This post has been written to serve two purposes. The first is to reassure you all that I am still here and very much well after a wonderful two weeks off. No post writing, no internet and little mobile phone coverage. But coming home to Scotland brought email and mobile telephones to life, and reminded me that it was about time I wrote you a post and brought you all up to date. So the second reason for this post is simply to introduce you to one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

My wife and I have sadly divorced.  We separated on the 05th April 2015, which while battling through the 18 months of brutal treatment of brain surgery, radiotherapy and 12 months of chemotherapy left me broken, with nothing but my faith and the challenge to keep me sane.


On the 03rd October 2015 I was bumping along the bottom with a fixed smile on my face when I accidently sat in a woman’s chair on a train to London.  I hadn’t realised that the seat booking system on these modern Virgin trains was no longer done by white ticket in the back of the seat. I hadn’t realised that seats were shown as booked by an electronic display on the overhead storage. So when I got on the train in Stirling I was delighted to see that I could sit on any seat that I wanted. I chose one next to the window and sat in it. Just as the train was preparing to pull out of Edinburgh I heard a nervous voice say, ‘excuse me’. I looked up and saw a woman across the seat stood in the aisle. ‘Yes?’ I asked. ‘I am afraid that you are in my seat,’ she replied. ‘No, the seat wasn’t booked’ I replied. ‘Yes, it was’ she replied as she pointed at the new seating reservation system. I felt like such a fool so, apologising profusely, I stood up to give her her seat. Stood in the aisle I looked around for a seat to sit in, but there were now only two left in the whole carriage. One at the far end of the carriage, and the one next to this woman. I asked if I could sit in it to which, of course, she agreed. So I sat, and settled in for the journey. I have met many wonderful people on train journeys: such as Caroline Barrowman who came and gave me such great advice for the challenge, and the wonderful Mirren Robertson, who has also offered much wonderful advice and joined me on a walk, to name just two, and I have introduced the challenge to many wonderful people simply by talking to them. So I decided, especially after such an awkward meeting, to introduce myself to this woman. Allie was a PhD student in Theology at Edinburgh University. We had a shared faith, as I have had with many that I have met on this journey, so I decided to introduce her to the challenge. Shortly after finishing, we arrived in Newcastle and Allie alighted. I said farewell and moved back across to the window. As I did so I thought on the conversation that we had just had. Allie was sat on my deaf side, so to hear her, I had to look directly at her, and as I did so I sensed that something just wasn’t quite right; that there was either a crisis of confidence or a deep sadness within her. But there was nothing that I could do other than hope that she would come and join me on the journey. Perhaps I could provide some inspiration, hope and encouragement for her to help her tackle whatever was troubling her.

 Allie and I at Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Allie and I at Aldeburgh, Suffolk

The very next day I received this wonderful message:

‘Dear Archie, It was a real privilege to meet you on the train yesterday. I hope you had a safe onward journey to London and have enjoyed your weekend. I want to apologise for asking you to swap seats so I was sitting by the window! I realise now that it made it much harder for you to hear me, something of course I only began to understand as we talked, but I’m sorry. Our conversation was such an encouragement, and a real inspiration to me. I quite often pray at the start of my day that God will have His hand over my conversations that day. I did that yesterday morning, and I have such a sense that God answered that prayer with our conversation. I ended up reading all your Facebook posts when I got home from Newcastle last night – without a glass of wine, coffee, not even a glass of water! But once I started reading (I went back to the beginning of the Facebook page) I couldn’t stop until I got to the most recent post. Your strength and determination is inspiring. I needed a tissue when I watched the video this afternoon – my Grandma, who was very special to me, used to love the ‘Go forth into the world in peace’ blessing too. Facebook will probably tell you that I have shared your page. As a student with no income, I’m not able to sponsor you at the moment, but I can and certainly will pray for you, and for what God is doing in and through you. Thank you for sharing your story with me yesterday. I pray that your scan on Tuesday will bring good news. ‘May the Lord of peace give you peace at all times and in every way’ (2 Thessalonians 3:16) Allie’

Allie continued to support me and sent me wonderful words of encouragement when she sensed through the wording of a post that perhaps I needed support. As she did so, I discovered that she had never been up Arthur’s Seat, yet lived in Edinburgh. So I sent this:

‘Dear Allie Thank you so very much for your generous comments but the privilege is all mine for having you join me on my journey. As a thank you for being so supportive I would love to come to Edinburgh and take you up Arthur’s Seat if you would like. I could happily count it as a challenge day so just let me know if you would like that. I would not be at all upset if you would rather not so please do not feel that you have to. The offer of using the challenge for your phd or frankly any reason remains a very open one. Do not feel the need to ask at any time – just use whatever has or will pop up that maybe of use. The phd sounds fascinating and couldn’t be more relevant. With the winter coming it is the perfect time to get stuck in to the books. Good luck with it. Beautiful day here but an admin and gym day today. Needed to catch up the ‘in-tray’ and rest the body. The bike’s coming out tomorrow I think!! God bless you too, Archie xx’

Even though this deaf, random man with a brain tumour and epilepsy could have been an axe murderer, she agreed to come, and when I realised that I was walking the Blackford and Braid Hills in Edinburgh on the 19th of October, I invited her on that too. She agreed to come and met me at Haymarket station.

I had had 4 quite powerful seizures in the days running up to this walk so I was slightly unsure of myself as we met at Haymarket station. We shook hands nervously and I asked how she was and received an unconvincing ‘okay’. I sensed that something was up but now wasn’t the time to ask, so we headed off for Blackford Hill. I was feeling a little off balance so was really happy when Allie offered to navigate through the city, while I explained what to do should I have an epileptic seizure. I showed her how to get a grid from the Global Positioning System that I carried, and how to make an emergency phone call from my telephone. I explained what types of seizure to call an ambulance for and what to not to have to worry about! So safety briefing over I struggled to orientate my map as I fought to get my brain in gear. Eventually we set off, and as we walked I dug a little deeper and asked her if she was really okay. Allie explained that she was but after working for 16 years in a busy office, then doing a Master’s degree, she was now living at home on her own and working from home on her PhD on her own so was just lonely. I asked Allie why she was single. Allie told me that she had given her heart to two other men and that her love was never returned. She had found being single difficult, and had prayed for God to change the desires of her heart to be married. That he had done just that, so she was happy as a single woman and was not in any way looking for somebody else. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. This really was just friends walking. Then to try and reassure Allie I confirmed that I too was not looking for somebody. I told her about the separation and impending divorce. That after the pain of divorce, executed during the depths of my brutal 18 months of medical treatment, and which was continuing to threaten to drag me away into the deep dark waters of despair, I had no wish to get married again. Equally, I explained that I came with a very short shelf life thanks to the prognosis of the brain tumour, and that I was a complete liability with the epilepsy. I couldn’t drive, had no money left and was classed as unemployable. So if I fell in love with somebody, how could I possibly ever ask that person to love me back. I would be far too harsh a burden to ask anyone to carry. No, I could never do that, so I was not looking for anyone either. We walked on, and towards the end of the walk, as if to confirm everything that I had said previously, I had a powerful and overwhelming partial seizure which gave me cause to want to push on past a golf course clubhouse that had given me a very strong sensation, that something most unpleasant had happened there in the past. Allie supported me through that seizure and to the end of the hill walk. We sat and had a packed lunch then walked back to Haymarket station before parting with a farewell hug of appreciation and thanks for looking after me and not running away. At the end of the post for day 41 I promised Allie that I would try and be a little more with it next week as we climb Arthur’s seat.

The following couple of days I had some more seizure activity. Quite powerful seizures which I reported on the challenge Facebook page and knew that Allie had read so I wasn’t sure if she was going to want to come to climb Arthur’s Seat with me, but on the 26th October 15 we met up and had the most wonderful climb, meeting lots of wonderful people, enjoying a glorious view over Edinburgh, and then when it was nearly time to push on off the hill in order to get back in time for the train, Allie had a better idea and asked if she could pray with me on top of the hill. She had found a quieter corner and so we settled on a rock, linked arms and bowed our heads in prayer, the soft breeze ruffling the hair on my head with the gentle noises of Edinburgh life in the background from far below. Allie spoke beautifully and made a pleasant moment very special.

On the 27th October 15 I was off to Eyemouth to walk the St Abbs Head. By this time I truly was bumping along the bottom. The sadness of knowing that I was going to have to leave the children and trying to find somewhere else to live, with little money and a terminal disease, was biting hard. Yet as I finished my 12th month of chemotherapy after the brain surgery and radiotherapy, we moved ever closer to finalising the legal wranglings of the separation. Everything I saw or thought was through a dense fog which only lifted while walking, but returned most evenings back in the house as the enormity of what I was facing bit. I never admitted to Allie the depth of sadness, despair and loneliness that I was starting to feel. The only two small bubbles of oxygen keeping me alive as I bumped along the bottom of the river of despair were the wonderful people, like Allie, that I was meeting on the challenge, and my faith. I was close to drowning. I was lost in a trance. Bumping along the bottom with nothing but sadness and loneliness in my head. Faced by the turned back of my wife, with no apparent role in life as I faced homelessness, the loss of my children, and a slow and relentless march towards an early demise, my subconscious thoughts turned towards just letting go. I was standing on a very tall cliff face in my trance, being pulled towards the edge, mesmerised by the water below. But as the wind whistled up the face of the cliff, it caught a strap on my daysack which slapped me with such force across my face that it woke me from my depressive trance. I reeled back in shock and felt God’s hand at work in my salvation. I suddenly realised what had been staring me in the face, that a number of people needed me. That I had so far inspired a number of people to fight against whatever ails them. That I had a new role in life to provide further, hope, inspiration and encouragement, so I freed myself from these enormous great burdens that were dragging me down. I kicked for the water’s surface. I took a great big gulp of air and resolved to be there for all those that needed me. Allie was lonely. Desperately lonely. She needed me. As I reeled back from the cliff face I met the most amazing person, Matt Beresford, who with his immediate encouragement and that of his friends kept me walking to the river bank and away from this deep dark depression.

Over the next few months Allie and I managed another couple of walks together in between more seizures, my desperate hunt for somewhere else to live, medical appointments, Allie’s PhD requirements, and Christmas, which I spent at Mum’s.

On the 18th January 2016 my prayers for somewhere else to live were answered and I was offered a flat in Doune, to rent initially and then buy when I manage to get a mortgage sorted. It truly was an answer to prayer and lifted a huge burden from my shoulders. I could stay close by to the children.

As time wore on, however, I was having a growing sense of a need to take the challenge into an expeditionary mode. I was having dreams and visions of me travelling by myself, staying in village halls as I walked huge distances around the country. I was simultaneously energised by these visions, but at the same time was seeing it as a very sad and lonely existence. I was confused so decided to seek counsel from Allie. Was this guidance from God or was this just me seeking a distraction from my troubles? Allie was worried that I was just trying to run away from my troubles. My Rector Alison said the same and advised me to push against the door and see what happens. If it was in God’s plan, it would happen. If it was not, then you will find yourself facing many hurdles that appear impassable. Test it. So I did, and sure enough, for every email I sent out to try and organise the first expedition I got the sum total of no replies. None at all. Not even one. It was perhaps rude, but more importantly, it proved to me that God had something totally different planned for me.

On the 21st February, I called Allie after a most excellent sermon by Bishop David in St Modoc’s Church in Doune. His sermon inspired me to reignite the idea of taking the challenge into expeditionary mode. I called Allie to tell her in my excitement but as I did so I heard a deep sadness in her voice and then from deep within me bubbled up the most extraordinary words that fell out of my mouth as I cried on the phone. ‘Allie I Love You.’ There was silence and I suddenly realised what I had just said. In my foggy head I tried to quantify this crashing statement so continued, ‘errr, like my sister.’ Clearly what I was trying to say, through a deep fog made thicker by deep emotion, was quite simply that I loved her like a dear friend, a brother or a sister. It didn’t quite come out that way though. Allie was very understanding and kind to me as I tried to explain but as the conversation ended I wondered what had just happened. I couldn’t love her. I mustn’t love her because I could never ask her to take me on like this. It would be far too cruel. I deeply respected her. I deeply valued her friendship and support. I loved the way that she could sense when I was struggling and send me a perfectly placed and timed message of scripture, or an inspirational quote from herself or elsewhere, that just kept me afloat. I loved the way that as I thought that I was helping her, that really, all the time, she was helping me. I really started to question myself. I had to think on it hard. I had to be sure for both our sakes. Did I love her? Did I?

On the 26th February 2016 I spent my first night in the flat, away from the children and lonely, but determined to make it a home in which the children could come and stay. So I started scrubbing it with the entire village’s supply of sugar soap and on the 05th March Allie sensed that I was struggling so came over to help me scrub the kitchen.

On the 12th March, after a really difficult two weeks, we met up. I had been resting after a fall on the Ochils in which I damaged my liver capsule, but after two weeks of flat-scrubbing, I had to do a walk. I called Allie and we agreed on a gentle walk in Gullane. It was great to see her again and as I turned the gentle walk into a scramble over the rocks to test my ribs, Allie mucked in without a hint of complaint. With determination etched on her face she scrambled over the rocks too. As I waited for her to finish the last bit of the scramble and descend down the last rock to join me on the beach, I again felt a welling of emotion in me. As she dropped down off the rock in front of me, I took her face in my hands, and so very nearly kissed her. I realised what I was about to do so stopped myself. I couldn’t sweep her off her feet like this. It was wrong of me. If I did love her, which I was really starting to suspect that I did, then I shouldn’t ask her to love me back. I couldn’t load all my burdens onto her. I was just going to have to love her in silence.

I had been given a pair of tickets for a choral recital on 20th March in Killin. We both loved choral music and I couldn’t get to and back from the concert on public transport. I had a pair of tickets so I asked Allie to join me. She came and joined me for tea at my new flat as I fed the children too. The children had met Allie before when we took them both to Handel’s Messiah in Edinburgh, so the children were relaxed and put together a brilliant song with them both singing and James playing the piano as we made tea. It was beautiful to listen to them both from the kitchen, especially when we were given a recital after tea. After the children’s recital they walked home while I packed for my trip to go walking in the Lake District with my sister Isla and brother-in-law Rob. Allie washed up. I finished packing and as I did so, this overwhelming feeling became too much. I went back to the sitting room and told Allie that there was one more thing on my list of jobs to do. As Allie stood by the door I walked up to her. Looked her in the eyes and asked very nervously if I may kiss her. She replied, very gently, yes. So we kissed. Gently, but lovingly, and then Allie told me quite breathlessly that she had never been kissed before. That made that kiss all the more precious for us both so I took her in my arms. Held her close. Kissed her again, so very gently, and told her that I loved her….We had to go to the concert, and as Allie drove I questioned myself for what had just happened. Again I was frightened that I was asking far too much of Allie but as we walked to the village hall in Killin, we held hands and it just felt right.

The following week I had a wonderful week walking with Isla and Rob in the Lake District and seeing all the places that were so very special to them both as they told me of their love story. That made me want to tell Isla what had happened with Allie, and when I did she asked me one very important question, ‘Did she tell you that she loves you back?’ I was completely caught out by this question and mumbled a non-committal response of ‘sort of’. But I knew that what I had done with Allie might have been the worst sort of thing for me to have ever done. I couldn’t become a burden on her when she was working so hard on her PhD to secure her future. She hadn’t yet said I love you back and I didn’t want her too. I actually did. I so desperately did. But because I loved her, I didn’t want her to love me back.

On the 29th March I had another MRI scan back in Edinburgh and asked to meet up with Allie for lunch afterwards. We met up at the National Gallery and at that lunch, surrounded by chatting couples, and with tears in my eyes, I stared deep into Allie’s eyes and confirmed that I loved her so very much but that she mustn’t feel that she had to love me back. I had no money, epilepsy, poor balance, poor hearing and a very short shelf life. The future for me is most uncertain so I was so very wrong to fall in love with you and even worse to tell you. I almost pleaded with her not to love me back. I was too much to bear for her. I presented her with a metaphorical ‘get out of jail free card’ and explained how I completely understood if she wanted to remain nothing more than good friends. She gave me the good grace of listening to me, so very quietly, and with such understanding, and then once lunch was over, we went our separate ways. I was shaken by the emotion of what I had to ask of her, but it was the right thing to do even though I felt so very rotten for doing it.

On the 01st April I was back in Edinburgh to listen to Allie perform with the choir in the New College end of term service. It was a wonderful service and as we walked to lunch in Browns on George Street the conversation flowed but I was so very nervous. I felt awkward for what I had done to her and for what I was asking of her, but Allie showed nothing of my awkwardness. Lunch ensued and we talked some more, all the time with me dancing around the subject that I could not ignore, my declaration of love and desire for Allie not to love me back. True to form, I needed the loo. I made my apologies then went downstairs to the loo. As I came back up, the stairs looked directly at the table on which we were sat. Allie was sitting on a tall bench seat, her legs crossed and swinging her leg in what looked like nervous anticipation. Allie was sitting, her head bowed as she hunched over the table deep in thought, but then looked up at me as I stood on the stairs watching her. She beckoned me over, and as I saw the serious expression on her face, my heart sank. I sensed that this was going to be bad news. As the restaurant rushed around me I made my way slowly over to take a seat on the bench next to Allie. I swallowed nervously and sat. ‘Yes?’ I asked. Allie turned her head to look back at me. She sat up, leaned closer and staring me straight in the eyes stated so very simply, ‘I love you too’. The restaurant stopped rushing. Time stopped for a brief moment as I struggled to understand the level of courage and devotion that Allie was showing at this very moment. With those four simple words Allie had committed herself to a most uncertain future. She was throwing herself into the ring with me. This was the moment in which I once again believed that I could beat the beast. I had to beat the beast. The tears flowed and my nose ran. She believed in me. She truly believed in me.

As the months progressed so we confirmed our intent to be each other’s ‘third leg’. A stool with only two legs is unstable and will fall over; give it a third leg and it will hold whatever burden is placed upon it. In a sense I felt that God had brought us together at our greatest hours of need. I was to support, inspire and encourage Allie through her PhD and beyond, and Allie was to support, inspire and encourage me on my fight, now our fight to beat the beast. We were never to be alone again until death do us part and that was going to be years away.

I thought it important that Allie understood entirely what she was getting herself into so I invited her to my oncology appointments, my ENT appointments, my epilepsy review appointments and scans. But I also had to look at my end of life care plans so invited Allie to walk around the Erskine Hospital in Edinburgh with me while I made plans to make an expression of interest for the future. I wanted a second opinion and, while the facilities and levels of care at Erskine were first class, this tour and introduction to the facilities followed by a quick chat about the end of life administration that is required to be done, living wills et al, was hard to fully comprehend. We walked back to the car on this blustery day and got in. The wind buffeted the car and rocked us from side to side. As we looked at each other, numb from the shocking realisation of what all this might mean in the future, possibly near future, we just burst into tears. We sat there and sobbed. But Allie didn’t run away. She determined to stay with me, and when I asked her why, she told me of the brilliant advice given to her by a friend of hers who had loved, then lost to cancer, the most wonderful husband and father to her children. ‘Allie, If I was to be offered those seventeen years again, despite knowing that I would have to suffer the pain of his loss again, I would have taken the seventeen years. To hear it as advice from someone who truly knew the pain of its meaning was powerful advice indeed.

On the 07th June 2016 while having a late lunch after a walk in the Pentlands and sheltering from the rain in Allie’s car I suggested to her that perhaps we shouldn’t take this further. My fear was that the care costs for a place at Erskine were more than I can afford once all my pension and war disablement pension are taken into account. So if we were linked financially in some way, wouldn’t they then look to Allie to cover the outstanding balance? That could leave her without a roof over her head and I just couldn’t do that to her. Perhaps we shouldn’t take this any further. Allie’s eyes welled up as she made a very clear statement. ‘I am not going to consider not loving you based merely on a principle of finances. No way!’ My love for this woman grew even stronger and we resolved to seek financial advice.

So on the 08th June we met with Alex Dockar of St James’ Place in Edinburgh and his legal advisor, Karen. Alex was well aware of my medical background so I brought Karen up to speed on the brain tumour and then both of them up to speed on who Allie was. I explained my conundrum about wanting to protect Allie’s flat from my care costs and then Karen, through watery eyes looked at Alex. They nodded in agreement and turned to us before saying, almost in unison, that ‘as your financial and legal advisors, the best form of advice we can give you is to get married!!’ This made us laugh heartily and got my head thinking. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, but when Allie came to Doune to meet my older cousins Nick and Anne and my Aunt Janet, Nick declared her to be the best thing that had ever happened to me. Aunt Janet declared her a treasure and in numerous café’s Allie was frequently referred to as my wife. We obviously looked comfortable together as we met up for coffee and I started to realise that perhaps this relationship was moving inevitably towards something more permanent, but I had been advised by my lawyer not to rush her, that as she had been single almost her entire life, I needed to give her time to adjust.

It was time to meet the family so on the 10th June 2016, I took Allie to my nephew’s christening. It was a resounding success in which sister Isla gave her a huge thumbs up and brother Harry had a long conversation with her in which he expressed his admiration for taking me on! Mum gave her a huge thumbs up too.

On the 13th June, as we returned back to Scotland, we stopped at Deborah and Pete’s house for tea. As a friend of Allie’s, Deborah was looking for the ring pull on a coke can before we could leave!

On the 28th June I took Allie to my MRI scan in which the elderly nurse who had scanned me several times before, and was used to me turning up on my own, asked who Allie was. I told her that she was my girlfriend. The nurse turned to me and said very gently. ‘She has a lovely aura. You must marry her!’

On the 06th July we went to my oncology clinic in which, after being introduced to Allie as my girlfriend, my oncologist said quite bluntly and with excitement in her voice. ‘Great news about the two of you. Remember that everything is much easier if you’re married!’

On the 10th July I met Allie’s mother. Her advice: ‘Grab some happiness whilst you can.’

When I told my children, over tea in the flat, that I was going out with Allie, nervous about what they might say, they replied in unison. ‘Gosh Dad! That was totally obvious. We guessed ages ago. Everyone has!’ When I asked how come, Heather replied simply, ‘Dad, I could see by the way you were looking at her. You were flirting with her outrageously. You were both flirting.’ James agreed, ‘You so were Dad.’ I must have gone bright red as I asked, ‘Really? Was I really?’ ‘Totally!’ came the giggling reply which was finished with, ‘but we really like her Dad.’ As tea finished and they both hugged me farewell, their hugs felt like the sort of hug a father would give their child to say well done. My eyes watered as I realised that Allie had secured approval from the two most important people in my life.

Later on brother Harry told me of a conversation he had had with Allie at my nephew’s christening in which Allie said, ‘I know that Archie is a gift to me, but I don’t know how long I’ll have it for. So the choice is to turn around and turn down the gift, or accept it gratefully without knowing how long you’ll have it for.’   

On being told that I had heard of this conversation Allie clarified her meaning to me. ‘The difficult bit is that I just don’t know how long I might have you for. I know that is the same for all of us but it is different when it comes with a known unknown.’ I understood entirely that my prognosis makes it much harder to deal with.

The reality?  The reality is that the gift is to me. Allie has been gifted to me. Not me to her. So I must do all I can to become a gift, rather than a burden to her.  At a time in which I was expecting to die a very sad and lonely death, I have been given another chance and the tumour is showing as stable, so who knows what the future will bring?! 

But in the words sent to us by Allie’s friend Shirley, ‘Grab at life today with both hands and let the future rest with God.’

I will of course keep you posted. 

Yours aye

A very happy Archie