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Noel breaks the record for walking round Northern Ireland

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 17/07/2015

Noel Johnston at Ballyhalbert in County Down on the closing leg of his Ulster Way charity walk
Noel Johnston at Ballyhalbert in County Down on the closing leg of his Ulster Way charity walk
Noel Johnston at Ballyhalbert in County Down on the closing leg of his Ulster Way charity walk
Noel Johnston at Ballyhalbert in County Down on the closing leg of his Ulster Way charity walk

It's been a long and winding road for one man as he nears the end of a 625-mile walk around Northern Ireland.

Noel Johnston has battled blisters and hip and joint pain for the last 27 days as he aims to beat the record for the fastest walk around the Ulster Way.

But it has also been a long personal journey for the 29-year-old unemployed father-of -one as he seeks to do some good after overcoming a gambling addiction.

Noel left his eight-year-old daughter Rhiannon on Father's Day, June 21, to walk alone around the famous route developed by trekker Wilfrid Capper in 1964.

Today he is expected to walk from Bangor to Belfast and then along the towpath into Lisburn this evening to claim a new record for doing the Ulster Way in just 28 days - beating the old one of 32 days.

It's the biggest physical and mental challenge that Noel has ever undertaken.

But he is determined to do it in order to raise funds for charities close to his heart.

There may not be a brass band waiting there to welcome him home, but Noel will have the satisfaction of knowing that he accomplished what he set out to do.

He spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday as he was nearing Portavogie before heading to Ballyhalbert and Groomsport, and then on to Bangor to spend the night.

"The weather is just beautiful today, I've got blisters all over my feet, my hip and shin are killing me and I've ripped my arm on brambles. But it's all part of the journey, to take the rough with the smooth," said Noel.

"I really wanted to challenge myself to do something, as a couple of years ago I stopped gambling as I had a bit of problem with it.

"I let people down that I didn't want to, and instead of sitting there and burying my head in my hands, I just wanted to get out there and show them what I can do."

Noel has walked at least 25 miles daily - the most was 33 miles in one day - and has carried around five stone of camping equipment on his back as he slept outdoors the whole time, apart from two nights in hotels, which were sponsored for him.

"It hasn't been too cosy, I've had to lie on hard ground and a few nights I lay on concrete. I've stayed in towns, beaches and forests and a couple of nights I've been lying in a soaking wet sleeping bag," said Noel.

"I would get up the next day and asked myself what am I doing here, but that's just part of the whole experience.

"It does get very lonely but it's all part of the journey. I wanted to get out and test myself and build up that mental strength, where it's you that you are really fighting.

"It's only going to inspire me and make me stronger."

Noel has been fundraising along the way and says that the friendliness of the people he met has been overwhelming.

He hopes to raise several thousand pounds at least to help local charities in east Belfast where he now lives.

He added: "I just wanted to raise some money to help local people who have been affected by the cuts.

"I will also start up a project on my return called 'Kick Across The Barricades' bringing communities together through sport for the rehabilitation of young offenders.

"There are things I want to get involved with in the future, doing public speaking and speaking to children, sports clubs to try and help motivated people."

Noel's charity can be supported on his Go Fund Me site at http://www.gofundme.com/vrbq44.

Belfast Telegraph

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