Norman Yarrow defied Parkinson’s Disease to talk the 212 miles of the coast-to-coast Southern Upland Way.
In doing so, the Gullane man raised £320,000 for charity, and won the charity Cure Parkinsons Fundraiser of the Year award for ‘going that extra mile’ in fundraising.
What made you decide to do your fundraising walk?
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago. It was a complete shock as you can imagine. 2013 had been a bad year, I had been diagnosed with a tumour on my right lung and had to have a third of the lung removed. I have a big scar on the right-hand side of my body and following the operation I had this numbness, but I just thought it was related to my operation. My doctor arranged an appointment with a neurologist who said within five minutes of the meeting, ‘you have Parkinson’s Disease’.
After you got over the initial shock, what did you do?
I didn’t know much about the disease but my wife’s uncle, who was quite a successful entrepreneur down in London, had Parkinson’s and his family were very involved in the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, which uses all its fundraising for research. It is a small charity founded by an inspirational guy called Tom Isaacs who got Parkinson’s Disease at 27 and walked the whole coastline of Britain to raise money for the charity. The trust is very different from Parkinson’s UK, which is a big national charity with nurses and support groups, so I decided to raise money for both.
What made you decide to walk the Southern Upland Way?
A lot of people are familiar with the West Highland Way and the Caledonian Challenge but because a lot of people had never done the Southern Upland, they said they’d come and join me.
So how was the walk and how long did it take you?
We started on 21 April 2015 and finished on 4 May. I wanted to finish it on the bank holiday weekend because I have various friends in the South and I have children living in London, so I wanted to make a long weekend of it. It was 215 miles through snow, rain, hail, sunshine – everything. On the first weekend I think there were about 40-plus people with me, including Fred Macauley. We started in glorious sunshine, had snow and hail in Wanlockhead, so it was bleak up there, but we had a lovely last day with around 100 people walking, including Gavin Hastings and his wife Diane, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago. The day before, when we were walking from Lauder to Longformacus, we had torrential rain. I didn’t think I was going to make it the second last day. I got very cold and hypothermic because I was wet right down to my underpants. About four or five miles before our lunch stop I just couldn’t keep going. I was beside my lawyer who had a flask of coffee and we got some chocolate down me, and five minutes later I was back on my feet, thank goodness. It would have been very frustrating if I had done 85% of it and had to give up at the last minute. All in all, we raised £320,000 for the charities.
Will some of that money go towards research?
Yes. There’s actually a lot of research going on in Scotland. Dr Tilo Kunath has a team working on stem cell research at Edinburgh University, there is a big trial going on, led by neurologist Dr Donald Grosset, in Glasgow, and there is also research going on in Aberdeen, so there is a lot to be hopeful for. I’m actually fine at the moment – I can still drive, walk, play golf and work, but the long-term outlook is fairly uncertain, although there may be some developments in the next few years. But there is no point in sitting back in the chair and feeling sorry for yourself, you just have to get on with life.
(This feature was originally published in 2015)