I first met Harley Brandon when I was 8 years old; most kids meet at school or football practice or something, but not us, we used to tap dance together. The irony becomes apparent if you skip forward 10 years and see two young adults standing taller than most people, I consider myself to be tall at 6ft 2 but Harley was even taller than me. After I realised tap dancing wasn’t for me, whilst still being forced to do it, Harley became my reason for waking up on a Saturday morning and going to my tap class. We had the same personality and used to take great pleasure in moving items of my sister’s tuck shop out of their perfectly symmetrical line which she spent so long arranging each morning, amongst over mischievous deeds.
I also met all three of Harleys sisters at dancing; Velvet who was the youngest, Caprice was only a year older than me and used to be in our tap class and Autumn who was the eldest and part of my sisters dance classes. They worked well as a family and you could instantly see that anyone of them was a Brandon. It always used to fascinate me when Harley’s mum or dad used to drop him off on a motor bike as I used to think it was the coolest thing. This is a passion that rubbed off on Harley and he pursued it in his early adult years. From starting off working in a motor bike garage, to failing his bike test a grand total of 6 times, to constantly crashing his learner bike when he was trying to sell it; yet not once being deterred or thinking bikes aren’t for me.
I joined the Army Cadet Force at the age of 14, something that Harley was already a part of. We were in different units but made sure to meet every night when we were away on the camps, here we met each other’s friends and past the time by cracking jokes at one another. In fact, one of his favourite hobbies was winding me up. He knew exactly how to push my buttons, what to say or do to get me into a frustrated mood, then whilst I was giving him the same old of lecture of “you’re so annoying” he would just look at me with this sparkle in his eyes and a giant grin on his face and start laughing. His laugh was the most infectious and booming one that I’ve ever known, it was so powerful that it could make anyone laugh, even when no one was laughing. He is probably the most selfless person I have ever met, and would go out of his way to do anything for anyone, even if he didn’t know you that well; especially if it involved riding his bike to pick someone up.
In his short time on this earth, he managed to have such an impact on a lot of lives, in such a way that most people can’t even achieve in a life time. Watching him grow up with me from a young boy to a gentle giant of man an experience I will never forget, it is also one that I will never get over as he was taken from this world at the cruel young age of 21. My house was and will always remain a second home to Harley, and my only regret about knowing him is that he will never have the chance to wind me up as an old man. This is however my story of Harley, but there are so many more to be told and not enough worlds to sum up what a beautiful and amazing person that he truly was. I miss him every day and don’t know if I will ever get over his death as it happened so suddenly and without warning.
In the weeks following Harleys death, we as a group of friends were still in shock and were dealing with it in different ways. Seeing all of the amazing tributes people were leaving on social media it made me think of doing something as a group to raise some funds for the chosen charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (C-R-Y). From my own past experience of losing a sister, I knew how much friends undertaking a challenge in her memory meant to my family and was a great way of expressing how much he meant to so many people. I got the idea of the Yorkshire three peaks challenge and I was completely blown away from the interest I got back with 15 close friends of Harley committing to the challenge. With a little organisation and planning we booked the accommodation and the challenge was set in stone.
On the 9th of August a group of 13 set off to the Yorkshire dales to a small station called Horton-in-Ribblesdale (up to a 10-hour journey for those coming from Bristol via London). On approach to the station the enormity of the walk began to sink in. Peak one, Penn-y-ghent (694m), could be seen off in the distance and with a chill sent down everyone’s back we started to realise what we were about to undertake. Dannie had the idea to bring a time capsule for each person to put their memories in and that evening in the bunkroom each person took their time to encapsulate their memories forever by putting something special in it. A great gesture of love from each of Harleys friends. The time capsule was packed with us to be buried on the walk.
The morning of the walk and everyone was up and ready and the day was started off with a group stretch which was a great laugh and a great way to start the day. Watches were set and we had officially begun. With only a minor detour costing us a few minutes, we were in great time and were at the top of Penn-y-ghent after an 1h:45. We started to believe we could do this in under 10 hours and it was going to be a walk in the park! A long walk later (about 4.5 hours) we turned the corner past a beautiful waterfall to see the monstrous Whernside with calls of “That’s the SECOND one?!” coming from me I must admit. I hadn’t begun hurting up until that point but knowing we still had the two biggest peaks to reach really bought me it down to earth. This was a time when each and every one of us thought this is for Harley and it gave us a real boost and we all kept going, scaling Whernside (736m) in an impressive time of 8 hours giving us 4 hours to complete the final peak before the 12-hour deadline.
We stopped at the bottom of the Whernside where we found a small hole in a wall to bury Harleys time capsule. Everyone collected rocks together and piled them up to surround the capsule and we all stopped for a few minutes’ silence in respect for Harley and to think about why we were all really there. I shed a few tears and it really picked me up and I couldn’t wait to finish the route and make Harley and his family proud. A few passers-by warned us about what we were about to face and said that Ingleborough (723m) was the steepest walk and is known as the hardest peak to accomplish. We were ready for the challenge. 2 hours later, with some extremely steep sections, and the weather turning against us we were up in the clouds, as close to Harley as ever. Hugs and high fives were exchanged, we had done the hard bit, after 10 hours of walking, 19 miles and nearly 1500m of elevation all peaks had been conquered. We just had to get home.
The word underestimation doesn’t give justice to the section of walk between the peak at Ingleborough and the bunkroom we were staying. I think everyone was so focused on getting to the top of the final peak we forgot that the challenge didn’t end there and had 2 hours to finish the final 6 miles with sore legs and little energy. As we trekked back a sign saying 2 miles bought smiles to everyone’s faces although the sign may not have been telling the exact truth as after another hour of walking Horton-in-Ribblesdale was still further away than the eye could see. Doubts about if we were going to make it in under the 12 hours were looming. Sarah and I began to run with approximately 2 miles left to catch up to Niall and Jonathon and with 1.5 miles left, the four of us ran together to reach Horton-in-Ribblesdale. While leading the run I was completely out of everything and I thought if I stopped then we could all catch a break but all three of them ran straight past me. That was a special moment for me as I picked myself up and continued running. Carried by adrenaline we caught up with the front and finished with everyone at 11h55.
An amazing achievement that allowed us to raise over £1400 when our original target was £500. Everyone involved is extremely proud of themselves and sends their best wishes to Harleys family and every other family affected by cardiac problems. We were honoured to do this in his name and glad the proceeds are going to such a good cause.
A special thank you to everyone who took part:
Eva Calland Waller
Billie May Jones
Roisin Keenan Blair
Sadly two members of the original group, Louise Stone and Serge Serra could not make the walk at the last minute but definitely were an essential component in the fundraising of the event.
If you would like to make a donation towards the challenge click here