Tay watershed walk

Between 18th May and 25th June 2014 I walked the boundary of the River Tay catchment, the largest river system in Scotland. It was the first long-distance walk I'd ever attempted, a great 290-mile loop from Monifieth Sands, through the Mounth, the central and southern Highlands, along the eastern Ochils and finishing at Tentsmuir Point. Despite sometimes being blown off course by the weather and meeting my physical limits, I made it to the end, on or close to the watershed all the way.

All posts relating to this epic ramble can be found here. Also here's a 14 minute slideshow giving you a flavour of the sights and sounds of the walk (best enjoyed wearing headphones for the immersive experience):

A walk around the River Tay watershed from Stefan Durkacz on Vimeo.


I walked to raise money for two fine charities: Scottish Wild Land Group and Venture Trust.

Scottish Wild Land Group
The Scottish Wild Land Group (SWLG) is a wild land charity which is run wholly by volunteers. SWLG was established in 1982 to protect and conserve wild land in Scotland. SWLG campaigns for:
  • protection and promotion of Scotland's wild land
  • safeguards against inappropriate wind farm and other developments
  • environmentally sensitive land and wildlife management
  • planning controls on the spread of hill tracks
  • restoration of rare and missing species and environments
  • connection of habitats and protected areas to allow ecological recovery and species movements
SWLG publishes 'Wild Land News' two or three times a year and features a range of well-known and authoritative contributors. This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys Scotland's countryside. It's a trove of information, analysis and opinion on the many issues and threats facing Scotland's wild land, from raptor persecution and forestry to wind farms and hill tracks. It also celebrates the importance of nature and wild land to our well-being.

Visit www.swlg.org.uk

Venture Trust
Venture Trust is a charity supporting those with chaotic lifestyles and experiencing difficulties in their lives in Scotland and the rest of the UK. They deliver transformational wilderness based personal development programmes, supporting participants to develop the strategies and skills they need to succeed for the rest of their lives.

Venture Trust's programmes support young people who may have been in care, at risk of or experienced homelessness, or have been in the criminal justice system. At the heart of all Venture Trust's programmes, they give people time, space and support in a wilderness setting, far away from the pressures of home, where physical, emotional and social challenges take them into a personal 'stretch' zone where powerful learning can happen.

For participants, Venture Trust's programmes represent an opportunity to boost confidence, motivation and aspirations, and to develop the skills to make their ambitions reality. Venture Trust helps people recognise what they need to change; then gives them the confidence, motivation and core life skills they need to make those changes. These include things like:
  • how to solve problems; 
  • how to deal with stressful or unfamiliar situations;
  • how to set goals and work towards them; 
  • how to think about the consequences of choices that you make; 
  • how to communicate effectively with other people; 
  • how to build trusting relationships; and 
  • how to look after yourself and be organised.
Visit www.venturetrust.org.uk

Why these charities?
Just as we're really beginning to understand the powerful and transformative role that nature and the wilderness can play in our well-being, we - especially young people - are losing our connection with nature, and our wild places are facing unprecedented threats. One phenomenon feeds the other: the more disconnected people are from nature, the less likely they are to oppose the exploiters and despoilers.

SWLG works hard to defend our wild land, through opposing the insensitive and destructive developments that chip away at our wild places. They are an authentic and intelligent voice in the debate - not NIMBYs, not Luddites. What I also admire about them is that not only do they expertly defend wild land, they celebrate it too. Wild Land News features magnificent photography, and rigorous and informative articles are often shot through with personal reminiscence of days and lifetimes spent in the hills, on the coasts and mountains. They're not averse to bringing wilderness-inspired art and poetry into the mix. The rawness of natural beauty and its destruction is never lost sight of. SWLG distribute Wild Land News to MSPs and others in power, those who most urgently need to understand what wild land is and why it is needed.

Measuring the value of wild land in monetary terms is not easy. The work of Venture Trust proves the value is nevertheless real. They use wilderness expeditions to help turn around the lives of vulnerable young people, giving them access to an environment and experience they may never otherwise have had. The wilderness is an inherently challenging thing: it has a way kicking the crutches and distractions away and showing us what we're really made of, which is often more than we think. Youngsters in danger of writing themselves off and being written off are guided through initial work in the community, then the extended wilderness trip, to develop resourcefulness and skills they may not have known they possessed, and which carry over into other areas of their lives. And if you still want to look at it from the dismal scientist's perspective, happy, self-confident, and productive people cost less and contribute more.

Check out Venture Trust's website, read what participants say: what they do works.

I believe that wild land is essential, not just something that's nice to have. I was lucky enough to have unfettered and often unsupervised access to the outdoors when I was growing up. I took it for granted, and learned important lessons without realising. Hamish Brown wrote that experience is the sum of near misses. Now watching my oldest daughter grow, and how she plays out of doors, I see what a deep and natural affinity children have with nature, and the joy they experience in its midst. Nothing in our crazy culture can match that. It's healthy to be reminded we're not the measure of everything. If we can't get lost in the wilderness, we lose ourselves, buzzing with cultural static, unable to earth.

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