Scots former gunner Dan McNeil from Dumfries – on a fundraising walk around the entire UK coastline for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity – is making his way through Wales.
The Dumfries local set off on his personal journey of healing and fundraising more than two years ago. Since walking in Wales, he has visited veterans’ charity Woody’s Lodge in the Vale of Glamorgan, had overnight stops in Porthcawl and Swansea, is taking the Gower in his stride, and has been overwhelmed at the warm welcome and generosity given.
Now 27, Dan joined the British Army at 16 and entered the Royal Artillery, but a combination of factors, including the diagnosis of debilitating autoimmune disease – Ankylosing Spondylitis – saw him leave the Army after five years, and led him to substance abuse and the brink of suicide.
Dan reached out for help, and SSAFA heard his call.
As Dan says: “SSAFA pretty much saved my life. A caseworker came out the next day. We just chatted, I told him my story and he explained how was going to look after me.”
And Dan, when stronger physically and spiritually, decided to repay SSAFA – and pay it forward for other servicemen and women – by embarking on his fundraiser in March 2021.
He is averaging between 15 and 20 miles a day, has now passed Llangennith Beach on the Gower Peninsular in South West Wales, and has found the sunshine and warm weather the best to walk in, describing himself as “… the most tanned Scotsman you’ll ever meet…”.
It is not just the weather Dan has found warm, but the generosity and encouragement given to him. Supporters have met him, given him a bed – and use of a washing machine – for the night, fed and made him feel welcome.
His dogged determination and belief in what he is doing by walking the coastline – it is a journey of healing and one he hopes will inspire others – has many miles to go, but he adds: “Every little act of kindness is simply wonderful to see. It’s amazing. I try to highlight that more than anything else on the walk, because it’s one of the most beautiful things and there’s not a lot of it in the media.
“It helps me pass on the kindness with the donations, because I know the money’s going to make a difference, and probably help people that are in the situation I was at one point. It’s a ripple effect, like chucking a stone in the water.”
Dan has just passed the halfway mark to is fundraising target of £30,000, but he has a long way to go to allow SSAFA – the UK’s oldest tri-service charity – to keep providing the support he and countless serving personnel and veterans, as well as their families, have received since 1885.
To help, donate by clicking justgiving.com/fundraising/danwalksuk and to keep up with his progress, search online for #danwalksuk.
For more information, visit ssafa.org.uk.