District News, July 16 2021

Stephen Bert on his way to start climbing the Paps of Jura with brother Ronnie.

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Jura walkers who got lost thank rescuers after ordeal

Tourists who got lost on the wrong side of Jura are home safely after a Robinson Crusoe-style rescue by two lifeboat fundraisers from Oban.

Stalwart RNLI supporters Phil Hamerton and Alison Rennie’s small yacht just happened to be in the right place at the right time when they spotted stranded walkers Stephen and Ronnie Bert signalling and shouting for help from a remote shoreline.

The brothers’ plan to climb all three of Jura’s Paps and camp out on one of them went horribly wrong when they could not get tent pegs through the rocky peak and thick fog surrounded them.

The pair, after managing to pitch their tent lower down the slope and a few sleepless hours later, had decided to try and walk back to their car but, dazed by the fog, got disorientated and headed down the wrong side of the mountain.

By the time they were picked up by Phil and Alison, they had been walking for 19 hours and their water and food had almost run out.

They were ‘finished’ like ‘walkers from The Walking Dead’ television show said Stephen, a 47-year-old painter and decorator from Blairgowrie.

Before that, the brothers had got lost a second time after a different couple had picked them up in a boat and dropped them off further along the isolated coastline giving them directions over a mountain back to the road – but that route took them into a deep valley with no way out other than to turn back to the shore hours away.

Stephen, who with Ronnie keeps fit and is used to hillwalking and has bagged Munros, said: ‘We had been trying to get help but couldn’t get a phone signal. When I finally managed to get through to the police I got cut-off half-way through trying to say where we were. I must have tried another 15 times but the signal went just a second in to each call.

‘It was hopeless. We didn’t know if anyone would be looking for us. We were exhausted, soaked walking through ferns and mud.

‘We had no choice but to head back to where we’d just come from.’

He added: ‘We had planned the trip in detail. We had all the kit and supplies and in hindsight we should’ve probably stayed put rather than try to get back to the car but that’s easy to say now.

‘We thought we had a way-marker when we saw water below us but we didn’t realise it was on the wrong side.’

Even safely on board Phil and Alison’s yacht, the brothers’ ordeal was far from over as it took five hours, with bouts of sea sickness, to reach Craighouse where they were met by a police officer.

A signal to let search authorities know Stephen and Ronnie were safe had been heard from the yacht, but Jura coastguard had been alerted earlier and a rescue helicopter dispatched from Prestwick.

Because Jura was shut for the night the police officer dropped the brothers – desperate for food, a wash and change of clothes – back off at their car where they had to spend the night before finally crossing to Islay in the morning.

Getting home was still not straight forward because the ferry was full and they had missed their booking the day before.

‘We went to the little ticket office and we met the nicest man you could ever wish to meet after what we’d been through. We told him our story and he told us ‘we need to get you home’. Hats off to him, that’s exactly what they did after moving round a few vehicles,’ said Stephen who, once on mainland, had to drive another four hours to get home.

‘We want to say a big thank you to everyone out looking for us and to Phil and Alison who were brilliant – without them we could’ve been stranded there for days. Who knows what shape we would’ve been in. We’ll be looking at doing some kind of fundraising – probably not a sponsored walk though.’

Phil said: ‘We only did what we’d like to think others would’ve done. We hope Stephen and Ron are recovering well.’

The brothers’ next outdoor adventure might be sooner than expected.

‘At the time we said we’d never climb another mountain but Ron’s already been on the phone asking if I’m up for something this weekend,’ said Stephen, whose aches and pains, blisters and midge bites are on the mend.

Ronnie Bert with his 60 litre rucksack tries to find his way through thick ferns lost on Jura