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Scot walking across Canada to help restore Caledonian forest

Michael Yellowlees and his dog Luna are walking across Canada in support of efforts to restore the Caledonian forest in the Highlands of his native Scotland.

Wearing a kilt, pushing a cart and accompanied by his dog Luna, Michael Yellowlees is an unexpected and interesting sight on the side of Highway 3.

In addition to being an unusual figure, the outgoing 31-year-old Scot is on an unlikely quest: walking across Canada to raise money for the reforestation of the Caledonian forest in his native country.

“The Highlands in Scotland is a very bleak-looking landscape,” Yellowlees said Thursday during a stopover in Fort Macleod. “It’s unforested, but there’s also a lot of tumbledown shacks and huts that used to be communities there.”

During the time of the Highland clearances people were burned from their homes and sent on ships to Canada.

While hiking through the Highlands two years ago Yellowlees thought of that Canadian connection and Trees For Life.

Trees for Life is trying to restore the Caledonian forest that once stretched from coast to coast across Scotland.

The ancient pinewood formed at the end of the last ice age is almost eradicated.

Yellowlees conceived the idea of a walk across Canada to raise the profile of the effort to restore the Caledonian forest and collect donations to help the cause.

“It’s nice to open it up to the international community in regards to saving the planet,” Yellowlees said. “We are in this together. It’s creating bonds.”

In addition to tapping into the connection many Canadians have with Scotland as a place where their ancestors came from, Yellowlees chose Canada for another reason.

Yellowlees wanted to immerse himself in the wilderness that Scotland no longer has, and to share a message with Canadians.

I have been reiterating to Canadians to look after what you have because we’ve already lost it and we’re at a point of having to rebuild, which is a harder place to be in than just looking after what you’ve got here.”

Yellowlees got the expected reaction from family and friends around Dunkeld and Birnham when he raised the idea of a cross-Canada walk.

“I think they all thought I was completely mad,” Yellowlees said with a laugh. “Now that it’s up and running, they’re all behind me 100 per cent.”

Of course, a long walk across a country us nothing new for Yellowlees, who in 2017 trekked across India.

Yellowlees started his journey earlier this month in Tofino, B.C. and intends to walk 45 to 50 kilometres a day and expects his roughly 5,000-kilometre journey to wrap up in October in Newfoundland.

Yellowlees is accompanied by seven-year-old Husky Luna. He acquired the dog after a stint with a dogsledding outfit in Banff.

Yellowlees pushes a small cart that contains his tent, sleeping bag and roll-out mat, guitar and some supplies.

People have responded strongly to Yellowlees and his dog, waving and honking as they pass, stopping to talk and offering gifts of food, drink and places to stay.

“The response has been amazing. I can’t get over it,” Yellowlees said. “I’ve had some real experiences of people crying because they’re moved by it.”

Local artist George Kush is one of those people who have offered support. After encountering Yellowlees on the highway, Kush decided to create a painting that he will sell with proceeds donated to Trees For Life.

Kush will also promote Yellowlees’ walk at his booth in the western art show and sale at the Calgary Stampede this summer.

The outpouring of support has kept Yellowlees going, particularly on the difficult days when he is confronted by inclement weather and just the boredom of travelling alone.

“Physically I’m holding up well. It’s a bit more of a mental challenge. You’ve got to try and reset almost on a daily basis. It’s hard going.”

Yellowlees, who is writing about his journey on social media, often ends his day by accompanying himself on guitar for a song he posts on Facebook.

You can follow Yellowlees’ journey on Facebook at Michael and Luna — A Rewilding Journey. Financial contributions can be made at justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelandlunarewild.

Sun- and wind-burned, with thousands of kilometres ahead of him, Michael Yellowlees is still smiling as he combines his passions for the outdoors, his homeland, walking and music.

“It’s giving back to the land that I love and to the natural world.”

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