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The East Highland Way

This week’s blog comes from Henry Parkinson a long-term supporter of Mental Health Research UK. Henry tells the story of how he came to walk the East Highland Way to raise funds for our Charity and the adventures that he had along the way. Henry raised a much appreciated £1700 for Mental Health Research UK – a great result!

The Motivation

Someone I know very well, let's call him Jim, has had schizoaffective disorder for almost 20 years. During this time Jim has been prescribed all the available types of antipsychotic medication. He must take an antipsychotic to enable him to function. One caused a build-up of chemicals which became dangerous so had to be discontinued and didn’t really make him fully well anyway. Another caused an immediate life threatening decrease in blood pressure so was quickly abandoned. Another had such major side effects that he couldn’t write his name. The fourth, which he has now been taking for many years, causes major weight gain, which he has fought and substantially overcome, and debilitating drowsiness in the mornings combined with lack of motivation. Not a great option but there isn't another alternative.

Unbelievably, Jim is one of the lucky ones, many people with schizoaffective disorder and similar conditions fail to find any medication which works at all. If we could only understand these illnesses better, in the same way that we now understand most physical illnesses, much more and better medication could be produced. This illustrates the urgent need for more research into the causes and treatments for mental illness.

Ten years ago Jim’s situation motivated me to investigate what I could do to support mental health research and I found MHRUK. I was immediately impressed by the work MHRUK was doing and the pledge to use at least 95% of all donations to support research. This meant that my support could make a big difference. I have therefore been an enthusiastic supporter for the last 10 years.

The Challenge

In mid 2021 Jim contacted me to ask if I was interested in walking the East Highland Way with him in May 2022. This is a 131 km trek through the Scottish Highlands from Fort William to Aviemore following a route which is relatively unfrequented and mainly unmarked. I’m a reasonably fit 67 year old so providing we took it gently this didn’t sound too extreme, I therefore agreed to join him. Fast forward to April 2022 and Jim outlined the plan in more detail. He explained that we’d be wild camping along the route, which meant carrying a 16 kg backpack, and that we’d complete the trek in 4.5 days, which didn’t sound like ‘taking it gently’! Three of the days would involve walking about 20 miles. I hadn't carried a heavy backpack before and had only walked over 20 miles in a day on one previous occasion when I was much younger. I became a bit worried! A week later I tried carrying a 16 kg backpack on a 4 mile walk with some friends. I hardly had the strength to hoist the pack onto my back and when in position it felt horribly heavy. I became even more worried! However, by then the fundraising for MHRUK was going really well so this gave me the motivation to at least give it my best shot.


Fast forward to lunchtime on 6th May. After 4.5 gruelling days we’d arrived at Aviemore and completed the walk. We

sat in a cafe and I had a chance to check my Just Giving account, sponsorship had reached £1,200, £200 more than my original target. Jubilation!

Along the way there were lots of highlights and a few lowlights.

The highlights

Breakfast on the Caledonian Sleeper
Discovering the amazing simplicity of wild camping in the middle of nowhere

Being totally self sufficient including collecting and filtering water

Some occasional sunny weather!

- the trip up to Dalnashallag Bothy in remote Glen Banchor where we camped for the night and the trip back down. Great walk across pathless moorland fording lots of streams (and remarkably not falling in). And a night spent in what felt like the real wilderness.

The first Americano at a cafe after 3 days without a shop or cafe

- managing to survive for the middle 3 days without access to a shop or cafe. Thank goodness for some great wild camping gear I borrowed!

- a warm shower at a B and B on the last night when I could no longer camp (see below).

- finishing the trek

- Ultimately raising just over £1,500 for MHRUK.

The lowlights

- realising 3 miles after leaving the cafe mentioned above (and after the cafe had closed) that I had left my walking poles there. My walking poles were doubling as tent poles, so without them I couldn't use the tent! Hence the B and B on the last night.

- the last few miles on the second day when I was tired and grumpy at the end of a 22 mile day. But I was saved by Jim who collected and filtered water and cooked dehydrated dinner at our lonely lochside beach camp area (whilst I just sat on the beach exhausted)

- the last few miles on the fourth day when my progress was really slow due to blistered feet. Again saved by Jim doing an emergency dinner of triple porridge and dehydrated soup on another beach - we had expected a cafe but none were open.

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