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Watch new series Scotland: Ocean Nation

Cal Major, the first person to paddleboard the length of the UK, takes on an exhilarating new challenge in a three-part STV Player series called Scotland: Ocean Nation.

A new three-part series, Scotland: Ocean Nation, sees adventurer Cal Major embark on a 800-mile journey around Scotland’s coastline. Along the way, she meets the creatures that call Scotland’s seas home – including an inquisitive orca pod swimming just below her paddleboard – and an array of fascinating people whose lives are intertwined with the ocean. 

The series also highlights our devastating impact on the ocean with shocking scenes of a humpback whale calf entangled in rope, a gannet with barbed hooks stuck in its feet and remote islands piled high with waste from fish farms.

Cal Major, a veterinary surgeon and ocean advocate, made headlines in 2018 when she became the first person to stand-up paddleboard the length of the UK from Land’s End to John O’Groats, earning a Guinness World Record. This latest challenge, filmed across 10 gruelling weeks, sees Cal battle through wind, waves and weariness to discover more about Scotland’s waters, both above and below the surface.

A deeply emotional yet thrilling adventure, Scotland: Ocean Nation provides viewers with a one-of-a-kind insight into the current state of Scotland’s marine ecosystem – and what people can do to preserve it. Here, we speak to Cal about her experience of filming the series. 

What do you hope viewers will take away from the film after watching it? 

My hope is that as well as enjoying an epic adventure, viewers will get a glimpse into just how incredible our ocean, right here on our doorsteps, is! Not just in terms of the unbelievable amount of wildlife and biodiversity it supports, and not just for those of us who spend a lot of time there, but for everyone. 

I hope the stories of human connection and just what the sea means to the amazing people we meet along the way inspires viewers to look into their own relationship with the sea, and even for those who have no desire to spend time there, to appreciate that the all of our lives are inextricably linked with our ocean. It produces the oxygen we breathe, regulates our climate and supports our life on this planet, so we all have the right and responsibility to care about it.

I also really wanted to show what’s out of sight and out of mind in our ocean – the surprising life in our dark, cold waters, but also the destruction befalling it. I hope viewers take away a sense of hope and agency, and an even deeper connection to our big blue.

What were the highlights and low points of your trip?

The highlight was being joined out to sea by three enormous orca, although at the time my reaction was really un-cool. They’re really blooming big! But afterwards I was able to appreciate just how special it had been to look an orca in the eye, to experience their size and power and gentleness, and it made me even more determined to protect what I love. 

The low point was finding a baby humpback whale entangled in fishing gear, and more generally witnessing how vulnerable wildlife is to human activity. But that was combined with some deep learning into the issues and a sense of hope from the solutions that are available.

What do you find alluring about Scotland’s coast? 

Scotland is my favourite country in the world. It’s not just mind-blowingly stunning, which is captured really beautifully in the films by the amazing James Appleton, but there’s something about it that just feels like home. I think it’s a mixture of the incredible scenery, which changes in every region around the coast, the world-class wildlife in such abundance, and the wonderful people I have the great privilege to meet or to call friends. 

There’s a real sense of community around Scotland’s coast, and I think the changeable weather means that the good days are never taken for granted, and appreciated so much more. It’s a very challenging place to paddle, with strong tides and winds and the potential for big swell; there are a lot of logistical planning and safety considerations, but that makes it all the more rewarding when I have really special encounters or experiences.

What excites you about the future of the Scottish coast?

I get the sense that the public is becoming increasingly engaged in coastal conservation and an appreciation of what’s in the sea, and why it needs protecting. There are pushes for more of Scotland’s waters to be designated as Marine Protected Areas, and indeed Highly Protected Marine Areas, and a campaign to reintroduce a ban on bottom-towed gear. All of these plans need careful consideration and compassion for various stakeholders, but public support for ocean recovery is vital, and it’s happening. 

Coastal communities are so well connected to their ocean and what it means to them, and are so often the most important stewards of that area. It’s exciting for me to see that, and brings me hope that it might just translate to the recovery of biodiversity and wildlife in our glorious ocean, which has been taken for granted for too long. It only takes seeing a pod of dolphins, a flock of seabirds or an enormous whale to fill me with determination and drive, and hopefulness for a vision of a healthier sea.

Scotland: Ocean Nation is now streaming for free on STV Player. ‘Kelp: the superpower of the sea’ – Read our interview with Cal Major. Photos: James Appleton.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.