For all its trials, lockdown has been a time of reflection. Some of us have returned to the simple pleasures of an old hobby, others have reconnected with distant relatives, while stopping to smell the roses on daily walks has proved invaluable for others.
But for Edinburgh-born actor and riding instructor Louis Hall, who has been based in Fife during the pandemic, this testing period has served as a time to pay tribute to his late friend Leo van Heyningen, who died of cystic fibrosis in 2015 at the age of just 26. On 17 July, Louis plans to embark on an epic 1000-mile horse-ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
The 24-year-old actor has already raised around £3,600, and is hoping to reach his target of £10,000 by the time he reaches Land’s End. He expects the ride – which has been dubbed ‘The Big Hoof’ – to take him around 50 days, averaging 20 miles per day, with a five-year-old Highland mare called Irelanda for company.
‘When I came back to Scotland for lockdown, I realised the amount of people that would be in trouble because of underlying health issues. I just looked around me and realised how lucky I was to have nothing wrong with me in terms of health,’ says Louis.
‘Unfortunately, Leo would have been in a very dangerous place because of COVID-19, so I wanted to use this time to think about it, and use the good fortune of health to do something for those who are in a very scared, anxious place during lockdown. With that privilege of good health, I have a responsibility to people, especially to those like Leo, who I know would have been fighting for others as well in these times.’
Louis is certainly no stranger to a challenge, and his extensive experience with horses will stand him in good stead. Over the last five years, he has ridden through the desert in Alice Springs, above lakes and into the mountains of Kashmir, and across the Sierra Mountains in Andalusia. Nevertheless, he insists this challenge is very different:
‘It’s a very new world we’ve emerged from than the one we went into this lockdown with,’ he explains. ‘The more people find out about this ride, the more I think the reaction will be a positive one of unification. But these are uncertain times, so I can’t foresee how people will react to it entirely.’
That said, gestures of good will are already flooding in his direction, and well-wishers have been eagerly giving him tips on safe routes to take, as well as offering Louis a place to stay for a night along the way. Scottish companies such as Tunnock’s, Mackie’s of Scotland and Glenfiddich have also pledged their support.
Having viewed Leo as a role model when growing up, Louis is determined to make a positive impact on the lives of both cystic fibrosis sufferers and their families. As we begin to see lockdown easing, glimmers of hope like this cast much needed light on darker days past, and the timing of his epic trek could not be more fitting.
‘Leo’s mentality was to be worth the light of every day,’ says Louis. ‘Yes, he had bad health, but there was no way he’d let that get in his way. And with the health that he did have, he used it to help others.’