An Argyll building contractor has completed a 186-mile “straight line” walk to raise money to help poor communities in South America.
Neil McGougan, 57, from Taynuilt, near Oban, confined himself to walking within just over half-a-mile of a line from Ben Lomond to Ben Hope, Sutherland, in just 14 days, to raise money for the Open Hands Mission in Bolivia.
At the end of this month, Mr McGougan will be volunteering in the village of Penas – a two-hour drive from La Paz and 13,100ft above sea level.
The Oban Mountain Rescue Team member crossed 14 hills and fought through dense forests, as well as the sizeable Loch Ness woods and at Loch Shin near Lairg.
Mr McGougan said: “From Ben Lomond right up to Ben Wyvis, it was mainly wet and cold. This was a good thing, because it meant there were no midges. But I would say about 60% of the route I was on was pathless and it was very hard going.
“The challenge was something I actually wanted to do for a while. I have walked in many other places in Scotland and it is still very hard to beat this country for the scenery and the people.
“Everyone was interested in what I was doing. I showed my route to a couple of stalkers near Rosehall, and they told me where I could go within the parameters of my route to make it easier.”
Mr McGougan lived and worked in Penas for eight weeks last summer after an Italian doctor who had just joined the mountain rescue team talked to him about her experiences there.
He said: “One of the jobs I have to do this summer is put a roof on a house.
“I will also be installing solar panels. Because it will be winter when I go over there, it will be chilly, but there is still the intensity from the sun.”
Equipping very poor people with practical skills is a crucial way to empower them and let them see that progress is possible, he believes.
The avid mountaineer will also be highlighting the importance of education.
He said a surge in unskilled migrants to places such as El Alto, a satellite city near La Paz, meant those without skills or schooling could easily slip into cycles of poverty, drug use and violent crime.
Mr McGougan said: “There was one little girl during a song and dance one night at the mission who was not quite as shy as the rest of the people there, and I looked down at her reading Newton’s equations and saw that she was clearly interested in learning.
“If these kids can get an education, then when they move back to their home they can bri it with them and show their achievements.”
Anyone wishing to support Mr McGougan should make their donation to the bank account with the details Mrs J McGougan, A/C: 00189457 and Sort Code: 83-26-04.
So far, more than £2,000 has been raised.