From Istanbul to Vienna and back: Shropshire man returns after 6,500km trek
A man who quit his job to fulfil a life-long dream of hiking 6,500km across Europe has returned after 16 months.
Paddy Devlin, from Shrewsbury, celebrated two birthdays, encountered some of the world’s most dangerous animals, and experienced unparalleled generosity on his epic challenge from Istanbul to Vienna and back.
In preparation for the trip, Paddy hiked for a week in the Scottish highlands, and read books and blogs by other people who had completed long-distance walks.
“There’s no amount of reading that can really prepare you for something like this though,” he said.
“You never know what it’s going to be like, really. You have to just get started.”
So in January 2017, the 30-year-old quit his job as a petroleum geologist in Aberdeen and headed for Istanbul.
He said: “I remember sitting in Istanbul and thinking ‘what am I getting myself into?’ I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night.”
The first half of his journey, following the famous Sultan’s Trail, took him from Turkey, passing through Bulgaria, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and more, before arriving in the capital of Austria, Vienna.
“My plan was to stay in the mountains as much as possible because the walking is much more interesting than being on roads and the conditions are tougher,” he said.
“I actually started to get a bit bored in Austria because it was easy because the roads and the infrastructure was so good.
“I’d allowed myself the idea of getting on a plane home at the half-way point.
"However, when I got there I decided to make it a little bit more difficult and head back to Istanbul thorough the Carpathian Mountains.”
On the return leg, Paddy trekked through Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania in the height of winter.
He said: “High points usually come with the low points. It’s when you’re at your lowest that incredible things happen.
"I was in the Ukraine in the middle of the Carpathians and I was planning on camping in the middle of the forest because I was in the middle of two towns. I passed a load of lumberjacks who asked me what I was doing.
“I explained to them that I was on a walk and was going to camp and they said ‘Are you sure? There’s a lot of wolves in the forest’. "
He ended up being a guest in a monastery.
During the walk, Paddy came face to face with a range of dangerous animals like wolves and bears, but the most terrifying for him was a deadly viper in Bosnia.
He said: “I’d been walking along a deep canyon for about three hours in the hot sun. When I finally got to the bridge, it had collapsed in the middle.
“I couldn’t climb out of the canyon because the ravines are all full of landmines because of the war.
"I had no option but to climb onto the bridge and try and get across the water. I got to the middle and there was a snake – the most poisonous snake in Europe.
“I just hung on for about five minutes not knowing what to do. Finally he took his time and slithered off. I got a huge adrenaline rush when I was over the other side.”
Halfway through the journey, Paddy decided to start raising money for the charity Doctors Without Borders and set himself a fundraising target of £5,000.
“I started thinking about how privileged I was to be able to do the walk,” he said.