HOW many islands can you set foot on in the space of two weeks?
That was the question posed by Jim Campbell and Brian Ferguson as they set out on their hitch-hiking, island hopping challenge up the west coast, from Glasgow to the Butt of Lewis, to raise funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
And having concluded their adventures last Thursday – just in time to enjoy the sights, sounds and celebrations of the 2011 Hebridean Celtic Festival – the answer comes in at a staggering 100 islands! “When we started we didn’t really want to put a total on the number of islands we’d get to, but we’d thought maybe around 30 or so,” said Jim. “We’d no idea we’d manage 100 – what a result!”
Having left Glasgow on July 1 to sail ‘doon the watter’ on the world’s oldest sea-going paddle-steamer ‘The Waverley’, Jim and Brian – along with Trusty Thomas, their tartan shopping carrier – spent the next fortnight hitching their way up the coast, through the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and searching out willing volunteers to help them reach as many islands as possible.
Explained Brian: “The whole trip was to be a hitch – we decided from the very beginning not to take any buses and the only public transport we took was CalMac ferries.
“Generally the hitch-hiking element was great, and the people who helped us were superb. As we moved on, it seemed that more and more people had seen media coverage about the trip and wanted to help us out any way they could.”
Jim added: “We felt really touched that virtual strangers would go out of their way to help us. We have to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped us out along the way.”
And it seems that the kind-hearted folks of the Western Isles were the real reason for the phenomenal amount of islands reached by the pair as arriving on Barra on Saturday, July 9, the total stood at only 28.
“We’d been to Barra before, so we knew some folk there and one guy set us up with two different people who took us out and got us another 18 islands,” said Brian.
“But the big day was Wednesday [July 20] when the guys at Seatrek in Uig took us around 31 islands!
“We told them that we’d been taken to 18 islands in Barra, and we could sense a bit of competition. It was good weather when we arrived and Seatrek had two different boats in operation, so it was a great sight to see the two boats zapping through the water with us jumping on and off various islands!”
Reaching Stornoway at a total of 95 and with the HebCelt beginning the following day and a hitch to the Butt of Lewis still to secure, Jim and Brian thought that their 31 island experience may have been the last.
But it was not to be as father and son Roddy and Alasdair Maclean urged them to make 100 by taking them out on one last journey around the coast of Lochs to scoop the final five, the last island of which was Tannaraidh.
“We’d thought 31 islands in one day had been tough going, so although it was brilliant to get another five, we were knackered,” said Brian. “It was brilliant though because we ended the challenge getting dropped off back at Stornoway harbour, sailing into Stornoway at sunset, something we’ve always wanted to do, with the HebCelt tent visible on the Castle Green!”
Raising money for the RNLI throughout their hitch-hiking, island-hopping adventures – and having reached a total of over £1,400 at the end of last week – Brian and Jim called into the Stornoway station for its Open Day, which took place this year over Thursday and Friday (July 14 and 15) afternoons and saw an amazing total of 971 visitors to the station and lifeboat.
Added Jim: “The RNLI just seemed the perfect choice because of the huge role it plays in protecting islanders and visitors to the island – and doing the challenge it became apparent just how perfect a choice it was.
“We always felt very secure on the boats, but being on that many in such a short time just makes you realise how things can go wrong very easily and very quickly. It made me realise the importance of the job that the RNLI and its volunteers do every day.”
To find out more about Jim and Brian’s HitchHopping challenge, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/HitchHop, and to reward the fellas for their achievement and donate to the RNLI, log onto www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/hitchhop