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Highland nonagenerian embarks on fundraising 2398ft staircase challenge to help NHS and Highland Hospice during Covid-19 coronavirus crisis

By Val Sweeney

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Margaret Payne (90) prepares to tackle the stairs.
Margaret Payne (90) prepares to tackle the stairs.

A 90-year-old Highland woman is on a mission to scale the equivalent height of one of Scotland's best known mountains – 2398ft high Suilven.

Margaret Payne has embarked on a two month fundraising challenge to climb the staircase at her home near Lairg 282 times.

So far, she has raised £106,000 – smashing her original target of £10,000.

The money raised will go to the NHS and Highland Hospice, which her husband, Jim, was a major fundraiser for over the years.

He died at home on Christmas Day last year after being cared for by local NHS staff.

Margaret was struck by the way doctors and nurses and other health staff are putting their lives on the line.

"The NHS is absolutely wonderful," she said. "I wanted to do something."

Inspired by Captain Tom Moore who hit the headlines as he raised millions of pounds for the NHS by completing 100 laps of his garden ahead of his 100th birthday, Margaret began her challenge on Easter Sunday and completed three flights before lunch.

Margaret Payne (90) aims to climb the stairs 282 times – the equivalent of 2398ft high Suilven.
Margaret Payne (90) aims to climb the stairs 282 times – the equivalent of 2398ft high Suilven.

"I am happy to pace myself and plan to do three flights a day," she said.

"I am doing them at intervals.

"I have been fine so far. I think it will take me until the end of June or the beginning of July."

It has been 76 years since she first scaled Suilven as a 15-year-old with her sister, Elizabeth, after being evacuated to Lochinver during World War II.

But, she acknowledged, she has never been a hill walker.

"I have had knee trouble all my life," she said. "I do walk but I am not a great walker."

She and her husband moved from the south of England to the Highlands in 1979 after he retired from the city where he ran a shipping line although they had often holidayed in the area.

Margaret and Jim Payne.
Margaret and Jim Payne.

She has a son and two daughters including Nicky McArthur who is currently staying with her mother due to the coronavirus lockdown after travelling from New Zealand for a service of thanksgiving in memory of her father.

She also has nine grandsons and four great grandchildren.

"Mum is quite frail and quite small," Nicky said.

"She walks with two sticks and it is quite a challenge. When she is on the stairs, she has one hand on the bannister and a stick in the other hand.

"She is just quietly getting on with it. She is very solid and very understated. We are all incredibly proud of her.

"We are also blown away by people's generosity in these difficult times."

She revealed she is quietly doing her own personal challenge in support of her mother.

She is notching up the feet on the stairs in recognition of her friend Julie Wagner whom she supported at the base camp when she became the oldest woman at 66 to climb 22,494 ft high Ama Dablam in Nepal in November.

The 2398 ft high Suilven.
The 2398 ft high Suilven.

People can show their support by visiting Mrs Payne's fundraising page at virginmoneygiving.com/MargaretPayneArdvar-SuilvenChallenge.

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