A few short weeks ago, we shared five of our favourite films from the Outer Hebrides to help you pass the time during lockdown life.
Thank you to everyone who shared their own favourites too, including The Rocket Post from 2004 which proved to be popular but was overlooked by our first list.
As quarantines ease, many of you may now be thinking about making plans to return to our island shores once more. While travel restrictions and the two-metre rule might make this difficult, perhaps we can whet your appetite for a safe visit at a later date.
So, here's a fresh handful of marvellous movies carefully curated from the National Library of Scotland to help stay close to us until then. Each non-fiction film comes from the NLS Moving Image Archive and is shared with the support of their ever-helpful development officer Non Jones.
Drawn from the late-1960s to early-1970s, together they create a nostalgic look back at our Hebridean home as it transitions from a traditional way of life to one of more modernity.
All the films are free to view and you’ll be able to watch and listen to them online from anywhere in the world…
Hebridean Highway - 1966
We begin our mid-to-late century matinee by getting our groove on in true sixties style, journeying from the west-coast town of Oban in a swinging Mark 1 Mini. It’s old MacBrayne ferries and winding roads all the way as we head to the far north-west, but if you want to reach Harris early then just skip forward by ten minutes or so. There's kids cavorting near Ceapabhal hill, tying up in Tarbert harbour, the road to Rodel, and then a quick tutorial on Harris Tweed before we’re off to the beach in a pair of go-go boots. It’s strange stuff at times, and the soundtrack by The Peggy O’Keefe Quartet has lost much of its hipness, but it gets us off to a fun start!
St Kilda: The Lonely Islands - 1967
Next, we visit the remote islands of St. Kilda and learn about its birdlife and the restoration work of the National Trust for Scotland. Beautifully shot in colour by influential nature photographer Christopher Mylne, the film explores the wealth of wildlife and wildflowers found on Hirta and its surrounding sea-stacs. The native human population having been evacuated three decades prior, his footage is interspersed by historic images of the lost culture and community which once called this elemental place home. Look out for a re-enactment of the infamous Lover's Stone ritual just before the 26-minute mark if you have a good head for heights.
Outer Hebrides: Human Activities - 1968
Directed by Charles E Palmer, a natural history curator at Kelvingrove Art Galleries in Glasgow, this short and silent film captures some of the last glimpses of traditional crofting life before the end of the 20th century. It’s all here, from thatched blackhouses and Hattersley weaving to hand-shearing sheep and milking the croft cow. You’ll see peats being cut and stacked, seaweed gathered and lobsters caught in creels. Despite the lack of sound (perhaps provide your own music to help set the scenes?), we’re reminded just how much our world has moved on over the last half century, but also, thankfully, how much remains the same.
Island Of The Big Cloth - 1971
For over 100 years the iconic Clò Mor (meaning big cloth in Gaelic) has embodied the craft and creativity of our island and helped put us firmly on the map. Better known as Harris Tweed, the weaving of wool is irrevocably intertwined with our history, identity and local economy. Like our Isle of Harris Gin, it’s a product of real provenance and genuine Harris Tweed can only ever be made in the Outer Hebrides. This lyrically narrated film shows the fascinating interplay of traditional techniques as they meet the efficiencies of the modern mill. Today, little has altered in terms of the process, thanks to the protection of the Harris Tweed Authority, but safe to say the fashions of the film’s closing scenes have evolved somewhat.
Islands Of The West - 1972
Narrated in the deliciously plummy tones of English polar explorer Duncan Carse, this unashamedly romantic journey through our islands looks at the landscapes from the air before landing in the heart of our communities. The usual fare is to be found here, but a keen eye can enjoy rarer moments, like glimpses of ‘feannagan’ found filled with crops rather than overgrown with grass as they are today. And, with the Harris Tweed industry at its peak, every village seems to resound to the familiar clackety-clack of a cast-iron loom. Although firmly aimed at the intrepid visitor of yesteryear, there’s still a scene or two capable of tugging at even the most cynical of heartstrings as we round off our movie marathon.
So, there we have it, another five films from the Outer Hebrides to keep you entertained and hopefully connected to us until such time as you can be here in person.
When you do arrive in Harris, we can’t promise you’ll see many cows being milked or blackhouses being built, but the beauty of this place endures and a warm welcome always awaits. Even as the years roll by, some things never change…
Our thanks again to Non Jones for giving us permission to access and share these short pieces of archival footage and we'd encourage you to explore more of the National Library of Scotland’s film resources via this link.