An Inverness man who survived two strokes – including one in the Peruvian Andes – has battled back to put his best foot forward for charity.
At one point, Douglas Sewell, 61, struggled with everyday things like walking, speaking and eating, but he has since fought back to complete the Scottish National Trail to raise money for Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS) to help other survivors get their lives back on track.
Mr Sewell took just two months to walk the 536-mile route, which stretches from the Borders to Cape Wrath and includes an ascent of around 55,000ft.
As well as family and friends joining him along the way, other stroke survivors also walked part of the journey.
Mr Sewell told STV News that the challenge helped to knock his “stroke on the head”.
The former assistant director of education with Orkney Islands Council said: “I had difficulty speaking, my balance was off and I couldn’t pick things up without dropping them.
“For several years I had extreme fatigue. That was a big blow psychologically.
“Finishing the walk knocks my stroke on its head – it was psychologically important.”
Mr Sewell first suffered a mini-stroke in 2003 while trekking in the Peruvian Andes at around 16,000ft.
To reach the nearest hospital he was strapped onto the back of a horse for ten hours on an arduous journey through the mountains.
He then faced another seven-hour journey by bus – crammed with people, goats and chickens – to be seen by a doctor.
Mr Sewell said: “I was wondering how it was going to end.”
Following the Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA), he was forced to give up his favourite sport – running.
Seven years later, he then suffered a more serious stroke which left him so fatigued that he sometimes had to crawl on his hands and knees to get to bed.
Through the help and support of CHSS nurse Geraldine Ditta, Mr Sewell got back on his feet to restart his hobby of photography.
By taking gradually longer walks and capturing photos along the way, his level of fitness and confidence improved.
Over the past few years, Mr Sewell has developed enough strength and fitness to get on his bike to take part in cycling events across the country.
To gear up for the Scottish National Trail, he completed the Loch Ness Etape in April before setting off on his walk in May.
Mr Sewell said: “I felt that if I could do these two things, back-to-back, then I would have succeeded in knocking the effects of the stroke on the head, once and for all.
“Having said that, it took me nine years to reach that stage of recovery and it was very much touch-and-go on the last day of the walk, over the hills to Cape Wrath.”
During his adventure, Mr Sewell camped and used bothies.
He said: “The first three-and-a-half weeks were mostly dry and sunny with some overnight frosts on occasion.
“The final four weeks were mostly heavy rain, and at times there were very strong winds.
“The paths, where they existed, were inches deep in water, the peatlands were sodden and many of the bogland areas were very difficult to navigate.
“The swollen rivers and burns created a number of difficulties and mostly I was wet from mid-thigh down, having to ford so many waterways.
“Some days I was soaked right through because the rain was so heavy and was being driven by strong winds – so much for expensive, high quality waterproofs.
“And of course, tents and bothies don’t have drying rooms.
“At night I would take off my wet clothes, put on my dry sleeping attire and then, in the morning, put my wet clothes back on before cooking breakfast on my small stove.
“Not the best start to the day.”
Despite the difficult conditions, Mr Sewell loved the walk.
He said: “I really enjoyed the trail and reminded myself of how very beautiful Scotland is, as well as how many remote locations there are.”
Mr Sewell – who is a rehabilitation support volunteer with CHSS – raised around £4500 for the charity.
Lawrence Cowan, director of communications at CHSS, said: “It’s thanks to amazing people like Douglas that we can help more people across Scotland get back to doing the things they love.
“He has gone above and beyond to help others and we are in complete awe of him.
“Through his determination and perseverance he has built incredible strength and it’s just fantastic to see him completing challenges he once thought would be impossible.
“Douglas is the perfect example of no life half lived and an inspiration to us all.”