A new year brings new beginnings. We start this year with a story of love. The love of husband and wife for one another, and their mutual love for walking. Rob and Caroline Pickard walked the trail in 2017 as part of their walk of a lifetime. Their love of walking has created an opportunity for you to share your own love of the trail, please see below.
A note from the chair
I sincerely hope this finds you well. I last wrote you just before Christmas, and that seems a long time ago now. Then we were headed into a long period of lockdown and uncertainty, now we are in a new period of hope. The vaccine rollout is happening quickly and is working to reduce the spread and impact of the virus.
As I sit down to write this in March, Spring is in the air and the hope for new beginnings abounds. This is so appropriate at this time, because a few weeks ago I was contacted by Caroline Pickard to tell me she wanted to make a generous gift in her husband Rob’s memory to help develop the trail. I asked her to tell their story, as only she could, and you’ll see that story below. To me simply falls the honour to thank her, and to put the story in context.
Rob and Caroline were two of the first people to walk the trail. In 2017, we had only just begun to build stiles and bridges and put in markers. There was no Harvey’s Map and no guide book. Rob used my old walk descriptions posted on Walkhighlands, written in the first person, to help navigate. It wasn’t easy! But having nearly completed the whole way from the south coast of England to Dunnett Head, they were not to be stopped. I happened to meet them on the last day of their journey, and fortunately some friends of theirs were on hand to snap a photo of us, a record of a very special time. Little did I know how precious time was for them.
Now, in order to celebrate Rob’s life, what the trail meant to him, and to celebrate what the trail means to you or perhaps someone you love, I’d like to ask you to donate a gift of your own, however large or small.
Having received Rob’s Gift of £10,000 the charity has decided to build a giving campaign around it. An anonymous donor, inspired by Rob’s Gift, has pledged that further donations this Spring will be matched 2 to 1, up to a total of £10,000 match. You can donate at this link: www.gofundme.com/f/trail-developer-fundraiser.
We’d also like to hear your stories of what the trail has meant to you and your loved ones. Please send in your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org We’ll be posting some of those stories, along with Rob’s story, on the web site at /make-a-donation/robs-gift/
We’re currently fundraising for a full-time trail developer position that will take pressure off our volunteers and add a more professional element to our organisation. This would be someone to professionally lead the trail forward by performing both administrative functions such as overseeing contractors as well as coordinating volunteers and finding new sources of funding. All with the aim of making the trail accessible to more people.
The development of the trail has continued during Covid, with contractors operating to build stiles, bridges, and steps. This Spring we’re having Covid-safe outdoor on-site meetings with landowners and others to discuss some areas for new path-building, an exciting new direction for us. This type of activity would be vastly accelerated by the hiring of a trail developer.
I hope you’ll all have a good Spring as we hope for some of our normal freedoms to resume, including the ability to travel and go for long walks.
Jay Wilson, Chair
A donation to JOGT in Rob Pickard’s memory
Rob and I began our walk in August 2005 with four days across the Scottish border and over the Cheviot Hills covering the northern 54.5 miles (87.4 km) of the Pennine Way between Kirk Yetholm and Once Brewed. It was not the easiest introduction to long distance walking but we loved the physical and mental challenge and the peace. Most years from then we spent one or two weeks walking; initially aiming to complete the Pennine Way, adding the West Highland Way and before we knew it Rob was linking trails to walk from the south coast to the north coast of mainland Britain. And so over ten years we went on to walk Eastbourne to Fort William via the South Downs Way, Heart of England Way, Limestone Way, Pennine Way, West Highland Way and parts of several other Ways, trails, drove roads and canals in the north, south and border country.
Rob enjoyed the preparation almost as much as the walks; collating maps and timetables and searching for transport links and accommodation with good proximity to the trails.
To complete the route Rob had been thinking about how we would head north from Fort William across the Scottish Highlands. Rob’s preference was to head to Cape Wrath via the west side of Scotland but this route, which I was never sure I could manage despite all the support and encouragement from Rob that had got me so far, became impossible after Rob became acutely unwell in early November 2015 and was found to have an aggressive brain tumour. A gruelling nine months of radical radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed, but Rob had a good response giving him a period of remission and the one thing he really wanted to do after completing his treatment was for us to finish our walk.
Once the last chemo treatment was completed in July 2016 Rob set about exploring options of how we could walk north from Fort William and he discovered a blog, written by Jay Wilson, detailing the mainly coastal walk from Inverness to John O’Groats and he thought we could link the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness with the route of Jay’s blog to reach the north coast, aiming for Dunnet Head. Rob’s walking was affected by the tumour and so we completed the Great Glen Way then the route of Jay’s blog in stages between August 2016 and May 2017, finding accommodation with, and walking alongside friends or family each time.
On our last trip to Caithness for the walk we stayed near Keiss and, on the day we reached John O Groats, amazingly bumped into Jay at Freswick Bay. Completing our walk in Scotland meant so much to Rob and myself and the blog written by Jay made the walk possible. Memories of Rob clutching sheets of A4 paper he had printed with the relevant bits of Jay’s blog along with the relevant Ordinance Survey map and somehow keeping us all on track are very precious for all who walked with him. Rob died in July 2018.
Rob would have been so pleased the Trail is progressing and honoured to have a donation given in his name to help in keeping this beautiful walk accessible for as many people as possible.
Far North Podcast
A podcast about the Far North has done a feature about walking and the trail. The interview about the trail begins about 27 minutes into the podcast. You can listen at the following link. Once you click the link, you can move around within the recording by clicking on the black bar.
A final note
Again, please consider donating as part of the Rob’s Gift campaign (see above). But besides that, there are so many ways to support the trail. The very best way is by walking it. Our walkers are the life’s blood of the trail, especially as we come out of lockdown and start to rebuild our number of walkers. And whether you live near or far, please consider volunteering in some way.
Membership is another great way to support the trail, as we are a membership charity. Whether you would like to become a new member or renew (£10), your membership will be good from now through the end of 2021. Membership is a great way to support the trail while also having a vote at the AGM and access to member updates.
If you’d like to order a guidebook, or would like to make a donation, all donations to the trail help us pay for tools, supplies such as timber, and important matching funds for grants for bigger trail-building projects. After donating, please forward the confirmation email to email@example.com and let us know what the donation is for. Click on the donation link below: