Simon Barnett & Phil Gifford Afternoons •

Hiker shelters from virus on deserted Scottish island

Simon Barnett & Phil Gifford Afternoons

What happens when you're nearly three years into the middle of a 8,700 mile hike, you've given up your home, you have no money -- and then coronavirus stops the world in its tracks?
That was the dilemma facing Christian Lewis when his quest to walk every twist and turn of the British coastline to raise money for charity was suddenly derailed by the arrival of the pandemic.
Lewis, from Swansea in South Wales, set off in the summer of 2017, with just $12 in his pocket. Picking up a companion -- a dog named Jet -- along the way, he arrived on the remote Scottish Shetland islands in March just as the UK was placed under restrictions.
With no home to go to and only a flimsy tent for protection in one of the most northerly and windswept parts of the country, he could've been in trouble.
Instead, thanks to the kindness of complete strangers, he's found himself in arguably one of the best places on the planet to sit out the crisis -- a cottage on a tiny island all to himself.
"It is just super. I couldn't be in a better place for a lockdown," Lewis tells CNN from Hildasay island. "There's nothing here but a few sheep and an array of birds."
One of the Scalloway Islands, Hildasay measures less than half a square mile and has been largely uninhabited since the late 19th century.
'I couldn't be in a better place'
Lewis receives deliveries of water from local fisherman called Victor and forages for food. He makes the occasional boat trip to the Shetland mainland for other supplies.
"To get back to the mainland is only about a half hour by small boat," he says. "But that stretch of sea is not the nicest, so we really have to pick and choose our days when we get back."
Lewis began his journey on August 1, 2017 at Llangennith Beach, Swansea, before heading up the west coast towards Scotland. He then took a brief detour to Northern Ireland to return a message in a bottle thrown into the Irish Sea two decades ago, which he found washed up along the Scottish Coast.
While there, he decided to walk the coast of Northern Ireland, before returning to Scotland, including Shetland archipelago, which lies in 100 miles north of the mainland, deep in the North Atlantic.
Lewis was close to completing the Shetland Islands, which has 300 islands and skerries, of which only 16 are inhabited, when he learned he could go no further because of coronavirus restrictions.
While he managed to avoid ongoing news reports about the pandemic on his travels, he'd picked up various bits of information from people he'd encountered while walking.
Island life
"I knew the lockdown was coming," he explains. "I had to make a real decision. I can't go home, because I have no home to go to.
"So with the help of some fellow Shetland people, who lent me a boat, I came to the island and started living off the land.
"I can walk down now, and I'll have a whole plate full of mussels if I want them, so I've got no worries there."
Although he was originally staying in a tent, Lewis was later given the keys to an empty house after news that he was camping on the remote island spread to its owners, who were happy to help.
"It hasn't got electric or gas," he says. "It's just very basic. But it's out of the wind, and it's got a nice fire.
"We're (he and Jet) going to be here for the foreseeable future."
Under the current restrictions, people in the UK are only allowed to leave their homes for significant reasons, such as shopping for basic necessities, to take one form of exercise per day, deal with any medical needs, or provide care or help to a vulnerable person.
The UK government also advises to remain "two meters apart from anyone outside of your household," something Lewis need not worry about while being a boat ride away from any form of human contact.
While he'd be forgiven for being disappointed his ambitious trek has been put on hold indefinitely, Lewis is taking a laissez-faire attitude to the whole thing, which is how he's approached the walk since the beginning....
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