Scotland’s Sacred Islands with Ben Fogle starts this month

The second series of Scotland’s Sacred Islands with Ben Fogle starts this month. 

Across the new series Ben will visit 12 islands, starting with Arran and Holy Isle, then Islay and Jura, with a third episode on Orkney and rounding up the series in Skye.

Alongside stunning photography of some of the UK’s most beautiful islands, the series celebrates their unique spiritual heritage as Ben meets local people finding out how faith and belief are woven into their modern-day communities.

The popular first series, which broadcast in 2021, featured Shetland and islands in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including Iona, Barra, North and South Uist, Mingulay, Berneray, Taransay, Lewis and Harris.

This second series features Arran and Holy Isle in the first episode, Islay, Jura and The Rock of the Saints in the second episode, Orkney Mainland, Shapinsay, Lamb Holm in the third, and lastly Skye, St Columba’s Isle, Raasay and Rona.

Steve Allen, Commissioning Editor for BBC Scotland, said: ‘Ben Fogle forged a link with the Scottish islands which started in his childhood as a young boy visiting Eigg with his family and was fostered by the BBC more than 20 years ago when he took part in the Castaway project living on Taransay, in the Hebrides for a year.

‘In this second series of Scotland’s Sacred Islands he connects very directly with the landscape and unique spiritual heritage of the islands, but also with the people and the communities he meets. In these difficult times for many, the series offers a beautiful slice of serenity and a picture of community connection.’

Two academics from The Open University, Professor John Wolffe and Professor Marion Bowman, consulted on the series.

The new four-part series starts on BBC Scotland and on BBC iPlayer on 17 October at 8pm and on BBC One on 22 October at 10.30am.

Q&A with Ben Fogle

Credit: Tern TV

What for you is the essence of this second series?

The beauty of the Scottish islands is the breadth of religions and spirituality across the archipelago. 

The series aims to focus on the power of the islands themselves to nurture and nourish religion and spirituality. In the last series we went to some amazing places but we decided there were so many more fascinating places to explore and find out about their culture and their heritage. 

This time around there is an even wider span of faiths, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, as well as a diverse range of spiritual perspectives

Sometimes islands are seen by mainland dwellers as being quite ‘closed’ communities, did you find this to be the case?

Far from being narrow minded, closed communities, I have found the opposite. 

Most islanders welcome ‘outsiders’ to the islands, all that they expect is for newcomers to live with, not apart from the existing communities. 

To share their values and to be part of, not apart from the community and landscape.

So take us through the series and some of your highlights?

I visited many islands for the first time during this second series. I had never been to Arran, Jura or Skye before. It was also my first visit to Holy isle.

Arran is well-known in central west Scotland as an island that is accessible for trips and visits but like anywhere, you can walk the well-trodden path or you can go off piste and leave the path. Arran has some beautiful, wild, rugged places away from the main tourist hub.

Islay was amazing and we met many amazing people there but I also loved Jura. I had always wanted to visit ever since learning that George Orwell wrote 1984 from there.

History of a different kind intrigued me on Orkney. Many of the people on Orkney relate more to their Norse heritage than their Scottish one. 

So many of the place names and even the boats are from the north. I loved exploring the rich tapestry of island history that envelopes both Norse mythology and Christianity, it’s what makes the islands so rich and diverse.

As well as Arran another tourist favourite we visited was Skye. It is accessible by bridge so I drove there, which is a first for the series.

Fascinating to see modern tourism in action, with so many people visiting, coming to a point, getting off the bus together and taking pictures for social media but like them I was blown away by the beauty of the island. It was awe-inspiring.

After two series of Scotland’s Sacred Islands, what do you see as the power of the islands?

There is a religious dimension to the series but I’m not very religious…

But I’m very open-minded and I am very spiritual. The islands have the power to calm, soothe and restore. 

So many people from mainland Britain are in danger of burnout but the islands and island life offer an alternative. 

A different pace of life. A different way of life. A closer community with some liberal and traditional values.

Going to the Scottish islands in spring wasn’t quite the epic of some of your other recent adventures, but Scottish weather is often its own special filming challenge, not least because it can change so much within the space of a day. How was the weather during filming?

We were surprisingly lucky. We had plenty of sunshine, rain and midges. The perfect Scottish summer really.

Read more on Scottish Field’s News pages. 

Plus, don’t miss the November issue of Scottish Field magazine.