These posts are contributed by a variety of people in celebration of John Muir as part of sharing our John Muir Award activity. To find out more see the About page. You can sign up to follow us by email to be notified of new posts.
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out ‘till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir.
We did it. We did much more – 26 John Muir Trust staff and Trustees set off for a cumulative 1000 mile walk and undertook 275 walks covering 2017 miles!
At least that’s one way of looking at it. Perhaps what we really did was get out from behind our desks, out of our offices and houses, get outdoors and notice, enjoy, look and think about what we found. Part of what we found collectively was great variety. We did things differently and in doing so maybe we inspired each other to think a little more, see further, breathe a little deeper. Would you walk as Muir through the mountains? What would John Muir have thought?
Was that an outing or an ‘in-ing’ we just had to our National Park? In this Year of Natural Scotland we wanted to celebrate John Muir and his journeys, and to take that beyond Scotland to the rest of the UK and further, after all his legacy is worldwide.
We’ve enjoyed some amazing observation through photography,
and encountered some wonderful biodiversity.
As well as local journeys to and from work in Leith.
We’ve reflected on the place of technology in our enjoyment of the countryside. Sometimes been reluctant to get out but happy, and thankful, that we have done so.
We’ve drawn inspiration from John Muir but also looked to the recent past in Tom Weir, and to those exploring in the present day – Alastair Humphreys with his micro-adventures.
Perhaps we’ve even inspired some contemporary explorers.
“I’ve been following with admiration the various new initiatives of the John Muir Trust – not least the variants on the 1000-mile-walk that have appeared (including that guy who went the full Muir beard-and-costume distance)!” Robert Macfarlane.
Despite being spread around the UK our walks, and the sharing of them, has been a great communal undertaking across our organisation. An experience which has both connected us to nature and to each other. Now you can pick up the baton. In 2014 we celebrate the centenary of Muir’s passing. What can you and your group do to mark his life of exploration and adventure? We have already heard from groups planning on walking parts of the new John Muir Way and outdoor centres who are accumulating their own 1000 mile journeys.
Staff from the Outward Bound Trust’s Loch Eil centre have taken up their own collective 1000 mile walk this winter with visiting schools from North Lanarkshire Council.
“It is a great way to celebrate John Muir, and engage the visiting groups with adventure, walking, map reading and measuring. It should also be quite an impressive collective achievement too!” Emma Pearce, The Outward Bound Trust, Loch Eil, Scotland.
Let us know your plans.
Where will you go? When will you go?
“My days in the wilderness will live with me always. Everything there was so alive and familiar. Whoever gains the blessings of one mountain day is rich forever.” John Muir.
For more ideas see www.discoverjohnmuir.com/muir-activities
Posted by Mel Nicoll, Pitlochry.
As a family we walk many miles regularly – to and from school and the village as we go about our daily routine, as well as regular hillwalks away at weekends. My contribution to the 1000 mile walk is a short walk we did this past weekend, a weekend where we ended up in the wettest and dreichest part of Scotland, whilst others basked in the late summer sun!
Having spent Saturday largely indoors at the climbing wall (my arms have recovered enough to type today!) we were in serious need of fresh air and “persuaded” the children how much better they would feel after a blast up a hill … We picked Meall a’Bhuiridh, the Munro on which the Glencoe ski area is built. You get a 1000 foot headstart on this hill from the ski centre car park and Grahame thought the low cloud would nicely mask the ski lifts, tracks etc, making it a good choice for a fairly foul day, whilst rainbows en route suggested we might get lucky with the weather…
It was a somewhat surreal outing. The first part of the walk was a steep pull up underneath the chair lift to Coire Pollach, carefully avoiding the downhill mountain bike track in case someone came hurtling towards us out of the mist. There was a stop en route in the shelter of one of the ski buildings for an early lunch. Surprisingly – or perhaps not (they’re not likely to be overrun half way up the hill) – the ladies toilets were not only open but also heated! The first time I have encountered such facilities on a hill walk … As we climbed higher up the final slopes we picked our way over and around the various machinery, fences and tracks that makes up the ski area. Not a pretty site without snow cover. At one point when we stopped for a snack Laura accidentally let a bit of rubbish from her snack fly away. As we (successfully) chased it down she was heard to say (to my relief definitely tongue-in-cheek) “not that it matters, it’s such a mess here anyway!” Cue a discussion on the need to respect and care for our environment regardless of the state you find it in… Two out of the four of us in our family quite like downhill skiing but recognise its impacts, both visually and in wider terms – seeing a snow machine made us talk about whether it can be right in an age of global warming to use energy (and water) to make artificial snow; we clearly saw how erosion increases once the soft ground is damaged by vehicle tracks; we talked too about the jobs that the ski centre brings to an area where there are few jobs.
We pressed on up into the swirling mists, across slippery scree and squelchy moss, now battling into the wind and getting increasingly damp. There was a tantalising moment when the cloud looked as if it would roll right back and grant us that elusive view but no, just enough of a window opened to get our bearings in relation to the neighbouring hill Creise, before it closed right back in. I reflected on how although the hill has taken a beating and probably doesn’t rank high on the list of “best Scottish peaks” we were still experiencing something special – a sense of being up high and in a wild place, especially with the weather factored in.
A few moments on the summit and a bit of exploring around the top lift station, before an easy descent down one of the pistes, following snow fences and ski tow wires and, with the effort of going uphill now over, the kids lapsed into happy and relaxed conversation on a broad range of topics, one of the special things about walking together as a family.
About 2.5 miles distance covered, and 2000 feet of ascent.
Posted by Chris Goodman.
Not content with having walked hundreds of kilometres in the last year surveying paths and undertaking site visits across JMT properties, I thought I would spend my summer walking the entire length of the Pyrenees, 800km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
When you’ve got 50 days in a row of ascending and descending 1,000m and walking for 7 to 8 hours each day with a heavy pack in hot weather you can’t help but ask yourself ‘why?’
I’ve discussed this with friends and when I asked a good hill walking buddy why he goes into the hills he simply said, ‘because it makes me a better person’. When he gets back to Glasgow after a weekend in high places he has more tolerance and patience, is happier and more at peace and more able to deal with the stresses of work and city life. As he said, he feels ‘purified’.
I understand what he means. After spending time alone in wild places, particularly high mountains, something changes inside. The background ‘grey noise’ of hassles and stresses goes quiet and an all pervading sense of acceptance and peace slowly emerges.
Having returned to the man-made world I am still haunted by memories of sunrises from high Pyrenean summits where low mist separated endless ridges as far as it was possible to see. I am called back to these high places by these memories where I walked free and lived by nature’s laws and only hope that I too am made a better person because of this.
Posted by Katrina Martin, Cumbernauld.
Since I started my 1000 mile walk contributions I have written two songs, largely influenced by my wanderings through Scottish wild places. Probably no surprises that one is about the Cumbernauld Glen bluebells! I started writing it during the same walk I wrote my “Secrets of a Bluebell Woodland” blog entry, but have only recently finished it after several tweaks.
The other is very John Muir Award influenced and is a culmination of a variety of experiences I have had since I first got involved with the Award over two years ago; the lyrics of which just happened to materialise during one of those rare moments when I was strumming a random tune on my guitar and it all just came together with very little effort or thought.
Although song-writing is a very personal experience for me, and I appreciate this won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, I like the thought of sharing my lyrics to finish off my blog contributions. Plus it makes a change from millions of photographs!
The Bluebell Song
Blackbird sings at first light
Open those sleepy eyes
Float down through the trees (where hoverflies dance)
Reaching to touch drops of dew
Clinging to petals
I tiptoe through ringing
Bells of blue
Dancing so freely
In spring breezes
That carry sweet subtle scents
I remember so well
Inhale them deeply
I am home
Sit down in the shade of a tree
Next to sleepy bee
Not yet warmed and ready
To do her hard days graft
Where the wild deer roam
Watching over their blue gold
Close my eyes and listen
As the old oak whispers so soft
In ancient tongue long forgot
While the small stream trickles, babbles and gossips
To the bells about what’s been and gone
And they nod their flower heads and laugh
I watch them basking
In the glory of spring sunshine
But soon the woodland will stand sobbing
In the late June rain
Washing the last of the magic away
And when the last of my days does come
I hope it is in early June when you are standing strong
Inhaling sweet perfume-infused air
Tired eyes will close
As last breath passes
Frail smiling lips
All signs of life fading
Travelling away on the breeze
To become one with the wise words
Whispered by the trees
Have you ever
Run barefoot through a meadow
Have you ever
Played in a rain storm getting soaked through
Have you ever
Tasted sun sweet berries
Straight from the bramble bush
Have you ever
Felt this free
Can we please go outside today
Release our cares
Watch them float away
With these simple pleasures
Have you ever
Tried to get a worms-eye view of the world
Crawling through wet grass
Sparkling dew drops clinging to every blade
Looking up and feeling so small
But being a big part of it all
And have you ever closed your eyes
And felt the bark of a tree (really felt it)
Explored the cracks and crevices
With blind fingertips
Like the sun breaking through dark clouds
After a thunderstorm
Trees and the birds and the bees
As they emerge and carry on
Let’s break free
You and me
Enjoying simple pleasures
Posted by Rebecca Logsdon, Pitlochry.
When I moved to my new house in Perthshire, a good friend encouraged me to explore the 100 metres from garden gate before setting further afield, to really get to know what is on my doorstep. So for the last 5 years I’ve have spent my time looking closely at what I have nearby. Through the help of my son’s childhood eyes I have met the same tree in all seasons, given them a name, visited the same nettle leaf every day for a month, watched the sky change from the same spot, made dens and learnt which plants to eat when.
I now feel I have permission to go further, to the tops of the mountains I have spotted from a distance, to walk to the woods, see the lochs and bothies that others have told me about in my local area. What makes it happen is having childcare and two Wild Days from the John Muir Trust!
I’ve been inspired through my work with the John Muir Award, where groups are connecting to wild places on their doorsteps. In particular, hearing from Alastair Humphreys of the joys of a micro adventure (trips that are close to home, affordable, easy to organise, that may be small, but still encapsulate Adventure) http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-2/
So my adventure begins with a sense of excitement packing, whittling down what you definitely need to take, the simplicity and pride in self-sufficiency. Far from John Muir’s pack ‘as light as a squirrel tail’, I set off from my back gate into the woods beyond. Although still very familiar, with a pack on my back I’m now seeing with a sense of adventure, through new eyes. I leave in mist, a sea harr that has come inland. The feel of a rainforest, the wetness, the diversity and the denseness.
I’m reading ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot – that likens Scotland’s west coast woodlands to rainforest and I can certainly see a likeness in my east coast woods. With ‘Rewilding’ being discussed throughout the book it becomes a theme for reflections on my journey. How much of the wild I see is truly wild? Are these really dynamic environments? I can’t help but think that they are missing something without the keystone species (wolves, beavers…).
The wildness on my walk – the ancient oaks and some diversity, with Birch and Rowan, but I’m seeing the Sycamore coming to dominate this stretch of woodland and no understory of young trees due to deer browsing. I’m reminded of pupils from the New School of Butterstone doing their John Muir Award in these very woods removing sycamore samplings and that I must get in touch to offer my help.
Coming up into the open moorland, I’m sad to be saying good bye to what I think will be the last tree for a while.
My surprise to come into a fenced area where young trees are growing (Scots Pine, Rowan, Oak, Birch) filled with birdsong. Hope and reminder that ‘Rewilding’ is happening on my doorstep and that there will be an opportunity to visit again to experience this young wood at a different stage, having witnessed its early beginnings. The fence makes me wonder though what else is being stopped from coming in to the enclosure? To be truly dynamic we wouldn’t need fenced off areas but the introduction of natural deer predators such as wolves. Our idea of the wilds doesn’t really take into account things that we aren’t so comfortable with. Would I feel so happy to bivvy out for the night with wolves roaming?
On my way up I fall naturally into ‘Act like a Victorian’ naming the plants that I see- Mission:Explore Muir Mission http://www.jmt.org/jmaward-mission-explore-john-muir.asp . It works really well as something to tune into whilst walking. I don’t recognise everything but find it reassuring and fun to come up with my own names: Prickly globes/ purple jaggy giants (Thistles); starry night flower (Eyebright), torn pinks (Ragged Robin), firework plant (Bog Asphodel), old man’s beard or Muir’s beard (Bog Cotton). It reminds me though of the distance we have travelled from our ancestors who would have been really connected to this landscape and its flora and fauna. They would have passed on the common names of plants, their uses and observed characters. It seems somehow so much poorer to describe through colours and shapes, as an observer in the landscape rather than as part of it.
Feeling like I have earned a pause on top of Deuchary hill and amazed to find a bowl like shape between the peak that I had so often viewed from afar. I’m a little sorry I don’t have the top to myself as I’m joined by three other walkers but we end up talking about our connections to wild places and whether this has continued with our own children. People are so much more open in an open landscape.
The views take in the wild landscape and glen up to Pitlochry but I decide that my place to stay the night would be somewhere I couldn’t hear or see the road. The itching feeling of wanting to keep on the move- I had to make tea to keep me enjoying the top for a while (a tip from Muir himself).
And then to searching for a bivvy site, an art indeed- near water, shelter or sense of enclosure, off the main track but in a windy enough site to keep the midges off (my bivvy has no midge net). I chose the edge of a small woodland overlooking a loch, enjoying the sun and watching the wind in the trees, moving over the loch.
A wild swim in the lochan, which was warm and clear. I’m reminded of how this landscape is in the winter time when the lochan would be frozen over and it would be hard to stop for even a short while.
How did people fair in this landscape? So far I’ve had two wild strawberries and three not so ripe blueberries. I fall asleep looking at a view between the trees of Schiehallion. Lots of tossing and turning in the night to get comfortable, the strange call of the woodcock and deer barking waking me up. The sense that it is just not getting very dark, and finally a view of stars at some waking point in the night.
I’m greeted in the morning to a light dew and spiders webs now visible all around me. The grass is swaying loaded with dew drops. The joy of eating breakfast, alone and already in the hills, looking over a loch with the excitement of another days walk. Packing up has a kind of harmony too with things now finding a place. I leave the small Lochan and head down to Loch Ordie to a path again that I have seen but never taken. I was saddened to see deer in the enclosure of young trees and lots of browsing evident. They must have got in during the winter, the snow helping them to get over the fence. With the wolf gone, I wonder if anyone is managing them?
I follow some well-built tracks and bridges (I later learnt these were built in the 1800’s for Larch timber extraction), through a heather clad landscape with a few remaining trees. Passing an old ruined house I wonder who managed to make a living here, it seems so barren, even in high summer (I later learnt that this is Jock’s Bothy, inhabited until the 1940’s, children of the house used to walk over the moor to get to school- now that’s active travel!)
Lots of Golden Ringed Dragonflies on the wing, a pair mating, and another skelping up and down a burn I stopped at to boil water. I watch one catch a meal and eat it and l can’t quite get the sound of its jaws cracking out of my mind. Definitely a highlight and one of those mind images that live on.
Coming round the corner to see a bothy tucked into the trees was a delight. My heart drops though on seeing the sight of a pair of red socks hanging outside as I had come to hope for the bothy all to myself. But even a well kitted out bothy is not enough to tempt me, for my second night I choose to bivvy out under the trees – Muir’s words ‘ going out is coming in’ pop into my head. First there is a chance for another wild loch swim and time to sit under some trees, listening to a willow warbler getting closer and closer. Then to finding places for my things in the wood, removing twigs to lies down on a soft moss bed. It’s soothing to see the wind still blowing the grass to keep the midges away. I’m woken early by trampling and barking of a deer, very curious about this purple object lying down in his woods. It felt like a special meeting that I really was in his place.
I’m up and away early on the return walk home, following the Buckney Burn all the way. Something magical about following it from its source in the mountains, that I will now feel more connected to these mountains as I know where the water that flows past my back gate springs from. After the Duke’s planted area, I come back to barren heath and a few lone trees and disappointment that land owners vary so much in what they are doing to help regeneration.
With my feet edging closer my mind turns to home and my boys welcoming me there. I make them a small offering from nature, a few found feathers and flowers to share some of the beauty I have seen.
I reflect on how I now feel 2 days and nights in the wilds on my own, physically tired, renewed mentally, excited about my natural finds. The words from poet laureate, that I have taken on my travels pop into my mind “what will you do with the gift of your life left?” I know that I will make sure to have lots more adventures in the wilds, to share these with others. I am also thankful to have a job that helps peoples make these connections on a daily basis.
For a great selection of books to inspire your own adventures visit the John Muir Trust Wild Space http://www.jmt.org/wildspace.asp
Posted by Graham Watson, Cumbria
Our lives are predominantly lived in boxes. I live in a box shaped house, go to work in a tin box, sit at a box shaped desk and earn my crust on an electronic box. I get out of one box and travel to meet other people in another box. Somewhere in all this I need to be creative but it doesn’t always come. Sometimes I need to escape the boxes.
Recently I found myself in Edinburgh for work and following 2 days of meetings I really needed to get out and give my body and mind some space. And what a great city to do this! Not only are there parks and the botanical gardens but there’s even a mountain practically in the city. Even better they have hills aplenty within a stones throw and, as I was travelling South, I took the opportunity to explore the Pentlands.
Unless I have all day my preferred mode of exploration is to don fell running shoes and set off at a steady run (you may well mistake this for a walk or a stagger on the uphill but I can assure you it feels like a run to me!). Some might feel this is a bit hasty for savouring the hills but I enjoy the exercise, the challenge and the sense of journeying and travel with changing views that comes from covering more ground.
It requires quickness of foot and quickness of thought on unfamiliar ground, keeping track of the map but also picking the best, most runnable line.
Alongside the freedom to run I find a freedom to think. That living in boxes seems to make me think in boxes, whereas once into the rythym of running on the hills my thoughts become more reflective, more creative. Solutions form, problems diminish. Ideas pop into my head, preconceptions are challenged. Opportunities emerge. Is this what we need to ‘think out of the box’.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir.
90 minutes running round the Pentlands and I’m refreshed, re-charged and ready for what life throws at me.
Another 6 miles along the way 🙂
Posted by David Lintern, Leith.
As my last contribution to the 1000miles attempted by John Muir Trust staff and Trustees, I wanted to say something about landscape and the way I and we sometimes interact with that.
Moving through big, airy non built spaces has a powerful effect on us. I have no skills in ecology, botany or geology but I think I understand that the John Muir Trust has thousands of members who feel like this. I work at the people ‘end’ of the Trust and am reminded daily of the significance that members, supporters and Award providers and participants give to their outside experiences. I value that very much indeed. It’s an honour to work in an organisation that has at its heart an open acknowledgment of what these places mean to people.
I was reminded of this ecology of the Trust recently when I met the originator of the Ramsay Round, Charlie Ramsay. The Ramsey Round includes all the high mountains around Glen Nevis plus another few around Loch Treig. In 1978 Charlie became the first person to run 24 Munros in 24 hours. Charlie helped pace Chris Brasher in his first attempt of the Bob Graham Round in the Cumbrian fells. Chris had to pull out, leaving Charlie to complete the round successfully. Charlie remembered Chris fondly for goading him to push his own boundaries, include those Loch Treig Munros and extend the Tranter round from 19 summits to 24. As some will know, Chris Brasher is a powerful early presence in the formation of the Trust also, purposefully challenging like minded souls to ‘do something for wildness and make the mountains glad’.
As Muir, Brasher and Charlie understood and understand, mountains are part of our culture, part of who we are. They and we aren’t separate. Over half the world’s population live in cities, and 80% of us in the UK do the same, but that cultural memory is still strong, and when we go, it feels like going home. And the people who know that feeling, and share that passion, are people that formed and now support the Trust.
What is it about this experience that is so significant? One cliche is that it’s a break from our civilised selves, the complexity of modern life. Yes, for many of us – permission not to think, good exercise and concentrating on something that is not just about my self/interactions seems intuitively like a healthy thing. Like a hobby or any form of meditation, its good to refocus the mind outside ourselves for a while.
But it’s not all going out: rest and relaxation, time out of mind, getting away from it all. It’s also going in: exploring, understanding, learning more about the world we live in, as well as ourselves.
Scale is another and connected aspect to being ‘out of doors’ – a doorway or a window is human scaled, a ridge, river or meadow is not. An expanded horizon, the airiness of the sky above and no roof! And scale extends into four dimensions too. Hutton’s ‘deep time’ is more apparent than in the world of concrete and glass – we are here for a blink of an eye, those rocks for just a few millennia more. Twice over, we’re reminded that we aren’t at the centre of the universe. A friend wrote recently that this atomisation also absolves us of responsibility, but I wonder if the longer term solution for Trust folk has been to realise our responsibility even more fully and try to put something back, day to day. A fine balance, of course: If we can’t ‘build’ wilderness, we can and do try to nurture it.
For me there is also a sympathy with symmetry, which again is something I bring to the mountain, a cultural facet. I look for and appreciate certain shapes and forms in the landscape. Siting myself in the landscape allows me to perceive the shifts of plate tectonics and movement of water and ice, how what I’m walking on is built by forces beyond my control. It’s equal parts aesthetics, and trying to understand the processes at work in the world. A cliche here might be that we are hunting order, but again I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It’s actually symbolic: about making sense, location, direction, and finding a fit. Often a disorderly and chaotic process. It’s not all rose tinted sunsets and wild flowers.
Lastly, moving through places under our own steam that are not human scaled like a building, means there is time for acknowledging the rest of life here with us in the world. I’m not religious but there is a sort of quiet sanctity about many of these experiences. Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams describes finding himself ‘bowing’ to a horned lark on the Alaskan Plateau as a way of showing respect. Crucially, he discovers he disturbs the birds less by moving this way. I have found myself talking to plants, animals, even nodding at rocks and thanking streams and patches of grass for refreshment and a good night’s sleep. Admittedly, this tends to happen after a few days on my own! I’m not a naturalist, but I even make simple decisions based on these relationships. I might keep to burnside ridge lines to avoid startling deer, or sit motionless near partly shaded watering holes to spend time with dragon flies and common blues. This silent acknowledgment of a shared space and connections made can be profoundly moving, but it’s also practical.
In these ways and many more, it seems to me that practising humility is at the centre of many of our experiences of wild land and wild places. Even if we don’t always succeed without hiccups, humility seems to be the aim. Trying to figure out how to go softly, with grace – learning how to dovetail. That is a truly amazing thing to have at the heart of an organisation, and something I cherish.
I tried the Ramsay Round myself after I met Charlie. That’s where these photos are from. I didn’t make it, Tranter’s round plus two glens more was enough for me in the time I had. I also didn’t do anything to conserve this environment that I’m waxing lyrical about, and thereby work towards my own John Muir Award. But on the way to ‘failing’, I met lots of people doing what I was doing – going home. The mountains weren’t empty, they were full! I was happy to share my experience of these transformative places, I had enough space on my own to collect my thoughts at camp. The mountains for me, and it seems many others, dissolve the notional boundary between people and place, nurture and nature. We aren’t tourists, this is where we find a fit. It’s our home.
for more info, see http://www.ramsaysround.com