To Arran and beyond: the Kilted Walker marches on with his charity mission

His nickname is simple: the Kilted Walker. His motto rather more complex:  “I don’t walk to add days to my life, I walk to add life to my days.”

In March 2015, Iain McGeachin from Ayrshire was diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia after 17 months of medical tests following a number of mysterious falls. This little known disease can affect the spine, the cerebellum, the nervous system and the muscles.

There are many symptoms, but balance is often the first issue, then the ability to walk can be lost. There is no cure and the frustration and emotion those with ataxia experience can naturally bring on their own issues, such as depression.

Iain is donning his kilt and walking in the face of ataxia and all its symptoms. Though he now needs a walking stick to get up a 10cm step, hiking is his passion and during April 21-24 he’ll be on his latest mission, a four-day trek around Arran.

In the past, he  has walked in many countries and cities. In Spain, he hiked 500 miles from Girona down to Murcia. City walks include the coastline of Nice and Cannes, the parks of Amsterdam, Brussels, Lille, Ljubljana, Milan, Florence and Parma, and he’s strolled along the Thames in London and the Arno in Pisa.

Iain says he has three main reasons for exploring Scotland and beyond. “Because ataxia is currently incurable, I am making these fundraising walks. There is a lot of genetic research currently going into ataxia, but in the UK it isn’t government funded, so it’s down to charities like Ataxia UK to find money to pay for vital research. They rely on their fundraisers to take part in all manner of events to secure this revenue.

“Secondly is the importance of raising awareness. Figures from Ataxia UK show that 91% of people have never heard of the condition and I’m determined to change this. And lastly, walking will be one of the first abilities that I will lose so it has become rather important to me in a ‘do-it-while-you-still-can’ kind of way. Life is there to be lived.”

Why Arran next? “I’m heading there because I’ve got great memories of family holidays as a child. I can see the island every day from my window in Ayr, so it’s constantly beckoning me. It should take roughly four days to walk around the island (55 miles around the coastal road), so it’s an achievable challenge, and let’s not forget that Arran’s absolutely beautiful.

“I’ll be accompanied by a kilt-wearing family from Kent who climbed Kilimanjaro with their son, who also suffers from ataxia and has been in a wheelchair since he was eight, so we’re making this memorable journey together.”

Everyone is warmly invited to accompany Iain on his walks for as long or short a distance as they wish.

It could be argued that Iain’s Arran walk is a mere warm-up to a three-month Irish expedition planned for this summer. Starting in Dublin on June 5,  it will take in roughly 1000 miles of Irish coastline in a clockwise direction including beauty spots such as the Ring of Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way, and the cities of Belfast, Cork and Derry.

And why the kilt? “For raising publicity and getting attention, wearing a kilt works! It gets the cameras snapping and strangers talking so it’s well worth the effort.”

As Iain travels, he relies on the kindness of strangers to provide accommodation through websites such as Couchsurfing, and he says his illness has brought him into contact with wonderful people and taught him lessons about humanity.

“Without staying with these complete strangers, in the comfort of their own homes, my fundraising walks wouldn’t be possible in the first place. I say ‘complete strangers’ and they are. Initially. But they’re some of the most interesting people that I have ever met. Like-minded souls whose lives are enriched through meeting other kind souls. And, in many cases, these former ‘strangers’ are now very good friends.”

Iain knows his clock is ticking. “There will be plenty of time for sitting down later. My GP has encouraged me to walk as far, and as fast, as possible every day, although I doubt that he meant this far!”

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