John Eckersley died peacefully on 4th January 2021 at home, in Flamborough, in the company of his wife, Nancy and his daughter, Tanya.
John was well-known across the Diocese. He was first licensed as a Reader in the Diocese of Jamaica in 1974 and has served the Church in the Diocese of York and the Diocese of Ripon, in that capacity for more than 40 years.
John was always conscious of his calling as a teacher. He first taught in secondary school whilst on VSO in the Sudan, then in Manchester, in York, in Jamaica, and for 25 years at St Aidan’s CE High School in Harrogate. At St Aidan’s he also worked as a lay chaplain inspiring his students in practical Christianity, through his somewhat wacky Assemblies, fund-raising activities and stories of DIY, earning himself the staff nickname of ‘Johnny Carport’.
After his retirement from school teaching, he continued following his calling as a teacher and fund-raiser by heading up Summer-club activities for primary school children in York and continuing to take primary school assemblies as an official Christian Aid volunteer in York and then later in Flamborough, Bempton, Kilham and Scarborough when his wife, Nancy, retired from stipendiary ministry.
He is best known for his fund-raising activities for Christian Aid, his writing of walking books and his long-distance walks. John and Nancy have together raised around £200,000 for Christian Aid Projects through their sponsored walks and John’s books. The first long walk was an epic five month Land’s End to John o’Groats (covering 1,400 miles). This was followed by Carlisle to Bridlington, Dover to Carlisle, Dundee to Inverness (the long way around the coast) and Filey to York Minster. On these walks they visited, spoke and prayed in churches, Cathedrals and Abbeys along the route.
Donations in John’s memory can be made to the Christian Aid Appeal for help to developing nations during the pandemic.
He leaves his wife Nancy, four children and nine grandchildren.
I have been writing a short summary of my life, ably assisted, of course, by Nancy. My original idea had been to recall early stories that might have appealed to our grandchildren. But then I thought: `Why stop there?’ and so later episodes tell of my life up to the present, including a summary of the walking adventures that have been so enjoyable in recent years.
The book’s title comes from St John’s Gospel chapter 10 where Jesus declares ‘I have come so that you may have life; life in all its fullness’. I chose this verse because it sums up how privileged I have been to have a life full of so many different experiences. On numerous occasions I have been conscious of God’s guidance through what I have called his ‘Silent Voice’.
‘Life in all its Fullness’, of course, has nothing to do with making lots of money, or buying lots of expensive ‘stuff’ or becoming a famous celebrity. Rather, it is about rejoicing in the simple gifts of life.
In 2015 John and Nancy completed their own ‘Coast to Coast Walk’ from Liverpool to Flamborough. For the second half of the walk (from Leeds to the east coast) their route ran roughly parallel to the route taken by the Coastliner bus and they used that bus each day to get back to their parked car.
The thought crossed their minds that the route they had taken from Leeds to the coast could, with just a little tweaking, be made into a Long Distance Walk…
That’s what they have done and they are calling the walk ‘Coastliner Way’.
The attraction of the Walk is that each leg starts and finishes at a Coastliner bus stop. This means that, apart from getting to the start of a walk, there is no need to use private transport. Click Coastliner Way for lots more information about the walks.
We have completed our walk and on the way we have been treated to a fine array of history in the land we have walked through. The first amazing stone we passed was on the outskirts of Forres, the Sueno stone. This stone dates from the third century and is Pictish. On one side is Christian symbolism, on the other are very detailed carvings of a battle and the reprisals taken on the losers by the victors. The stone is a massive six metres high and protected by a toughened glass case. Our second stone, also from the same era, was in the grounds of Brodie Castle. This is the Rodney stone and it is protected by a screen of woven branches, is around six feet tall and again has Christian carving on one side but on the other beautiful Pictish symbols. A third stone, the Kebbuck stone, with hardly any visible markings, is just outside a small cottage in woodland. All three we saw in one day.
A feast of stones came on a different day when we walked round the Clava Cairns near Culloden. These stones are much older, dating from around 2000 BC. These were built by Bronze Age people and it is thought that they formed a part of a large cemetery. There are chambered cairns surrounded by kerb stones and boulders and stone circles arranged very carefully according to type, size and colour of stones. The setting sun at the winter equinox shone directly down the entrance to the chambers. They are managed by Historic Scotland and, apart from the information notices and tidy car park, they are open to the elements and free to visit. Well worth coming to.
Our church visit this week was to crown Church in Inverness. We received a warm welcome from the Minister Peter Donald, and his congregation and were able to speak to the congregation about our project. The theme of the service was finding Christ in others, however different and receiving from them – which indeed we did a day after when a Good Samaritan – Kris, stopped is rather swish car on the roadside as we were tramping along, already having walked 12 miles and finding we were stranded as no bus had appeared to return us to our accommodation. Thank you Kris – a Christ-bearer indeed!
More thanks and hellos must go this week to David – our host for the week at Rannoch cottage, to Shelagh (hope you eventually managed to get to work at Fort George?), Catriona whom we met on the cycle track near Forres and Bob Macdougall who is training for the Scottish 500 with his friend Davie. Hope you have as much encouragement as we have had.
And finally – we have made it to the Kessock Bridge. We got there through a rainy Industrial Estate and linked up with where we had climbed the steps to cross the bridge on our Lands End to John o’Groats walk back in 2011. (See the LEJOG tab on the website).
It has been great fun, good walking and although we are five years older (and sometimes have felt about ten years older than then) we have really enjoyed it.
Miles completed 257
Money given so far £1193.61
Ancient Standing stones 27
Scrabble this week Nancy 4 John 1
We have been enjoying the scenery of this Moray Coastline very much. The weather has been heavy showers and sunny intervals which has kept us on our toes and although we have got used to the day after day walking, our muscles are sometimes begging us for a rest. However, in Banff we were put to shame when we saw a football team out training on the soft sand. They jogged backwards and forwards on about a 100 yard sretch with every now and then the coach telling them to sprint. It made me tired to watch!
Last Sunday we received a warm welcome from the church of St Andrew at Lhanbryde and Urquhart. They were having a special ‘café’ style service to mark the moving on of some of their children who were either starting school in September or moving to a new school. The service was led by Grant and themed upon St Paul’s letter urging his fellow Christians to run so that they completed the race. It included some thought provoking clips from the Olympics as well as some thought provoking questions. We enjoyed it very much. Thank you all.
The coastal scenery has included some dramatic cliffs and caves, with some equally dramatic climbing and descending. After a particularly stiff scramble we came across the Cullen pets’ cemetery which is right by the coast path. It looked very well tended and as well as including well-loved cats and dogs, it also had a seal, a puffin and a shark.
Further west along the coast we came to Portknockie, where a very helpful gentleman pointed out the dolphins playing in the bay. Once we had our ‘eyes in’ it was fairly obvious and a great treat to watch. There we also met Val who offered to take out photos (with us both on) and who is a Sunday School teacher at the church in Portknockie. ‘Hello’ to all your children Val. Thanks you our Portknockie experience we were able to spot more dolphins further along and also some Atlantic grey seals at Craigenroan rocks just east of Buckie.
We met some more lovely people as the week went on Hi to all of you: Terryl and Rod doing some ancestor hunting at Findochty, Barry at the Kingston Nature Reserve, Grant working for Stagecoach buses in Elgin, Carole Ann at Hopeman, Harry and Liz on holiday at Lossiemouth and Doreen at the Information centre at Burghead. What a great place to visit and a very friendly welcome there. Just past the Information centre is a ‘dig’ for Pictish and Saxon remains. Post-holes and an Alfred the Great coin discovered there.
Less than a week to go and about 40 miles to walk to the Kessock Bridge!
Miles walked so far 220
Money given so far £1166.61
Scrabble this week Nancy 5 John 2
Cullen Skink 2 bowls
Stovies 2 portions
At last the rain has stopped and the wind has swung away from the north. This last week saw us pass the half way point on the walk and also ‘turn the corner’ so that we walk now east to west instead of south to north.
Last Sunday saw us have a great welcome at the church nearest to where we were staying – that of St Drostan in New Aberdour. The owner (thank you Graeme) of our self catering cottage is an elder there and had prepared the way for us to speak. Most enthusiastic were two ladies from West Yorkshire who had taken up residence here but missed Christian Aid. The Scots were pretty good too. Thank you for your welcome Richard and all the saints in New Aberdour. After the service (which featured God telling Elijah to make sure he had enough rest – a word for us?) we drove down to see the ‘Auld Kirk’, and St Drostan’s well which is on New Aberdour’s beach. St Drostan was a nephew of St Columba and apparently came to Scotland from Ireland with him. St Columba came ashore at this beach and received a friendly welcome from the Picts and so left Drostan to preach the Gospel and do the first baptisms on Scottish soil from the well – maybe that should be Pictish soil?
The castles seemed to adorn every headland and sometimes a little further inland too. The most striking story is the one attached to Slains castle. This was in existence near the village of Slains just on the headland in a prominent place. The laird of the castle took part in a failed rebellion against King James IV and as a punishment had his castle blown up. When the Laird was in a position to rebuild, an easier site for him was several miles further north near Cruden Bay. But he kept the name of Slains Castle. Both are now in ruins but the ‘new’ castle captured the imagination of Bram Stoker when he visited and he used it as the setting for Count Dracula’s castle. The locals (so we were told) now call it Dracula’s castle.
We have walked through plenty of fishing villages, but the biggest fish port we walked through was Fraserburgh. Whilst passing through the fish docks we saw a vessel winding out its nets which had pieces of fish caught in the mesh. The gulls were having a right tug of war over the scraps until one large black backed gull came and sorted the others out. Fraserburgh was also the place I managed to get my hair cut at the Infinity salon (thank you Charlie) and the place for re-stocking the food supplies.
We have met some great people this week. Hi to everyone at St Drostan’s, to Joy met on the dunes near Forvie nature reserve, to Bill the artist met at Cruden Bay bus stop, to Suzanne on the dunes with her dog near St Fergus, Gordon whom we met near Peterhead prison, Tony who is doing a wonderful walk for charity around the coast of Great Britain (and was walking with the sea on his left), Mary in Pittulie rather early in the morning and Bill and Dennis walking thier dog on Rosehearty beach – thanks for the tip about the route, we found the tower, the white shed and saw seals!
This last week has certainly scotched the idea that Nancy and John always get nice weather for their walks. We have managed to see the sun just two days out of our 9 days of walks, since we started nearly two weeks ago. The rain, cold and strong northerly winds means that we have met few people on our walks and the ones we have seen have been like us muffled up and not wanting to stop and talk.
However, there was plenty of conversation at Forfar East and Old Parish Church where we went last Sunday. Revd Barbara Sweetin had invited us to give a brief talk to the congregation about the Ethiopian project we were supporting and also a kind invitation to join church members for their Queen’s birthday lunch. This was delicious and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and church members were most generous – thank you!
We have still managed to admire the rugged coastline and the sandy beaches. We saw St Cyrus in the sun and then saw Dunottar castle in the rain and the impressive war memorial erected by the people of Stonehaven (birthplace of R.W. Thomson the inventor of the pneumatic tyre) which boasts an open air swimming pool. Sadly the weather decided we did not try it out to see if its 29̊̊° C boast about the water temperature was correct. Further north we visited Findon, home of Survitec who make survival gear for those at sea and saw their hundred or so orange boats. Further north still we went to the grey granite city of Aberdeen on a grey day. It was busy and bustling except for the beach which we seemed to have entirely to ourselves for the journey between Newburgh and Aberdeen – all that is except for a full village of common seals which seemed just to wait for our arrival (or was it the state of the tide) to start to move around. There must have been hundreds of them,
Miles walked so far 96
Money given so far £838.50
Scrabble this week Nancy 5 John 1
Scottish beef 2 steaks
We set off last Monday from Dundee and found the Tay Bridge fairly easily, which was where we were starting the walk. On the way there we came across Desperate Dan.
Dundee was famous for jute, jam and journalism. We saw no jute or jam but as the Beano had been produced in the town we were pleased to find the characters on a notice board and the sculpted Dan character. The first morning was grey with sea fret but fairly soon started to brighten up so we managed the majority of the walk along the north Tay bank in glorious sunshine. Several people stopped us to ask what we were doing.
Day two was grey for all of the walk. It was a shorter distance so we had a chance to look around Arbroath and check out the Arbroath Declaration. This was signed on 6th April 1320 at Arbroath Abbey and is hailed as the start of Scotland as a nation with the right to determine its own future. This document was used as the template for the American Declaration of Independence.
We also visited a smoke house and bought a couple of smokies for our tea. They have a lot of bones!
The coastline after Arbroath is sculptured by the weather and sea. The rock is old red sandstone and it has been eroded into stacks, caves, deep inlets and blow holes. John wanted many photographs as he was in his ‘geography teacher’ mode. After the cliffs is a lovely sandy bay called Lunan Bay. This is apparently where the Dundee-onians come to relax (when the weather is warm). It was almost deserted as we walked along to reach Lunan Castle – well the remains of it.
Here are some of the friendly folk we met on our way:-
Hello to Laurie Bidwell (Dundee City Council), David – good luck on your ‘Dundee to Aberdeen’ walk at the start of the football season, Paula recovering from a broken bone in the foot met at Broughty Ferry, Claire and her spotty dogs who has walked the Camino, Kevin from Arbroath we met near the Abbey and Brian the farmer from Mains of Usan who gave us a lot of information about cows, salmon and barley.
Miles walked so far 36
Money given so far £647 Many thanks to all who have given
Scottish raspberries 1 punnet
Arbroath strawberries 1 punnet
Scottish shortbread 1 pkt plus 2 pieces (homemade)
Arbroath smokies 2
Dundee cake couldn’t be found – even for ready money.
Scrabble Nancy 2 John 3
We have been really encouraged by the amount of support we have received both locally where we live and also further afield. The sponsoring has been going really well which means we already have quite an amount on our Just Giving page and there is more promised. The weather in Scotland seems to have been a lot better than the weather at home so here’s hoping the walking will be blessed with dry going.
John and I have also been sharpening up our Scrabble skills for the ‘Statistics’ part of the blog.