Dean Singleton was a typical Mountain Rescue Troop full of fun and very low key, he enjoyed the mountains but most of all he loved the troops and the banter and was a real character. After he left the RAF he married and had a lovely family, life was good and then unfortunately died of cancer.During his long illness he and the family had great support from the Prospect Hospice who cared for him and his family through these dark days. His great pal Al Slyvester on leaving the RAF decided to walk from Lands End to John O Groat’s in memory of Dean. Al has camped very night and walked mainly unsupported apart from a few friends who visited on route. Deans’s lovely wife Linzi who has been there all the way amending his route and updating it on this huge journey and been the main contact. Al has lost his big toes and thumbs on a previous expedition to the South Pole and this is not a simple walk it is a huge journey physically and mentally.
Yesterday was the final day and the plan was to head up early with three friends Tom Mac Donald and Bernie Foran and meet Al outside Wick where he had spent the night in his tent. I was up at 0300 and we picked up Al’s son in Inverness. Al did not know Keiran would join him for this last day. Keiran 17 years old had asked if he could get a lift up to meet his Dad as a surprise. When he asked me on the way back I thought this may not happen but my phone rand at 0400 and we picked Keiran up and headed to the far North. It was a wonderful morning as we drove North up the A9 to Wick, it was busy with trucks and is a windy road. We found a great spot down by the coast to watch the sun come up it is as always a humbling experience, this was going to be some day.
Al Sylvester’s “Walk to Freedom”
We reached Wick by 0700 and contacted Al who was on his walk, his last day was 17 miles to John O’ Groats and we found a great place to meet him just outside Wick. Keiran was as most 17 year olds are was fast asleep in the car most of the way and covered by coats in the back seat as we stopped. We soon saw Al (he is a wee guy but stocky, with legs like a “Clydesdale horse”) carrying his life on his huge rucksack. He was moving well as we beckoned him up to the car, looking suntanned. He was walking alone at this time and glad to see us. I opened the car and Al sat down next to a pile of clothes. I said “look under there” and then he pulled away the clothes and saw his son. Keiran woke up and emotions were high, “man cuddles and lots of tears” and Al was so happy. I had to walk away it was some emotion. There was little time though as Al was on a mission, he continued alone and we had some breakfast then Al and Keiran walked together for several miles alone. I bet that was an interesting chat, they had? They will never forget this day.
We went on by car to John O’ Groat’s and sorted out stops to meet Al and have a cup of tea. It was then back and Al by now was joined by various friends many had made a huge journey to support him. The weather was great as were the views of Caithness this wild remote place, we passed where many of the Clearances took place a terrible time in Scotland’s history. This was when the locals were evicted and replaced by sheep many walked this road on the way to emigration and one could imagine this place in a wild wet and windy day. There is even a “Clearance Village ” nearby a sad time of Ethnic Cleansing that few talk about. Emotions again came to me and the land I love its history and people scrapping a living out of this wild place. I was walking alone again from the car and the vastness of this wild land is unsurpassed in the UK.
You see so many things along the way, much of it litter thrown out by passing cars a tragedy but all the little villages all have War Memorials and this one is incredible a local carving of a soldier of the great war. One of the places mentioned on the memorial was Baghdad in Iraq in the 1914 -1918 war when will we ever learn? The wild flowers by the road were stunning and a great break to the walking and Al was enjoying this last day. Tom MacDonald was holding court and his knowledge of wild plants and flowers is incredible. We stopped every 2 hours to give Al a break and he was going well but exhausted. When he stopped he needed a few minutes to adjust to the change then he pulled up his “Man Zip” and continued walking through incredible pain and there was no complaining.
Linzi had arrived and many others from the Hospice we had a fun walk together. Al wanted to walk the last few miles himself. I found a great spot to stop at the last hill of a huge journey with the view of the sea John O’ Groats, Orkney Island’s and Hoy where Al had climbed the Old Man many years ago. It was great viewpoint and I left the car there after picking up lots of rubbish, bottles and cans and walked towards Al and the group. The sun was out and the warm huge Pampas grass was growing this was a special place but the road was busy and we had to take care.
The last stop was great and we left Al but Keiran would join him for the last mile and they would walk in together. We arrived in a busy John o Groats with bus parties and lots of tourists. A few more friends had arrived all from the South and we were ready for the end of a huge journey. On this last day we had walked and talked together, Scots and English there was no mention of politics, or nationalities or the Referendum. It was great and shows in my mind how no matter what we feel we can all work together for a good cause and remain friends. Politicians and media please note.
As we waited we saw them both coming in the end of a 800 mile walk and we a small amount of friends were overwhelmed by Al’s emotion, He will not mind me saying but tears were running down his and Kierans face. This was a painful journey for Al but he had made it and Dean his mate would have enjoyed the final few minutes of huge love and emotion.
There were lots of photos and many more tears of joy huge cuddles and with the great weather it was an incredible event. We had a long journey home and left Al to relax overnight in Thurso with his friends. What a journey and an experience it was a humbling to be a small part of it to see it. We left Al with a bottle of finest malt given by Al Barnard to celebrate I am sure Al would sleep well tonight after some trip.
It was another 4 hour trip home, really tired I stopped a lot to keep awake and was glad to get home. What a couple of days I am exhausted but it is great news to see such great people who do so much for others. They rarely hit the Press but we have so many wonderful people of all ages and nationalities that make this wee Island so very special. Dean would I am sure have a comment about Al’s Journey; his wonderful wife’s support and the love of all his friends, I am sure it would be more than thanks to all but with a huge smile and some witty comment.
What an adventure!
Thanks to all who supported Al and if you have not given to the Hospice please do it would mean a lot to them.
My page: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AlSylvester
As I approach the conclusion of my 31 years in the RAF, on 16th August 2014 I will embark on a 900 mile unsupported “Walk to Freedom” between Lands End to John O’Groats carrying around 40 lbs including my food, tent and spare equipment.I’m planning to walk the route in less than 5 weeks and cover an average of 30 miles a day. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I’m walking the route in aid of the Prospect Hospice in Swindon, which is where Dean Singleton ex RAF Mountain Rescue Service and Wiltshire Constabulary was looked after in his final few weeks before losing his battle with Cancer.
Having recognised the first class care that the wonderful staff in the Prospect Hospice provided Dean and his family, I felt that this walk could raise much needed funds to help future patients receive such outstanding personal care.Thank you for visiting my fundraising page and I hope that you, your friends, family and possibly the companies that you work with may contribute to this challenge of a life time.