Great British Journeys, BBC2

by | Aug 14, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A wonderful mix of history and exploration hosted by a wonderfully passionate Nicholas Crane but our appetites for shows about how beautiful Britain are almost sated. We know how beautiful Britain is; we’ve been out there and also watched Coast.

What was good about it?

• Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely views of mountain slopes bedecked with quartz, the regimented columns of pre-historic basalt propping up a peak, the smouldering fog scampering across rural vistas while a shaft of divine golden light illuminates a patch of moor land and mountainsides speckled with exhumed boulders.

• The skilful integration of exploration and history as Nicholas Crane travelled in the footsteps of Thomas Pennant, who trekked about the Scottish highlands in 1772. At each location, Nicholas would gainfully stride through bogs, up mountains, besides lochs and through almost deserted streets while breathlessly recounting Pennant’s parallel journey over two centuries before.

• Host Nicholas Crane’s unquenchable enthusiasm as he scrambled to the top of a mountain and before even catching his breath shouted “Isn’t it wonderful?” And on an gruelling march across the Highland wilderness he paused for a moment to take in the unspoilt countryside before remarking, “It’s pretty close to paradise!”

• The hideaway holes on Islay where once upon a time “fugitives took shelter after a defeat”. Nicholas ventured down one such hideaway and slithered completely from view before his companion, local farmer Eric Bignal, jocularly placed a rucksack over the hole to entomb Nicholas in a corny but enjoyable comic vignette.

• The desolate island of Canna which is home to just 16 people today. In Pennant’s time more than 200 people lived there until they moved away because of the clearances. Nicholas was taken to see the grimy little hovels the women and children moved to during the crop season, and was told that his solution to solve the famine – “Why not kill a few cattle?” – was because the inhabitants were in thrall to the laird who demanded a regular bovine tribute from his subjects.

• On a remote island on a remote loch in the remotest area of the Highlands lies an island which has a unique feature – a money tree, into which over the past couple of centuries explorers like Nicholas have pressed a coin into the bark. The only worry is that scavengers may have watched and will plan to steal the probably valuable coins.

What was bad about it?

• Coast has been the obvious catalyst for this avalanche of shows which commonly just point a camera at one of the many beautiful landscapes in Britain and let the audience drink in the marvellous scenery. But just like talent shows have now reached the bottom of what was any how a very shallow barrel, so shows about Britain start to pall as they begin to repeat themselves.

• Only about two weeks ago we were voyaging across the Highland peaks in the company of Griff Rhys Jones in Mountain as he clambered up peaks all around the same area Nicholas visited, while also bemoaning the clearing of the region of many of its inhabitants in the early 19th century as the landowners preferred to graze sheep for more profit.

• Nowhere is safe. You can flee to apocalyptic US dramas, home improvement shows, sports broadcasts, melodramatic urban dramas set amongst hateful Londoners but you can’t escape, they’ll find you. You can never escape, not even on lofty Highland summits, from the arching spectral hand of Snow Patrol’s twee banalities ushering you towards a precipitous mental decline of interminable dinner parties where people with over-sized hands that have evolved to grip and pour red wine with a degree of deportmental decorum arrange seats ‘boy-girl-boy-girl’ and chortle as anecdotes of house buying calamities buzz through the air like an unwelcome plague of flies.

• The slight snottiness of local expert Nevis Hulme when Nicholas asked him about how best to tackle a treacherous cross-country walk managed by Pennant. Hulme replied that Nicholas will “find it different from the pavements of London”, evidently ignorant of Nicholas’s intrepid journeys on Coast.

• Jose Gonzalez’s cover of Heartbeats isn’t bad but is infinitely inferior to the original by The Knife.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

14/08/2007

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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