THE road was long – very long – and intrepid adventurer Captain John Dundas Cochrane could be forgiven for pausing by the side of the road to light his pipe and rest his weary bones.

He was somewhere between St Petersburg and Moscow on an astonishing journey that would eventually see him cover around 10,000 miles on foot. And, as his bad luck would have it, he was about to encounter a couple of very desperate vagabonds.

It was 200 years ago, and the unflappable Capt. Cochrane – perhaps one of Scotland’s most uncelebrated explorers - had set off on an astonishing walk that would take him across Europe and through Russia with just his knapsack, a meagre amount of money and a great deal of hope in his heart.

As it turned out, that hope would turn out to be rather misplaced when his original plan to walk from London to North America was thwarted by the inconsiderate appearance of the Bering Strait, a body of water which, much to his chagrin, was not conducive to simply strolling across.

That small difficulty, however, would be much further down the line. First, puffing on his pipe and midway to Moscow, Capt. Cochrane was in the grip of a different kind of predicament.

“I was suddenly seized from behind by two ruffians,” he later wrote in his account of the journey, the laboriously titled Narrative of a Pedestrian Journey through Russian and Siberian Tartary to the Frontiers of China, the Frozen Sea and Kamchatka.

“One of them, who held an iron bar in his hand, dragged me by the collar towards the forest, while the other, with a bayoneted musket, pushed me on, in such a manner as to make me move with more than ordinary celerity.”

Once in the thickest part of the forest, Capt. Cochrane was ordered to undress. “Having stript off my trowsers and jacket, then my shirt and finally my shoes and stockings, they proceeded to tie me to a tree,” he added.

“From this ceremony and from the manner of it, I fully concluded that they intended to try the effect of a musket upon me, by firing at me as they would at a mark.”

Instead his attackers, who also relieved him of his spectacles, watch, compass, thermometer, pocket sextant and 160 roubles, wandered off leaving him almost entirely naked.

According to author Andrew Drummond, who based his fictional novel Novgorod the Great on the Captain’s exploits, being subjected to an armed robbery in the middle of nowhere and stripped to his birthday suit was not enough to make the bold Scot give up.

Instead, having been found and untied by a passer-by, his greatest concern was that he had been deprived of an exceedingly good pair of English walking shoes.

“I presume he had been left with some kind of shirt, which he apparently tied around his waist before he simply set off down the road in the direction he had been going,” says Drummond. “He was very cool, it didn’t seem to bother him much at all.”

In his own words, Capt. Cochrane “trotted on with even a merry heart”, with his makeshift kilt swinging in the breeze and his empty knapsack on his back.  Eventually he would complete an amazing journey that would take him to the very south eastern tip of Russia before doing an about turn and – with an extremely young bride in tow – walking all the way home.  Meanwhile, his travelogue style diary which documented the people, culture and landscape he encountered would prove so useful that it would be used by the architects of the great Trans-Siberian Railway.  Born out of wedlock in 1793, Capt. Cochrane’s father was Edinburgh-born Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, an MP and swindler behind the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814. His mother, Georgiana, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, appears to have been slightly more respectable.

As an officer in the Royal Navy, he saw action in the battle of St. Domingo, the last fleet engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, before being sent home on half-pay and with nothing to do.  “Men like him were at home, twiddling their thumbs,” adds Drummond. “They’d had a taste of adventure, and some ended up on ill-fated expeditions to the Arctic or Africa and subsequently dying.”

Capt. Cochrane had his own cunning plan to explore the River Niger, which he put to the Board of Admiralty. To avoid coming to the kind of sticky end that befell many European travellers, he offered to assume the character of a mahomedan, or even sell himself as a slave to a caravan owner.  “He was told ‘no’ and went off in a huff,” says Drummond. “So, he proposed to try to walk all the way across Russia to America and then travel by ship back home.  “He had walked from Dieppe and right across Russia before he found that the Bering Strait existed. He was disappointed, but simply changed his route.”

Capt. Cochrane turned south for the Kamchatka Peninsula; remote, closer to Japan than Moscow, populated by brown bears and dozens of simmering volcanoes.  “His journal is quite extraordinary, with its stiff upper lip attitude to any problem he encountered,” adds Drummond.  “It was midwinter by the time he got to eastern side of Siberia, and obviously pretty cold. He wrote in his dairy about how having no overcoat was a ‘great oversight’ in winter.  “He used guides to help him along, but it appears they didn’t have much of a clue what they were doing.  “At one point they crossed a freezing river that despite the cold was still flowing. Both Cochrane and his guide fell in and were swept along.  Eventually he grabbed a tree branch and hauled himself out, but he was frozen and lit a fire in a forest.  “But the fire got out of control, and both had to flee. He went from being almost frozen to almost frying.”  Having arrived in Kamchatka Peninsula, Capt. Cochrane promptly turned around again and headed home, with a very young teenage bride by his side, Ksenia Ivanovna Loginova, who fell off her horse, ended up unconscious and became so exhausted they had to break their journey for a rest.

“He got fed up after two days of rest, and decided to explore Mongolia,” adds Andy. “He headed off to explore Mongolia for six weeks before eventually returning and setting off again.”

The couple eventually made it back to London, but within months Capt. Cochrane was eyeing up a trek to South America and a possible journey by foot across the Andes.  This time Capt. Cochrane’s luck would run out. Within weeks of arriving in Venezuela in 1825, he caught a fever and died.  His legacy, however, is a fascinating travel diary that captures details of early 19th century Siberia and Russia life at a unique point in its history.  “Siberia in the early 19th century was an interesting place and he came across all kinds of people – including a Cockney cobbler in Siberia,” adds Drummond. “I think he wanted to be well-known as a man who explored and revealed things.  “He was an extraordinary character.”

Novgorod the Great by Andrew Drummond is available on Amazon.