Boys back from 625 mile 'dander' round Ulster

TWO schoolboys have completed an epic walk round the whole of the 625-mile Ulster Way - finishing a day ahead of schedule.

Friends' School pupils Simon Harris and Matthew Hoper are thought to be the first to conquer the route. They crossed the finish line at Friends' on Tuesday, nursing sore feet and insect bites and were greeted with cheers and hugs from friends and family.

The Lagan towpath from Belfast to Lisburn was the last leg of a journey which took in some of the most beautiful parts of the Province.

But they were in good spirits after the coming-of-age adventure during which they both celebrated their 18th birthdays.

Simon, who turned 18 on Tuesday, said he was already thinking of other walking challenges he wants to attempt in the future, but his first priority was a birthday dinner with his father Charles Harris, a Methodist minister.

His mother Ruth died of a brain tumour in 2005, and this inspired the boys to undertake the walk and raise 3,000 for the charity Headway.

Simon said he was amazed at the generosity of strangers they met along the route.

"People were letting us stay for free at their campsites and giving us donations, we had a legitimacy letter but we were never asked to produce it once," he said.

Meanwhile, Matthew said he was not keen to try another long walk again and was most looking forward to getting back to his beloved Xbox computer console.

His grandmother Sarah Andrews said she was "very proud granny".

"His legs were bitten off him by insects but from the first time they mentioned this I knew they would finish it, I am so proud of him," she said.

Rev Harris said the boys found the first two weeks of the walk hard but it got a easier for them when they got into the routine.

Simon added: "It'll be strange waking every day and not setting off at 9.30am."

The boys walked around 18 miles a day. They set off after school assembly on June 28 and finished yesterday, just shy of the six weeks they had estimated it would take them.

The walk raised around 3,000 for the Northern Ireland head injuries charity Headway from sponsorship, as well as donations handed to them along the route.

Fiona McCabe, director of the charity, was at the finish line yesterday to personally thank the boys for their effort and said the money would go towards helping to improve the quality of life for survivors of brain injury.

"We are very grateful to both Simon and Matthew for undertaking this challenge and raising vital funds for our work," she said.

"Headway supports people affected by acquired brain injury and the money raised will go towards a range of services and therapies to improve the quality of life for survivors of brain injury and help them move towards more independence."

It's still not too late to support the bos by making a donation - log on to Ulsterwaywalk or telephone 9047 1222.