'My husband died 24 hours after our wedding': Wife of Celtic fan embarks on epic journey
"Jonathan would have loved to be here," says Sian Thomas, as she takes a moment to pause in the middle of the countryside. "He always loved walking."
The 28-year-old has spent the last two weeks walking 355 miles across the UK. Her journey began in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, the birthplace of her husband Jonathan, and ended yesterday in Celtic Park stadium in Glasgow, home to the football team he supported.
Her walk was inspired by Jonathan, the man she fell in love with seven years ago, and married last year. Friday marked their first wedding anniversary, but for Sian, it was a difficult day to remember as her marriage to Jonathan lasted less than 24 hours. On 22 October 2015, the day after they were married, he died. Saturday was the first anniversary of his death.
"I didn't want to spend it moping at home and crying," admits Sian, who is still coming to terms with her status as a widow. "I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this walk. It seems quite mad, but it is fitting. Jonathan and I used to go on long walks together, and I know he'd prefer me to be out doing something positive like this. I know I can do it and he'll be there supporting me. He would be really proud of me."
She is walking to raise money for Crohn's & Colitis UK, as well as the Celtic FC Foundation - two charities that were close to Jonathan's heart - and has already raised more than £10,000. Donations are coming from far and wide, including strangers she has met during her walk who are all compelled to empty their pockets after hearing her story.
Sian met Jonathan - known to his friends as JT - just after she had graduated from Durham University at the age of 21, and took a job at Ernst & Young as a tax adviser in Newcastle. They hit it off immediately.
"We were just friends at first," says Sian, who grew up in Surbiton, just outside London. "He was really funny and fit - he played a lot of football - and we got on really well. It took a while for us to become involved, but I always knew he was just a lovely, lovely person."
She knew that Jonathan had suffered from ulcerative colitis, a long-term condition that affects the lining of the bowel and rectum, since he was 18, as well as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an uncommon chronic liver disease that progressively damages the bile ducts, and is often linked with ulcerative colitis.
"He was often in a lot of pain," she says. "But he never told anybody and most people wouldn't have known. He was very brave. It was only first thing in the morning before a cup of coffee that he struggled, and after that he was good as new. He never let it stop him doing anything, which a lot of people couldn't do."
They were both aware that PSC could lead to an increased risk of cancer, but believed it was unlikely to happen before Jonathan was well into his fifties or sixties. It was far from their minds while they continued with their plans to live together, and then move down to London in 2014.
But several months after settling in Bermondsey, Jonathan became ill. Doctors discovered he had gallstones and problems with his kidney. They believed he might need a kidney transplant until further tests in August confirmed their worst nightmares: Jonathan had bile duct cancer, and it was untreatable. He had less than two months to live.
"I probably cried for about four days straight when I first found out," recalls Sian. "Then I realised it wasn't helping me or him. It was giving me a headache. I focused on making sure the time we did have left was as good as could be."
She refuses to dwell on the worst parts of those two months - from Jonathan's deteriorating health to having to tell their loved ones that he was going to leave their lives for ever - but says she spent much of that time feeling frustrated.
"He was only 30. It's just not what you expect. I was angry and felt that it was very unfair for a long time. I thought 'we could have done this earlier, or caught it earlier', but it doesn't change anything. I had to accept it, and focus on making everything as positive as possible."
The couple were not officially engaged, though they had often discussed marriage, but after Jonathan was discharged from hospital, he proposed at home. Even though she knew their marriage would be shortlived, Sian agreed immediately. "I had always wanted to marry him - I probably used to be more keen on the idea than he was. But he really wanted us to have that bond, especially for after he died. He did want me to think about it, and how I'd feel [as a widow], but to me that didn't really matter. I didn't want to think about what that meant for the future. We took every day as it came really - all the clichés."
They planned a traditional November wedding for friends and family, with a white dress and a reception. But in October, when Jonathan's health suddenly took a turn for the worse, they were forced to bring it forward. The wedding ended up as a simple ceremony at home with Jonathan and Sian holding hands, and her mum and a friend as witnesses. The white dress stayed hanging on the door - "it didn't feel right" - and Jonathan's vows were some of the last words he ever said to Sian.
"The wedding night was very peaceful actually," she says. "We had candles on with no lights. We all spoke to him and chatted and tried to make sure he was comfortable. I was saying 'I love you' over and over when he was drifting in and out so it would be the last thing he heard. Once he actually passed away, it was it was hard. In lots of ways that mean I don't really think about it very often. It's not a nice time to remember, so I try and remember how it was before."
For Sian, that means memories of Sunday pub lunches, long walks, watching TV on the sofa and visits to Wales with his family. She still thinks about Jonathan every day, and misses him, not on the "big days" like Christmas when there are plenty of distractions, but "on a random Tuesday". "It's when I've had a bad day at work and I really wish he was there to say it's all alright," she says quietly. "It's the times where I don't expect it, but see something that will remind me of him or think he'd find something hilarious that it hits me."
Still, she is glad she chose to spend the anniversary of his death completing the last leg of their walk and celebrating both that achievement and his life as a whole. "It's amazing because I feel something good is coming of all this," she says.
"People have even asked if it will be an annual thing. It won't be the full distance again, but we might do what we did on the first day, which was one of his favourite walks in Wales. But for the fifth anniversary, after we've had a couple of years to recover, we might do something even bigger."