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A land for the living

OVER the last six months Wayne Hall has seen more of Scotland than many Scots will see in their entire lifetime.

The 46-year-old, from Cheshire, has spent the last 182 days in the company of his German shepherd, Jerry, raising £5000 for Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity.

They have walked, driven and canoed around wild Scotland, starting out from Loch Morar in the Highlands on February 25 and visiting no fewer than 80 places before arriving at Castle Douglas. Man and dog spent at least one night at each of 40 different locations, including Inverkirkaig, Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin, Acharacle, Calgary Bay on Mull, Oban, Loch Etive, Solway Firth and the Kyles of Bute.

They lived under canvas for most of the time, fishing for food and benefiting from hot meals cooked by kind-hearted local people. Others donated bags of shopping, containing malt whisky, kippers and haggis.

Before he started the trip Wayne weighed 14 stones. He is now three stones lighter: "I think Jerry is finishing the trip in better shape than me," he joked as the pair neared the end of their marathon trek. "It really was the trip of a lifetime. I'm sorry it has ended but I think both of us could do with a rest.

"We experienced all sorts of weather extremes, and the midgies were a constant pest from June onwards, but I would not change a single day of the last six months."

Wayne and Jerry experienced some of the worst weather for decades, including the second coldest March on record and the coldest Spring in half a century. Their water supply was often frozen overnight as temperatures dropped to -8oC inside their tent.

They even spent one night in a tiny, abandoned, leaky tin shed after a storm with gale-force winds destroyed their tent on Isle Martin.

Wayne's worst experience came at the end of May when, stranded on Loch Morar by high winds for three days, he suffered from an extremely painful toothache, forcing him to ration his supply of painkillers before eventually rushing 40 miles to a dentist to have the tooth removed. "That was rough, and there I had nothing in the way of distractions either," he said.

Wayne took some 20,000 photographs of Scottish wildlife and scenery, posting many of them on his Facebook page.

"The scenery was fantastic. There is only one place in the UK with that quality of scenery and that is Scotland - usually the west coast," said Wayne.

"I'm planning to do a couple of calendars featuring some of the photographs but one thing I'd definitely like to do is to write a book.

"I wrote down so much information and though there was a lot on Facebook I did keep rather a lot back - I only ever put up short posts. Another idea might even be to do a jigsaw based on photographs.

He added: "I come from Cheshire, which is one of the flattest counties in England, with only a few little hills scattered about.

"When you come up to Scotland the scale of the scenery knocks you off your feet a little bit. Every corner you turn, there's something else - something bigger or even more beautiful. It's almost never ending. The thing is that even though we've been here since late February, we have barely scratched the surface. We've been to about 80 different places and stayed at half of them, but there was always something out of this world about being able to wake up every morning, and the first thing you saw was the scenery."

Wayne was a self-employed tiler in Cheshire who lost his home after his landlord died and the property was inherited and sold. Disturbed by the speed with which he suddenly faced homelessness, he decided to seize the opportunity to raise awareness and funds for Shelter Scotland.

He said: "I was lucky because I was able to turn one of the most horrible times of my life into a positive - but not everyone has the option to leave everything behind and spend six months on a life-changing trip in the wilderness.

"Just about everywhere I've been in Scotland I would like to stay for a while but there was nowhere that made me want to stay indefinitely. That is only because this trip has stirred something in me - I really want to see as much as possible."

Wayne now faces the challenge of returning to Cheshire and finding a home to call his own - Shelter Scotland is helping him to secure permanent accommodation. He will also make a quick return to paid employment.

But he is already giving thought to tackling another walking project next year, possibly in the islands on Scotland's west coast.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: "Our supporters, volunteers and staff have been keeping an eye on Wayne and Jerry and are in awe of their spirit. There were moments when we were seriously concerned for their safety, especially during the cold weather, but they've shown great determination."

Wayne's blog can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/6monthsinscotland. Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/6monthsinscotland or by texting JEZZ66 £ + amount to 70070.

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