15 Year

The Dorset Walk – The decade and a half of reflections

In August 2008 my dad died aged 55, his death, following a cancer diagnosis, happened in a matter of weeks. So quickly that he was unable to receive any treatment; only multiple tests and scans that confirmed the Bowel cancer had spread and was beyond treatment.

The sadness was multiplied as he had decided to work one more year so that he could retire and live a little more comfortably; the plan was to spend 6 months of the year in South Africa and 6 months in Norfolk. To celebrate this self-identified ‘dual nationality’ he was going to have a rugby shirt that was half England and half South African.  He unfortunately never got to live any part of this dream.

The story isn’t finished. I was due to get married that August and had asked my dad to be my best man. He died two weeks before my wedding and actually passed away on the Saturday of my Stag Do, and a few weeks before my 30th birthday. The impact of this was utterly devastating for me and my family.

Looking back on this period of time, I remember the perceived unfairness of it all, the anger and the shell shock (grief) that I experienced. As I always say, I know very little about cancer, my experience is of grief and its impact.

A phrase that I now have firmly in my mind ‘we can’t control what happens to us, only how we react’.

It begins… In his memory: ‘The Dorset Walk’, was planned for July 2009. 

July 2009: We left Ely and drove down to Woodyhyde campsite, Corfe Castle – ‘we’ were 30 students and staff from Ely Community College. After a fair amount of research, I had decided to walk 40 miles, 3 legs, of the 630 mile Jurassic Coast Path. We would walk from Abbutsbury and finish at Worth Matravers, not far from Swanage with the miles spaced over 3 days. Despite the planning and pre-visits, it still felt ‘I hope this goes ok’.

I often get asked why Dorset, and why this route? The Jurassic coast had no personal connection for my dad or my family. As a young (non-washed up) PE teacher I had been one of the staff minibus drivers for the Hinchingbrooke Geography field trip. Having never visited that part of the world I was struck by the beauty and the stunning coastline. Initially I was considering the Lake District, beautiful and ‘wet’! The South Coast, beautiful and in theory warmer and drier.

We completed the first walk in the fog/cloud, without seeing any of the views. Almost ‘by accident’ we had created something spectacular. The now familiar  “I’m definitely doing this again next year”, which we now hear annually, was being uttered for the first time!

The ‘walking bit’ came about as my dad, who used to run half-marathons and marathons, had started completing long distance walking. I had joined him on a couple. I attempted them, didn’t complete them and thoroughly disliked the experience. The camping part of Dorset,  another necessary evil (I am not a fan!). A great plan!!

After the first year we decided to move one leg further along the coast path. Meaning we walked the last three legs of the SWCP, starting on Weymouth seafront and finishing at Poole (almost). We actually finish at the Studland visitor centre, we decided to stop just before the nudist beach!

In my  first write up (2009), I wrote:

‘At the start of the planning stage I set two clear objectives. I wanted students to have an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and I wanted to raise a little bit of money for charity. I am happy to say on both accounts the walk was an overriding success. I am hoping to make the event an annual event with the possibility of increased numbers each year. With the challenge to raise money each year, this year’s total has set a very high benchmark’ (we raised £6,000 with 30 walkers).

At the point of writing this we have just passed £500,000 and are expecting 350 participants on the 2024 Dorset Walk.

The 15 year Timeline:


  • The first ever walk.
  • Fakenham Golf Tournament
  • West Norfolk 1995 Colts v’s West Norfolk Social Team


  • Prince William School joined us
  • Eaton (Norfolk) Golf Tournament


  • Last year camping at WoodyHyde (we were too big)
  • Staff v’s Students Cricket and Rugby Matches – with campsite spectators


  • The wettest walk ever recorded since records began
  • The first 10 Hours of Sport at Ely Community College (Mark’s clown outfit).
  • First year at Burnbake Campsite


  • The mess tent debuted
  • The cricket match (and Goose)


  • Race the Sun – Whales, Bentley, Chapman and Thorpe: Cycle 50 miles, climb Helvellyn and canoe Lake Thirlmere


  • 120 walkers
  • The missing outer waterproof tent option and sleeping on the minibus


  • The ‘lost learning time’ farce from the Ely Leadership Team.
  • The summer holidays walk and the drop in numbers
  • Tony drove down to feed us and then drove back at 4.30am to be at work.


  • We jumped to 165 participants (back to the normal July walk)
  • Website and brand updates – Elliott/Amy
  • Barnham Broom Golf Tournament

2018 (10 years) 

  • The 10 year walk from Kingston to Ossmington (sun stroke)
  • Rob Balchin and the Huttons joins the walk
  • Ken Stimpson’s first year
  • Ethan walked all of it aged 8.
  • Edgars Gift were discovered on Twitter
  • The First Richard Marley Tournament
  • St Ives Golf Tournament
  • Family Fun Day at Pidley
  • Listers Christmas Market


  • 270 people on the walk
  • Our first presentation evening featuring Craig Lawrence
  • Bought our second Marquee, Lolla the dog, Billson’s writing
  • All the Whales boys make the promenade
  • Verity runs the London Marathon
  • Woodlands Garden Project completed


  • Covid prevents us from getting to Dorset.
  • The Non-Dorset Walk, 400 people and £30,000 raised (and all donated) with participants from across the country and world.
  • Community lease begins with the marque at the pub (when pubs were only open outside)


  • The ‘road map’ year – the ‘bubbles’, ‘close contact’, 14 students missed out. Parents drove some students down for one day
  • The European football finals on big screens, on camp, in bubbles, in the rain!
  • Buxton and Browny walked 2 days to get to London to watch the football.
  • Poolathon #1 Al dyes and shaves his hair.


  • The Apocalypse Sunday night and Dorset underwater on Monday
  • The Impact study was commissioned
  • Ely College spaces sold in 120 seconds
  • Sue Ray runs the London Marathon
  • The TMWF and Three Horseshoes Golf Society launches


  • 15th year
  • Will Bradley completes the walk aged 73.
  • Ethan and Damien win the Spring Golf
  • Anniversary Ball
  • Richard Marley 60/60/60
  • Poolathon #2

I have included some memories and highlights, there are probably a thousand more I could have included. The have been a few key events that need noting along the 15 years

Some more highlights, memories and reflections of the 15 years:

  • The psychological impact that walking can have on you. The first walk was exhilarating and almost surprising how enjoyable the event was. After maybe five years I began to describe the almost spiritual impact the walk has on people.
  • Resilience is a favourite word used particularly in education, like a commodity that can be acquired. The reality is it can only be found outside of your comfort zone, where you find discomfort! Each year there are tears, pain and fear – “I can’t go on”, each year they do, and resilience is there waiting.
  • The walk is addictive, as soon as you finish you are preparing for the next.
  • The dramas of the walk. The inevitability that things will not go to plan and that is part of it. The weather is rarely as you would like it! Some years it is incredibly hot, others it rains, some years you walk in clouds. Oddly, the more challenging, the more memorable.
    • The 2012 Glastonbury year – arriving into the Atlantic Storm
    • 40C on the final Monday and travelling home with or without AC
    • The Biblical Storm on the Beast in 2023.
  • Students change in front of your eyes. The walk is all encompassing – it is a physical, mental and emotional challenge. They are all better for it – for some it is a journey that repeats year after year, for some they become a part again later: as a teacher, as patron a Trustee.
  • Schools come, and some stay. The importance of the individual leaders from each school is so important. The impact that a change in Trust or the change in job can have is huge and rarely helpful. We are so indebted to key personnel that make it work each year!
    • Ely College remains our most committed – it has become a part of the Ely Community.
    • Prince William a long serving partner since the very early years.
    • Ken Stimpson have now taken part in the last 5.
  • Staying in lodges is extremely appealing, the hot tub, the ‘not in a tent’ part! But being on camp and being a part of it is so important. Experiencing everything together really contributes to the experience (I still hate camping)
  • My eldest son walked all of it at 8 years old. My younger boys are now ready to start attempting full days. The day we all complete it will be a big day!
  • The 10 year anniversary walk and getting heat stroke, lying behind the monument being ‘supported’ by my friends!
  • Trying to give instructions and be kind, then people ‘thinking for themselves’! I now understand why the military gives orders – it makes things work!
  • Travel issues: Trying to explain directions pre-SatNav (lost people!) – then the arrival of what3words, Tony’s wrong fuel in the van, Jack/Wayne and others crashing vehicles (every year). Billson losing his mind when he gets lost. Coe’s directions attempting to direct us to the cross channel ferry and almost arriving in Calais instead of Studland.
  • The walking route has changed as the cliffs have become beach, diversions inland increasing the distance in the heat and not knowing the route. Slightly altering paths, avoiding the Abbotury and the Nudist beach. I have only got us lost once – stranded on the side of the road, in the rain at the end of the walk, I was popular.
  • The support team – Tony: under a garden gazebo, on the back of the transit van, to the first Mess Tent. Increasing numbers of people who make the logistics work invaluable!
  • Mobile phones and their importance – the fridges we used to take – wifi on the campsite – our own generator!
  • The final of the Euros – taking screens and projectors for the Marquees, to watch Italy win.
  • Covid and the non-Dorset walk were interesting years. Are we on, are we off? When should we cancel? Is the road map holding? Let’s try a NonDorset Walk
  • “Will we get altitude sickness?” remains my favourite question
  • The increasing impact of Social media and our use of it. The introduction of the Facebook Lives has been extremely popular
  • Trying to describe to people that haven’t walked or taken part. It is so hard to get people involved – how do you make walking and camping sound exciting? The adult part of our camping village has grown as students become ex students and families have started to join us.
  • The things that people say about the walk when they have finished. The pride that builds and then is shared with the public. The stories I hear from the general public when they hear who we are and why we are doing what we are.
  • On the first walk I was in the gift shop at Studland Beach, a man asked me what we were doing and then how much we had raised? I explained and that we were hoping to raise a few thousand. He explained he had been running a charity for the past 25 years and had raised just over a million pounds. Challenge accepted!

Where we find ourselves now:

  • We have raised over £500,000!
  • For the last three years we have been approaching 300 participants and raising over £60,000 each walk.
  • We have donated to so many different causes these have included: Counselling, Research, bereavement, wellbeing support, hospital gardens, wishes, supporting partner charities…
  • Our biggest ever project – the Lakeside Retreat.
  • Camp logistics have gone from Tony’s gazebo to
    • Our own 40ft container for all of our equipment.
    • The camp kitchen now looks ready to serve an army
    • We camp at Burnbake Campsite (another visit to Dorset) as we outgrew the previous campsite as they were unable to exceed 100 people.
    • The two minibuses has become a fleet of minibuses and most recently  coaches
    • We have our own dedicated support team.
  • We have a golf society in partnership with The Three Horseshoes
  • The 10 hours of Sport has been running for 7 years.
  • Netball has been running for 6 consecutive years.
  • Additional events
    • Individuals running marathons and half marathons for us.
    • Cake stalls and other individual fundraisers
    • Due to all the equipment we own. We now have a community loan offer. We loan our marquees and equipment to any local charitable event for free.

Aspirations for the future:

  • I desperately want to achieve 400 people on the walk, the maximum the campsite can hold.
  • The 10 Hours of Sport, I would love it to spread further across the country.
  • I hope the Lakeside Retreat is just the start of our larger scale impact.
  • I would like my team to win the Netball tournament! 😉
  • I want to keep growing the charity, I love looking at what next and how we can get bigger and better – I hope the logistics can keep up.
  • Lastly, I desperately want all my boys to walk and complete the 3 days with me, I want them to become active members of the charity and help drive it forward. I want them to make their grandad proud.

What are my conclusions? 

The last 15 years have been incredible, amazing that it has been so many years! Unbelievable in what we have achieved.

The charity brings a mix of emotions. The impact we have, the money we raise and the experiences we provide are so very positive. The reasons we do it are the opposite, the stories you hear and the causes we support are heartbreaking. If we make a tiny dent in the sadness then it is definitely worth it.

I feel proud of what has been achieved in my dad’s name. It feels good that something special has come from something so difficult. It fuels my belief that there is opportunity to be found in everything. Nothing ever goes smoothly, why should it? That’s part of how things work – learning to be flexible, adapt and continue to march forward is what we have done.

Maybe a bit naff but it feels like TMWF is Rocky when he is running through the streets, one by one people start to join him and when he turns round there is an enormous crowd celebrating with him. TMWF has become something that so many people care about. When people contribute and commit to a purpose, together, it makes people feel good. We have all the ingredients!

None of this was planned or in any way deliberate. The charity has been very much one step at a time. Year on year the steps have got bigger, and more of them. If this was a plan I am very happy with where we are after 15 years.

As for the Dorset Walk, it is something truly special. It is, ultimately, just a weekend of walking along the coastline. But It is so much more! I think about it and plan it all year round, it never leaves my mind. I am excited every time somebody new joins as I know what it will do to them. I am so frustrated every time a school doesn’t manage to come as I know so many people will now miss out. Once you have been and experience it, you join an exclusive emotional club, no matter how hard you find it, it brings such rewards.

As I say to the participants, they are special because they said ‘yes’ to the challenge, it’s much easier to say no, they said yes which is why they are there! Then, that nothing is worth having unless you have worked hard for it. On the walk they manage the 40 miles and they earn the feeling on Studland beach – it is truly a feeling like no other!

We will continue to take steps to beat Cancer long into the future!