Weir’s Way

Tuesday, December 2, 2003 by

You’re stuck on a night-shift and your only companion is a two inch television monitor. Strangely enough, the lure of G-String Divas on five is minimal, as is a signed repeat of A Life of Grime. Then, lo and behold, nestling almost unnoticed in the schedules are two magical words which transport you back decades to your childhood in an instant – Weir’s Way.

Growing up in the confines of the 14th floor of a flat in the Sighthill area of Glasgow was, at times, a salutary experience. Glasgow was big on concrete in the 1970s. We had lots of it. Sandstone tenements were demolished with disgusting haste and godless multi-storeyed architecture took root. Built by men who would never countenance living in them, we were piled high in the sky in these massive monuments to the dreams of planners. But strangely, their height added another dimension to my everyday life – the views. On a clear day they were, quite simply, stunning. Arran, Dumgoyne and a magical myriad of other names that were equally exotic to me, could be viewed from my personal eerie. My love of physical geography took hold and then, in 1976 it became a full-blown affair as Scottish Television screened one of its most popular and enduring programmes, Weir’s Way.

The diminutive figure of Tom Weir popped into our homes and, in his allotted 10 minutes, took to joyously tramping around Scotland and exploring the land around ourselves. Whilst Benidorm, Torremilinos and Majorca began to seal their stranglehold on our imagination, Tom took it upon himself to remind us that Scotland was still a beautiful country worthy of our time and love. What is still even more remarkable is that almost 30 years later, Weir’s Way is still unbelievably popular. Pulling upwards of 70,000 viewers two or three times a week despite being shunted around the early morning schedules like an epileptic shuttlecock, this equates to a 30% share of the audience. These truly astounding figures give you some indication of the universal popularity of Tom Weir. Heading on for 90, he is still to be found walking the countryside around his beloved Gartochran home and is still being recognised and congratulated for his show. Which, given its uniform excellence is not in the least surprising.

For me, a spotty 12 year old with a burgeoning interest in the countryside, Weir’s Way was a wonderful introduction to God’s own country. More than that, he would be filming in areas that I could view from my flat. This allowed me to gain a greater depth of knowledge for these places and a deeper love for my homeland. Tom effortlessly translated his passion for walking, for the countryside, for its history. If I may be so bold, this was a performance which is equal to the likes of Schama or Starkey in the present day. Yet unlike these modern stars of the small screen, Weir always managed to present himself as a mere peripheral figure who happened to be where he was as he waxed lyrical over the subject matter at hand. This was a perfect balancing act between presenter, landscape and script. Tom was lucidly aware that, at that time, he was by no means a star, he was merely the presenter. Yet a star he has become.

Tonight, we were treated to a quintessential edition of the show. Our genial host was in fine form as he explored the beautiful Fife village of Largo. A jewel in the Fife crown, I would urge anyone to visit that beautiful, timeless stretch of villages such as Largo, Anstruther, Pittenweem, Crail, St. Monan’s and revel in a stunningly beautiful part of the world. The village of Largo has two main claims to fame and Tom expertly explained to his public with crisp precision what they were – or rather who. Sir Andrew Wood (the Nelson of his time) and Alexander Selkirk, upon whom Robinson Crusoe was based were the two sons of Largo who made their impression upon the world. Clad in his regulation uniform of bobble hat, dodgy jumper and wellies, Tom proceeded to inform us of their tales as he strode through the village, pointing out places of interest along the way. This remarkable, intuitive calmness manifested itself in one memorable scene in which Tom opened the Alexander Selkirk Museum. Drawing the curtains over the plaque open, Weir simply proclaimed “So, here we are – declared open!”

There you go, Queenie, that’s the way to do it.

This was a charming, gentle, educational and ultimately fascinating 10 minutes that was delivered with warmth and authority. The current viewing figures bear testament to the fact that this programme has stood the test of time and it’s easy to understand why it has remained so popular. It is a simple, honest and immediate piece of television that delivers on its intentions fully. It is there to entertain and to educate. It is there to inspire and inveigle. It is there to tell and to be told. It is the past, the present and the future but most of all, it is hosted by one of Scottish life’s great gentlemen and iconic figures, a man who is loved and cherished as the national treasure he is. And believe me, this man – and his wife – are held in deep affection by the Scottish public.

But to end on a sour note, I remind you again of the fact that Weir’s Way pulls in a 30% audience share in the graveyard slot. Not bad at the best of times but for a show almost three decades old, truly remarkable. However, Tom’s original deal had no arrangement for residuals. Needless to say, the nabobs at Scottish Media Group are hiding under the cover of the phrase “no moral obligation” and, in effect, sticking two-fingers up to Tom and saying “tough luck”. Now, the man himself simply says the pleasure that his show gives the public is payment enough – once a gentleman, always a gentleman. But it is utterly despicable of SMG not to make a one-off payment to one of Tom’s favoured causes in lieu of the enormous good he has done them. If anyone from SMG is reading this, then shame on you. And if, by some small miracle, the majestic Mr Weir is reading this, then I say simply thank you for the enormous pleasure you’ve given us all. You are a credit to Scotland. God bless you, sir.


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