Since leaving Galashiels as a 17-year-old, Doug Gilchrist has spent most of his life travelling the world. Now 73, he told reporter Isabelle Truscott about his story so far.

'Spreading my wings'

It was his grandfather’s sticker-covered suitcase that helped spark Doug’s interest in travel.

After growing up on Glendinning Terrace then Wylies Brae, Doug moved to the south of England when he was about 17 years old, working as an assistant professional at Hayling Island Golf Course near Portsmouth.

It was here that Doug met a golf pro who part-owned a club in the Bahamas.

“He asked me if I’d like to go to the Bahamas to work at his golf club and being 20 years old at the time I thought that would be a great opportunity to spread my wings,” Doug said.

And although he enjoyed the experience, his time in the Bahamas wasn’t like he had expected, so after meeting his first wife (who was American) they moved to Ithaca, New York State.

Across the pond

Doug explained: “Her father had gone up to the local golf club and asked about, and discovered that the professional at the Ithaca Country Club was looking for an assistant.

“He liked the idea of a Scotsman as an assistant – he thought that would be pretty cool.”

After spending a few years at Ithaca Country Club and moving to another club, Doug decided that although he still enjoyed playing golf – a pastime he still takes part in today – it was no longer something he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing.

So he and a friend returned to Galashiels, bought a Volkswagen caravanette and travelled across Europe and north Africa for three months.

Border Telegraph: A selection of Doug Gilchrist's photos from around the worldA selection of Doug Gilchrist's photos from around the world

'It was like Auf Wiedersehen, Pet'

“Whilst we were travelling, I met this chap who was actually working in Holland, doing dry lining, not that I really knew what that was, but I gave him a lift,” said Doug.

“We took the ferry from Tunis to Trapani in Sicily, and then drove to the Messina Straits.

“He was working in Holland at the time and he said if you want to work with me I’ll show you how to do it [dry lining]. So when I got back to England, that’s what I did.”

Doug worked in Holland for 18 months, fitting internal partitions in hospitals and building sites. It was through this work – which he likened to the TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – that Doug was hired to work as part of the team building the commercial runway at Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands, shortly after the war in 1983.

“There were more contractors than islanders,” said Doug. “Not quite as many [contractors] as sheep. I think there was about a population of 1,800 on the Falklands, and there was well over 2,000 contractors.”

Doug recounted seeing the “detritus” of war, including land which had been fenced off along the road where known landmines were.

Witness to conflict

From the Falklands, Doug returned to England in 1984 or 1985, and in 1989 he and his friend Peter became co-directors of a drywall company.

Despite settling back in the UK, Doug has never lost his desire to travel, and he jokingly explains he isn’t a “beach and bucket and spade man”, and has travelled to Lake Assal in Djibouti (the lowest point in Africa), Harrar in Ethiopia – where he fed wild hyenas – and from Moscow to Vladivostock in the winter on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Doug has also seen conflict first-hand, as he was on holiday in Baghdad at the start of the 2019 protests, and was also in Lebanon when their protests began in the same year (eight years after the Arab spring of 2011).

Plans for 2022

It appears there are few places Doug hasn’t been to – he estimates he has visited more than 100 countries – and as we spoke it seemed we had visited some of the same parts of the world, including the Dordogne in south-west France, where Doug owns a property.

In previous years Doug would have spent the months between May and October in France, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was only able to spend a short while away from Norwich when government restrictions were eased.

Next year the father of four plans to visit the island of Socotra, off the coast of Yemen, which he had intended to visit on a previous trip.

Looking back on his trek of the globe, Doug credits “little bits of fate” for all the opportunities he’s had – all the people he met on his travels which led to new experiences.

If you have travelled and no longer live in the Borders, please email Isabelle Truscott – or message the Border Telegraph over Facebook.