John Muir Festival Starts This Week

This year is the 100th anniversary of the death of John Muir, pioneering wild land conservationist and the man who famously persuaded a US president to make Yosemite a National Park. Muir is revered in the US, but still largely unsung in Britain, the country of his birth. Yet it's arguable that without his efforts over there, we might not have national parks over here. The John Muir Festival celebrates his legacy.

A John Muir lookalike, 160 kb
A John Muir lookalike
© UZ Arts

The Festival kicks off on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 April with an illuminations and firework spectacular at Scotland’s newest cultural landmark, Andy Scott’s colossal 30m high Kelpies, centrepiece of a new 350 hectare park with 27km of trails. The motorway-side location may be a far cry from the pristine groves of the High Sierra, but things do get a bit more relevant later in the festival.

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar”  John Muir

On Monday 21, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond officially opens the newly revamped and extended John Muir Way in Muir’s hometown of Dunbar.

This long distance trail now runs 215km across the Central Belt from Dunbar on the East Lothian coast to Helensburgh on the Clyde, via some nice stretches of shoreline, a corner of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and, it has to be admitted, quite a few bits less worth writing home about. 


The new John Muir Way, the concept of the Central Scotland Green Network, is designed, say festival organisers, to give people in the central belt the 'opportunity to engage with nature and gain a better understanding of Muir the man and his legacy'.

The opening event, which includes art, music, performance and food stalls, is open and free to all. On the day walkers, runners and cyclists will be invited to carry Muir-themed flags along the first section of the Way.

West Highland Way stage 1: nowhere near the Highlands yet, 115 kb
Countryside en route to Loch Lomond. Photo: Dan Bailey

Over the following four days, 22 - 25 April, more local communities can participate by carrying said flags along other stretches of the new path. At selected sites at North Berwick, Cockenzie, Edinburgh Quay, Blackness Castle, Linlithgow Palace, Callendar House, Kirkintilloch, Strathblane, Croftamie, Balloch Castle, Helensburgh and Loch Lomond Shores, a variety of artworks will be staged: a gang of bearded John Muir lookalikes will provide photo opportunities as well as 'thought-provoking' quotes from Muir’s writings. There'll also be a camera obscura, and fun-sounding 'seed bombing' with Scottish wild flowers. And in a quieter, more reflective tribute, an American and a Scots poet will walk the length of the John Muir Way at their own unhurried pace, planting seeds and reciting poetry as they pass. Sounds a nice idea if you like that sort of thing.

Finally on the afternoon of 26 April, the Festival and flags will reach the end of the John Muir Way in Helensburgh, where an 11 year old Muir and his family once set sail for a new life in America. Appropriately – for a founding father of the US National Parks – Scotland’s first national park at Loch Lomond will be the venue that evening for yet more music, art, performance and fireworks.

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer” John Muir


Full festival programme and tickets here:  

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