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“It’s over 60 years since our first National Park was created and they remain as stunning and as popular as ever.” Caroline Quentin
Actress and presenter Caroline Quentin visits three of Britain’s most popular National Parks in this new three-part documentary series, to celebrate some of the areas of outstanding natural beauty that are right on our doorstep.
Caroline immerses herself in every aspect of park life, from taking part in an unusual race against a steam train through the valleys of Snowdonia, to spending the night counting bats on an island in Loch Lomond and rounding up wild ponies for auction in the New Forest. On her travels Caroline meets the extraordinary people who live and work in the Parks and witnesses some of the incredible wildlife that roams free. In doing so, she appreciates why so many people choose to visit these spectacular National Parks. Caroline Quentin’s National Parks is new and exclusive to ITV.
In episode one, Caroline visits Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, nestled in the South-West of Scotland. The park sits on the boundary between the highlands and the lowlands and it’s an area steeped in the very best of Scottish lochs, scenery, wildlife and history. It is the largest national park in Scotland, stretching over 700 square miles.
To appreciate the breath-taking views in style, Caroline enjoys a trip by sea-plane over Loch Lomond and the mountains, captained by ex-British Airways pilot David West. Loch Lomond itself is just one of 22 lochs in the park but it’s by far the largest and the deepest, at 24 miles long and 600 feet deep. The Trossachs in the park’s name refers to the area of glens and hills off to the east and Caroline is stunned by the beautiful landscape: “It’s quite epic actually isn’t it, the scenery. One moment it looks quite domestic and quite small and the next minute it’s really quite grand and it takes your breath away.”
On the outskirts of the park is Inveraray Castle, which hosts it’s annual Highland Games every July, an opportunity for the community to come together and take part in traditional events in celebration of all things Scottish. After enjoying local delicacies such as roast salmon and smoked mussels, Caroline watches the Scottish dancing contest, as girls as young as six compete for a medal.
It is believed that the Olympics were conceived in the 19th century based on the Highland Games, which is why we see so many of the same events today, such as the shot-put and hammer. A lesser-known heavy event is the caber-tossing contest and the world championships are held at Inveraray. Steven King has won the world title four times and agrees to give Caroline a quick lesson, something she comes to regret, much to Steven’s amusement. Caroline says: “This is the most horrible thing I’ve ever done, it’s really frightening, and I’ve done some quiet scary things. Because when you’re looking up it gives you vertigo, and it’s incredibly heavy.” Unable to lift the huge beam of wood Caroline jokes: “If I had a sports bra on, I’d have that up by now!”
Loch Lomond is a haven for wildlife and Caroline agrees to spend the night with a group of volunteers who are monitoring the bats on one of the loch’s most picturesque islands, Inchcailloch. Despite having not slept in a tent since her teenage years, Caroline keeps watch with the team using a bat detector and is surprised by how enjoyable she finds the task: “What’s incredible, is that standing here, in the dark and the quiet, with a load of people I have never met before, is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. Who knew? Who needs Bingo?!”
The following morning, Caroline enjoys the beautiful views from the island for a moment of quiet reflection: “A lot of the people who come here to the Island find it incredibly healing. And I can really see how that’s the case. My mum, my little mum, Katie, died about two weeks ago and I spent a lot of last night thinking about her. And of course I’m sad, but actually, this place is really special and it does wonderful things, nature, it really puts things in perspective.”
Loch Lomond and the Trossochs is home to 61 protected bird species including Ospreys, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons and Caroline helps the Park Rangers tag a roost of tiny three-week old owl chicks, as part of a project to protect the barn owl population.
Caroline continues to throw herself into every aspect of life in the stunning National Park and joins a wild swimming enthusiast for a dip in Loch Lomond, despite the torrential rain. As she braves the icy cold water in her wetsuit, Caroline admits: “I was slightly dreading this, I have to be honest, but now I’m in, it’s incredibly invigorating, and the water is so clear and so beautiful.”
Before bidding farewell to the park, there is just time for Caroline to put on her dancing shoes to take part in the liveliest of Ceilidhs.