Dàna - Scotland's Wild Side: Scottish Climbing on the BBC Article

© Hamish Macleod

A new series of the BBC Alba programme Dàna - Scotland's Wild Side has launched, showcasing the finest climbing and hillwalking on some of the country's most remote mountains and adventurous sea cliffs. 

Coinneach Rankin climbing the Old Man of Stoer.  © Hamish Macleod
Coinneach Rankin climbing the Old Man of Stoer.
© Hamish Macleod

In this third series, protagonist Coinneach Rankin takes viewers on a journey to the Old Man of Stoer, the Cairngorms, Shetland and Torridon. In the first two series, Coinneach climbed in a range of iconic locations such as Glencoe, Glen Nevis and Suilven. The Dàna team also travelled further afield to Scottish islands including Rum, Lewis, Mingulay, Arran and Rona for new-routing expeditions.

Coinneach shares a rope with friends across the episodes and enjoys challenging himself on tougher routes and first ascents. His enthusiasm for the outdoors paired with the beautifully-captured scenery should inspire climbers and non-climbers alike to get out and explore Scotland's mountains. 

Each episode is broadcast in Gaelic language with English subtitles and all three series will be available to watch on demand on BBC iPlayer following transmission.

To find out more about their latest escapades in the Highlands and Islands and the challenges of filming in Scottish weather, we sent some questions to Coinneach and series director Hamish Macleod.

Coinneach is 29 and a keen climber and runner based in Badicaul, Lochalsh. He's a TV presenter, outdoor instructor with the Gaelic development social enterprise 'Spòrs Gàidhlig and a lecturer at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Hailing from the Hebrides, Hamish is 29 and now lives in Glasgow. He works as a camera operator and director.

How did you both discover climbing, and when?

Coinneach: I grew up right by the rough shore in Lochalsh, and spent the greater part of my childhood scrambling and running about on the rocks there. The first experience I had of mountains was in the Cuillin in Skye, first under my dad's supervision and later by myself or with friends. It was when I was 24 that I discovered trad climbing though, during a year-long traineeship at Glenmore Lodge. That was 5 years ago and I haven't looked back!

Hamish: I had what is probably a fairly typical introduction to climbing. Hillwalking and a few trips to the climbing wall stoked a bit of an interest in climbing outdoors, and Coinneach leapt on this opportunity to train a patient belayer from scratch. Since then, working on Dàna has kept me inspired and motivated to progress, as it's allowed me to keep the company of talented young climbers as well as professionals with decades of experience. It's been a terrific apprenticeship, in that regard. 

Coinneach on Sirens of Calder E2 5b, Eshaness Lighthouse, Shetland.  © Hamish Macleod
Coinneach on Sirens of Calder E2 5b, Eshaness Lighthouse, Shetland.
© Hamish Macleod

How did the idea for the series come about?

Hamish: The first climbing film Coinneach and I made together was a five minute short for the Gaelic-language film competition, FilmG. We went down to Ayrshire and filmed Coinneach climbing The Edge at Loudoun Hill. It's a pretty bold route, and the climbers were gracious enough to climb it three times in order to get the necessary coverage. That gave us pretty good proof of concept for what a climbing series on BBC Alba could look like. Solus Productions then took an interest in it, and were instrumental in bringing the series to life. 

What does Dàna mean and how does it apply to the series? 

Coinneach: In the simplest sense, Dàna is an adjective meaning, 'bold', 'brave' or 'intrepid', but it can also be a bit of a play on one Gaelic phrase for 'adventure'. We liked it as a short and elegant title that would also be easy to remember.

What are your favourite Scottish climbing locations and routes from the series to date?

Coinneach: It's hard to choose! One of the most fun things about the production is that we are essentially getting to organise a bunch of trips for ourselves in places we think will be inspiring for viewers. For me though, going to Mingulay with the team and getting absolutely perfect weather all week stands out as one of my all-time favourite trips.

Hamish: All of the places we've visited in the series have left a lasting impression in one way or another. Mingulay is a definite highlight though, as is the episode we shot this year on the Old Man of Stoer. Being on sea-cliffs or stacks really feels like high adventure. Adding into that the complexity of filming in such a wild environment presents a compelling challenge, and makes for a memorable day at work. It's fantastic from a camera perspective as well, because once you're in position you can't really lose - the constant motion of the sea below the climbers adds a lot to the frame.

Coinneach Rankin and Jenna Bisset running up Sgòr an Lochan Uaine.  © Hamish Macleod
Coinneach Rankin and Jenna Bisset running up Sgòr an Lochan Uaine.
© Hamish Macleod

Have you had any epics or mishaps during filming?

Hamish: A typical day on location is quite physically demanding, as we're often having to cover big distances, film the journey and carry all the equipment required to stay comfortable and safe in the hills for a few days. Ultimately, the days usually fall - at worst - into the type two fun category, though the 18 hour day we spent in the Cuillin in winter is a somewhat painful memory. We've managed to avoid any serious mishaps, but I have lost a GPS watch and several lens caps to the Atlantic Ocean. Price of admission, I suppose. 

Coinneach: I'd agree with Hamish and say that a typical Dàna shoot might be considered an epic in any other setting. The additional kit and time required to climb a route and film it has resulted in some pretty monstrous days. One desperate moment that stands out was when I arrived at our bivi spot on Cìr Mhòr at 11pm - having been moving non-stop since 5am - only to discover that I had no water and was going to have to run down and up 400m in the dark to remedy that.

How do you find dealing with the weather (and midges) in Scotland and planning filming around this? 

Hamish: The most challenging thing about filming the programme by far is the weather. When you're climbing or in the hills on personal trips, you usually have a high degree of flexibility in when - or at least where - you go. It's much harder to be that adaptable when filming, even with a small crew. This means that we'll often have a backup plan or two for each location, in the event that the conditions aren't with us. This is easier to do in mountain environments, where there are so many ways to move around - a lot of which don't necessarily need dry weather. Sometimes, if an episode is very climbing focused, you just have to roll the dice and hope that the weather is with you. Which in Scotland, it invariably won't be. 

Dàna crew on Beinn Eighe.  © Hamish Macleod
Dàna crew on Beinn Eighe.
© Hamish Macleod

Tell us about this new series: which areas and climbs will you be showcasing?

Hamish: This series contains a lot of firsts for us as a programme - our first trip to the Cairngorms, our first sea-stack and even our first indoor wall. There are some classic climbs featured, Talisman and the Old Man of Stoer among them, but I'm just as excited about the less-obvious destinations we got to visit. Coinneach and a partner travelled to Unst in Shetland and put up a new route. It's not the most northerly route in the UK, but I suspect it's as close as you could get without a wetsuit. I think the combination of iconic climbing and adventurous esoterica is one of my favourite things about the programme.  

Whom have you climbed with in the series (I know Matt Glenn was in one episode!)

Coinneach: One of my favourite things about making Dàna is getting to bring some of my best friends along for the adventures. In this series I was joined by good friends, some of whom I have known since childhood. Rori Hawthorn, London-based actor and musician who gets back to the West Coast of Scotland at every opportunity; Jenna Bisset, a physiotherapy student and sport-climbing crusher from Inverness who I met at Glenmore Lodge; Owen Sinclair, the Orcadian guitarist and singer I studied music with once upon a time; and Calum Gibb, a Skye-man who fixes plumbing by day and boulders by night. I was friends with all of them long before we ever climbed together, but climbing has added a new dimension to my relationship with each of them.

How big is your film crew and how much effort does it take to capture each ascent?

Hamish: There's a great deal of work that goes into preparing and filming the programmes that isn't visible on screen. The crew at Solus Productions do an amazing job of taking the schemes that Coinneach and I dream up and turning them into viable and slick filming trips. On location, we work with a small crew who are absolutely vital in ensuring that we're able to operate effectively and safely. Our drone operator, Kirk Watson, has a long career of mountaineering experience and worked in Antarctica for many years, and so we're able to subject him to things that would lead most crew to pursue legal action. Rich Parker, who has looked after safety on almost all the episodes, does an unbelievable job of making extreme environments safe to film in and, crucially, keeping me off the deck. Because of our limited time on location, it's rare that we've got the luxury to rig equipment before filming, and so having a small crew who are able to work quickly and comfortably under that pressure is crucial.

Crew filming on the Old Man of Stoer.  © Hamish Macleod
Crew filming on the Old Man of Stoer.
© Hamish Macleod

How important is it to you Coinneach that you are part of Gaelic-language TV series?

Coinneach: It's incredibly important, although we don't talk about it very much on screen or while we are making the programmes. Dàna is a programme about climbing, not linguistics, so I think the point is that we are demonstrating that the language is still used organically in modern situations. To put it another way: why would we not use Gaelic? It is a first language for myself, Hamish and many of the people involved in the production. That being said, it is obviously one of the things which sets us apart from other climbing media. Gaelic voices are a tiny minority in that world and the wider outdoor industry, and I'd like to think that Dàna goes a small way towards redressing that.

Is there a strong Gaelic-speaking climbing community in the highlands?

Hamish: There's certainly a lot of people with Gaelic in the hills and enjoying the outdoors in the highlands. I suspect the number of Gaelic speaking climbers could comfortably take a coach trip together though.

Owen Sinclair climbing Sirens of Calder E2 5b.  © Hamish Macleod
Owen Sinclair climbing Sirens of Calder E2 5b.
© Hamish Macleod

What do you hope people take away from watching the series? (climbers and non-climbers?)

Hamish: The primary goal of the programme is simply to communicate how incredible the Scottish landscape is, and the endless numbers of ways there are to move through it. Beyond that, I hope that the programme shows what it is - in the broadest sense - to have an adventure; that it can be a big, ambitious and challenging trip, or it can be something that takes an afternoon. 

Coinneach: My biggest hope is that a good core of Gaelic-speakers watch and enjoy it. In some areas where the language is spoken, outdoor pursuits and adventure sports are often viewed as activities for visitors, rather than being something that we would usually take part in. It would be wonderful if on Dàna we could present role-models to younger speakers and show that these amazing landscapes can be enjoyed by Gaels in a variety of ways.

Do you have plans for further trips/more series after this?

Hamish: There are certainly things in the pipeline. As with all TV programmes though, we're bound by the wills of audiences and broadcasters. Writing to your local MP, tweeting the BBC Director General and displaying messages of support on motorway bridges are all great ways to demonstrate to our superiors that it isn't just our parents watching!

Watch the series on BBC Alba or BBC iPlayer.

10 Nov, 2023

Great series, really enjoyed it.

10 Nov, 2023

Any plans to make Series 1 and 2 available on iPlayer (not just the wee clips)? They visit some great places and climbs.

10 Nov, 2023

Have been really enjoying the series.

I particularly like the combination of fantastic locations, the low key, quiet presentation style and the choice of routes, which are relatable to a non-elite climber like myself.

More please

10 Nov, 2023

Looking forward to this. Really enjoyed the first series.

10 Nov, 2023

This would be really good. I only caught the Mingulay one which was one of the best climbing films I think I've ever seen.

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