Southern Upland Way 2016

See the video on YouTube here:   Southern Upland Way 2016

“Zena the Dog expressed to me that she required a period of quiet reflection so I decided to take her to one of the loneliest parts of Britain:  Dumfries and Gallowayshire and the Scottish Borders where we could do what is considered the Scottish Coast to Coast walk.

Portpatrick – on the west coast of Scotland

 We parked Vanessa on a side street in Portpatrick and then embarked on our long 212 mile walking voyage.   This was a self-sufficient trip of wild camping – i carried a rucksack, tent, few spare clothes and food – the whole lot weighing 46 pounds.  After 2 hours I realised it was all too heavy so I ditched the spare clothes, a tub of honey and a tube of tomato puree, put them in a carrier bag and hid it under a gorse bush.   
We continued onwards and were blessed with early June blue skies and sunshine all of the way, amongst moors, brush, heathland, forests, farmland and hills.
After 90 miles we had reached Sanquahar.   By this time Zena was limping – her pads were worn out from tarmac and the rocky hardcore surface of the many forest roads in the Forest of Galloway.   She was suffering;  i took her to a human podiatrist shop who took one look at her pads and said “She’ll never make it, you are going to have to stop.”   He gave me some foot cream to put on her pads.   

Zena Dog – She cannae take no more cap’n

Sensibly ignoring his advice we continued on across the desolate moors and spectacular landscapes.   Whenever we met tarmac or rocky path, I carried Zena, which over the course of the trip amounted to around 15 miles.   Otherwise on grass she walked happily – and loved trying to chase the sheep.   
The walk itself crosses beautiful isolated moors and hills and forests.   At times in the woodlands I felt like I was in Yaak Montana – it was lush and lots of vegetation – yet alas no bears nor wolves nor anything to be frightened of.  This of course gave the advantage i could eat in my tent, wipe my food on my shirt and generally be messy.   
This became some 14 nights of wild camping.  The first 7 days were completely self-sufficient, not requiring anything of anyone except water.  After that I had a few top ups of food, treated myself to ice creams and visited a couple of tea rooms including at Traquair House and also at Thirlestane Castle in Lauder, where they asked me to kindly promptly leave the premises at closing time because I was so scruffy they thought me a vagrant.   
Onwards we hiked and the wild camping continued to impress, though at times hard to find a flat spot of grass especially in the forest.  

Desperate to find a camp spot in the late evening after 10pm

Amazing bird sounds including at one night I could hear 5 snipes all surrounding me and calling to each other;   another morning 4 separate cuckoos calling.  We also saw during the trip several brown hares, a mountain hare, a few buzzards, kestrels, oystercatchers, lapwings and lots and lots of midges.   Walking up from St Mary’s Loch, we passed around Peebles literally just after one’s fateful wedding anniversary, whereupon a terrific thunder and lightning storm erupted over Peebles town, making me wonder if this was indeed a portentous omen.  

From Traquair gazing north

Eventually we reached the last leg of the trip which was supposed to be 2 days from Lauder up to Cockburnspath, 27 miles.  We tried to do this in one day, but we had ran out of food, and this made the last few miles very slow; a lesson in carbo deprivation.  We finally reached a holiday camp 2 miles from the end of the trip, went in to the bar and promptly passed out.   They then told me that dogs were not allowed in the bar and I had to leave.   Pretty awful welcome for someone who had just hiked nearly all of the Southern Upland Way.  
The next day we finished the last 2 miles.    Zena was elated.  We got to Cockburnspath and felt very proud.  We had walked about 17 miles per day for two weeks completely self-sufficient.   

Cockburnspath on the East Coast of Scotland

We took the bus and train back from Cockburnspath to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stranraer and then finally back to Portpatrick, along the way diving in to Marks And Spencer food halls for fresh salads, chocolate milkshakes and yoghurts.  Arriving at Portpatrick, Vanessa was still parked in the side street and Zena and I jumped for joy with elation at the conclusion of this grand adventure;   upon which an old lady came flying out the front door of her house and angrily shouted at me for having left my van parked in front of her house for two weeks and how rude and inconsiderate I was and how she had had to call the police because she thought there might be someone dead inside the van.   
So beautiful landscapes and wildlife and isolation;  yet not so sure about some of the welcomes by the locals (which is very unusual for a normally friendly Scotland). “

Spain 2009

“Grazalema and Los Alcornocales:
These areas straddle the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga;  a rugged massif, predominantly composed of limestone and dolomite, rising from rolling farmlands to a height of nearly 2000 metres.  Jagged formations of karst give way to poplar lined valleys, thick stands of cork and evergreen oaks, with old groves of olives and almonds, fields of wheat and barley.  An ornothological wonderland:  hoopoes, wheatears, oriol, warblers, choughs, raptors – and vultures.”  

Excerpt from Walking in Andalucia by Guy Hunter-Watts.


From Gaucin, looking south to Gibraltar and the Med 


“Well Carl this is a very long time ago, have you done no adventures since then?   Well, yes, yet most in the guise of wildlife studies elsewhere.      This Spain trip came off a recommendation of a friend, so I bought the book Walking in Andalucia by Guy Hunter-Watts, drove down to Ronda and hid out among the mountains for many weeks.   This was November 2009 to January 2010 and had the misfortune of then being the wettest winter in Spain for over 40 years.   Despite that I enjoyed many sunny warm days doing the hikes out of this lovely walking book.   Here are some photographs which help describe the journeys.
The action takes place in El Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales and the Gaucin area, going up to Ronda and Grazalema.   Here we walk amongst beautiful cork oak forests – with few or no visitors nor tourists.   We are surrounded by wonderful majestic old trees, leaf litter which scrunches underfoot and then occasional inquisitive animals from the various fincas (Spanish farms).   On the first occasion I embarked on one of these walks, after an hour I was alarmed to look up in to the sky and see just 60 feet above me a group of vultures, circling avidly.   Was it me or Zena they were gazing hungrily at?       Anyway as time went on I learned of the tremendous raptor and vulture populations that inhabit southern Spain.   In particular at Garganta Verde, near Zahara de la Sierra, resides Europe’s largest colony of griffon vultures.  You can get an official access pass and descend into this dramatic gorge, and whilst climbing down the steps you are at eye level with the vultures some of whom swoop directly above you;  you hear their wings whoosh above even before you see them.  “

Dry and rocky slopes


Happy farm cow
By Zahara de la Sierra
Garganta Verde
Griffon vulture
Graceful griffon vulture
Griffons and choughs in formation
The way out from Montejacque
Cork oak lush forests
Mossy furry fluffy splendour
This lake only exists after the heaviest rain in 40 years…
Wild iris in January
Nosy horse
Cork oak
Warm sunny walks
Moon over vulture land
Cliffside home of griffon vultures
Shades of Andalucian farms
Evening light
Ridiculous pointy ears
Zena at her happy place near Estepona

Canadian Rockies 2007

“Well now we are in the dim and distant past – yet here is where it all began!   I took a needlessly expensive 2 week trip to Banff and Yoho parks.   First off I visited Mount Assiniboine which the map tells me as follows:”

“Mount Assiniboine is one of the premier backcountry destinations in the Banff area.  Known as the Matterhorrn of the Candian Rockies this sutnning snow-banded peak soars to 3,619 metres (11,870 feet for viewers in black and white) and towers over glacier-fed Lake Magog.  Surrounding it are wildflower-dotted alpine meadows, amethyst lakes and some of the most scenic above-treeline hiking in the Canadian Rockies.”   

“Well… i found all that to be true… see here…”

First night out wild camping and again i’ve forgotten my tent pegs and have to use sticks and twigs
Bear tracks


Citadel Pass around 2300 metres – a guide coming up the other way said I was the first to get through, this year
Mount Assiniboine
The challenge:  to get a photo of it without any cloud wisping off the top.  I made it! 
Carlos – Age 38 – and so much slower than today….
Martin Bruce – a real outdoorsman who had lived in Alaska for 20 years.  In front is his broomhandle complete with flares that he uses to back bears off of the trail.  He had a massive aversion to grizzlies which he regarded as unpredictable and highly dangerous.  I should listen to this guy…


“So after all that wonderful scenery and meeting nice interesting people, I stayed at Mt. Assiniboine campground 4 nights and went down to Og Meadows each morning and evening to watch this beautiful incredible grizzly sow with her cub.  She was there each day, guaranteed, reliable, placid, not bothered by humans and I was able to get stupidly close and take a few photographs. “

Grizzly sow with cub.  She was digging for ground squirrels, which is a lot of calorie expenditure for little reward – she must have been very hungry.  
Has anyone else ever seen a grizzly dig for ground squirrels….?   When the squirrel popped up out the ground, she sprang at it some twenty feet, like a cat – her paws clasped – it shot away – she’d missed it – and she roared in anger.    Like a big ROAR.     A very big angry ROAR.  
Og Meadows
Characteristic silver back fur 
Even with these diddy distant photos, Martin Bruce told me I had gotten too close and needed to back off next time – lest the bear charge me….

“So after Mount Assiniboine I went for a couple of nights in town, had a bath, then went up to Yoho National Park.    When I arrived at Little Yoho campground there was no one there except for this bear-hang pole….   which looked like a big fat meaty angry hungry bear had climbed up it and bent it down….”   

Just what kind of a critter can bring down a thick steel pole……?   

“This unsettled me already – the thought of a carnivore as big and strong as bending over a thick steel pole.    I went to bed in my tent….
at around 0330h in the morning, something came and pawed at my tent….. right where my head was….   !!!!
So I yelled “Get away!   Get away!”   got my pepper spray out and sat in my tent on all fours, quivering and trembling and listening…..
I could hear…nothing……   
I trembled and trembled some more….
4 hours later I found the courage to unzip my tent.    
I found a beautiful glorious peaceful sunny morning and no bear outside waiting to eat me – just nothing – except this beautiful campground. .    

Survivor of a deadly night visitor to my tent…?

There were no tracks around my tent and I never found out what happened or what had visited….
The lesson for me was: Don’t sit in your tent trembling but get out and face the fears. ….
Oh well, i’m sure that must be a metaphor for life if only I was a fantastic travel philosophical guru and people would believe that…
…If i’m honest the decision to remain in one’s tent whilst something dangerous is pawing it at, also depends upon the weather, whether you are undressed or would be embarrassed to get out naked,  if you have food in your tent,   if you have a partner in your tent who is more tasty than you, if you have any money left for when you get back in to town, and I suppose just how much of a disturbance the pawing really is and whether you can just sleep through it.”