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A walk around the River Tay watershed: May-June 2014

This is Stefan Durkacz. In May 2014 he's going to take on an epic challenge - to walk around the watershed of the River Tay - some 290 miles - to raise money for to raise money for Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group, supported by the British boot manufacturer Alt-Berg.

This is a huge challenge, estimated to take around 5 weeks to complete. We wanted to find out a bit more about Stefan, and his challenge:


What exactly is the 'River Tay Catchment'?

A catchment is the area drained by a river system. The River Tay is Scotland's most extensive river system, draining an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, mostly in the southern and central Highlands. It's also the largest river in Britain in terms of the amount of water it discharges into the sea.

I'll be walking the entire boundary of the River Tay catchment, starting from Monifieth Sands east of Dundee. The route will follow the watersheds between the River Tay and other river systems, through the eastern Mounth, the central and southern Highlands, and finally along the Ochil Hills from Gleneagles to the North Sea at Tentsmuir Point in north-east Fife.

Why have you chosen to take on such a challenge?

I've always loved the outdoors, especially the hills and mountains of Scotland, and have long wanted to take on the challenge of an extended backpacking expedition. I've been guilty of being a Munro bagger in the past, climbing hills and ticking them off the list. More recently I've moved away from this and become more focused on backpacking and long-distance walks, which I think offer greater satisfaction. Most of the areas this walk will take me through I've visited before on day trips. Journeying over the land under my own steam, being self-sufficient, sleeping out in the hills and linking all these places together on foot, is a thrilling prospect, and I expect I'll get to know them much more deeply.

Turning 40 in 2013 has pushed me to make it happen as well. I felt it was now or never.

So why this walk in particular? It will take me about a month or so to complete - as I'm married with two children, this is already pushing it! Any more would be asking too much. There's also the fact, as I mentioned, that the walk covers mostly familiar territory. I'm hoping this will increase my chances of success, as my backpacking experience is fairly limited. To paraphrase something I read from veteran backpacker Chris Townsend, the only way to find out if you can get through a long backpacking trip is to get out there and start walking.

Finally, as I far as I can tell, it's an original route that hasn't been walked in its entirety before. This gives it a bit of an exciting and exploratory feel.

How challenging is it?

Because the route follows the high ground between river systems, it's essentially a mountain walk, so will be physically demanding especially if the weather is poor. There are 31 Munros along the Tay catchment boundary, and many other hills, ridges and moors. Most of the route is trackless and tends to stay away from towns and villages. In fact, between the Cairnwell Pass and Drumochter Pass, it crosses some of the remotest hills and moors in Britain. I'll be wild camping mostly, and am hoping for some good early summer weather, rather than the wintry May we had this year. However, this is Scotland, so anything could happen, and I'm prepared for the worst!

I expect it to be mentally demanding as well. I've never walked this distance before in a single trip, or spent so much time camping in the outdoors. Continuous bad weather can sap morale, and the concentration needed to navigate properly, make sound judgements, and stay safe in poor conditions can be draining.

Also, although friends and family will walk parts of the route with me, most of the time I'll be on my own. I often enjoy walking and camping solo on short trips, but how I'll cope with extended periods of solitude remains to be seen. Most of all I'll miss my wife and children. I've planned in a few rest days in villages near to the route so we can meet up.

If success was 100% guaranteed, it wouldn't be much of an adventure. However, with good planning and preparation, there's no reason I can't succeed. Reading the blogs of experienced long-distance backpackers and how they go about it has been especially useful.

Why have you chosen to support Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group?

I was lucky enough to have regular access to the outdoors from a very young age, as my family used to own a house in the Highlands.

It wasn't until I was a lot older that I began to realise how much I had taken it all for granted. I also began to understand more about issues such as conservation and land ownership, and how threatened our few remaining wild places are by exploitation and development. Sadly, people – especially children – are becoming increasingly detached from nature, and many in positions of power don't seem to understand what's being lost. It's hard to measure the value of wild land in terms of money, but Venture Trust's work proves the value is nevertheless real. Access to the wilderness can help turn even the most difficult lives around.

So, whilst I initially wanted to do the walk just as a personal challenge, I decided to use it as an opportunity to support Venture Trust, and also Scottish Wild Land Group, a volunteer-run charity that campaigns for the protection and promotion of Scotland's wild land, and publishes a very informative magazine called Wild Land News which everyone who enjoys the outdoors should read.

How can we keep up to date with the challenge?

Check out my blog, at http://ansgarsoch.blogspot.co.uk/, where you can sign up for updates.

How can we get involved?

Support Stefan's challenge by sponsoring his two chosen charities:

Venture Trust: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkvt

and the Scottish Wild Land Group: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkswlg

Please, if you can, split your donation between both Venture Trust and Scottish Wild Land Group.






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