A GROUP of Russians is on a tour of the nation to try to improve cultural and educational links with Scotland – and they are invoking the memory of a Scottish naval officer, traveller and explorer to help them.

Captain John Dundas Cochrane was born in 1793, into an adventurous family. He was an illegitimate son of adventurer Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, cousin of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, and a nephew of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane.

Cochrane joined the navy at the age of 10 and made the rank of captain before he succumbed to his wanderlust.

His nickname was the “Pedestrian Traveller” and his most famous exploit came in 1820, when he set off to cross France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Asia to the 780-mile Kamchatka peninsula on foot, eventually reaching his goal three years later.

Some of the areas he covered had never been mapped, and Cochrane’s diaries were so detailed that they were used by the architects of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Now the non-profit Moscow Caledonian Club (MCC) is using the railway’s 125th anniversary to highlight his exploits in a 10-day train journey aboard the Scottish Trans-Siberian Express in November, which will follow Cochrane’s route.

MCC President Vitaly Mironov, who is in Scotland with Alexey Korshunov, vice rector of Moscow State Pedagogical University, said he hoped the journey could inspire new cultural, educational, tourism and trade links between Scotland and Russia.

Mironov, who also heads the Captain Cochrane’s Scottish Express project, told The National: “Scots are among the most modern people in Europe and we must do the same as Peter the Great did at the beginning of the 18th century, when he sent young Russian aristocrats all over Europe, to Holland, and to Edinburgh and Glasgow, to give them a chance to make their careers.”

Korshunov said he was keen for Russia’s student teachers to benefit from more westernised thinking.

He said: “We need the next generation of modern-thinking teachers who can bring to Russian students the lessons they can learn from the West.

“The future is not just about technology, it’s not about bridges or buildings. It is all about people, and the university where we want to prepare our teachers is the university of the future. Teachers have knowledge and can influence a whole generation, and we want them to have a wide view of the world to pass on to their charges.”

Mironov added that Cochrane’s remarkable story symbolised the links between Scotland and Russia, which he wanted to strengthen.

“Through his writings Cochrane brought people a view of the real Russia and that is what we want people to see.

“We want Scots to come to Russia and Russians to come to Scotland, so we can all benefit.”

Mironov helped found the MCC in 1994, and it carries on its work with no formal government support. Folk festivals, Highland games and, of course, whisky play a large part in its activities and the MCC is well known in Scotland, from the Borders to the Highlands.

“We were the first organisation in Russia to focus on Scotland in the sphere of Russo-British contacts,” said Mironov.

“The attendance at joint projects by the MCC and our partners numbers tens of thousands and they achieve a great deal of media coverage, making the final numbers impossible to calculate.

“But MCC members are happy to perceive a growing sense of understanding of our traditions and kinship, involving the specific traits that unite Russia and Scotland.”