The Church Walk Challenge UK
Patrington to Hedon
Determination and resilience are strong words. They conjure up visions of North Pole walkers, trekkers up great mountains: extraordinary people who do extraordinary deeds. Not like us normal folk.
That’s how I used to think, in world where I was a spectator, watching other people build houses in the wilderness, make a vaccine for covid, or cycle thousands of miles for charity when ill themselves; until it happened to us.
My husband was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in 2020, and died in June 2023. But not before raising over £2k for Teenage Cancer Trust with his Motorcycle Church Challenge. In fact, he did it in 3 months, whilst waiting for a second major operation, and with numerous symptoms of the spreading cancer.
His energy and determination were an inspiration to those who knew him, and his death left a huge hole. It feels as if I have lost the future. Bereavement sucks away your vitality. It’s easy to sit, thinking – or not thinking, just losing hours of life. Par for the course. For me it’s the memories. I’m thankful I have a lot of positive ones, and they’re balanced between what we talked about (Richard was a great talker) and did. (Here’s one for you: the Christmas Day it snowed and I found him laying railway sleepers in the garden because he decided the time is now.)
His Challenge was finished. I couldn’t ride a motorcycle, but I wanted to fulfil his wish to keep raising money for his favourite charity, and I also needed to walk. In fact, after the funeral I was tempted just to pull on my boots and walk off to who knows where. That was where the idea of the Church Walk Challenge came from. A 10-mile walk (although it turned out to be much longer) from Patrington to Hedon Churches in Holderness.
I thought about it as I walked Richard’s dog Pickle along the sea front. It would have to be something worthy of being a Challenge.
Bare footed? Er no.
The map showed other churches weaving around the route. These ancient buildings always have tales to tell, if not under their roofs then in the graveyards. I couldn’t not go to them but needed a safe route. Landowners in Yorkshire seem to have an innate ability to know when you are trudging across their field (always stick to the edge) and we were sometimes mistaken for hare-coursing pickeys. Richard’s job was to talk his way out of trespass claims, which he always did.
I love OS maps. They’re the best and most accurate way of planning a walk. On a hill in the driving rain not so good to look at, although they make a good parachute in the wind.
Richard wasn’t a planner, he just went out and did it, so that’s what I decided to do. Have to say I was glad when my friends said they were doing it with me, more so when they cycled some of the route on an exploratory mission.
It was a big thing personally. When you live with cancer a ‘big day out’ is a trip to the hospital, stopping off at a roadside burger van for a coffee on the way back.
One false start, when I forgot my phone and Mike (on van support) had to drive me back home, and we were off.
Big breath, try not to think of the miles ahead. I concentrated instead on getting to the first church, Winestead. We were by the road for a couple of miles and Katie said ‘bugger this, let’s do some publicity’. She got the charity banner out and we waved at traffic. Hearing the horns was emotional. Yes, people are egging us on. Also, the people who donated and sent well wishes on social media was incredibly energising. We were doing it for Richard, for young people with cancer and for everyone who was supporting us. It made me think of how we are all connected. We all know or can imagine how it feels to be in someone else’s situation of adversity.
There are old apple and pear trees at the side of the old railway track. Perhaps 100 years ago someone sitting in a carriage threw the core of the fruit out of the window and it took root. It fuelled my creativity, and the apples kept our energy up.
And I felt like we were on a mission. We had to do this. We were going to finish, but one stage at a time. A challenge often isn’t a race. A race is competitive or time limited. Challenges can take you beyond the edge of endurance.
When we left Ottringham, 5.6 miles into the walk I was exhausted. Let me say this wasn’t just a walk. It was an emotional journey, feeling the comradeship of the car drivers, doing the lives on Facebook, remembering Richard. I often think of him when he did the Motorcycle Church Challenge, full of a strange energy. It seemed beyond human capability, but knowing your days are numbered, how much effort do you put into living?
It was hot day, and we were walking alongside the road to Keyingham. I thought of packing it in briefly, but maybe Katie saw my drooping shoulders and took out the banner again. The toots and waves uplifted me this time. I found I was enjoying myself. The company, and the knowledge I’d already gone beyond the distance I usually walk gave me confidence.
I was tired when we got to Keyingham, with an arm that ached from all the waving, but mentally set. We were going to finish, no matter what. I was going to prove to myself that I could do this.
Doing the lives on Facebook hasn’t just increased my confidence. It’s given me some knowledge of local history and architecture. Old buildings are resilient. They’ve been around a long time. Seen a lot of change. And they’ve been cared for. When a crack has appeared, someone has climbed up a ladder and mended it. You might not be interested in history but the message here is resilience doesn’t just happen. We need support with the challenges in our lives. Faith comes from within, but the mortar, the helping hand comes from people. Young people with cancer don’t tackle it on their own.
Ask for help if you need it. Or just talk to someone. Say hello. It could change your life.
The last few miles were the most challenging. It was a long straight track, and we could see people who overtook us still walking a mile ahead.
A gentleman told us it was only one mile until we got to Hedon. The longest mile ever. We all flagged but never lost our determination. The church tower in the distance kept us going. I also had a vision of a slice of chocolate cake – church was open and selling cakes for Teenage Cancer Trust. Knowing the end goal is good. When we hit the town and pavement it even seemed to energise Miss P who was off at a trot in front of us.
Seeing the people outside the church waiting moved me, and it also reminded me of Richard. He was always encouraging and positive when we reached our goals.
When I stepped inside the cool walls, he was with me.
Facing adversity can seem impossible, but when you take positive action it can make a difference.
Tell your story of overcoming adversity in the comments. I would love to know!
Thank you to Mike for transport, to Katie and Clare for walking with me and providing the photos and looking after Pickle. Thank you to everyone who has supported through encouragement and donations.
In memory of Richard Holden