This summer, Chapter’s Chief Officer Clare Ashworth walked the entire breadth of England to raise funds for our support service. Here is her account of her 10-day odyssey.
I had always liked walking, and I have vivid memories of my grandmother recounting the story of two Polish brothers who had lived opposite her in London. They had walked from Poland to England during the war, catching a fishing vessel across the Channel, in order to join ‘our side’ as she called it, to help with the fighting. I had always thought that although obviously brave and a monumental task, that had I been there, I would have agreed with those brothers; that it absolutely was possible. The risks would have been huge. They could have starved, been caught, been shot. But I guess the hope of being able to make it to England, and be able to start a new chapter of their lives was something strong enough to hold onto.
I did this walk because I knew it was possible. The Coast to Coast (or C2C) is a well-known cyclist route, and wherever a bike can go, a person can walk. Yes, parts of it was extremely remote, but I also recognised that if I broke an ankle or similar, I would just have to wait, and a cyclist would eventually come along to help.
I walked from Tynemouth, just beyond Newcastle, to Workington – an old mining town on the West coast, beyond the beauty of the Lake District.
The route took me through rough Newcastle inner city areas, moorlands that took 3 days to cover, through remote villages and wooded country parks.
The landscape changed every day – even the moorlands – and it was all beautiful in its own way. Even the decaying train station at Workington. There was something quite nostalgic in knowing that those deserted platforms had once serviced hundreds of workers coming into their daily jobs at the mining companies.
I saw birds of prey at close quarters, I saw sweeping mountainsides, met chickens randomly wandering along the road and walked through fog for 5 hours without being able to see anything beyond 3 metres in front of me. Beautiful British countryside.
But it wasn’t the landscape or the scenery that took me by surprise, or made the journey memorable, it was the people.
I hadn’t factored in that I would meet the most amazing people on my journey. Granted, a lone female waking in remote areas with a rucksack on her back does probably encourage another person to approach and start a conversation – ‘Where have you come from?’, ‘Where are you headed to?’ ‘How much longer will it take?’ But from those initial questions, came characters and stories so individual and personal that it made me happy to call myself a human.
There was Christie who topped up my water supply on my first moorland day. She lived in a remote cottage and kept spare water bottles in her fridge for such an occasion. There was the farmer who reminded me th
at often you find beauty on your doorstep at home, if you just remember to look. Andrew, who told me of his own mental health experiences, Christine who reassured me that life was a collection of rollercoaster adventures that always levelled out in the end, and Val who regaled stories of famous rock stars she had dated through the decades.
And I guess what was ultimately heartening was that when I told people I was raising money for a mental health charity, not one person told me that they didn’t support such a cause. In fact, most dipped into their pockets and gave me sponsorship money at that point. Many shared personal stories about their own mental illness or someone in their family, and all seemed to know exactly why it was so important.
Mental illness is a massive journey in itself. And just like the Polish brothers my grandmother used to tell me about, the journey is only achievable if there is hope involved. Hope that someone has your back, someone cares and someone wants you to succeed.
Hopefully my small walk raised enough money to give someone the support they need for them to be able to undertake their own personal journey, filled with hope for something better.