Blackness Castle invites you to follow in the footsteps of John Muir
Blackness Castle is arguably the ideal venue to host an exhibition which follows in the footsteps of one of Scotland’s most famous sons.
For the castle sits on the John Muir Way, a route which celebrates the man at the heart of the photographic display now on show in the monument’s cottage.
In the Footsteps of John Muir has already been viewed by thousands of Americans who believe the father of their national parks is, in fact, one of their own.
For the exhibition was first displayed during the 2005 Tartan Week in Central Park’s Arsenal Gallery.
Thanks to the American Scottish Foundation, Fife photographer Ken Paterson’s work has since been shown in New York’s Federal Hall National Memorial twice, President Roosevelt’s Presidential Library, John Muir’s Historic House in Martinez and his birthplace museum in Dunbar.
Earlier this year, it visited Stirling Castle before moving to Blackness Castle, where it will remain until August 6.
And it is already proving to be a hit, albeit a bit of a surprise for tourists visiting from across the pond.
Graeme Sinclair, monumment manager, explained: “Many of our American visitors have been surprised to learn that John Muir is, in fact, Scottish.
“They’ve enjoyed finding out more about his roots and the John Muir Way on which the castle stands.
“Historic Environment Scotland helped the American Scottish Foundation stage the first exhibition in New York.
“So we’re delighted to be hosting the exhibition, albeit it’s a slightly condensed version due to space constraints in the cottage.”
In the Footsteps of John Muir traces his travels, from his early days in Dunbar to Yosemite in California, as well as landmark sites along the John Muir Way.
For the man behind the pictures, it was also a journey of discovery.
From a young age, a love of nature and rock and ice climbing led Ken to pick up another skill, photography.
That, in turn, led him to an award-winning career, working as a freelance staff photographer for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, as well as being the Scottish photographic representative for The New York Times.
Ken also contributed stunning images for a dozen or more travel guide books, from Paris to Crete and St Petersburg to San Francisco, where he happily admits to leaving his heart!
But it was while recovering from a brain tumour in 2001 that Ken happened across John Muir.
He had to learn to walk again so mountaineering was out of reach, as was his photographic career.
So he decided to find out more about Yosemite National Park, renowned by rock climbers globally.
And, quite by accident, he discovered John Muir.
“I’d been mountaineering for years and had never heard of him,” Ken said.
“I started reading about his life in the mountains and it was a real inspiration.
“It seemed utterly wrong to me that people like John Muir were being ignored in favour of the likes of Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
So Ken decided to take a trip to Yosemite, while visiting his brother Mike in California.
“At that point I didn’t even know if I’d be able to take photographs,” he said.
“I didn’t want to travel on my own so Lindsay Robertson, a photographer from Edinburgh, came with me as he was interested in Ansel Adams, who did a lot of his work in Yosemite.”
The subsequent pictures formed the basis of Ken’s Tartan Week exhibition.
And he has since gone on to develop his In the Footsteps series.
He travelled to Japan in 2014 to show In the Footsteps of Thomas Blake Glover, which also visited the house of Giacomo Puccini in Italy, Spokane in the USA, Kinnaird Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh and the Scottish Parliament.
And the dad of two is hoping that his In the Footsteps project will, in future, be championed by young photography students.
He is currently trying to source funding to enable that dream to become a reality.
Ken added: “Ideally, I’d like a foundation to take it on as an education project, creating a free online resource, led by students and annotated by experts.
“It would not only enable us to celebrate Scotland’s unsung heroes but also allow students here to make connections globally.”
In The Footsteps of John Muir is on display in Blackness Castle’s cottage until Tuesday, August 6.
To find out more about Ken’s work or to help fund In the Footsteps, visit www.kenpaterson.co.uk.
The way to go to celebrate John
John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838, crossing the Atlantic with his family 11 years later. They landed in Wisconsin where John grew up to become the father of the US National Park Service.
An ecological thinker, political spokesman and religious prophet, he was also a mountaineer, geologist, naturalist, inventor, glaciologist and, of course, a conservationist who realised how important getting back to nature was, long before the term well-being was coined.
Indeed, he is noted as saying: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity...”
In our fast-paced lives, surely those words ring even truer today than they did then.
And so it was agreed in 2010 that a long-distance route be created, named after John Muir, as part of the Central Scotland Green Network.
It was the vision of the Trust’s chairman Keith Geddes, who proposed extending the original John Muir Way in East Lothian.
SNH led the work with assistance from nine local authorities, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and other key bodies.
The route duly opened on April 21, 2014 – the day John was born and 100 years since his death in 1914. It also coincided with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Homecoming Scotland.
The 134-mile John Muir Way is now regarded as one of Scotland’s Great Trails, stretching from Helensburgh in the west to his birthplace in Dunbar on the east.
The idea is that, by walking or cycling the John Muir Way, people will experience the countryside that Muir fell in love with.