So what is the Watershed?

Now imagine that you are a raindrop about to land on Scotland. Where you finally end up, will follow very simply, from where you touch down in the landscape – for by bog, burn and river you will make a watery journey to either the Atlantic Ocean or the North Sea. There is a clear line, a demarcation that has now been drawn on the map, which is the simple divide between which of these you are bound for- that line is the Watershed of Scotland.

It can also be described as the `backbone of Scotland`, because it consistently lies on the higher ground, with an average elevation of about 450m, throughout its 1,100km meander, from the middle of the Scottish Border to Duncansby Head in the far northeast. It forms a corridor or ribbon of higher ground, all of which is above the headwaters of the major river systems, and it covers a linear expanse of largely trackless moor, bog, rock, forest and mountain. From the Watershed, a magnificent place of vantage, the burns and rivers rise close-by, and then fall away on either side for their journey, to be lost eventually in sea or ocean. Nowhere is the width of this ribbon of wildness specified, because it varies from as little as 20 or 30 meters, to a wide sweep over moor and mountain top.

`The Watershed is visionary, a lovely concept`.

Our activities may have constrained it in places, or rendered it somewhat threadbare, but remarkably, it survives in a wilder state than that which lies alongside. Why it has not been more widely acknowledged or celebrated hitherto, is strange indeed, but now, as a seemingly new discovery, it has immense appeal; it will assuredly feature more prominently and be widely appreciated in the future.

`Peter Wright has done lovers of wild places a great service in providing the first comprehensive description of the Watershed`. Chris Townsend


The 5 Marches of the Watershed

Although the Watershed is a continuous geographic feature, the route that it takes encompasses a number of distinct parts of Scotland, over lowland, midland and highland terrains.  The underlying geology provides an ideal structure for defining five distinct parts or marches, as the author has chosen to call them, which each reflect their particular type of landscape, with the major fault lines being the points of transition from one to the other. There is a detailed chapter on each of these in Ribbon of Wildness. 

The Reiver March  extends for over 133km from Peel Fell on the border with England to the lip of the Southern Upland Fault on Gawky Hill.  Wauchope, Craik and Eskdalemuir forests present a seemingly impenetrable green cloak on much of it, but the revelation that the Watershed has survived unploughed and unplanted, is a fine discovery. Much of it, then lies along the tops of what are fondly referred to as the `rolling border hills`, as it weaves around the familiar landmarks including Loch Skeen and Devils Beef Tub.  The Reiver March keeps company with the upper reaches of the Tweed catchment on the right, throughout. Its appeal will lie in both the ease of access from the main centres of population, and the fine terrain that it covers. In addition to a number of designated areas, it touches on the work of the Borders Forest Trust, John Muir Trust, and the National Trust for Scotland.

The Laich March spans upwards of 175km of the rift valley of the Central Belt, from Gawky Hill to Guilan on the Highland Boundary Fault. There are those who might scoff at walking this more exploited landscape, but intriguingly, wildness, or relatively wilder terrain is maintained, and there were plenty of welcome surprises, where nature is in the ascendancy. The Central Scotland Forest Trust plays an active part in fostering the regeneration of much of this area, and there is good evidence of this on the Watershed.

The Heartland Marchtakes in 240km of the southern Highlands from Guilan to Laggan in the Great Glen. The tops and moors which this March traverses will resonate loudly for vast numbers of those who cross and re-cross the Watershed on their journey north on the A82, and generations of walkers and climbers will have had some of their finest mountain experiences hereabouts. Linking the two National Parks, and the work of a litany of many of the major biodiversity organisations, the intrepid walker will enjoy a succession of landscape treats, when venturing on this March.

The Moine Marchis the longest at 330km, from the middle of the Great Glen to Ben Hee. Iconic landscapes, seems to be the most fitting phrase to describe the terrain of the Moine March. Remote, and much of it entirely empty of habitation, it almost guarantees solitude, the few Munroist encounters merely serve to enhance the predominant isolation. Some of it is not for the inexperienced, and calls for a good range of necessary outdoor skills, but it will reward in full measure those who take the challenge.

The Northland Marchcrosses the entire Flow Country, and ends 180km later at Duncansby Head, overlooking the Pentland Firth. Bog-hopping on an epic scale awaits the intrepid Watershedist in these vast expanses of the Flow Country, where wide skies, rich colour and texture, and ever dancing light abound. This March encounters a magnificent succession of Ramsar sites, which have served to rescue and protect these habitats that are rare, even on the world stage. And in recognition of this, the RSPB has created its largest reserve, which sits astride the Watershed. In season, this March is filled with delight.


An essential item on the kit-list for most outdoor types is a small camera, tucked neatly into somewhere that is easily accessible. And the pleasure of each outing can be recalled and enjoyed with the pictures that are brought back. Ribbon of Wildness invites those who have taken pictures of the   Watershed, its environs, and which illustrate its wilder character, to help create a new and compelling photo-gallery on our Flickr account (more details to follow). Favourite photos of wider landscapes and wildlife, the grand and the more detailed, will all provide a superb opportunity to create something which will in time, form a strong and appealing image of the wildness of the Watershed.