A Walk to London

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A Walk to London

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A Walk to London le William MacGillivary / Dr Robert Ralph

WIlliam MacGillivary was born in Old ABerdeen in 1796. He spent his early years in Harris in the Outer Hebrides before returning to school and university in Aberdeen. His upbringing him close to the natural world, to botany, geology, ornithology, to all aspects of natural history.

In September 1819 MacGillivary decided to visit the British Museum in London, which at that time held the best collection of birds and other natural history specimens in Britain.

He set off to walk from Aberdeen to London, taking a roundabout route through Scotland to see parts of the country that he had not visited before. From Aberdeen to Carlisle where he crossed the border into England, he walked 501 miles. His path from there to London was more direct, just 300 miles. The journey took him 8 weeks and along the way he kept a journal, written late at night in lodging houses and sheltering under the hedges during the day. He wrote about everything that he saw along the way, the plants, the birds, the people, the countryside and the towns.

He spent a week in London and the visit to the bird collections in the British Museum confirmed his ambition to become an ornithologist. His subsequent career in Edinburgh, where he became a close friend of the American bird artist John James Audobon, and in Aberdeen where he was the Regius Professor of Natural History at Marischal College, established him as one of Scotland's finest naturalists.


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