Monty Halls’ Island Escape

FOOD TELEVISION – Sundays from 16 October, 7.30pm

Spurred on by his success on the West Coast of Scotland in Beachcomber Cottage, Monty Halls is once again eager for adventure and a test of his physical endurance as he heads up to the Uist Islands in the Outer Hebrides to immerse himself in the tight-knit community. From the beauty of the summer months, with orchids and other wild flowers carpeting the grasslands, to the shocking violence of the storms during the short winter days, Monty needs to learn to adapt to his environment, and prove useful to a community that relies upon its members working together in order to survive.

7:30pm Monday, March 21 on Prime

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With all the research for walking trails and interpretation boards done, Monty has recruited graphic designer Richard Chyzy to help get the material published for his trail guides. He gives Richard until Christmas (just three weeks away) to get everything ready, and sets out to raise enough money to pay for a big print run of the guides. First, wildlife artist Steve Burgess visits to paint a stag in rut, agreeing to donate half the proceeds to Monty’s ranger fund. Then, he boxes up his turkeys to be processed for the table – all proceeds again to the fund. Monty occupies the long winter nights by signing up for ceilidh lessons, and devotes the days to wildlife watching; migrating swans, and the elusive otter.

The highlight of Monty’s island Christmas is the traditional dip in the sea, followed by Christmas dinner for friends. When the time comes for Monty to say goodbye to his pigs, there’s a surprise. Rather than send them for slaughter, he has decided to `buy’ their freedom, arranging for them to go to a city farm. Monty wraps up his job on the islands by hammering in the ceremonial `last post’ on his walking trails. Then after New Year’s Eve celebrated with local friends he’s heartened to be told by the ranger committee that his work has highlighted the need for a permanent ranger. As a fitting climax, Monty’s walks booklets and interpretation boards arrive just as he’s boarding the ferry.

His final act is to fix one of the boards onboard so that visitors will see them as they sail to the islands. Then, he and Reuben wave farewell as they sail to the mainland and home; “This place has left an indelible mark – my life is richer for knowing these islands. This is the start of a lifelong association with the Uists and Barra.”

7:30pm Monday, March 14 on Prime

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As November starts, Monty realises that he has loads of work to do, and little time left. To help open up the islands to tourists he’s writing a guide book to a series of trails. This week, he investigates the Bonnie Prince Charlie route on horseback – following the prince’s escape route from the islands in 1746 after his abortive attempt to seize the English throne. He also heads south to Vatersay, to help with an anti-erosion project, then up to Benbecula to join a hedgehog patrol, trapping this introduced and unwanted species for relocation to the mainland. Before Monty can start marking out his trails, his trusty Land Rover grinds to a halt and has to be towed away for repairs. So he sets out in a tiny hire car to mark the trail on Berneray, then heads for the shelter of a local pub, where students from the local college are practising traditional music around the inviting peat fire.

He interrupts his trail-blazing to visit the final lamb sales of the year. Meeting Heather Morrison, the crofter he got his turkeys and pigs from, he finds that lamb prices are up from �5 to nearly �50 in just one year! After weathering a power cut, Monty guns up his quad bike to research the final trail, meeting archaeologist Kirsty Macdonald on the site of an old Iron Age `wheelhouse’. Before returning to mark out the trail, Monty organises a beach clean-up, collecting fifty bags stuffed with rubbish. Then he returns to mark out the Udal trail, but a particularly lusty sledge-hammer blow lands on his foot. Assessing the massive lump, he has no option but to dunk his foot in the icy seawater – `old-style Hebridean first aid!’ As he hobbles away, the first snowstorm of the winter hits with a vengeance.

7:30pm Monday, March 7 on Prime

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With the proceeds from the Great Feast banked away, Monty can get going on some hard graft with a trip down to the island of Barra. After an encounter with the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, he helps the ex ranger Jonathan Grant establish a new walking trail. Back at home, Monty helps to organise a training course for volunteer whale-watchers. `This is exactly the sort of community based activity that I wanted to get going,’ says Monty. `Conservation efforts must come from the local population.’ Monty also starts to research and design a series of interpretation boards about the rocky shoreline.

His education programme continues with a talk to local schoolchildren, before they turn the tables on him, and he’s invited to take a hand’s-on part in a crofting lesson, checking rams’ testicles to make sure they are ready for breeding! He also learns that crops on the island are being badly hit by an explosion in the greylag goose population. So he joins David MacKay, of Scottish Natural Heritage, and gamekeeper Colin Newton on a goose shoot aimed at keeping the birds away from the crops. Finally, it’s back out to sea. The Monach Isles are a thirteen mile trip from Monty’s cottage, and in Autumn they are home to 20,000 grey seals. `They’re pupping, they’re fighting, they’re mating – it’s one of the great wildlife spectacles of Europe, and something I’ve always wanted to see!’ But he’s also drafted in to help crofter Donald MacDonald round up the lambs that graze on the islands, and transport them to the mainland for sale.

7:30pm Monday, February 28 on Prime

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Monty has made begun to restore walking trails that have been abandoned for years, but he needs to raise several thousand pounds pay for marker posts and trail guides. At the North Uist Agricultural Show (where Reuben fails to shine in the dog obedience competition), Monty meets with Niall Leveson-Gower, who runs the local hunting lodge, and hatches plans for a Great Feast at his hotel to showcase local produce and raise funds. The feast is Monty’s focus – his plan is to take people on a food journey from the sea, to the shore, to the croft, to the hill, taking in seafood, farm produce and game.

But tonight’s episode also takes in a climb to the top of North Uist’s highest mountain – “there are certain places where nature holds sway over man,” says Monty. “And this is one of them. This is Britain’s wilderness.” Preparing for the feast, Monty learns to slice smoked salmon, stalk stag for venison, and gather razor clams. He also visits local artist Richard Bramble to collect some hand-painted plates as auction items complete with signatures and a paw print from Reuben. Guests arrive to the skirl of the pipes and the pop of champagne corks, but will the auction prove a success?

7:30pm Monday, February 21 on Prime

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The charming marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls is back in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland tonight, living the good life and working as a volunteer wildlife ranger in the Outer Hebrides. In this second episode he’s busy leading nature treks along stunning white sand beaches, exploring tourist trails into the hills, and setting up nature trails. But serious adventure also beckons, with a two-day boat trip to the islands known as the ‘edge of the world’, St Kilda.