Swanage has given a hero’s welcome to a former paratrooper who is walking 8,500 miles around the entire UK coastline to raise money for the Armed Forces charity SSAFA.
Chris Lewis, who served with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, was left homeless and suffering from anxiety and depression after leaving the military, and set out from his home in Wales with £10 in his pocket in August 2017.
Chris, Kate, baby Magnus and rescue dog Jet arrive in Swanage and Chris records a video for his Facebook page
No warmer welcome anywhere than in Swanage
Now, after spending lockdown on an uninhabited island in the Shetlands, adopting a dog, meeting his soulmate and then having their child during a short break in Studland, Chris arrived in Swanage on Tuesday 15th November 2022 on the last leg of a remarkable five-year journey.
After reading about his epic journey, former Swanage resident Marjorie Edwards rallied around a welcome party led by town crier Andrew Fleming to cheer on Chris, Kate, six month old baby Magnus and rescue dog Jet as they strode up the beach.
Chris, who has raised more than £300,000 for charity, has walked more than 6,500 miles so far and has just had a book published – written with pen and paper mostly in the dead of night on his travels. Speaking as he arrived in Swanage he said he’d not received a warmer welcome anywhere on his travels.
Six years ago, Chris’ depression had become so severe that he would shut himself away in his bedroom with only surfing bringing him any respite from his black thoughts.
And when he realised that he only felt human while at the coast, he decided he would walk the entire coastline of the UK, and found a tent, walking boots and enough food for two days before setting out from Swansea.
Filming on the beach to raise public awareness of the charity walk
“No-one knew what I was going through”
Looking back on the life-changing decision, Chris said:
“I needed to get away because I needed to make my life better. I wasn’t in a good position, I had no money and knew I was heading towards being homeless again, so I was running away from it and knew that I would get to somewhere better.
“I wasn’t very good at normal life, I was living alone, not talking to anybody and no-one knew what I was going through – but the further I walked, the more I knew that I was getting away from my problems.
“It was selfish in a way – I was doing it for myself – but I knew that I wanted to raise money for SSAFA (the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) as they had really helped me keep my head above water through the challenging times since I returned to civilian life.”
Swanage town crier Andrew Fleming sings the Purbeck song for Chris
Deeply moved by the generosity of ordinary people
“I have experienced first-hand what they do and I honestly don’t know where I would be without their help and support.
“The hard part is coming back from such an extreme way of life with the Parachute Regiment to normality – it’s not an easy thing to do and a lot of boys who feel totally lost can turn to drink and drugs, or end up homeless because they don’t have that support.
“But this was an opportunity to give back to those who have helped me so much, although it turned out that I was solely relying on the British public and companies donating what food, accommodation and equipment they could to get me through each leg of the journey.”
Chris said that he was repeatedly and deeply moved by the generosity of ordinary people as they donated the things he needed to get through cold winters and long, often solitary hikes through remote parts of the UK.
Chris with his newly published book, Finding Hildasay
Lockdown on an uninhabited island in Shetland
But when lockdown struck while he was on the uninhabited Shetland island of Hildasay, he and Jet had to hole up in a crofter’s hut and fend for themselves for months in the wild without any heating or power.
While he was worried that the solitary situation could bring back his anxiety and depression, it turned out that he had found his focus, that the more remote and barren his route had become, the more pride and self respect he discovered within himself.
A moment of reflection on Swanage Beach for Jet
Soulmate Kate spent childhood holidays in Studland
Once lockdown ended and he continued on his way, hiker Kate Barron stumbled across him while on a solo adventure in the highlands of Scotland and the two immediately bonded.
As their journey continued together, Kate fell pregnant and although they carried on the adventure until she was 37 weeks pregnant, she then put the hike on hold and travelled to her spiritual home in Studland, where she had spent childhood holidays.
Magnus was born by C-section on 26th May 2022 in Dorchester Hospital and the couple spent the first weeks getting to know him while living in a yurt within reach of the hospital, which is where Chris started writing his book, Finding Hildasay.
Welcome to Swanage – waiting for Chris and Kate to arrive at Banjo Pier
Writing a book with a new born baby in a yurt
“I had an idea when I started this walk that I wanted to come back happy, but what’s happened has just been unbelievable – it was the best decision I’ve ever made taking those first few steps.
“It’s hard to believe all those years ago I would be holding my very own book – and writing it was an adventure in itself! I did it the old fashioned way with pen and paper, starting it only three days after Magnus was born and often in the middle of the night, in the dark!
“There was no office, no desk, no computer, just me writing by torchlight in a tent – I have been tired many times on this walk but writing a book with a new born baby in a tiny yurt is up there with the best of them!”
Marjorie Edwards (left) organised the welcome party for Chris
“I had to film the town crier singing the Purbeck song”
“The public have been wonderful everywhere, but the welcome I have had in Swanage is amazing, and the town crier even sang a special Purbeck song for us – I just had to film it and will be putting it up on my Facebook page!
“I genuinely couldn’t be happier. Kate and I own a tent and a few bits of equipment and that’s it but you won’t find two happier people – well, three now.”
And baby Magnus makes three as the family heads on to Kimmeridge
Baby Magnus loves being part of the adventure
“The walk is challenging enough in its own right, but it now has the extra logistical difficulties of having a new born baby along with us.
“He had to be bottle fed, so there was the issue of washing and sterilising equipment several times a day, and now he is teething, but I was absolutely determined to carry on.
“He has brought so much joy to the journey and to see him thriving and looking around at all these new experiences with curiosity is amazing – he absolutely loves being part of our adventure!”
The journey now continues on the South West Coast Path to Kimmeridge and beyond, before moving into south Devon. They expect to finish their journey back in south Wales in about five months time.
Follow Chris and family on their adventure along the Jurassic Coast on their Facebook page