THERE are few people who know the rugged wilds of Scotland as intimately as Paul Murton.

The TV presenter and author began hitchhiking around the country as a teenager, catching lifts from Ardentinny in Argyll where he grew up, to explore the many hidden nooks and crannies of his homeland.

These days he is best known for chronicling his adventures in the popular BBC series Grand Tours of Scotland (as well as its successful off-shoots Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands and Grand Tours of Scotland's Lochs).

Murton has written two previous books, The Hebrides and The Viking Isles about Orkney and Shetland. His latest volume, The Highlands, is packed with enthralling nuggets about the landscapes, legend and lore across an area that has been pivotal to Scottish history for centuries.

Alongside stories of Jacobites, clan warfare and cattle rustling, it gives a glimpse into the lives of modern-day Highlanders, from gamekeepers to monster hunters and battle re-enactors.

"The book is an assemblage of my own travelling experience which I have been doing since the age of 13 when I started hitchhiking around Scotland on my own and then later with my pal Gus," explains Murton.

"I have always kept diaries. I am not exactly Samuel Pepys, but I have probably written almost as many words over the last 40 years."

HeraldScotland: Paul Murton with warriors from Clan Atholl. Picture: Paul MurtonPaul Murton with warriors from Clan Atholl. Picture: Paul Murton

The criteria of the "classic" Highlands as set out by Murton is a geographical area bounded by the Highland Boundary Fault in the south, while the western limit is formed by the Trossachs and the A82 as the road heads across Rannoch Moor towards Glencoe.

The lochs of the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal mark the northern border, then the eastern edge follows the Cairngorms National Park as it meanders towards the Angus Glens.

"I suddenly realised I couldn't possibly do all the Highlands in one book," says Murton. "It is a huge area. I have a lot to say about the west Highlands and the northern Highlands as well. I would like at some point to be able to include those in another volume."

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Those familiar with Murton's TV programmes will know that he likes to roll up his sleeves and gain hands-on experience of what life is like for those he meets on his travels. "Well, I try to," he says. "I am interested in some of the people who have different views of what the Highlands are.

"There are battle re-enactors I have worked with two or three times. I have seen them mature, shall we say, from young and enthusiastic clansman in the mid-1990s to slightly more grizzled, veteran fighters today.

"They are still inspired by their own particular interpretation of the Highlands which they see through the prism of Jacobite history. I love their passion, enthusiasm and dedication for doing things in a way that they consider to be authentic."

HeraldScotland: Paul Murton on his travels through the Highlands. Picture: Paul MurtonPaul Murton on his travels through the Highlands. Picture: Paul Murton

There is no shortage of folklore in the Highlands. Murton recounts how, when walking on Ben Macdui as a teenager, he had the eerie sensation of hearing footsteps behind him after the mist came down as he and his friend Gus crossed the summit plateau.

Were the pair tailed by the Big Grey Man, a supernatural being said to reside on Scotland's second highest mountain? Murton realised that the "footsteps" crunching in the wind-packed snow were an illusion.

"It was coming from inside my head," he writes in The Highlands. "In the mist-muffled white-out world, my auditory senses had turned inwards. The sound that had disturbed me was my own beating heart."

Murton touches upon many other Highland myths and monsters, such as the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, once thought to have been the work of giants but which were actually caused by the changing water levels of a glacial lake.

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Fantastical water-dwelling creatures include a kelpie said to reside in Loch Venachar and – of course – Nessie, the world-famous inhabitant of Loch Ness that, depending on who you ask, is purported to be everything from a giant eel to a plesiosaur millions of years old.

Murton, it is fair to say, approaches these fables with a healthy dose of scepticism. "I mean, they are clearly not true," he says. "There is no factual evidence for any of these things. According to strict criteria of what we accept to be true, they are not true stories.

"They are stories that have had deep significance and influence on the way that people behave and react to each other and the way they regard the environment they live in.

"If you believe in spirits in the water and big grey men who live up on the mountains, these things will have an impact on how you behave. You won't go swimming in a loch because you might get devoured and taken down to the depths by a kelpie."

He bites back a laugh. "I am fascinated by where these stories come from and how they have changed and transmuted down the generations. These stories no longer have any kind of influence on us. Most of the time we are unaware of them because they haven't been passed down.

HeraldScotland: Loch Tummel where Paul Murton delved into the history of the "Tunnel Tigers" who worked on the vast hydroelectric scheme developed across the Highlands in the 1950s. Picture: GettyLoch Tummel where Paul Murton delved into the history of the "Tunnel Tigers" who worked on the vast hydroelectric scheme developed across the Highlands in the 1950s. Picture: Getty

"The oral tradition has become extinct for us, whereas in the past, it was a vital force and people believed in another world. From that point of view, it is fascinating – the anthropological and sociological dimensions to these stories."

Murton delves into the history of the "Tunnel Tigers", a nickname for the men who toiled in perilous conditions on the vast hydroelectric scheme developed across the Highlands in the 1950s, building seven dams and digging more than 7,000km (4,300 miles) of tunnels.

"The tunnel networks through the Highlands are fantastically extensive," he says. "But because they are deep within the mountains and the work camps were miles up in remote areas, very few people were even aware of what was taking place or the scale of the operation."

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He met with former worker Gonna O'Donnell, an Irish Gaelic speaker from Donegal, who arrived as a teenager to work in the area around Loch Tummel. Like O'Donnell, many of the "Tunnel Tigers" hailed from rural Ireland, while others came to Scotland to escape the Cold War in Eastern Europe.

"It was this amazing social mix," says Murton. "They were tough men. But they bonded with each other because of the nature of the work they were doing, which was obviously very dangerous. They would look after each other."

HeraldScotland: Paul Murton with mountain biker Lee Craigie at Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms. Picture: Paul MurtonPaul Murton with mountain biker Lee Craigie at Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms. Picture: Paul Murton

On his odyssey around the Highlands, Murton utilised some unusual modes of transportation. At one stage he pedalled from Dunkeld to Blair Atholl by Victorian tricycle. What was that experience like?

"That was hellish," he cheerily attests. "I think I spent most of the time pushing it. There was a lot of hills and the tricycle was very unstable. Whenever I turned, it was in danger of couping over. It didn't really have effective brakes because it was a genuine antique.

"I was wearing out my shoes trying to slow down. I would apply the brakes and then be dragging my feet as well. But it was good fun."

Was the Victorian tricycle more gruelling than mountain biking through Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms with Lee Craigie, a former competitive cyclist who is now Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland?

"No, going mountain biking with Lee Craigie was tougher," he says. "Because I had my pride and had to try and keep up with her. It wasn't a fair match."

HeraldScotland: Paul Murton on the Victorian tricycle he used to pedal through Highland Perthshire. Picture: Paul MurtonPaul Murton on the Victorian tricycle he used to pedal through Highland Perthshire. Picture: Paul Murton

Despite the myriad advances in navigation technology over the years, Murton still prefers the old-fashioned method of sticking a pin in the map. "My approach to any of my trips and research is always to look at an Ordnance Survey map," he says.

"The more I look at an Ordnance Survey map, the more curious I will become because you will see symbols. It will say 'cup and ring marks stones' or 'burial ground' in unlikely places. It is almost as if every contour on the map has some story to tell or for me to decode.

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"That will be the starting point. When you first look at a map, it looks like there is nothing there. But actually, there is something. It has been forgotten and buried under layers of history."

The Highlands by Paul Murton is published by Birlinn, priced £17.99