Newton Stewart man cycles the length of Scotland in memory of his late wife

Stephen Varney
Stephen Varney

Last Saturday Stephen Varney, from Newton Stewart, known in the local cycling community as Nipper, rode his bike the length of Scotland in less than a day to raise money for charity in memory of his late wife.

From the Kyle of Tongue on the North Coast down to Coldstream on the England border, this was a feat of endurance that included 6km of climbing traversing The Cairngorms.

Setting off at 7am he completed the 326 miles via Bonar Bridge, Inverness, Tomintoul, Blairgowrie. riding through the night to Edinburgh and continuing on to the River Tweed by 6:30 the following morning, one of only 14 to successfully complete The Lang Way Doon challenge.

Stephen said: “I did it to raise funds for Cancer Research UK in memory of my wife Julie who was lost to breast cancer at far too young an age, leaving behind not just myself but our son who was only 13 at the time. “I am hoping the donations help in preventing the premature suffering and loss of victims still in the prime of their lives. Seeing what Julie so bravely went through as I intensively cared for her at home it felt right to take on a challenge that was at the very limit of my abilities and pushed beyond the boundaries of anything I had achieved before. Not knowing if I would actually make it was all part of the challenge.”

When Julie was diagnosed with hereditary terminal cancer in 2010 Stephen closed down his successful kitchen business, based in Ayrshire, and provided full time care for her for the next 18 months in Newton Stewart. He He added: “Until her diagnosis my business was my life. I worked 100 - 120 hours every week. I had set it up from nothing with nothing and 13 years later it was going from strength to strength with Julie helping me. When we got the prognosis, however, I immediately gave it all up, along with all our plans for the future we had put so much effort into achieving, and became her 24/ 7 carer and stay-at-home dad.

“When she passed away I felt I had lost absolutely everything - my wife, my business, our future as we had planned it and our social circle in Ayrshire. My son and I were holding her hand when Julie took her last breath and at the time it was a very physical sense of loss, it felt as if my left arm and left rib cage were somehow ripped from my body and now missing. I was utterly devastated.

“I had a good friend at the time and we would take my dog for a walk every day and just talk. He was a keen cyclist and I reminisced with him about cycle racing as a young schoolboy. He encouraged me to get active - at 22 and a half stone I was morbidly obese and chronically unfit as well as being utterly worn and stressed out from years of business ownership and caring - and whilst it took a fair bit of encouragement to get me started, in 2012 I dragged my old bike out of the garage, dusted it down and went for a ride. I remember it very well. I managed a whole two miles, from one car park at The Woods of Cree to the other and back. By the end of it both my legs and my crotch were in agony and I was walking like John Wayne for a whole week. At this point most people would have given up and thrown the bike back into the garage, but I persevered. I promised myself that if I could ride ten miles then I would treat myself to a new bike. It took a couple of months of determination but in the end I got there and, a year later, having lost nine stone, my friend and I cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, raising money for Macmillan and the Alexandra Unit of Dumfries Hospital where Julie had spent some time.”

Stephen says he has found cycling to be a way of helping with his bereavement. Getting out into the fresh air and stunning Galloway countryside, talking to the cows as he rides past clears the head, allows time for thought and gets the endorphins going, so when he heard about this challenge six months ago, and realising the weight was starting to go back on, he jumped at the chance.

He commented: “I have trained very hard for The Lang Way Doon, riding over 9,000 miles in preparation since the New Year (more than the average driver), including cycling up to the start via The Mull of Galloway, Outer Hebrides and Durness on my own wee private “Lang Way Up” and without so much training and losing over two stone I would not have succeeded. This was one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done and many who started the challenge did not make it to the end. The Cairngorms decimated the group and one by one riders fell away to be collected by the broom wagon. Those who did make it to Coldsteam collapsed into cars at the finish to be driven home, except for myself who put the panniers back on the bike and continued another 45 miles to the pub for a celebratory pint (completing a personal record 370 miles in one ride) before cycling another 87 miles back home the next day.”

The question he is now left with is what to do next.

He concluded: “It’s about time I got myself back into employment as the money I made in my business will not last forever. I don’t see myself working 100 hours a week again though. I need a work - life balance so I still have time to ride my bike!”

If you want to make a donation to Stephen’s fundraising effort for Cancer Research, go to his JustGiving page;- https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Varney2?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=20170705_96877