I took a long walk this summer – 250 miles from Iona on the west coast of Argyll to the North-East coast near Tain.
I wanted to discover a bit more about those early Celtic monks who left Columba’s monastery on Iona and travelled throughout the ancient kingdoms of Dalriada and Alba, and I was also keen to follow in the footsteps of other early travellers, soldiers, poets, miners and drovers, to try and ascertain just how ‘wild’ our wild lands were in those days.
I also wanted to challenge my own perceptions about wild land. How much industrial heritage is there in the highlands of Scotland and how has the landscape adapted to massive industries like hydro-electric and forestry?
The walk was illuminating in a number of ways and none more so than my final destination on the north-east coast, finishing close to a tiny village most viewers will never have heard of, and yet a small village whose own heritage dates back to Pictish times, a heritage that simply blew my mind…
My route was, to say the least, spectacular. From Iona I crossed to another Celtic island in a curragh, the kind of boat Columba, or Columcille, would have travelled in. Then, on the mainland of the Isle of Mull, I made my way up Ben More, the only Munro we have left that takes a ferry to reach it. Ben More was slightly off my route but I wanted to climb it for a number of reasons, and I”m delighted I did.
From Mull I crossed over the Sound of Mull to Lochaline and made my way by quiet glens to Strontian, then over the hills to Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan. A high pass took me through to Strathan at the head of Loch Arkaig from where another high pass took me in Glen Kingie where I travelled east towards Tomdoun and yet another pass into Glen Loyne, before dropping down to Cluanie in Kintail.
A series of magnificent glens then took me north and east – Glen Affric, Glen Cannich, Glen Strathfarrer and Strath Conan carried me to the foot of Ben Wyvis which I crossed into Glen Glass, Glen Morie, Strath Rusdale and Strath Rory before quiet lanes and byways carried me down to the sea and the finale that shook me to the core.
I guess it was very much a pilgrimage for me – I was on a journey of discovery and I learnt a huge amount about the places I was passing through, largely from my guests who varied from historians to poets to naturalists to one of Scotland’s finest fiddlers, Duncan Chisholm.
The Pilgrims’ Trail was a wonderful experience and I hope you can share it with me over two hour-long programmes this Christmas.
The programmes will be broadcast on BBC 2 Scotland (And Sky and FreeSat Channel 970) at 6.15pm on Boxing Day, 26th December. Programme 2 will be shown the next night, 27th December, at 6.30pm. Both programmes will be repeated on i-Player from 24 hours later for seven days.
I hope you can join me…