Obituary: John G Henderson, pioneer of Scottish long distance walking routes

John G Henderson, BSc, pioneer of Scottish long distance walking routes and pilgrimages. Born: 17 January 1949 in Edinburgh. Died: 15 February 2021 in Melrose, aged 72.

John G Henderson helped many people discover a passion for walking

Love of the outdoors and long walks. A lifelong, deeply held faith. Eldership of the Church of Scotland (he was at one time accepted into the ministry, though after much thought he declined.) These were key to John G Henderson’s pioneering involvement in long distance walking and pilgrimage routes in Scotland.

He was heavily involved in the planning of many walking routes, including the Rob Roy Way, the St Cuthbert’s Way and the Abbey’s way.

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He became a director of the Scottish Borders Tourist Board at the same time as setting up his own business providing detailed support for the many visitors from home and abroad who came to enjoy and explore the walks.

In time this activity expanded to include many new pilgrimage routes. John played a key part in their development and was a Trustee and Treasurer of the Scottish Pilgrims Routes Forum until a few months ago.

These new routes were diverse: Iona to St Andrews, the Three Saints Way, the Whithorn Way, the Deeside Way, the Forth to Farne Way and the St Kentigern Way. He co authored books with Jacquetta Megarry about several of these, encouraging walkers to understand more about the history, geography, flora and fauna of the surroundings.

His work in walking support has introduced countless people to the pleasures of walking in Scotland.

John was educated at Glasgow Academy, where success in sporting prowess in rugby or cricket, or in academic achievement, particularly with entrance to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, was most highly prized.

These pursuits were not John’s interests, and the school reciprocated with a likewise lack of interest in him.

He left school aged 16 but soon found his feet in Langside Further Education College. Success there led to an apprenticeship with Albion Motors, and then to higher education at Heriot-Watt University, where he gained a BSc in Mechanical Engineering.

During this period he found time to be a Special Constable with Glasgow – he was their youngest – and Edinburgh Police.

Marriage and a young family soon came along, and proved a constant and enduring lynchpin for the rest of John’s life.

He worked for a time in Oxford at the Cowley car plant, before returning to Scotland to work with Strathclyde Council.

In 1977 he moved with his young family to Melrose to take up a post as Executive Engineer Manager at Exacta Circuits. This was the start of a lifelong love affair with the Borders of Scotland.

After eight years at Exacta he moved to work with Alphsem in Livingston, but his love of the Borders meant commuting for work was the only option.

In 1988 he was appointed senior Project Engineer to a department of the Scottish Development Agency, moving again after four years to become General Manager of SPEED.

In 2000 John decided to branch out on his own, and this decision was really the start of his second career.

He formed a company, Supply Chain Support, which provided web design and support for many different businesses, alongside planning and guiding long distance walking. He also ran a separate photography business for a number of years.

It was in these last 20 years that John was to become such a big influence and developer in the Scottish Pilgrimage Routes Forum. Despite so many commitments he was also able to give some of his time to other voluntary activities.

He worked with the Jedburgh Events Forum and Running Festival for ten years; he was a member, then Chairman, of the Melrose Festival and Common Riding Activities; he was a Trustee of Youth Borders, and he was a long standing elder of the church in Melrose as well as their webmaster and Presbytery elder.

Perhaps as a result of this service he was a recipient of “Maundy Money” from Her Majesty the Queen in 2016.

He will be greatly missed by so many different people and organisations, but especially by the family to whom he was devoted.

John leaves his wife of 48 years, Kathleen, their four children and seven grandchildren.

The Borders have lost a true son.

ANDREW K HENDERSON

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