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Scotland from bottom to top
on 11 May 2013
Walking from one end of a country to the other has its own special appeal, its own distinctive challenge. Wainwright's coast to coast walk from St. Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire is the most famous such walk in England; and there's also the Wales Coast Path, at 870 miles, more than four times the length of the English coast to coast. Scotland's most well-known long-distance walker, broadcaster and author Cameron McNeish has already walked across Scotland: the 200-mile east to west route from Aberdeen to Inverie, as seen in Mountain Media's "Scotland: Coast to Coast." And now there's an even greater challenge: the 470-mile south to north route between Kirk Yetholm on the English border and Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in Scotland.
This walk, as documented on this 2-disc, 2-hour program (originally screened by BBC Scotland in December, 2012) has special significance to McNeish, having spent 2 1/2 years in its development, combining existing long-distance walks such as St. Cuthbert's Way, the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals, and the Rob Roy Way with shorter trails, including canal towpaths. The new walk, dubbed the Scottish National Trail (more precisely, the Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail), was officially opened in October 30, 2012 by First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond.
The walk is one of astonishing beauty, diversity, and contrast (filmed by Dominic Scott), from the snowy rolling hills near Kirk Yetholm to the rocky coast of Cape Wrath; but at 470 miles, it's not a route for the faint-hearted. McNeish breaks the walk down into four primary "bite-sized chunks": the southern section between Kirk Yetholm and Edinburgh; the section between Edinburgh and Milngavie following the canal towpaths; the central highlands section between Milngavie and Aviemore (which includes the Caingorms), and which follows some of the old drovers' routes; and final section, the "empty miles" of the northern highlands between Banenoch and Cape Wrath.
As usual in his walks, McNeish is joined for stretches by different traveling companions and local authorities. He talks to farmer William Thomson near the beginning of the Kirk Yetholm segment and then to Walter Elliott, a one-time builder of fences, who has made a study of the area's history and archeology. He talks to Mae Cameron, who serves refreshments at the Old Toll Tea House in the town of West Linton, and then one of Scotland's leading climbers, Rab Anderson. He interviews Helen Brown of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, and then Marion Shoard who has spent years advocating open access to wilderness areas. In the highlands, he meets old friend Dick Balharry, for years the warden of Beinn Eighe, Britain's first national reserve, and his traveling companion in Striding Edge's "Great Walks: Scotland" DVD (also well worth viewing). And in the northern highlands he joins famed landscape photographer, Colin Prior, who displays some of his impressive panoramic shots of the area.
The Scottish National Trail isn't limited to spectacular landscapes; McNeish made sure that the walk "embraces centers of population"; and so we are taken not only to Edinburgh (by way of the Caledonian Canal), but also to the picturesque towns of Melrose and Peebles. We also view some truly unusual manufactured artifacts: near Kirk Yetholm is "Britain's most unusual graveyard"--a place where old walkers' abandoned boots go to die. Jackie Wilks has taken in some of these "waifs and strays" and uses some of them as moss-covered plant pots. Near Edinburgh's Union Canal is another remarkable sight--a massive revolving boat lift designed to lift boats 35 meters, allowing them to move from one section of the canal to another. (The original 11 locks of the canal were filled-in during the 1930s.)
Some have cavilled at the commercialism involved in calling the Scottish National Trail the "Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail." McNeish has a ready answer: "these trails cost an awful lot to both create and more importantly maintain, and the money has to come from somewhere. I'd rather it was called Gore-Tex trail and had the funding to exist." Hard to argue with that.