Dorset 2019 was incredible, each year this write up starts with the same type of description. Perhaps, the walk is quite simply, an amazing event?
Most importantly before we get to what happened... Thank you! Thank you to all the people that took part, to all the volunteers that made it work, to those behind the scences that make it happen and to Keldy for bringing my family along - perhaps the biggest challenge of all.
This year we had excellent weather which has such a huge impact (we must be due another 2012!!). The participant numbers smashed previous records, with an incredible 270 participants, dwarfing the previous record of 165! This was largely down to LECA, Witchford joining the walk for the first time. Ely, Ken Stimpson and Prince William were again strongly represented. There was also a significant number of ex-students, other adults and family members.
There were a few differences and additions to this year. Firstly we were for the first time on the Events Field which provided ample space for the team 2019. We used our TMWF marquee for the first time which provided plenty of seating for hoards of teenagers to charge their phones!
Brief highlights of this year also inlcuded:
- The first presentation evening, recognising the achievements of our repeat walkers.
- Camp fires were used for the first time.
- The away team that arrived on Wednesday did a magnificent job, again. The cattle truck making the trek down for the first time.
- ADM donated their transit van for free.
- Steve Brown and his fun bus debuted and were the only bus without air-con :)
- All the Whales boys were in attendance, with Edward celebrating his 3rd birthday. Keldy survived the experience.
- The fleet of minibuses was a sight to behold!
- Facebook live again provided a fantastic medium to include so many people at ‘home’.
- Where’s Wally appeared out of Mr Housely’s tent along with his son George.
- Jenson and Todd joined for the first time.
- Mr Bilson’s writing captured the trip perfectly.
- We saved Bella the dog
- New t-shirt designs were fantastic - Green, Grey and Purple.
- This year we managed to raise an incredible £50,000 from this event. (Unfortunately not all of this is profit as we do need to pay for all of the walk) We are very thankful to all the sponsors, as ever we always need more.
- Individual JustGiving pages exploded, in terms of individual participants creating their own and raising significant amounts.
- We donated £270 to the South West Coastal path, as we now make a £1 per person donation each year.
Day by Day account
Thursday is the travel day filled with excitement and anticipation. This year we all seemed to descend on Fleet on mass and lots of annual friendships were reignited.
The arrival at the campsite was made so easy due to the away team’s hard work and the event field began to crawl with teenagers attempting to erect their tents.
Friday - The day of Green.
Friday was very, very hot. For the first time all of my Whales boys accompanied me along the promenade. Malcolm’s son and three grandson’s walking in his memory. My hayfever was really playing up ;0
As we walked along the promenade we made an immediate impact, people truly amazed by the numbers and the reasons we were walking. All except one plank who couldn’t bike through us and shared his narrow mind with some of our less than impressed back markers.
Oblivious to this, at the front, the green team went to the rescue of Bella the chocolate lab, she was in serious danger of drowning at the end of one of the jetties. Bella saved, Dorset 2019 had launched.
As the day progressed and the new participants apprehensively awaited the post lunch change in terrain, we stopped as always at Kingston for lunch. There we were joined for lunch by Mo and his dog Gizmo who were nearing the end of the full 630 miles of the coast path.They joined the 270 of us for the afternoon, which added a nice addition to their incredible achievement. Day 1 complete, some very hot and broken bodies made their way back to camp. With an extra stop to enable Ethan to get some ‘fresh air’.
Saturday - The day of Grey
Saturday is the much talked about ‘hardest day’, but not this year. I think because of the cooler weather conditions, this felt like the easiest day, but without question the most picturesque day.
A nice moment on our return was the donation from a member of the public that had seen us. He had sadly lost his wife the previous year to cancer and very generously made a kind donation to us in her memory.
On to the first ever Presentation Evening - why have we not done this before?
This was amazing and truly heartwarming. Awards we given to people for:
50 miles (2 walks) - certificate
100 miles (3 walks) - trophy
150 miles (5+ walks) - whisky glass
The awards were an extremely proud part of this year’s walk as we were able to recognise those people that had demonstrated significant support for the charity and achieved some big miles!
I even got to shake Craig Lawrence’s hand and congratulate him on his achievement and support. A few years ago this would have seemed impossible #thefretwelleffect?
Sunday - The day of Purple
This felt like a very long day, James German maintains this is the hardest day and he’s either right or its getting longer! The weather was again perfect, feet were hurting, but everyone made it.
The sprint finish was nearly a swim finish as the tide was so far in that we couldn’t actually access the beach via our normal route and had to follow a minor detour. Once on the beach it was ‘on’, facebook live was charged and it was time to run. This part is without question the most positive part of my year. The feeling is simply incredible. Unfortunately for the second year running, the fiercely competitive Ethan Whales tripped and fell during the finish, for him tears, for me panic, for everybody else pure elation. Next year perhaps Ethan may have to race me one on one (whilst I can still win).
Then before you know it, it is over!
So many voices stating “I am definitely doing it again next year”. The campsite shrinks and vans fill. Back to Cambridgeshire for most and Dorset 2019 is over.
What have I learnt? In the army people follow orders :)
Over to Mr Bilson:
A Kind of Pilgrimage
Walk for miles in mid-July; camp in a field; share a shower block with 300 other people; eat what you’re given; climb long, steep and challenging hills; repeat this for three days.
This is what the Dorset Walk offers to the ‘pilgrims’ who have returned every year now for eleven years. And, as with all pilgrimages, the journey begins with very reasonable misgivings (mainly, ‘can I do this?’). And, also as with pilgrimages, should end, in theory, with a kind of spiritual goal: in this case, the sense that you have ‘given of yourself’ for someone else.
What certainly shouldn’t be in doubt from the outset - the main attraction, I suppose - is the stunning coastal scenery which from beginning to end is varied, legendary (literally) and predictably and endlessly beautiful.
Three things will mainly test you: 1) The getting there 2) The camping 3) The walking.
You’ve got to steel yourself for a bit of a drive – five hours, give or take, from Cambridgeshire. This is the time when the apprehension builds: what have I done? How will I be tested? Am I going to survive? Pre-match nerves they call it in sport. At sea, the calm before the storm.
Camping is a bit of a marmite pastime. Bad experiences tend to put people off for life. But this is a mistake: adults have a habit of hardening their hearts too early while the young roll with the punches. The students at Dorset have the run of a huge field, the chance to meet up with other schools and, most importantly, the freedom that being outside 24/7 offers. I would say this is one of the most educational and therefore valuable aspects of the Dorset Walk: experiencing that lift in the quality of life that being outside fundamentally brings. Teenagers might not articulate this but they certainly feel it.
We all know that walking is a dying art. So why let yourself in for 40 miles of it? You might not be very fit; you might find yourself signing up for the Walk without even wanting to walk! But you are carried along – not literally – by the challenge, by the mile long line of trekkers, by the sense of camaraderie, by the awareness that you are probably doing something more indefinably worthwhile than you’ve ever done before.
And then it’s over and you’re on the way home. And in almost every participant’s mind is the same thought: I want to do it again. Remind yourself what a pilgrimage is: a physical journey with a spiritual goal. You know you’ve achieved something quite special; you know the Dorset Walk is something extraordinary in our mostly ordinary lives. That is what you signed up for and that is why you should do it.
I’m sure I don’t need to describe the exhilaration when we arrived at the final destination (you can see it on Facebook). A fleet of minibuses may have driven out of Studland Bay that afternoon in a dust cloud but I swear there were haloes hovering above every one of us.