Michael Yellowlees, from Perthshire, Scotland, is walking across Canada with his Alaskan Husky Luna, to raise awareness and money for Trees for Life, a Scottish charity whose aim is to restore the Caledonian forests. The Scottish Banner spoke to Michael while he was taking a much-deserved rest in Quebec as he prepares to finish his epic 5,000 mile (8,000 kms) journey in Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast of Canada.
Michael you left British Columbia on the west coast back in March to raise money for Trees for Life by walking across Canada. Can you tell us why you chose this incredible journey to take place in the 2nd largest country in the world?
MY: One of the reasons is the wilderness in Canada, it is that wilderness we have lost in Scotland. Scotland used to be hugely forested with a variety of different wildlife. A lot of the landscape in Scotland, especially in the north-west, is very barren from an ecology basis. Though the Highlands are very beautiful it is so sad to see such an absence of woodland and wildlife.
This is also part of the story of Scotland. People from the land were sent over in ships to places like Canada, America and Australia and this then also ties in with the history of Scotland and hopefully encouraging Canadian Scots to look at their ancestral home.
Also being a climate issue, I wanted to let Canadians know how precious what they have is and encourage them to look after it.
Can you tell us more about Trees for Life and why they are so special to you?
MY: Scotland is home to me. I am from Dunkeld in Perthshire which is known as the gateway to the Highlands. Trees for Life have been working on projects to restore the Caledonian Forest from coast to coast. Much of the Highlands has no trees and Trees for Life is looking to rewild those once wild spaces in Scotland.
This deforestation has been a lengthy process and there are a lot of different lands involved. It really started with the building of the British Empire and a lot of shipbuilding. Many things were made with Scottish timber. There was also the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars which put a strain on Scotland’s natural environment.
I would love to see the Caledonian Forest restored and for natural life to be brought back to the land I love so much.
The famous Proclaimers song talks about ‘If I could walk 500 miles’, but you are in fact walking 5,000. What type of preparation have you had to put in and what has been the most challenging part of the trip so far?
MY: I am a very avid walker and had done major walks before. I have walked across Spain and India before, so I have already done seriously long-distance walks. There was not a lot of preparation as I have always kept myself relatively fit. Physically your body kind of gets used to it and adapts. It was probably more of the mental aspect I needed to prepare for and adapting to being on the road.
You talk about The Proclaimers, they also did a song called Letter From America and that song funnily enough is the inspiration for the walk itself. There is a line which goes “I’ve looked at the ocean tried hard to imagine. The way you felt the day you sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia” and song also talks about returning home and has really inspired me to do this.
What has the reaction been by everyday Canadians as you have walked by in your kilt and with Luna?
MY: The reactions to Luna have been instant and incredible. It has also been great to speak to so many Canadians with Scottish ties. So many have come up to me and said they are proud of what I am doing for their homeland, it has been really beautiful. So many people have been so hospitable with offers of a bed, food and support and just so kind.
You are undertaking this epic voyage with Luna, your beautiful dog. How has it been to have Luna by your side and what extra precautions have been necessary to factor Luna in on the walk.
MY: Luna has been a massive superstar through all this and has been my rock. She is very much part of my pack family, and she keeps me going. She encourages me to get up and get moving and is like my very own personal trainer. Luna gets up and is ready to go every day and licks me in the face in the morning to tell me to get going and has been fantastic to have by my side. In regard to precautions there has not been too much as long as she is well rested and happy. If she needs a rest, we take them and I always look out for her health and happiness.
Luna is in fact a Canadian dog and I got her when I worked in the Rockies and at the end of my job I was allowed to keep her and she has been with me since.
Can you tell us how you have been able to connect with the local Canadian Scottish communities on your travels and has that inspired you to keep going?
MY: The story has kind of got out as I move eastwards of what I am doing, and Scottish groups have reached out and come out to meet me. I have been met by Scottish groups in places like Ottawa, Montreal and small towns and it has been really beautiful. It has also been surreal as I have walked alone for long periods on the road and suddenly have a pipe band play and people come out and cheer me on is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. It has been so special to connect with so many Canadian Scots.
And finally Michael, you plan to reach Newfoundland in November, just as the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) wraps up in Glasgow. What message would you send to the leaders attending the conference and do you wish they could walk those 5,000 miles in your shoes?
MY: I really challenge them and for all of us to get up and do something. A lot of people out there really care about the environment, and I encourage them to get out there and have your voice heard. We are at the front line of a battle, and we all need to be doing our part. We can still all stand up and work against the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.
You can support Michael and Luna on their incredible journey at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelandlunarewild or follow them at: www.facebook.com/MichaelandLuna