Students bring lost history of remote glen to life in major new audio series

Students from UHI Inverness feature in a new radio and podcast docu-drama series that brings back to life the lost history of a remote Highland glen.

see full size image
Juliet Kelly was cast as Lady Fowler and Kady Lyon plays Anna Fraser

Two drama students and a recent PhD graduate worked on Hidden in Plain Sight, a new eight-part audio series on Inverlael near Ullapool in Wester Ross.

The area was cleared in 1820 and all but forgotten, even to many local residents who are descendants of those who were cleared. Now, thanks to the determination of local resident Duncan Mackenzie in collaboration with Ullapool Museum, the stories of the Inverlael Clearances are being given a voice for the first time in a piece for radio. 

The series was written by the award-winning writer Chris Dolan and produced by Highland production company Adventurous Audio Ltd. Each of the programmes focuses on a different moment in the township’s history, and re-imagines some of the key characters in the story of the area. 

The cast includes the acclaimed actor David Hayman and popular broadcaster Mark Stephen, as well as HNC Acting and Performance student Juliet Kelly and Kady Lyon, a BA (Hons) Drama and Production student, who were both cast as historical characters.

Juliet was cast as Lady Fowler in episode one and Kady plays Anna Fraser in episode four. Both were selected after a successful casting call and audition process.

Dr Lesley Mickel, Programme Leader for Drama at UHI Inverness, said: “‘This was a professional gig, offering great insights into voice acting and audio performance for students. It was an excellent opportunity to work with a production company based in the Highlands and help them tell character-driven stories rediscovering a lost community.”

The series weaves together expertise from Professor Sir Tom Devine, Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich and UHI academics, including recent PhD graduate Darroch Bratt and Dr Elizabeth Ritchie and Dr Rachel Davies of the UHI Centre of History in Dornoch. They all contributed research and background information.  

Darroch, who was based at UHI Inverness while studying his PhD on the historical archaeology of whisky distilling in the Highlands and Islands, visited an illicit distilling site in the glen and fed into the survey report for the project. He also delivered a public talk for Ullapool Museum and was interviewed for the podcast.

Darroch said: “I wrote a short piece on the interpretation of the illicit distilling site. As these are ephemeral sites, they can be hard to identify so having my input was useful for them. For the talk, I gave a wide-ranging lecture on distilling in Scotland from the 1500s onward, its social history and the archaeology relating to it. During the interview I focussed on the economic importance and the cultural significance of whisky smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The series also features original music ‘The Ghosts of Balblair’ written by the popular accordion player Ruaraidh Maclean whose family were cleared from the Glen 203 years ago.

The re-discovery of Balblair has been part of a two-year community-based project by Ullapool Museum ‘Lost Inverlael: A’lorg Baile Bhlair’, which started in 2020 to mark the 200th anniversary of the township being cleared.

Helen Avenell, project co-ordinator at Ullapool Museum, said: “Hidden in Plain Sight is a truly wonderful culmination of the Lost Inverlael project. It beautifully weaves together a kist of stories created from the unique archaeological and archival finds and puts voices to the people we have discovered through this amazing project, breathing life into the history of these lost Highland townships.”

Hidden in Plain Sight is being broadcast on community radio including Radio Skye, Isles FM, Lochbroom FM, Two Lochs Radio and Oban FM.  The series is available as a podcast on all the usual platforms.

Hidden in Plain Sight was supported by the Audio Content Fund, a UK Government fund to support independent producers. Click here to follow the series: