Recipients of the Great Wilderness Challenge funds show off their cheques. Photo: Gary Williamson

Recipients of the Great Wilderness Challenge funds show off their cheques. Photo: Gary Williamson

A Highland challenge event that began as a ‘one-off’ fundraiser 31 years ago has brought in more than £3m for local charities.

Organisers of the Great Wilderness Challenge this week handed over £162,000 to 19 different groups, including the main beneficiary the Highland Hospice.

The event involves a 25-mile (40km) walk or run from Dundonnell to Poolewe in the north-west Highlands. Shorter routes are also available during the fundraiser, including 13-mile walks and runs and a seven-mile walk. Two new challenges involving 2.8-mile and 1.4-mile routes for people with limited mobility have also been introduced.

Since its inception in 1986, £3.6m has been raised for charities and voluntary groups in the area.

Chair of the organisation Eric Thomson said at the handover: “It is always encouraging to see the distribution of funds to those people and charities which the Great Wilderness Challenge seeks to assist.

“It is, essentially, the end result and the moment we all work towards. Today is the first time we have gathered together some of the agencies who represent the charities we support and such a gathering can only serve to further motivate us all to continue with the good work.

“Last year we saw the introduction of the event for limited-mobility participants, a brainchild of Birgit Joost, a physiotherapist practising in the Gairloch area. Birgit has already done a tremendous amount for the community and this latest, and popular initiative is now set to continue, and we are sure it will prove to be effective in the years ahead.

“As always, the needs that we seek to address continue to grow and to help us meet those challenges we urge anyone who would care to take part in a great and rewarding event to contact us through the GWC website. I promise you will not regret it.”

Andrew Leaver of the Highland Hospice said: “Over the past few years the contribution from the challenge has been enough to pay for two full-time hospice nurses each year. We are hugely grateful to the organising committee and all the participants for this support.”

The hospice received £73,000 from the event this year. Other major beneficiaries were Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers with £38,150; Crossroads Skye, £10,000; Clic Sargent, £9,000 and Gairloch Age & Mobility Support, £7,000. The smallest donation was to the Tailor Ed Foundation, which received £530.

In early 1986, plans were mooted to provide hospice care in the Highlands for the first time. The Highland Hospice Appeal was set up to raise funds for the project, and a Highland-wide campaign was launched in support of this initiative.

A small group of friends in Poolewe and Aultbea, some of whom had recently lost relatives to cancer, decided to do something to help. A sponsored walk was the vehicle chosen to raise funds, and arrangements were quickly made to organise what would become known as the Great Wilderness Challenge.

The first staging of the event took place on Saturday 23 August 1986. It featured 178 walkers and runners undertaking the arduous 25-mile mountain trek from Dundonnell to Poolewe. It passed off successfully, and £6,200 in sponsorship was raised for the Highland Hospice Appeal.

The event was originally intended as a one-off, but such was the popularity and success of the first that participants and marshals clamoured for a repeat. The Great Wilderness Challenge became an annual event and has been held every year since 1986.

This year’s challenge will take place on Saturday 12 August. More details are on the Great Wilderness Challenge website.

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