I have just returned from the 65 mile Speyside Way walk from Aviemore in the Scottish Cairngorms to Buckie on the Moray coast, accompanied by my new tent. My write up can be found in the trails section.
I realise that circumstances have meant that it has taken me a while to get round to wild camping my first trail. As I have explained in my camping section, it has been a gradual journey from bed and breakfasts on Hadrian’s Wall to tea in a tent on the Berwickshire Coastal Path.
I don’t often hear this dramatic trail come up in conversation on social media or blogs, perhaps because people who backpack in Scotland are understandably drawn to the magnetic Munros, the famous national parks or the beautiful highlands and islands, ignoring the beauty of parts of the east coast.
When I moved to the borders, I was struck by the beauty of the east coast between Bamburgh in Northumberland and St Abb’s Head in Berwickshire, so I am often tempted to return there to walk.
On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I was gazing out of the window, as the train runs so close to the coast between Berwick and Burnmouth that it almost knocks walkers into the sea. I noticed a couple of backpackers across the field walking along the coast path, who stopped and waved at us on the train. I got an overwhelming urge to be there waving, instead of on the train on my business errand, and so a week later I was.
Berwickshire has some of the longest and most dramatic cliffs on the British coast, which make walking this path a challenging and attractive experience which is ideal for wild camping. I’m sure I made some rookie wild camping errors, but I really enjoyed the challenge. I hope you will take a look at my trip report – Berwickshire Coastal Path
This subject has never been far from my thoughts since I started this blog, but I would preface this post by saying that I am not an expert in this area. I saw my first fox up close when out walking on the South Downs at university, and later became aware of foxes scavenging from the neighbourhood bins in south London. Like many city dwellers, at the time I was thrilled to realise that I could be living in such close proximity to wild animals.
When I moved to the borders however, it was hard to ignore the fact that there were several active local hunts, who in those days took huge packs of noisy dogs out with them, or that the hills were chequered with burnt heather patches (muirburn) to encourage the grouse population.
Although the fishing troubles me less, as a walker I soon realised that it would be valuable to know when, where and how to avoid the hunting and the shooting. I lived amongst hunters, guns, anglers, ghillies, guides, beaters, gamekeepers, hotel staff, holiday cottage rental owners, equipment suppliers and the invisible landowners who make serious amounts of money from these pursuits, for several years. Although I am not and have never been pro hunting or shooting, one point I would now make through gritted teeth to my old city self about the H words (which I still hesitate to use), is that they still provide much needed employment in some areas.
Many rural communities in this area suffer from high unemployment, rural poverty and lacklustre tourism compared to areas like the Lake District. Like it or not, hunting, shooting and fishing are therefore still a mainstay of the north Northumbrian and Scottish Borders economy, which currently provide sustainable jobs and attract tourists who need to be housed, fed, kitted out and entertained.
Without these jobs and income streams, more young people would be forced to leave this part of the countryside in search of work, and the subsidiary businesses which are presently sustained by the hunting, shooting and fishing tourists would fail or close. All this could have the effect of making it an unsustainable community which is why I have so far been hesitant to be too confrontational about it. The point I am making is simply that if people want to abolish any of these pursuits, this needs to be done in conjunction with the development of sustainable alternative employment for the people and businesses involved. Sorry to inject a bit of realism into what I realise is an emotive debate.
Although I would never hunt or shoot personally, I gradually realised that my existence in the borders was dependent on a successful local economy. I do eat meat now, and I began to value the fact that I was surrounded by a ready supply of fresh, traceable fish and meat from farmers, although their livelihood was seriously compromised by the foot and mouth epidemic. It was all a far cry from the the meat section of the London supermarkets. So with my city morals and the last vestiges of my vegetarianism increasingly under strain, I eventually even partook of the spoils on occasions, which probably makes me every sort of hypocrite in the eyes of some readers.
All that said, I have gradually become aware during my walking of the damage which is done to the countryside in the name of grouse shooting in particular. My personal objections are concerned with the effects on the ecosystem of native plants, wildlife and birds. There are many ghost villages, industrial remains and abandoned buildings in Northumberland and the Borders to remind us that communities have come and gone since the Iron Age, so I would be sad to see this area emptied out and unable to regenerate without relying on the hunting, shooting and fishing economy.
In my humble opinion, the area needs sustainable jobs, and to attract different kinds of tourists such as walkers, cyclists, climbers, riders and nature lovers who will represent a different spectrum of opinion in environmental and outdoor debates. So, if you haven’t already sampled the borders countryside please do so, as I hope this site has shown that it doesn’t all look like the photo above.
Note: The lack of appropriate pictures in this post is due to the fact that I normally avoid areas where hunting or shooting are taking place. I have only once got close to a hunt complete with a pack of dogs, and once to a small shoot, and I got clear of both as quickly as possible, without lingering to take photos.
Sometimes in life we have to make the most of where we are, and the time and the resources available to us, and these dictate our adventures more than our daydreams and long term plans. So a couple of days in Edinburgh is to me the equivalent of an expedition to the Matterhorn in terms of the escapism it affords at the moment. As I spent a while living in London, I have learned to appreciate urban walking and green spaces, and how much they can add to the quality of life in a large city.
A recent trip to Edinburgh became an adventure as I decided on the train to finally climb up the crags to Arthur’s Seat, and experience this familiar city from a new angle.
The views across Edinburgh and out onto the Firth of Forth just get better and better as you go, so don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. This walk is written up in Edinburgh Exploits