Dorset Walk 2021
The road map held together and the Dorset Walk 2021 went ahead! With thanks to everyone that helped support us on this mammoth journey, read our report below on how it came together and came to fruition!
It seems surreal that 18 months ago we were hoping Covid would have gone away, enabling the 2020 Walk to take place. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be, the 2020 walk was cancelled and the Non-Dorset walk taking its place.
It seemed impossible that in July 2021 we would be facing the same issues and would be contemplating the cancellation of the walk again for the second year. The Road Map for re-opening had slipped and the walk dates fell into the extended pandemic restrictions.
We were desperate for the walk to go ahead and were monitoring the guidance carefully. Making sure with the right plan we could get the walk to happen safely within the restrictions.. Thankfully with a slightly altered format a few schools managed to join us. Our plans were fully risk assessed to include all of the Covid measures. The now commonplace language firmly rooted in our psyches and plans: the bubbles, staggering, social distancing etc all part of the plan.
There was the added pressure this year of delayed sign-ups due to ongoing uncertainty around Covid. This made planning extremely challenging. However in spite of all the difficulties we managed to get 200 walkers signed up and ready to go.
A huge thanks goes to Ken Stimpson Community School, Ely College, Littleport East Cambs Academy, Prince William School and City of Peterborough Academy (for their first time) for managing to push through the risk assessment red tape and get their students feet on the coastal path. Along with a mass of ex-students and other participating adults the group were ready for the Jurassic Coastal challenge.
The walk has become a firm annual fixture for so many of us. Missing a year made the build up a little more exciting (and nerve racking) . Once we made it to Burnbake and the tents went up, we could begin to relax – Dorset 2021 was on…
There were of course differences. School groups had to remain in separate bubbles, on the campsite and whilst walking. This definitely meant a more intimate experience for the groups. It did mean there was no massive launch at the start of each day and the walking snake didn’t transcend the entire coastline. The staggered starts that had to be introduced were a positive on the logistical front, but maybe took something away from the mass impact.
Getting 200 people down to Dorset was without question a huge success. KSCS numbers dropped days before as a positive test and the dreaded ‘close contact’ prevented 14 students attending, much to their disappointment. The group size represented six different bubbles in effect walking their own individual Dorset Walks within the Dorset Walk itself.
How did the walking go?
Firstly, you forget how challenging it is, how can going for a ‘walk’ be so physically and mentally demanding? Each year the self doubt arrives – for me, its on the second day when the participants really start to struggle. I have a real sense of have we pushed the boundaries too far, is this too much for them etc?
Then it happens, everybody realises after the ‘I can’t do this’ comes the ‘I can’. Everything changes, they are all of a sudden mentally and physically different.
Each day was and is different:
Day 1 – Blue skies, sun, ice creams, the easy start lulls the false sense of security, and then the hills. Due to the bubbles many of the public walkers commented on the groups that had seen already pass them. The temperatures were kind and the walking whilst challenging was extremely enjoyable.
Day 2 – ‘The tough day’, the magnitude of the challenge hits home. We woke to rain and the inevitable mud. The start of the day was wet! The path out of Lulworth Cove was quite a muddy challenge – the students loved it. The day was tough, people’s feet hurt and the walking was extremely challenging. Day 2 is the best day, but also the hardest.
Day 3 – The rhythm changes. Peoples mind’s have hardened. There is an acceptance of the discomfort in your feet and legs. There is also the sense that every step now takes you closer to the finish. Discomfort gives way to pride, and the excitement of the finish builds. Unfortunately the weather was damp at the finish. Each bubble finished with their own sprint finish, the feeling of elation for each and every person is obvious.
- Resilience is talked about like a commodity – we want it and we want it in our children. The walk builds resilience. For it to grow you need to be taken out of your comfort zone – meaning there must be discomfort, something most of us try and avoid. On the walk there is no hiding or choice.
- The growth in confidence in the students is incredible. The experiences that they are taken through all contribute – the unknown, the journey, the camping, the walking and the new relationships have such a huge impact. Possibly this year, multiplied post lockdown.
- How can walking be so physically, mentally and emotionally challenging? The Dorset Walk ‘just is’.
- Football is coming home (to Italy). The final watched on big screens, in bubbles, in the rain was something different.
- Browny and Buxton decided to watch the football in London on Sunday so walked day 2 & 3 on Saturday. Their van providing their own piece of 5 star luxury.
- 2 of the self isolating students’ period of isolation finished at midnight Saturday. So their parents drove them down from Peterborough for 7.30am Sunday morning so they could walk at least one of the days!
- The support team were again superstars – without them the event wouldn’t work. There commitment and enthusiasm is truly appreciated, thank you.. Rob, Jon and Becky in particular make the event run so smoothly – thank you.
- There was no big presentation because of the bubbles. The toast to Malcolm has grown enormously in size – I only cried a bit.
Not sure the apocalypse can be a highlight but it arrived Sunday night and into Monday morning. We woke up floating on Monday morning with many of us having to swim out of our tents. The campsite was flooded, the roads were flooded, Dorset was flooded. Monday morning is get up and pack away – in the rain the plan has to be the same. Slowly but surely the water proof covers were removed. Everyone and everything was drenched! Dorset 2021 finished with memories that will last forever, perhaps the rain added to the event. A final burst of discomfort for one final resilience boost.
As dust settles or probably more accurately dries £50,000 has been raised, hundreds of people have memories for life, everybody is a little bit better for the experience and for most we look forward to doing all again next year.
This year we commissioned some research into the impact of the event, we look forward to seeing the results – early indications are that it is as good as we think it is. We also received two pieces of writing form participants this year – I love reading these!
Thank you to everyone that committed this year, see you next year!!.
Dorset Walk Competition – Poem
Not Just a Walk
A coastal walk. A challenge. A mountain to climb.
Armed with power banks and crossing fingers for good weather.
Tents pitched, camp food warming, but this is far from a holiday.
I remember setting up camp, packing up my kit.
Day One, and the blisters have already started.
The seafront promenade, the clifftop ascent; I see the arches so clearly.
Durdle Door. Lulworth Cove. Studland Bay.
This coastline etched in my mind as the next generation blaze a new trail.
The descent is the true challenge, the weather wasn’t kind.
Boots slip, balance is lost, faces dotted with mud, smiling nonetheless,
And all I hear is laughter.
Young and old, coming together. Daring themselves to go one step further
And never giving up.
Some walk, some run. Few have the energy to sprint,
But they all finish.
The generosity of so many, carrying on my name.
Giving hope to those still suffering.
I look on with pride.
By Charlotte Beck
So Far So Good
Going back to Dorset for the second time, I discovered I’d forgotten so many things: directions (again); how generous with everything the people are who go every year to help; how challenging the walking is on Day 2; the hum and buzz of the bus; how much it really does feel like a holiday; that sweet sensation of tiredness that outdoor exercise brings; the levelling effect camping has on people; but mostly I’d forgotten the joy of seeing our students miraculously metamorphose as they hike along the Dorset coast. So far so good.
There were complications this time around of course. Covid restrictions imposed a certain amount of physical distance between the schools – on the campsite and on the walk – but this, ironically, only increased the sense of closeness between those participating. The spirit of one communal goal was palpable. And the trials of the walk were also still the same. So far still felt so good: in Lulworth, in Durlston, in Studland Bay.
Talking of complications, there was the rain this time around. It came in a deluge early on Monday morning, making the departure arguably more challenging than anything else on the trip. Everything and everyone were wet through but, on the way home, shining faces glowed with happiness and a sense of achievement.
On the walk itself, there was enough motivation going on between students to add a triple layer of cheese to any self-respecting burger. Singing, lots of singing. Encouragement galore. Unlikely bonds being formed between students of all ages and dispositions: the extroverts and the introverts; the loud and the quiet; the sporty and the not-so-sporty. This is indeed one of the eye-openers of the Dorset Walk; sometimes you can get people completely and joyously wrong.
Then there was the football to add flavour to Sunday night’s barbecue. Dozens of damp students gathered around two large screens. But let’s not lose focus here: the final that night was won – by those who had completed the arduous 40-mile walk. And that is always the overwhelming feeling on the long drive home. So far to go and so good too.