Nearly four years ago I was laid low by a nasty tumour that damaged my spine and left me paralysed from the waist down. In less than two years the NHS had sorted the cause of the injury and got me out of bed, out of a wheelchair and back on my feet, walking, driving and dad dancing all over again. I am a very big supporter of the NHS, as anyone who has heard me on that theme will know.

Stephen sitting in a garden

Just three months before my injury, my wife Bridget and I had completed a six-year project to walk the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path: up and down, in and out, which was stunning but absolutely exhausting, with the total elevations equivalent to just under four Mount Everests. So once out of my wheelchair, off the crutches and using nothing more than a walking cane, I decided to do some more trekking to raise money for Aspire. We picked the Peddars Way and the Norfolk Coast Path, 92 miles and very flat. I now appreciate flatness with my lower limb nerve damage which requires a little extra concentration on the simple act of walking. It’s also easy on the arthritic knees.

Stephen and his wife walking in Aspire t-shirts

Peddars Way mostly follows an arrow-straight Roman Road that runs 46 miles up the west side of Norfolk from near Thetford to the coast at Holme-next-the-Sea. It could well be older than the Romans and they just tarted up a path that dates back to the Iron Age and was used as a trading route from Norfolk all the way to Wiltshire. The Romans improved it to military specifications and it was used by their legions as they battled with the troublesome Queen Boudica and her Iceni warriors. In the Middle Ages it became the main route for pilgrims travelling from London and the south to the Roman Catholic shrine at Walsingham. Walking along its grassy and gravel ways today you can’t help thinking of the rich history of the area.

Ruins of building

We are doing the distance in three sections and in July set out from a wooded car park just 800 metres over the Suffolk border, accompanied by our good friends, Ali and Tim who had been with us for quite a bit of the South West Coast Path. In four days we had knocked off a little over 30 miles. We walked past significant sites like Lady Di’s boarding school, the country’s finest horse stud, some ghost villages appropriated by the MOD for military training in the Second World War and never returned to the 1,000 displaced people, the castle and priory at Castle Acre, Wayland Wood which was the inspiration for the folk tale, Babes in the Wood and, most importantly, Bridget’s place of birth. In places the route detours along country lanes because the path of Peddars Way is lost to history, maybe like its apostrophe. The path was surprisingly deserted and in the four days we met only two or three other walking groups. The weather stayed kind to us and the experience was delightful.

Stephen and friends

After surgery for a nasty little tumour that had collapsed the T10 vertebra and compressed my spinal cord, paralysing me from the waist down, I was fortunate to be sent for rehabilitation to the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre at Stanmore. It was there I was able to use the swimming pool, the sports hall, the gym equipment and of course the cafeteria (every day, for coffee and cake). This was my introduction to Aspire and between their facilities at the Aspire Leisure Centre and the fabulous people in the hospital, I was back on my feet 17 months after surgery. They had promised me we’d do it in two years; together, with a lot of hard work, we beat that deadline. So when I was fully up and about again it was an easy decision to do something to raise money for Aspire. I admired the charity so much I also became a Trustee and am delighted to be able to give something back in that way.

Stephen and friends on a bridge

In my mind I wanted to raise £3,000. I had already brought in £700 by selling tickets to friends for a fantastic music gig earlier in the year by the stunning Tom Waters and his band of young musicians, so I set the target at £2,000 and waited to see what would happen. In just a couple of weeks, just as I was finishing the first leg of the walk, the JustGiving target was hit.

I never fail to be astonished by the generosity of friends and family, especially in these straitened times. It is so good that the valuable work by Aspire will benefit from all my friends’ kindness.

We will return, hopefully sometime later this year, to complete the Peddars Way, then turn sharp right at Holme Next The Sea to join the Norfolk Coast Path to Cromer, finishing the last section sometime next year. We are taking a breather just now as our daughter has just made us grandparents for the first time and there is a lovely little girl to fuss over.

Sponsor Stephen

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