Fundraiser walking UK coastline to spend lockdown isolating in Scottish forest

Claire Hayhurst, PA
·3-min read

A former British paratrooper who spent the first lockdown on a previously uninhabited Shetland island is to isolate in his tent in a forest when new restrictions come into force in Scotland.

Chris Lewis, 40, has walked more than 12,000 miles since setting off from Llangennith beach on the Gower Peninsula, near his home city of Swansea, South Wales, in August 2017.

He was sleeping in a tent on mainland Shetland when the UK Government announced the first lockdown on March 23 to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Lewis and his dog Jet were taken to Hildasay, a 108-hectare island, and spent three months living in a former shepherd’s hut that had no running water, heating or electricity.

Evening folksSo today we did a bit of home hunting 😂I stayed on the uninhabited island of Hildisay for the last…

Posted by Chris Walks the UK on Sunday, December 20, 2020

In late June, they left the island and resumed their walk around the UK coastline, which they are carrying out to raise money for SSAFA – the Armed Forces charity.

They have now reached Aberdeen along with Mr Lewis’ girlfriend Kate Barron, 34, who he first met on his walk and who has now joined him and Jet for the challenge.

On Boxing Day, mainland Scotland will be placed into Level 4 restrictions – a lockdown – meaning the walk must be paused until measures are eased.

“The last lockdown I spent on my own on the island and since then I’ve made my way back to the north coast,” Mr Lewis said.

“We’ve had so many offers of help for this lockdown but we want to stay true to the walk.

“We’re going to pitch camp in the woods and stay there until lockdown is over, then the walking boots will be back on and we’ll be continuing.

“I think it will be a really good opportunity. I’ll continue to learn new things – we are looking at this as a positive thing and will make every day count.

“I’m going to make a point of doing more foraging and living off the land. The local people here are so supportive too.”

Before restrictions come into force, Mr Lewis and Ms Barron will travel to Aberdeen city centre to raise awareness of homelessness.

Mr Lewis was previously homeless himself as he struggled to cope after leaving the Parachute Regiment.

He set off on his challenge in 2017 with just £10 in his pocket and a few days of supplies.

More than 70,000 people now follow his journey on a Facebook page, “Chris Walks The UK”.

Donations to Mr Lewis’s fundraising page have reached more than £175,000 for SSAFA, which supported him when he left the forces.

“I really want to highlight homelessness over Christmas,” Mr Lewis said.

“We are going to sleep rough with the homeless to show what it is like, how it feels to sleep on the streets.

“I’ve been homeless myself so I know what it feels like. I’m really keen to show others and I have a platform to be able to do it.”

Mr Lewis described the difference between his life at the start of the challenge to now as “overwhelming and surreal”.

“I have to pinch myself,” he said.

“I left with absolutely nothing and I’ve collected so many friends and Jet and Kate on the way.”

Sir Andrew Gregory, chief executive of SSAFA, paid tribute to Mr Lewis’ dedication to the challenge.

“After his service in the Parachute Regiment, SSAFA was able to help Chris and his daughter during a difficult period,” he said.

“Chris’ desire to put something back into the charity is humbling and what he – with Jet as company, have achieved is phenomenal.”

Mr Lewis’s fundraising page is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chriswalks