Fundraiser walking UK coastline isolating on uninhabited island due to lockdown
A former British paratrooper is isolating on an uninhabited Shetland island after lockdown measures were introduced when he was on a fundraising challenge to walk the UK coastline.
Chris Lewis, 39, has walked 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 lockdown restrictions on March 23 to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Lewis and his dog Jet were taken to Hildasay, a 108-hectare island off the west coast of the Shetland mainland, by boat and have remained there ever since.
They have been given permission to live in the one house on Hildasay, a former shepherd’s hut without running water, heating or electricity.
After lockdown restrictions are lifted, Mr Lewis and Jet will continue their journey around the UK coastline to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity – with donations already reaching almost £98,000.
“I’ve mainly been in isolation for the past two years due to the nature of the places we’ve been walking,” Mr Lewis said.
“When I heard there was going to be a lockdown, I was kindly given a boat to get over to Hildasay, which is an uninhabited island.
“I thought it would be better if I wasn’t on the mainland – I didn’t want to be in the way.
“There is one house on the island and the family of the man that used to live there heard I was camping and offered me the keys.
“Everybody is in isolation at the moment – it’s the one thing I can do. This will be over for me when it’s over for everyone else.”
The keys were brought over by boat, along with drops of coal, water and food when the weather allows.
These drops are done by contactless delivery – with the items being placed on the island’s pier and Mr Lewis walking the 600 metres from the house to retrieve them.
Mr Lewis collects driftwood, forages and fishes for his food, and always makes sure he has a three-week supply of dog food for Jet.
Hildasay has been uninhabited since the late nineteenth century, with Mr Lewis and Jet joined only by 15 sheep and thousands of birds.
“It has really given me a chance to enjoy the island,” he said.
“I’m able to reflect on the walk so far, just realising what this has done to help me personally and the amount of amazing people there are in the UK.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Almost 40,000 people have been following Mr Lewis’s journey on a Facebook page, Chris Walks the UK.
Mr Lewis struggled to cope with life on “civvy street” after leaving the Parachute Regiment and finding himself homeless.
He slept on the street and in cars before SSAFA, who he describes as “truly amazing”, stepped in to help.
“I came out of the forces and I was a single parent,” he said.
“I suffered badly with anxiety and depression. At the time, I wasn’t speaking to anyone.
“SSAFA showed me there were people out there that were going to be there for me, their support was so personal.”
When he faced homelessness for a second time, he decided he needed to do something.
He set off from Llangennith beach on the Gower Peninsula with just £10 in his pocket and a few days of supplies.
When he is able to resume his fundraising challenge, Mr Lewis will make his way to the north of Scotland before heading down the east coast of the UK.
“I’m looking forward to being out on the road again and being around people too,” Mr Lewis said.
“I’ve learnt that it was isolation that fixed me. You have to look at it in a very positive way.
“You have to make the best of it.”
Mr Lewis’s fundraising page is https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chriswalks