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Fundraising campaign launched by John O'Groats Trail group following gift of £10,000

By Jean Gunn

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Rob Pickard's main aim was to complete his walk of a lifetime by reaching Dunnet Head.
Rob Pickard's main aim was to complete his walk of a lifetime by reaching Dunnet Head.

A donation has been made to the John O'Groats Trail (JOGT) in memory of a man who took on the route as a walk of a lifetime along with his wife.

Rob Pickard walked the trail in 2017, completing it in stages following treatment for a brain tumour.

He died in July 2018 and now his wife Caroline has decided to donate £10,000 to the trail in her husband's name.

JOGT chair Jay Wilson said: "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 Dunnet 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."

Caroline said: "Rob and I made seven trips to the Scottish Highlands to complete our walk and each time we loved everything about the places we stayed and the stunning coast of east Sutherland and Caithness makes the most beautiful stretch of long-distance walking.

"The work Jay and his fellow volunteers have contributed towards developing the trail has been immense and I am so pleased to be able to support their work in Rob’s name."

Caroline and Rob Pickard met Jay Wilson (centre) while on the local trail.
Caroline and Rob Pickard met Jay Wilson (centre) while on the local trail.

Finding the couple's story inspirational, the charity decided to launch a fundraising campaign around it.

Jay said: "We are encouraging our members and others to send their own donations and stories of the trail in the same spirit. We'd also like to hear your stories of what the trail has meant to you and your loved ones."

Stories can be sent to walk@jogt.org.uk and some will be posted on the JOGT website.

An anonymous donor, inspired by Rob's gift, has pledged that further donations this spring will be matched two to one, up to a total of £10,000.

Rob and Caroline, of Newcastle upon Tyne, began their walk of a lifetime in August 2005 with four days across the Scottish border and over the Cheviot Hills covering the northern 54.5 miles of the Pennine Way between Kirk Yetholm and Once Brewed.

Caroline explained: "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 10 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."

Rob studies his map while taking a break on the John O'Groats Trail.
Rob studies his map while taking a break on the John O'Groats Trail.

To complete the walk Rob had been considering his route north and had plans to head to Cape Wrath via the west coast, however he became acutely unwell in early November 2015 and was diagnosed with 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," said Caroline.

Once the last treatment was completed in July 2016, Rob set about exploring options of how they could walk north from Fort William and he discovered a blog written by Jay, detailing the JOGT and he thought we could link it with the Great Glen Way. His aim was to reach Dunnet Head. Rob’s walking was affected by the tumour and so the Great Glen Way and the JOGT were completed in stages.

Caroline continued: "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 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."

With the aim of making the trail accessible to more people, the charity is currently fundraising for a full-time trail developer position that will take pressure off the volunteers and add a more professional element to the organisation.

Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/trail-developer-fundraiser

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