contemporary artist Hazel Campbell, a delightful person whose strong compelling pictures, working mainly in oil and gouache, call on the the local Galloway countryside as inspiration for Hazel’s striking landscape painting.
Hazel’s explanation of mixing reds, pinks and oranges to emulate the heather strewn landscape nearby was a special moment that will remain with me, Hazel is an artists truly immersed in the joy of colour.
The other people we met day to day were wonderful too, accommodating, generous, never hesitating to help by supplying directions and advice whenever we needed it and the whole trip would not have been possible without the help and organisation of our fixer, Johanna Campbell and her husband, Gilbert who so informed and unflappable, undertook a mission of their own to make sure we got the best shots of Scotland in every location, and liaised with Visit Scotland themselves and Denise Hill in particular, our boss, whose direction and support and advice was invaluable. Thanks Johanna, Gilbert and Denise, we love you!
Thank you, Scotland for a taste of your creative bounty! We scratched the surface and loved what we found, we will visit Scotland again for sure and trust our filming will encourage others to do so in the near future too.
Jerry: When I close my eyes and conjour the many vivid tableaux to mind, the mountains in Skye standout, where we saw an eagle soaring in search of its elevenses and Edinburgh and Glasgow where modernity and tradition gel so comfortably. Scotland really feasts the senses.
Andy: Oh so many, but standing in the middle of the Ring of Brodgar stone circle on Orkney, mystical, literally magical!
The stunning beaches of Luskantyre and Scarista on Harris with skies reflecting in the wet sands that seem to go on forever.
The sharp horned highland bull we filmed in the mist of a Glencoe gloaming and driving through the snow at night on the highest road in Britain as we came into Braemar, so cool!
SCOTLAND welcome to our life!
Jerry- ‘an eagle soaring in search of its elevenses’ you say? Are you saying the most spectacular of Scottish birds was hunting chocolate digestives?!