Who is the third who walks always beside you?

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Relaxing one day, I received a call from a friend asking me if I would enjoy a nice long walk in the country. It would take in coastal views and the best countryside that Devon and Somerset had to offer. He mentioned that it was quite a distance, but we would be doing it over one day and in the process we would be raising money for a charity called Restore. What could I say? A walk in stunning countryside with some of my closest friends. I mean, it can’t be that far if we were doing it one day, could it?

Wrong! The plan was to walk 55 miles from Minehead on the North Coast of Somerset all the way to Sidmouth on the south coast of Devon taking in Exmoor and the Devon hills on the way. Unfortunately, by the time I gave the distance or terrain any thought, I had already committed.

We thought it best to do a short 35 mile warm up walk a few weeks before the event; a test of sorts. We would keep it easy by walking alongside a canal so that the route would be flat. I managed it, but could hardly stand up the following day. I had blisters on both feet and my legs muscles had ceased to function! For the next week, daily practice walks took place to try and get truly fit. But before I got there it was the end of March and the day of the walk had arrived.

We left home at 2pm, met up with the other walkers and arrived at the start point at a beach near Minehead at 5am. The Met Office had issued a weather warning for heavy rain and strong winds, and as we set off, heads into a South-westerly gale, I understood why! Within an hour we were climbing onto Exmoor, and then the rain arrived.

It’s easy to concentrate on the hard parts, but that would be an injustice to the majority of the walk which was a wonderful experience. With good company, amazing views (especially over Exmoor) and a real sense of purpose, the majority of the walk was an uplifting experience. However, there were a few lows. Walking along a muddy footpath over Exmoor in heavy rain, knowing I still had 45 miles of walking to do, and with soaking feet was one of them.

The last 10 miles however was where the real hardship started. Mentally, doing anything continually for 22 hours is tough, but that combined with blisters, aching joint and muscles that just wanted a rest really starts to take a toll. It really was a case of putting one foot in front of the other that got us to the end. Also, it was also being part of a close team, pulling together with a common goal and supporting those who were suffering more than others. Words of encouragement, offers to carry your friend’s rucksack to take a little weight off their legs and an overwhelming desire not to let your team down was the real reason we all made it over the finish line in Sidmouth. We also had a very committed friend in a mini bus who met us every 10 miles with offers of tea, coffee and flapjack! It’s amazing the power that flapjack has to motivate!

Why did we do the walk? Well, as always, there was the challenge. I like to challenge myself physically and mentally a few times a year. I have competed in the RockSolid race and have also completed the 3 peaks challenge in the past 18 months. But the other and more important reason was for a charity that supports survivors of human trafficking: Restore. Through the walk, we managed to raise around £10,000 for this charity, which includes a very kind donation of £1,000 from Acutest.

A survivor of human trafficking is left extremely vulnerable after their experiences. Many want to remain in the UK because they are scared they would be hunted down by their traffickers if they returned to their home countries. However often they are unable to speak English, troubled with their mental health, have limited life-skills and limited financial support. Without help, many end up homeless and research indicates that up to 50% of people get re-trafficked within two years (IOM, 2011).

Henry Massey

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