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Obituary: Walking legend Bert driving force behind the Ulster Way

Published 19/01/2016

Albert ‘Bert’ Slader was a respected travel writer
Albert ‘Bert’ Slader was a respected travel writer

Bert Slader, who died recently, was a former deputy director of the Northern Ireland Sports Council and a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster who was known as "one of the legends of Irish walking". He was 85.

Bert Slader was brought up in Glenmachan Street, off the Donegall Road in Belfast, and at the age of 10, in July 1940, he was evacuated to a farm in Mosside, north Antrim.

This gave him his first taste of travel and adventure and a love for the great outdoors.

His first summer camp was at Carlingford in 1943 with the 38th Belfast Boys' Brigade Company, which led to a lifelong affection for the Mournes.

He was educated at Methodist College Belfast, where he captained the school rugby XV, and also played for the schoolboy and senior Ulster rugby sides.

After taking a degree in sports studies at Loughborough University and achieving a teacher training qualification at Stranmillis College in Belfast, he taught at Dalriada, Kilkeel and Castlewellan High Schools.

He later joined the Central Council for Physical Recreation, before moving to the Sports Council as deputy director.

During his time there he oversaw many walking developments, including the establishment of the Tollymore Mountain Centre near Newcastle.

He was also a driving force in helping to create the Ulster Way - Ireland's first waymarked way, which set the standard for others that followed.

In 1958, inspired by the Dalriada Camping Club, he acquired a Mourne cottage, which is now known as Spence's Trust Cottage, and is regularly used by groups of young people.

In 1985 Bert Slader took early retirement from his job to indulge his passion for widespread travelling and writing.

In 1987 he walked 600 miles on foot from Santiago de Compostela in Spain to the south of Portugal, following in the footsteps of ancient Roman soldiers.

This was recalled in his book Across The Rivers Of Portugal.

His other books included An Echo In Another's Mind, recalling his mountain experiences, particularly in the Mournes.

He also wrote Footsteps In The Hindu Kush, about his experiences in Afghanistan several years before the Soviet invasion.

Bert Slade was the author, too, of a biography titled Beyond The Black Mountain, and a trilogy of novels - Belshade, The Irish Pilgrim, and The Templar Manuscript, set variously in Donegal, France and Spain.

He received the Waterford Crystal Walker Award in 1997.

Summing up his adventures, he once said: "The secret of the grail is not to be found at the journey's end, but is the reward of the hopeful traveller."

He is survived by his wife Eileen, daughter Jenifer, son Dion, his grandchildren and the wider family.

Belfast Telegraph

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