Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

It was spring 2011. I’d decided to walk around the edge of the UK, anti-clockwise from Edinburgh, to highlight the experiences of people with mental health problems, many of whom feel they are on the edge of society. Chris McCullough Young tells us about the thrills of his night camping out at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve (NNR).

Chris with Tom Cunningham, Tentsmuir NNR's Reserve Manger. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Chris with Tom Cunningham, Tentsmuir NNR’s Reserve Manger. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

I’d stayed with a teacher near St Andrews and, between us, we’d successfully filled my simple mind with terror at the prospect of me pitching my tent in the forest behind Tentsmuir NNR, on the south side of the Firth of Tay.

Although he lived nearby, he’d never visited this area of white sandy beaches and extensive woodland – by the time we’d finished talking about it I was expecting some bizarre cross between the Blair Witch project and the Wizard of Oz. 

This was my first time pitching up in a forest of any kind and, my over-active imagination aside, I had no idea what to expect. 

Night fell and, lying wide eyed in my tent, I was struck by the lack of sound and light. 

It was absolutely thrilling! 

My middle-aged, ex-senior-social-worker, man-with-a-severe-and-enduring-mental-health-problem mind was rapidly overtaken by the senses of an excited 10 year old.

What was that??

A rustle?

A hoot? 

A screech? 

What’s that outside the tent?!

I was caressed to sleep by the gentle swash of the sea on the beach….lovely…

The beach at Tentsmuir NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The beach at Tentsmuir NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Morning came swiftly – the smell of my tent rapidly replaced by the fragrance of the forest when I pulled down the zip to welcome the day. 

I was struck by the beautiful simplicity of it all and how rapidly I’d become a forest dweller. 

The 10-year-old me knew this was some kind of magical gateway of the fauna and flora of Scotland. I knew I was surrounded by red squirrels, bats, owls, seals, mice, buzzards, kites, eagles maybe, perhaps even an osprey…

As I child I’d been an insect and invertebrate nerd – I’d once seen a humming bird hawk moth this far north…but not today. 

I stuffed all my bits and pieces into my rucksack with a general feeling of well-being. I’ve found, over time, that when I’m mentally well, I’m an enthusiastic tree hugger. I love the great outdoors. 

Sadly though, it’s not a cure. When I’m mentally unwell, I’m unable to leave my house / tent. When I’m well though….!!! Wow! 

Just as I was leaving Tentsmuir, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful encounter with one of my favourite beasties of all – Homo sapiens. This exceptional example of the primate, a Tom Cunningham – SNH’s Tentsmuir NNR manager – met me with his familiar greeting,

‘So, you’re leaving paradise…?’ a big smile on his face…

His enthusiasm for this little bit of heaven was delicious… as was his energy for education… in no time at all he was telling me all about the history of the icehouse just off the main track. 

Go there soon… today if you can… walk a few miles in my shoes along the Fife Coastal path… this part of Scotland is stunning…

That said, all of Scotland is breath taking. I’ve been lucky enough to see so much of what it has to offer… far more than I could possibly squeeze into this short piece…

The people are equally fabulous. Imagine, a man walking around the edge of this beautiful country with a mental health problem and no money, relying on the generosity of the people he meets to see him on his way…

Fabulous people in a beautiful country with stunning wildlife – what’s not to like? 

Chris with his book, Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon.

Chris with his book, Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon.

For the full story, buy the book of the journey, Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon from Trigger Press here.

On Twitter, I’m @Walkamileuk and I’m also on Facebook.

There’s a lot to discover at Tentsmuir NNR – find out more here.gettingoutdoors_stamp_green_straight



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