Shetland: Former paratrooper self-isolating on uninhabited Hildsay

A former British paratrooper is isolating on an uninhabited Shetland island after lockdown measures were introduced midway through a fundraising challenge to walk the UK coastline.

Chris Lewis has walked 12,000 miles after setting off from near his home in Swansea in August 2017.

He has now been given special permission to live in the one house on Hildasay, along with his dog Jet.

The 108-hectare island sits off the west coast of the Shetland mainland.

The 39-year-old was sleeping in a tent on mainland Shetland when lockdown restrictions were imposed on 23 March to limit the spread of coronavirus.

‘Kindly given a boat’

However, he and Jet were taken to Hildasay by boat and have remained there ever since.

Their new home is a former shepherd’s hut without running water, heating or electricity. He was offered the keys by the family of the man who owns it after they heard he was camping.

After lockdown restrictions are lifted, Mr Lewis and Jet will continue their journey around the UK coastline to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity – with donations already reaching almost £98,000.

“I’ve mainly been in isolation for the past two years due to the nature of the places we’ve been walking,” he said.

“When I heard there was going to be a lockdown, I was kindly given a boat to get over to Hildasay, which is an uninhabited island.

“I thought it would be better if I wasn’t on the mainland – I didn’t want to be in the way.”

‘Happiest I’ve ever been’

Since then, Mr Lewis has survived thanks to a regular boat drop bringing fresh water and coal.

He said he collects driftwood, forages and fishes for his food, and always makes sure he has a three-week supply of dog food for Jet.

Hildasay has been uninhabited since the late 19th Century, with Mr Lewis and Jet joined only by 15 sheep and thousands of birds.

“It has really given me a chance to enjoy the island,” he said.

“I’m able to reflect on the walk so far, just realising what this has done to help me personally and the amount of amazing people there are in the UK.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Almost 40,000 people have been following Mr Lewis’s journey on a Facebook page, Chris Walks the UK.

Mr Lewis said he struggled to cope with life on “civvy street” after leaving the Parachute Regiment and finding himself homeless.

He slept on the street and in cars before SSAFA, which he describes as “truly amazing”, stepped in to help.

He set off from Llangennith beach on the Gower Peninsula with just £10 in his pocket and a few days of supplies to raise money for the charity.

When he is able to resume his fundraising challenge, Mr Lewis will make his way to the north of Scotland before heading down the east coast of the UK.