‘My husband went out for a walk – and never came back’
When my five-year-old daughter cries at night for her father, I repeat what I have told her for almost a year: “Daddy has gone on one of his adventures. I don’t know what’s happened, but I’m doing everything I can to get the answers. I love you, I love Daddy and I miss him.” Every time the phone rings, my heart leaps with the thought: It’s him.
March 25th marks the first anniversary of my husband Finn Creaney’s disappearance, and I have every faith we will bring him home. But as the family of missing mother Nicola Bulley will know, the uncertainty is torture, it is pain. You don’t know how it will end, but you have to believe you will find the person you’ve lost. People don’t just vanish off the face of the earth.
Every day, I message Finn. Not a day has gone by when I haven’t, even though the messages go unread. And every morning I wake and feel a heaviness, an aching for him, but a determination to stay positive: not to let the dread and fear and heartbreak take over.
I believe Finn is still alive, because there’s nothing to suggest he is not, especially as so much of the ground has been covered by search and rescue, friends, family, police divers and numerous others who have helped with the search, on foot, by air and in water. I have to stay strong for my daughter – and for Finn – even if behind closed doors I sometimes want to collapse.
Just as with Nicola, there was no reason to think Finn, now 33, would ever choose to go missing. He’s a lovely, happy, giving soul – I refuse to talk about him in the past tense – with a real lust for life, and life was looking good. His passion is for bushcraft, and this time last year the business he had launched was starting to take off. Finn is also a family man: he loves his daughter and is a wonderful father, as I knew he would be. We have been together for nine years, got married in 2021, and were very much looking forward to a bright future together. A mental health crisis this was not. Anyone who suggests that, doesn’t know Finn like I do.
The weather was unseasonably hot that spring weekend. Finn was going on one of his treks, alone – something he had done a lot. An experienced and confident survivalist, he’s completely at home in nature. He had already smashed a five-kilometre and a 20-kilometre challenge, and had been planning his next one – 40 kilometres – for many months.
Two days before Mothering Sunday, he set off. His intended destination was the Loch Naver area, about an hour’s drive from our house in the countryside outside Tain in the Scottish Highlands. We said goodbye that Friday morning with a lovely family cuddle, and Finn drove to Golspie Beach car park, some 17 miles away. He left his car there, with the aim of collecting it at the end of his challenge, and driving home. A family member then dropped him off on the B873 road at 2.15pm, at a caravan park, to start his planned route. This was the last definite sighting of him.
The last message I received from him was a voicemail he left at 12.52pm that day: “Hey honey,” he said. “I love you lots and I’m really proud of you.” I was launching my own business, as a florist, and he promised to be home by midday on Sunday to deliver the Mother’s Day flowers my customers had ordered. Finn always kept his promises and he never arrived home late.
I discovered later that his phone cut off at 1.47pm in the village of Lairg. Whether it was switched off or broken, we just don’t know. No messages have been delivered to it since. I could see the messages I sent him later that afternoon and evening hadn’t been read. This was odd, as I knew Finn would be using his phone to film his adventure for YouTube, and for navigation, but I didn’t think too much of it, or worry unduly. He would be OK, he always was.
It wasn’t until the Sunday evening that I started panicking. Finn hadn’t shown up by midday, and although this was inconvenient, I assumed his trek had simply taken longer than expected. By 6.30pm, I was really starting to worry. Where was he? I assured myself he’d be fine, he’d be home the following day. Perhaps his phone had died and he couldn’t get in touch.
On Monday morning, feeling a little foolish, I rang the school where he worked, teaching bushcraft to children. “I’m Finn Creaney’s wife, and this is going to sound weird, but is Finn there?” I asked.
They told me he wasn’t, then went and checked the whole school, called back and confirmed he definitely wasn’t there. “Right,” I replied, bewildered. “I’m going to have to report him to the police as a missing person.”
Even then, I still felt ridiculous. I was sure I was overreacting; all but certain the police would meet him on his walk and he would laugh, “Are you for real?” He’s like a cat, he always lands on his feet and always comes home. But I also couldn’t help thinking: What if something has happened? Had he had an accident? What else could have gone on? Looking back, I think I probably went into a state of shock, unable to make sense of his absence.
It felt even more surreal when the police turned up at our house and seized everything they could, in search of potential evidence, of what I do not know. Of course, they found nothing that helped provide any answers. We live in a tiny row of houses in the middle of nowhere, but friends and family rallied around, and helped with the search efforts. Mountain Rescue scoured the terrain. “We’ll never stop looking,” they said. But they stopped after three or four weeks.
You’d be surprised by how quick the support tails off. It’s understandable in some ways; other people have lives to live, but for me and Finn’s father, Mark, the search has never stopped. The agony of his absence hasn’t grown any duller. Mark still walks those hills all the time, searching for his son. We have found no evidence at all that he had an accident.
We have done everything possible: repeatedly searching on the ground, poster campaigns, social media appeals, online searching and research – no stone has been left unturned. But there have been no genuine sightings, apart from one by some bikers, who believe they saw Finn at about 3.45pm, roughly three miles down the road from where he was dropped off. They say he seemed cheerful, which would be in character for him. Others have come forward and reported sightings, none of which have matched.
With the Nicola Bulley case now capturing public attention, I’ve seen the same kind of comments made by those outside the family – what if something else actually happened, what if there isn’t an innocent explanation? I know what her family must be going through; the uncertainty is hardest of all to bear. It’s like you’re stuck in limbo. My mind is still in March 2022, my time perception skewed. My focus since then has been on finding my husband. I haven’t felt inspired to do anything else. The urge just isn’t there.
What I’d say to Nicola’s family is keep the faith. You can’t control the situation, that’s one of the hardest things in a missing person case; but you can believe in the person you love and try not to give in to despair. Like Nicola’s partner, I have a job to do and my job is to bring Finn home. I’ll never give up hope.
As told to Rosa Silverman