Scotland End to End – Walking the Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail by Cameron McNeish

end to end

I have to congratulate Cameron McNeish on putting together what looks like an excellent long distance trail and writing an entertaining travelogue come guide. Balancing a reasonably detailed guide with an account of his walk from beginning to end is no mean feat.

The narrative is both informative and engaging, although it flags a little bit towards the end. I guess there is more interesting history and stories to tell in the first three sections of the walk than in the last. The last section is, however, where the grandeur of the Scottish landscape really manifests itself. It’s a shame there aren’t a few more photos of the Northwest Highlands.

The surprise to me was how interesting the first two sections from Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh and then to Milngavie look. The border country is surprisingly wild. You could be pedantic and say that a true end to end walk should start from the southernmost point in Scotland, near Gretna. However, starting at Kirk Yetholm, the end of the Pennine Way seems somehow more satisfying, using a combination of the St Cuthbert’s Way, Southern Uplands Way and Water of Leith Walkway to pick a sparsely inhabited route to Edinburgh.

Indeed, the skilful use of existing trails to link into a longer walk means that the End to End Walk doesn’t have to wait for bureaucratic and planning wheels to grind into action before it can be used. It can be walked now, without a problem. Nowhere is this more apparent than the second section through the central belt, which follows the Union Canal and then the Forth & Clyde Canal. This section could have been a navigational and right of way nightmare, but instead becomes a largely undiscovered gem of a walk.

While the first two sections look fine walks in their own right, the last two from Milngavie to Kingussie and then to Cape Wrath are the real jewels. North of Milngavie and particularly Callender, you enter the Highlands proper. Again, Cameron makes judicious use of existing trails, particularly the Rob Roy Way. The Birks of Aberfeldy, look particularly beautiful.

Of course, the last section from Kingussie to Cape Wrath is what the Highlands is all about and uses a similar route to the existing unofficial Cape Wrath Trail. The grandeur of the Northwest Highlands demands a more detailed treatment than it gets and some sections are skipped over rather lightly. For all that, it does look an excellent route. The photos are of a consistently high standard throughout, but I would have liked more and larger pictures of the far north, as the scale of the landscape demands a whole page.

Textually, Cameron writes well and the book appears to have been well edited. I couldn’t spot any spelling mistakes, which is rare for a book these days. The print and photo reproduction quality is high.

My only minor criticism is the occasional political comment, particularly the needless paean to Alex Salmond, which I expect will date the book rather quickly. Quite frankly, I don’t want to read irrelevant party political views in a walking guide book. Aside from that, it’s a very good read and well worth buying.

More details from MountainMedia

Disclosure: this book was purchased with my own money.

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22 thoughts on “Scotland End to End – Walking the Gore-Tex Scottish National Trail by Cameron McNeish”

  1. Sorry to add yet another political dimension to this post, Robin, but it takes some gall for McNeish to sing a paean to the man who’s single-handledly destroying the Scottish hills with his demented wind energy policy. McNeish used to be very outspoken about turbines. He’s now gone very quiet after becoming so chummy with Salmond. And all for selling a few more copies of this book… Not edifying at all.

    1. There is a whiff of hypocrisy given that in several places CMcN states his opposition to wind farms in wild places. As a member of the SNP, he really should be forcefully taking Salmond to task for vandalising the Highlands. Personally, I couldn’t be a member of a political party that brazenly trashes Scotland’s majestic landscape (even if I was Scottish and favoured independence).

      If you ignore that, it’s a very good book 🙂

      1. So, does he inveigh against turbines in the book? That’s interesting, because when he did a two-part programme on BBC Scotland to launch the book turbines were airbrushed out of sight. Not a single one to be seen. Well, at least if he says something about it in the book it’s already something…

      2. Unfortunately CMcN has had a track record of facing both ways on wind turbines. At times he has vigorously opposed them in print. Equally in one of his Adventure programmes, he made a throwaway comment which appeared to support them.
        He is now member of a political party whose policy is to expand wind turbines dramatically. The goal of independence seems to trump the preservation of the landscape he professes to love.
        Now, I may be doing CMcN a disservice and he may be lobbying intensely for a change of policy within the SNP, but there’s seems to be no evidence of this in the public domain.
        Given his apparent closeness to Alex Salmond, one would have thought he would be in an ideal position to do so, especially given the publicity when CMcN joined the SNP last year.

        Regardless of these issues, it is a fine book about a very interesting trail.

    1. Thank you for that link. Very interesting comment! McNeish is certainly not universally loved in the outdoor community!

      I agree with you on Salmond.

  2. Must say that I agree with the comment linked to by James above. To be called ‘Scotland End to End’ it should begin at the most southerly point – the Mull of Galloway, starting along the new Mull of Galloway Trail.

    I’m part way through the book and find it lacks route details, and these appear not to be available anywhere else, such as on a website or in a leaflet. For instance, (on my home patch) from Comrie up Glen Lednock is very vague, the assumption being that Cameron went up the road to Invergeldie. However, there are delightful paths up the other side of the river that avoid walking on tarmac.

    If they want more people to do the trail, other than the independent walkers who choose their own routes anyway, further detail is needed somewhere. Is this what Goretex will be paying for, or have they just subsidised production of the book?

    1. Thanks Felicity. I guess that where the trail follows existing trails like the St Cuthberts Way there are other more detailed guide books. Almost all the trail to Pitlochry is on existing trails.

      I agree with you that in places, the narrative is not totally explicit. When I get time I’m going to plot the route. Then I should see where there is potential confusion.

      I wonder whether there is a plan to produce a conventional trail guide to accompany the book. Perhaps Gore-Tex could extend their sponsorship to produce one. It will need one if it is to become a properly recognised trail.

      I think the book would have benefitted from one more detailed maps.

  3. So link trails others have made together, get a sponsor and write a book. Did he walk all, or any of it writing this book?

    As for the SNP stuff the man lost any credibility by his support of that shower of crap with me and others it seems.

    1. It’s unclear whether he walked it in one go or in stages.

      To be fair, it seems a good trail and it’s a good read.

      I can’t see the point in sticking political posturing in this kind of book. It grates, especially when you think of the vandalism being perpetrated by the SNP.

      1. Actually, Robin, something a lot of people commented on when watching the BBC Scotland programme was that it was very clear he’d walked it, at best, in stages. Some sections were filmed in the spring (the May snow we got last year), others were filmed in the autumn! And there were so many good bits missing that one doubts he’s really walked the whole trail. It wouldn’t be the first time…

      2. From the book, it gives the impression that the narrative is not from the time that he filmed it. On the film version he’s only carrying a day pack. Also no mention of snow on the first section, which there was in the film.

  4. The man once linked the destroying of cairns to the expulsion of demons. How he can therefore back the destruction of the landscape with wind farms with his support of the SNP, who are responsible for wind farm proliferation simples beggars belief.

    1. I’ve no problem with him supporting independence (although I don’t want to read about it in a walking book). However, it seems indefensible to be inside the SNP and not speak out forceably to the SNP hierarchy against the destruction of the Highlands (and Southern Uplands) by wind farms. It’s particularly distressing when he writes passionately against wind farms in End to End.

      Don’t listen to what they say, look at what they do!

  5. I’m disappointed to find that a review of a book has developed into a review of CMcN’s politics. It would be good to read a current book or review of anything to do with wild country without diverting to the subject of windfarms as a big issue.
    Believe it or not, some of us are quite relaxed about them and equally disinterested about Cameron’s politics. As a Yorkshire resident I feel I have no locus for arguing against something sanctioned by a democratically elected Scottish government; I would resent Scots telling me what I should have on my skyline. I fear many of the outdoors movement becoming NIMHBY’s – not in my holiday backyard.
    Yes, I have read the book and yes, I do have windfarms in my own locality. The windfarm debate isn’t a simple matter of black and white but it seems to be polarising views and increasingly everybody wants to be seen as a campaigner.
    Robin’s initial review rightly recognised and minimised the political aspect of the book; now it seems to have dominated the debate.
    Let’s get back to the book and the route………..

  6. One can support (and be a member of) a political party and not support all of their policies. I’m sure some members of the Scottish Government don’t support wind farms.

    1. Clearly members of any political party are not going to agree to 100% of official policies. I guess it depends what the priorities are. By continuing to support the SNP, CM is effectively saying that independence is more important than opposing wind farms, which is fair enough, but I don’t see why the disconnect shouldn’t be pointed out.

  7. Great to have this new path. Personally, if I have a go at this, I will start at Loch Lomond, continue on the West Highland Way to Fort William, and then hop up through the Great Glen to join the last stages of this trail. For me, life is too short to spend time trudging through the flats of Central Scotland, and if I were to walk in Southern Scotland, I would enjoy the coasts rather than the rather bleak Southern Uplands.

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