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Rider’s 1,000-mile trek in memory of friend whose death ‘left an empty space’

An actor is to ride some 1,000 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End in memory of a friend whose death left “an empty space”.

Louis Hall said the “Big Hoof” trip, which he expects will take at least 50 days, is in tribute to Leo van Heyningen, and to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Louis, an actor and riding coach usually based in London who moved home to Fife, Scotland, for lockdown, told H&H he has ridden through Australian deserts and Andalucian mountains — but this challenge will be different.

“This one will be undertaken in a climate and at a time that is foreign to all of us, and in a recovering world of uncertainty,” he said.

Louis said Leo, an only child who suffered from cystic fibrosis, died five years ago aged 26, and early this year, his parents got back in contact with Louis’ family.

“Then lockdown happened, everyone went home, and I had time to think,” he said.

“I thought how lucky people are who are completely healthy, and thinking of Leo, who would have been extremely vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic, and other people who have serious illnesses when something like this comes along.

“I thought it would be timely to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, which inhibits the lungs. I got in touch with his parents to see what they thought of doing this in his memory, and to raise money, and they were all for it.

“I’m doing this for all those who suffer from the horrors of cystic fibrosis, and for Leo.”

Louis has been lent five-year-old Highland mare Irelanda for the ride, which will start at John O’Groats on 18 July. Both are in training for completing, Louis hopes, about 20 miles a day, although the mare’s wellbeing will come first.

“I think I had a picture in my head of me on a 17hh stallion, but she’s perfect,” Louis said. “She’s forward-going, and loves swimming; we crossed a river and it was hard to get her out, and she’s got a great temperament.

“I’m really excited about the ride, especially with the support I’ve been getting, and it’s something I’ll probably never do again. I don’t want to rush it as there are so many beautiful parts to this country.

“Once, on a ride in Spain, I woke up in my tent to someone prodding me with a golf club and it turned out I’d camped on the ninth hole, so it’s a certainty I’ll get lost; I’ll probably end up riding into Longleat safari park or something, but that’s all part of it.”

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Louis hopes to raise £10,000 on his fundraising page for the charity, in Leo’s memory.

“He was someone who was so full of energy and life; when he was there, he lifted the room,” he said.

“He had a very contagious personality; he instilled warmth, and when that sort of person goes, it leaves an empty space for everyone. You never think that sort of person will go, especially so young.

“He knew he wouldn’t live for ever but he chose to live not recklessly but full of amazing hope and positivity, and love for life, which infected everyone else.

“It disallowed you from taking life for granted and that’s why I’m doing this; for Leo and for his parents.”

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