As the dust settles on the 15th year of the Dorset Walk, I find myself writing an additional piece to this one, where I am reflecting on the decade and half of walking the Jurassic Coast. As part of that process it has meant re-reading the reports from previous walks. Interestingly, there are numerous references to the British weather! We have experienced, it seems, everything and all seasons. I have also written the same line ‘this was probably the best year yet’ in almost every write up. This year will, I’m sure, be no different. On arrival, as is now the case every year, the camp was set up and ready to welcome us. The away team works so hard ahead of us that on arrival everything is ready to go!
In my welcome introduction on the morning of the first day’s walk, I talked of the excitement that we had for the participants. We knew that they were about to change. The weekend in Dorset will make them better people; we have seen it year after year. I asked them to try and appreciate it and feel it as it happens. I was clear that they should feel proud that their ‘yes’ had brought them to this point. They were about to experience a physical, mental and emotional experience like many of them had never experienced. But to feel and appreciate that, they would need to work very hard, and also that they now had very little choice about what was about to happen. The challenge was set.
‘The Beast Strikes Back’
The 15th year walk has now been and passed, another milestone for the charity. For many, this adds to previous walks. For Stuart and me, we have just completed our 600th mile. For others, perhaps it was their first 40 miles. For all of us, it was another fantastic experience. The walk is truly something special.
Every year, we had hope to break the previous participation numbers. But as experience has taught us, things change and nothing stays the same. Meaning lots of schools show interest and for a multitude of reasons they are unable to make it. This year we lost some key schools, which unfortunately included LECA, normally a big supporter. Fortunately, Ely, PWS and KSCS brought record numbers; and the adult/family group was also the biggest ever. Resulting in a healthy 270 participants.
The journey down felt quite different this year with two coaches taking Ely and KSCS. The coach from Peterborough was a 79 seater and looked more like a spaceship! This meant that all students and staff onto the coach, the minibus became the bag/tent van with Ethan and me driving down in relative peace and quiet.
Helpfully, as we reached Huntingdon on the A1, the fruit that we had delivered was still sat in the school fridge in Peterborough. Meaning the already full van had to turn around, without any available space and collect the pallet of fruit. A few hours later Jen and Jade arrived at the campsite with fruit in all parts of the cab and van.
The walking this year was perfect. This year’s group seemed fitter and better prepared than ever. The speed of the walk and the back markers were faster than in lots of previous years. The t-shirt colours this year were red, military green and sapphire blue. Day 1 started early on Weymouth seafront, the sky a perfect blue and with the sun reflecting off the sea it was as beautiful as I have ever seen it.
Temperatures in the early 20s providing perfect walking conditions. The day was complete with a blink of the eye! Friday evening is spent in Swanage with students buying their own food and having some free time. A small issue, the super modern spaceship coach had broken down – that might be a problem. The other coach and minibuses shuttled the groups into Swanage, the spaceship was on the operating table late into the evening, fortunately it was fixed by morning and we were good to go for day 2.
Saturday began slightly later than day 1. We decided to start the day with some ‘Housley Yoga’, for 250+ students, good work Mr H.
The second day again offered perfect walking conditions, no weather dramas this year..! The stairs at the start and the travelator were conquered without too much trouble. Lunch at Tyneham was perfect with the support team again there to refuel and refresh the group.
The second half of day 2 is always about ‘The Beast’ , the name given to the final climb that goes from sea level up into outer space! This last climb is definitely the hardest of the whole walk. As we reach this point, the drivers walk ahead to collect the buses/cars parked at the start. As we reached the summit, there was a loud clap of thunder that sounded very close. As we turned and looked back, the darkest of storms was looking like it was heading our way! ‘Looking like’ turned very quickly to ‘has arrived’. At the bottom of the beast 250 walkers were just starting their climb, the heavens opened and rain of a biblical nature fell. In the 15 years of the walk, never have we experienced rain like this! Those climbing the beast described the mud, the wet, the lack of grip, the tears and the elation once completed. Without exaggeration, this whole weekend will always be remembered for the final hour of the second day. If you were there you will NEVER forget that experience.
The 2023 Beast climb…
Has anyone seen Will Bradley? Willie had gone rogue, last seen heading towards Corfe Castle on his own, with no idea how to get back to the campsite. Willie aged 73 (Wayne Bradley’s dad) is the oldest person to complete the walk (with ease). So easy, that he fancied a few rogue miles. The KSCS minibus was dispatched in search and rescue mode. Willie was located strolling through Corfe without a care in the world… legend 😉
Once showered and dry again, the BBQ was served. All was now well in the world and thoughts turned to the presentation evening. As we celebrated those that had reached the milestones of 50, 100 and 200 miles. We reflected on 15 years. There were 5 of the original 2009 group of students, now approaching their 30th birthdays who joined us. Nick, Matt, Helen, Olly and Lizzy thank you so much for taking part, it means an awful lot. The event is a very emotional experience for me and the highlight for many is watching my emotions get the better of me. On a personal note, thank you for the gifts in celebration of 15 years, and also, thanks Andy for the marriage and suggestion of the extra-curricular events that made me laugh enough to evade the normal sniffling and crying!!
Day 3 began, again with perfect walking conditions. The climb at the start of the day leads to probably the best views of the entire walk. It enables people to see all the way back to the start with Weymouth seafront in the distance. It also enabled us to embarrass and sing happy birthday to 3 of our participants, a great start to the ‘team’s’ day 3. Day 3 includes the now popular Facebook live climb of the v-steps, followed by long miles to Durlston Head, through Swanage and onto Studland beach. This year, the tide was as high as we have experienced. The sprint finish was condensed and completed in the now staggered format (including a ‘little ones race’ with my youngest two running for the first time). 270 proud and tired walkers crossed the line at pace! Dorset 2023 had been walked!
Back to the campsite, day 3 was chilli night and the vultures circled early for seconds. Rob – this was the best chilli served in 15 years, you are a superstar! The marquees come down in readiness for an early departure on Monday morning. For the students it was time for some mob football with Peterborough taking on Ely. Then lights out, ready for the travel day home.
Well done everyone that took part! This year it looks like the fundraising has broken the £60,000 mark, the largest amount raised in one weekend and exactly 10 times the amount raised in 2009.
As always there were a few additional highlights for this year:
- The family participants: the Whites, Sansbys, Hamiltons joined us for the first time (thank you for supporting us). Following Laura and Tracey’s completion of the Pathfinder Walk (46 miles in a day) the week before, it was good to see the challenge that Dorset provided for them. The Reads, now a permanent fixture ‘for life’ again took part and raised another £2000!
- England won the 3rd Ashes Test, Wood smashing the Aussies for six.
- Having struggled last year; Andy O’Neill returned this year with a steely sense of purpose that makes me smile whilst typing these words. Having really trained and mentally preparing himself, watching him complete all 40 miles was truly heartwarming. Even though he politely told me to piss off when I offered him a headstart in the sprint finish.
- Zoe Marley participated for the last time as a Ken Stimpson teacher. The school is losing an absolute superstar, Swavesey gaining one. We hope to see Zoe next year in Dorset with her new school.
- Thanks as always to the staff that drove down Friday night and put tents up in the dark.
- The biggest ‘to Malcolm’ toast and the reflection of 15 years and cold nights in tents (and the extent people had gone to stay warm).
- “Sir, my phone has been stolen!”, “Have you checked your tent?”, “Yes”, “Sir, I have found my phone”, “Where was it?”, “In my tent.” … and repeat.
- The bacon roll queue was the biggest I have ever seen.
This year, the support team were simply amazing. It was the smoothest camp we have had. It may be down to the Huttons/Welshs’ and Rob getting even better, or, as may have been muted, the addition of the Rices’ were the difference. It is worth mentioning the Rice/Hutton light display and how blown away they were, commenting that it rivalled the King’s Coronation drone display. I take full credit!
The experience and the amazing views are so impactful because they are earnt. Those experiences are yours as a result of decisions you took and the effort you used to get you there. Put simply, if you didn’t do it, you have no sense of what it feels or looks like. The pride you felt when you finished was earned and yours. You are in the minority, whilst 270 is a huge number, in relative terms your ‘yes’, is dwarfed by all those that chose ‘no’. You made a difference; I applaud you and I hope you feel suitably proud of yourself!
The walk is a sensational event – its power and spiritual impact are becoming clearer to me each year. A shared challenge, something that brings people together with a common goal has power. Finding a ‘team’ that has its own identity and builds loyalty and pride like TMWF, multiplies these feelings. Now with the history and prestige the walk/charity has, the power seems to be increasing. The new are surprised by the scale of the event, the old by the pride they feel each year.
I am also slowly becoming more comfortable with the ‘feeling of pride’ in what TWMF has become. This stunning event truly changes people and has really changed me! “This was probably the best year yet!”
Thank you all and see you next year!