Secret Scotland with Susan Calman

Channel 5


CALL off the search – I have found her. Not having seen or heard Susan Calman on the telly (those Bank of Scotland ads) or radio (The News Quiz et al) for, ooh, at least five minutes, I had been toying with the idea of reporting her missing.

While I would not deny anyone the right to earn a crust, the diminutive Scot does seem to get everywhere, like cat hair.

This time she was not on the BBC but one of the other sides. The move to the lighter, brighter, more commercial lands of Channel 5 suited her.

There was still the same punning and relentless chirpiness, not everyone’s cuppa, but at least she was getting out and about, away from the smug environs of Radio 4 comedy and Middle England’s embrace.

Middle England adores Calman, loves her like the latest soft furnishings range from John Lewis.

Secret Scotland with Susan Calman, now in its third series, was a travelogue that promised to do what it said in the title – uncover the hidden treasures of Caledonia.

First stop was the Falkirk Wheel, followed by the Kelpies. Hang on, you might be saying, they are about as secret as Edinburgh Castle. What televisual offence against the sale of goods act was being committed here?

But hang on. Let us not rush to judgment. There are only so many countries to be explored in TV travelogues and lots of presenters vying for the gigs – Portillo, Connolly, Julie Walters, the Whitehall kid and his dad, to name but a few. Each show therefore needs its unique selling point.

In Calman’s case “secret” tended to mean places she could go that the punters usually cannot. So she went inside the axle of the Falkirk Wheel, for example, and the same at the “head up Kelpie” (as opposed to its chum, the “head down” one).

With the exception of the Kelpie, which looked like a cathedral from outer space from the inside, the secret spots were not much to text home about.

Calman was more engaging when meeting folk and doing things, including watching a handsome Clydesdale horse named Jake have its feet scraped and filed. As we have all found with staycations this year, you take your entertainment where you can find it.

Jake stood 16 hands high, each hand being four inches, which was slightly below average (yup, learned that). Calman, who must be at most 12/13 hands high, was on more evenly matched ground with Robbie the Shetland pony, even if he did have a mind of his own and firm feelings about the direction in which he wanted to walk.

Onwards through Falkirk and the Lothians she went in her Mini (we did not see it from the back so cannot say whether it was one of those with Union Flag lights) to Borthwick Castle, which Calman declared “pure Game of Thrones”.

Prisoners at Borthwick won their freedom if they could leap an 11 feet gap between the castle’s rooftops. Calman duly tried it (kidding).

Mary Queen of Scots fled the castle by jumping out of a window and straight on to a horse waiting below. Calman had a go at that as well (kidding again).

She did, hand on heart, have an owl land on her arm, an experience she found moving. “You’re so beautiful,” she told the bird, and he was.

With that ticked off the to do list, it was off for some stone stacking on Dunbar beach, followed by a visit to the Dunmore Pineapple and a conversation about nipples (you had to be there), what looked like an eye-wateringly strong G&T on the island of Fidra, and finally a swoop on Bass Rock and its colony of gannets (now that is definitely not a secret – Sir David Attenborough has been there), where she took in another prison. Scotland did seem to have a mania for locking people up whenever it could.

The test of such travel programmes is not whether Scots would go to the places visited. Central Belt dwellers are notoriously poor at touring the treasures on their doorsteps. I once went to visit the Falkirk Wheel and could not find it. All 35 metres tall, 1200 tons of steel of it. Still haven’t been there to this day.

The test is whether we would look on such shows, feel a mild stirring of pride, and advise tourists to go wherever we do not. On that score, Secret Scotland passed the test.

Next stop in the ten-part series: the Trossachs and the west of Scotland.