MIKE MacKay from Langdon Hills is no stranger to travel. As a young man in the Merchant Navy, he sailed all over the world, including to India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Now aged 71, the widower and school governor is still gripped by the travel bug, as Emma Palmer discovered.
Where’s your idea of travel heaven?
“It’s a tough one, as there are so many places I’ve been to, but the Arctic is definitely up there.
Last year I went on a 250km, six-day trip, mushing huskie dogs across Lapland, all the way from Norway to Sweden. It was in the heart of the Arctic Circle and an unforgettable adventure.”
Why did you want to put yourself through that?
“I did it to raise £1,500 for the charity ABC – Against Breast Cancer. I’ve supported the charity ever since my wife Mary died 10 years ago. When Mary died I was devastated of course, but that year, to take my mind of things, I ran my first London Marathon for ABC. Since then I’ve done something every year, whether it’s just a UK walk, a winter climb of Ben Nevis or the Arctic challenge.”
What was a highlight of your Arctic adventure?
“The entire trip was just amazing, but it was very tough. I literally didn’t get undressed for a week. It reached minus 20 at times, so it was too cold to even think about changing.
“The hardest part – but also the most memorable – was the sledging. Sometimes you’d be trying to hold on with all your might. Those huskie dogs can run and run and run – they go like a bat out of hell and you’d better hold on tight. It’s much harder than I thought. I was gripping so hard at times, I thought my hands would fall off.”
What was so good about the Arctic?
“The vast expansion of whiteness, the frozen wastelands and the contours. Everywhere you look it’s stunning.”
Where else has topped your travel list?
“Vancouver – I actually once considered moving out there, I loved it so much. Canada has all the best things of America, but few of the negative aspects.”
Where do you long to go that you haven’t been yet?
“I really want to go to the east coast of the US – especially New England in the Autumn, or Fall as they call it out there. The autumn colours would be lovely. That’s a trip I definitely hope to take.”
Who would be your ideal travel companion?
“Alfred Wainwright, the British fellwalker, author and illustrator. He’d be great company.”
Where’s the most beautiful city you’ve ever been to?
“Cape Town in South Africa. I went a long time ago and I know South Africa gets classed as being dangerous a lot now, but scenery- wise you just can’t beat it.”
Have you ever had any dodgy moments abroad?
“Being in the Merchant Navy for many years, we often went to less desirable port areas. You learnt to walk down the road in the middle of the street, so you could see anyone approaching. But probably the hairiest moment I had was when we were in British Columbia and I was a bit foolish by agreeing to a bet.
“Someone bet me a case of beer that I couldn’t paint the name of our ship on a massive clifftop overhead. I climbed up there and hadn’t even done the first letter when I fell off the rock face and severed the tendon in my hand. I had to be flown back to the UK for treatment. I lost the bet, but I tried my best!”
Where was your last trip?
“I’ve just got back from a walking holiday in Dorset. It was fantastic – the rolling downs and the beaches! I met some lovely people too, who were part of our group. I love walking, especially in this country. There are so many wonderful places to explore.”