'EXTREME WILDERNESS MANY WOLFS' Thomas Pont 1584

 

STAGE 4 of the Scottish National Trail

The history of this section really started in the 16th Century when the Scottish Cartographer Timothy Pont started to map Scotland. Pont was born in Clackmanshire and conducted an extensive mapping survey on how 16th century Scotland looked from a geographical perspective. Before Pont the first known depiction of a map of Scotland was Ptolemy's Map of Scotland AD 150. After studying at St Andrews University from 1580 to 1583, Pont appears to have spent time between 1580 and the 1590s travelling throughout Scotland, mapping the country.. His work can be considered seminal and thorough in its treatment and depiction of Scotland's landscape. 'Pont's maps are important both because they are the first detailed maps of Scotland and because they form the basis of the first atlas of Scotland' National Library of Scotland. 

 

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland  https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Stage 4 of the Scottish National Trail is in fact  a slight variant of the Cape Wrath Trail running from Fort William  or Fort Augustus to Cape Wrath. The Scottish National trail uses the Cape Wrath Trail to ensure a dramatic climax for the last stage of the Scottish National Trail. In his book The Cape Wrath Trail Ian Harper writes The Trail has an intriguing capacity to draw people into some of the most wild and remote places in Scotland. Cape Wrath the far North West Headland of Scotland operates as a magnate drawing you closer to the spectacular finale of the walk between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath.

Scotland’s peat bogs, which comprise more than 20% of Scotland's land area, hold about 75% of the carbon locked away in all British soils

What is remarkable about Pont is that during the 1600's Scotland's population stood about one million this was an increase from when Scotland's population was reduced by the Black Death (Black Death was a plague epidemic that swept across Europe between 1348 and 1353), killing nearly 25% to 60% of the entire population of Europe. The increase in population in Scotland in the 1600's meant the previously remote areas of Scotland were no longer an ' Extreme Wilderness' which Pont had experienced when Pont was drawing his maps between 1583-1595 Scotland's geographical change was taking place as noted by Nicholas Crane in his book  The Making of the British Landscape.;

 

'Pont caught Britain on the cusp. The Scotland he recorded with his pictograms, sketch maps and notes was the last part of mainland Britain to retain a memory of the wildwood and its wildest predator the wolf.  Pont's is one of final glimpses we have of wolves in Britain as the last wolf was hunted with a bounty on its head of £6. 13s paid in Sutherland.' England and Wales had wiped out their wolves in the 15th century.  The peninsula of Cape Wrath was the last staging post of reindeer that had wondered on to the island of Britain when the North Sea tides cut a Channel to separate Britain from mainland Europe.

Pont Manuscript Maps

Pont's Extreme Wilderness still exists in parts of Scotland especially where the Scottish National Trail heads towards the areas from Morvich and onwards.. Population surges in Scotland have diminished the extent of the Extreme Wilderness that Pont experienced with 'many wolfs.'  Pont's interest in the landscape was twofold; human settlement and determining the productivity of rivers, lochs and hunting places. Pont's mapping and travels are remarkable achievements of intellectual and physical endeavour. 

David Patterson wrote a seminal book (1996) on this section (now Stage 4 of the Scottish National Trail) 'The Cape Wrath Trail' 'On the first of May 1993 I set out from Fort William to walk  across country, two hundred and some miles through the north west Highlands of Scotland to Cape Wrath.'

Six hundred million years ago Scotland was somewhere near what is now known as the Antarctic. England and Wales were in the vicinity of what we now know as South Africa, drifting North  these sperate parts of what we know as Britain merged into a greater European continent.

 

12,000 years ago the tidal waters of the North Sea began to forge a channel in the silt that lay to the North West of this continent, This in turn led to the separation of the distinct land mass that we know as Britain today carved as it were out of the European land mass. 

During the glacial melt in Britain herds of reindeer moved North to Cape Wrath which is now the finish of the Scottish National Trail) to extinction the last one dying near Cape Wrath in 7400 BC. The Reindeer and Wolves moved North to Scotland as they had became marooned on the island of Britain  as a result of the North Sea tides carving out what we now know as the ‘ Channel’ they were joined by 500 million mammals marooned on Britain including;

1 million Boar
Over 1 million Deer
10,000 Brown Bears
5000 Wolves
100,000 Beavers
80,000 Aurochs (wild cattle 6 feet in height, weighing 1 ton)

The phrase Britain was never part of Europe is a misnomer. The evidence of geography refutes that in its entirety. 

Just as the tidal forces of the North Sea created what we know know as Britain so they will erode within the next 10.00 years large swaths of land, in Britain Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Sussex will fall under these tidal forces. Dogger island once off the eastern coast of Britain was overwhelmed by these forces

 

What's it like walking the Scottish National Trail? Hardly a day goes by without thinking about some element of it. One walker described it as a transformational experience. This is true, the person you were when you started out at Kirk Yetholm perhaps will not exist at Cape Wrath at least in thoughts and feelings.