Dumfries army veteran Dan McNeil walks the UK coastline

An army veteran has completed an epic coastal walk around the UK of about 9,000 miles (14,500km).

Dan McNeil, 27, from Dumfries, set off on his charity trek from Sandyhills on the Solway Coast in March 2021.

He finished his trek at the same spot on Saturday after a journey which he said had been a "100% positive experience".

He has raised more than £30,000 for the armed forces charity SSAFA - after it helped him in his hour of need.

Born in Belshill, Daniel moved to Hamilton as a child and then to Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway where he attended Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill.

Dan McNeil
Dan says his walk had restored his faith in humanity after going through some dark times

He joined the army at 16 but illness meant he "struggled a lot" towards the end of his time there.

"I was in the army for five years," he said.

"I had a debilitating autoimmune disease that prevented me from walking, doing my duties in the army. I found that very frustrating and I ended up leaving in 2017."

He said his life went "downhill from there".

"I started getting on to harder drugs," he said. "I got depressed - anxiety, suicidal thoughts. I was gambling a lot as well, I was in a really bad place."

It was then that he posted a cry for help on social media - and SSAFA responded.

"They got in touch and they sent a case worker the next day and someone came round and basically gave me that bit of inspiration to turn my life around," he said.

Dan McNeil
It has taken him more than two-and-a-half years to complete his walk

They gave him a hot meal, helped to sort out his finances and tried to point him in a new direction.

"I started researching things like meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, going to the gym, changing my diet and, in about a year and a half, I managed to turn my life around," he said.

Shortly afterwards the Covid pandemic hit, but once the lockdowns were lifted he decided he want to do something to "inspire people".

So, more than two-and-a-half years ago, he set off from Sandyhills to walk around the UK's coastline - including more than 60 islands.

"Since 15 March 2021, I've been pretty much non-stop," he explained.

"I did have a week off and that was for my best mate's wedding but apart from that it's just been constant."

There have been some testing times too.

"I spent my first winter in Orkney - that was horrendous, absolutely brutal," he said.

"Every single day was like 50mph winds, absolutely ridiculous."

Nonetheless, he said he had enjoyed the experience and would definitely do it again.

"You get to see a lot of beautiful things - especially in the winter," he said.

One highlight was his time spent on Fair Isle.

"It was in May and we got like 21C to 25C weather and it was absolutely stunning," he said.

"There's puffins there some days, orcas would swim by - it's just an absolute stunning place.

"It's a population of like 30 people, there's no police on the island and everybody trusts everyone.

"Everyone's got like five jobs - they run the shop, the airport, the ferry - a brilliant community."

A low came on another island - Hoy.

Daniel slipped on a dirt track and "snapped" the tendons in his right ankle and had to be taken by ferry to hospital to be checked out.

After he got out, he had a Chinese takeaway to celebrate and promptly got food poisoning.

"That was probably the worst," he said. "I remember saying at the time - I'm going to laugh about this one day."

He described it as the "journey of a lifetime" and which he now hopes to share with others.

"I've got my heart set on a book, to write down everything that I've learned," he said.

"I want to get it on paper - and not only is it going to help me, but it's going to potentially help other people as well."

He said the kindness he had encountered right around the UK's coastline had been one of the best things about his walk.

"People have been so kind to me and it's put my faith back in humanity," he said.

"I've had a 100% positive experience with every single person that I've met.

"People are amazing - it is just wonderful."

SSAFA said it was indebted to Dan's "incredible" journey of "learning and self-discovery" which he has chronicled on Facebook.

"He has battled - quite literally - the elements, injury, and the mental and physical issues that saw him leave the army soon into his military career," said a spokesperson.

"He has, however, become an inspiration to many, showing that dedication, willpower, and belief can move mountains - and get you around nearly 9,000 miles of coastline."

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