TV broadcaster Paul Murton encourages walkers to explore with Cowalfest

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When it comes to exploring Scotland few have traversed the lochs, glens, mountains and rivers of this spectacular nation quite as extensively as broadcaster Paul Murton. Over the years Paul, through countless episodes of his Grand Tours BBC TV series, has showcased the fascinating characters and stunning landscapes of Alba.

Always keen to sing the virtues of his homeland with new audiences, Paul retains a special affection for the Cowal peninsula in Argyll. It’s where he grew up and those formative experiences have made him an enthusiastic adherent of all things Cowal.

With the Cowalfest walking festival rebooted and ready for 2024 (September 12-16) following the cancellation in 2023 due to heavy rain, Paul is eager to encourage walkers to follow in his footsteps and capture the same sense of wonder that gripped him all those years ago and continue to inform his TV programmes.

“I grew up in Argyll. My parents ran a small hotel in Ardentinny and, as a youngster, I met a wide range of people who visited over the summer months with each one looking for a different part of the Highland experience.

“Visitors included a helicopter pilot who earned a place in my own personal mythology when he took me and my brother for a flight over the local lochs and hills.

“Antarctic explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs was another regular visitor who regaled my brothers and I  with tales of icy blizzards and dangerous crevasses that he encountered on his South Pole expedition.

“I developed my own passion for exploring as a teenager and hitchhiked to Glen Coe and Skye to climb the peaks there. At the age of fourteen, I even managed to hitch a ride on the end of a climbing rope for an ascent of the Cuillin’s famous Cioch.

“I was initially inspired to take to the hills by a book my father gave me: WH Murray’s classic ‘Mountaineering in Scotland’. This beautifully written volume became my bible, full of exciting accounts of amazing first ascents, inspiring me to climb ever higher.

“At the age of fifteen, I hitched to Switzerland with my mate Gus, where we failed to climb the Eiger’s infamous North Wall. We got about five hundred feet up before we realised that this mountain was far beyond our capabilities. We lived to climb another day!

“The vast panoramic seascapes of Loch Long, Holy Loch and the Firth of Clyde complemented by the wonderful Cowal hills were my other inspirations. This is the place that nurtured a desire for adventure that has never left me and that’s what I attempt to reflect in my TV programmes.

“I always wanted to know what was over the next hill and what amazing views that could be experienced. It’s fantastic to know that events like Cowalfest provide a great opportunity for folks to experience that sense of wander through a wide variety of guided walks aimed at all abilities.

“This is where the Highlands start, both geologically and aesthetically, and it should be as widely accessible as possible. There are so many stories, so much history and awe-inspiring nature to be experienced across Cowal.

Loch Eck

“The Argyll Forest for instance, the oldest managed forest within the UK, features hundreds of miles of walking routes, possibly more than anywhere in the country.

“There’s the magnificent Benmore Botanic Garden, a perfect starting and point for a trek along the banks of Loch Eck which offers some inspiring views as well as lots of myths and legends, and the history which you can find in spades at places like Historic Kilmun. Both of those places have been featured in my Grand Tours programmes and played a part in my childhood.

“There’s also a popular 5 mile hike from Ardentinny to Carrick Castle near Lochgoilhead that will feature in the Cowalfest programme. It follows the shorelines of Loch Long and Loch Goil

“Walking festivals provide participants with the ability to engage in the vistas and learn all about what helped to shape them as well as providing a boost for our physical health and mental wellbeing which has become such an important issue in recent times,” added Paul who attended Dunoon Grammar School, Aberdeen University and the National Film and Television School before embarking on a life of adventure that took in a myriad mountains across the globe. He went on to produce iconic TV programmes such as The Bill and Casualty before returning to his roots for his Grand Tours opus dei.

“It’s given me the chance to meet the real personalities that make Scotland such an irresistible and attractive place to explore. It’s their stories that I seek to convey whilst on my travels with a touch of humour thrown in for good measure.

“The further I stray from home, the more I realise how unique Scotland is. For such a small country, we have such amazing riches and walking events like Cowalfest provide a perfect showcase for this spectacular part of the world,” Paul concluded.

This year’s Cowalfest will feature at least 15 guided walks including special interests such as nature, history, photography and foraging.

More details can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with a dedicated website, created in collaboration with tourism organisation Wild About Argyll due to be launched soon.

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