Co Derry adventurer Leon McCarron's travels in Iran captured on film

Co Derry adventurer Leon McCarron has walked across China and Patagonia and a recent journey into the heart of Iran with co-traveller Tom Allen has been captured on film. McCarron – currently travelling in the Middle East once again – talks to Brian Campbell

Brian Campbell
11 December, 2015 01:00

IT is hard not to think of a popular Proclaimers song when self-styled adventurer Leon McCarron talks about walking a thousand miles.

But while the Scottish Reid brothers sang about walking 500 miles and then 500 more, McCarron has clocked up thousands of miles on his worldly travels.

The Co Derry man describes himself as an “adventurer, film-maker and chancer” who embarks on “long-distance, human-powered journeys”.

He is currently at the start of a three-month 1,000-mile walk that will take in the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Egypt – quite a dander from his home patch of Castlerock and Coleraine in Co Derry.

He has also travelled thousands of miles in China and Patagonia and says Russia and Antarctica are next on his wish-list.

Last year, McCarron and English co-adventurer Tom Allen set off on a staggering journey across Iran, following the country’s longest river – the Karun – from its source in the snowy mountains to the sea (the Persian Gulf).

The duo filmed the trip and now the resulting film, Karun, is available online. In it there are some interesting scrapes with the law, Leon actually ends up in a creek without a paddle, they visit the breathtakingly beautiful fortress city of Shushtar and have a bite to eat in a café called Arses (named after Arses, king of Persia between 338 BC and 336 BC).

As you’re off in the Middle East again, do you have any reservations about the security situation there?

Well you never know, do you? But being from Northern Ireland, I know that there’s a difference between what people think a place is like and then what it’s actually like. It’s easy for a place to seem very dangerous until you get there. I’ll be sensible and keep my ears to the ground and make sure we don’t go anywhere silly.

Did you always set out to be an adventurer?

I’m not sure it was always my plan, but I’m glad it worked out. I wasn’t sure what else I would do and it’s something I always enjoyed. Eventually I got to a point where people were interested in hearing stories about what I was doing. It’s not the most secure job in the world, but I get to make a living from something I enjoy. Ten years ago, the idea of making a living from my laptop based on doing long walks would have seemed very strange.

When did Tom suggest the idea of the Iran trip?

It was around Christmas 2013. It just really appealed to me. I like long-distance human-powered journeys and then, on top of that, the idea of going to a place that’s quite misunderstood and trying to show a different side of it was appealing as well. Because Iran has a pretty severe image problem.

The film is subtitled `Misadventures On Iran’s Longest River', so would you say it was more a misadventure than an adventure?

Well, a lot of things went wrong. In terms of our planned adventure, it was unsuccessful. We wanted to kayak down a lot of the river, but at one point there wasn’t enough water and then it was too dangerous and I capsized and lost a paddle. But if it had all gone well, it wouldn’t have been half the trip that it was. It was action-packed, mad and a lot of fun.

The pair of you had a few run-ins with the authorities along the way.

Yeah, we had more than our fair share. It’s quite an oppressive country in so many ways. If you turn up with a video camera, you do look like a foreign journalist. So we had to be very careful about what we filmed. But we still ended up being on the radar of the secret police and in police stations. It did get a bit uncomfortable. Police would often tell us just not to film anything, but we went to Iran to make a film so that wasn’t exactly the ideal solution.

And then you also had wolves circling your tent in the mountains one night...

Yeah, there was a blizzard and you could hear them outside. Generally wolves will leave you well alone, but if it’s very cold and they’re hungry you never know what’ll happen. That was the first night of our trip, so we were a little bit nervous. And there were bears up in those mountains too.

In the film both you and Tom repeatedly comment on how friendly and accommodating the Iranian people were (literally accommodating you by letting you stay in their houses on many occasions), so were you made very welcome?

We were. It was probably the friendliest country I’ve ever been to. The hospitality is such a big part of the culture there. Most people there feel hard done by, because in the news you generally hear about Iranian-sponsored terrorism and not much else. But anybody I’d spoken to before I went to Iran said it was so wonderful and so friendly. There’s no hatred towards the West. Most of the people were chuffed that people from the West would want to come to the country and not think that they’re terrorists.

Did you enjoy visiting the Arses Café?

We did. That name amused us a lot more than it should have. But you have to make the most of these things.

As an adventurer, do you have a base anywhere?

I’m sort of all over. I’m trying to base myself in the Middle East. I was in London before and back home [in Co Derry], so I’m quite nomadic. I’m back in Belfast for bits and pieces of work quite often and I get home when I can. I’m going to miss Christmas this year, which is a shame. But I’ll be back in March. And I’ll be having an Ulster Fry.

:: Karun: Misadventures on Iran’s Longest River is available to download digitally via

11 December, 2015 01:00 Arts

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