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From Leeds For Lara – The Dinosaur Diaries

Posted in General News on 7th June 2021

On Wednesday 29th July we set off on a charity walk to raise money for The Lullaby Trust in memory of Lara Maddocks who passed away of SIDS in July 2019 aged just 3 months. In other words, From Leeds For Lara.

This is the story of that walk.

Day 1. Wednesday 29th July. Leeds to Dodworth. 33 miles

“Leeds to Altrincham eh? What’s that, about 45 miles?”

“No, 80”

“Eh? 80? How’s that then? That’s not going to be easy”

A small snippet of my conversation with Eugene. Taxi driver, ex-Prison Officer, gym freak, part-time MMA competitor and full-time charity walk scrutineer.

He looked like he had seen a fair bit during his time so when I told him about our walk and saw his reaction, my heart sank.

I didn’t mention the “doing it in inflatable dinosaurs” bit for fear he may call on some of his old P.O colleagues and have us all put away for our own safety.

Here we were, 5 blokes of varying age (21, 28, 30, 43, 49) and fitness levels (good but injury prone, good but more show than cardio, very good but had a recent head injury, average but not that good for quite a while and not good at all with a 100-1 price to complete day 1!), embarking on an 80+ mile hike from Leeds to Altrincham.

We arrived at the BJSS office in Leeds at 7.00am and, by the time we had inflated the dinosaur costumes (why on earth were the battery lids screwed down – as in, with a screw? Is inflatable dinosaur battery theft really a thing?) and said a few prayers to above, it was 7.30am before we started the long walk home.

Through Leeds Station, we headed to The Royal Armouries and almost immediately we received glares/donations and many a pressed car horn as we went. It was brilliant.

Startled locals had their phones out and some even asked for selfies. Everyone seemed to have smiles on their faces and I can only imagine the amount of commuters arriving to the office asking their colleagues if they had “seen the 5 lads on a Stag Do in the City Centre”.

We set foot on the Trans Pennine Trail (not for the last time) and started the journey south (remember them?). A short break to fulfil my media requirements (a 4 minute slot on BBC Radio Leeds which I hoped would lead to a call from Pixar for voice over work but alas no) gained immediate listener feedback in the shape of some people in an apartment block appearing on their balconies shouting support and at least one dog threatening to jump – he was either not a fan of my radio work or was it the Dinosaurs? I’m going with the latter.

We realised very quickly that whilst we had great backing from everyone we came across, their four legged companions were extremely mixed in their attitudes towards their prehistoric counterparts. Some cowered, some froze, most barked and a couple even leapt. The fact that none of them saw us as a peeing post is something we were all grateful for.

One universally common theme as we wandered down the River Aire though, was the locals continual questioning of our geographical nous:

“Where you heading?”

“Greater Manchester”

“You’re going the wrong way you know?”

We continued South to the village of Methley collecting money merrily as we went – always ensuring the cash was well in hand by the time the unsuspecting Yorkshire folk were made aware that we prefer our Roses red.

All was well in “Jurassic World” until the first navigational error caused us to take a wrong turn off the River and led to a chance encounter with our first equine counterparts ….. and the local fuzz.

In case it has ever had you wondering, I can confirm horses (well “Pippet” at least) aren’t big fans of dinosaurs to the point that we had to retreat, deflate, and hide to avoid a full scale conflict (no horses or dino’s were hurt and their riders were even kind enough to donate).

The fact we were in a stand-off and didn’t know where we actually were having the stand-off gained the attention of the local constabulary. They were confused to say the least and it became clear that they don’t teach “How to deal with a T-Rex v Horse confrontation” at the local Police Training School.

That said, they kindly insisted on giving us an escort to get us back on track. Obviously there is some ill feeling towards Dino’s in the Methley region and our safety couldn’t be guaranteed without such protection.

Signs were even worse as we gathered at 6.00am on the Wednesday morning and realised that we were already shattered before the journey to Leeds began with our hastily arranged chauffeurs Dave and Ollie (thanks lads).

Whilst a crow may be able to do the journey in a straight line of 40 miles or so, myself, Mark, Paul, Will and Harry had decided to go more cross country (ok, so I had). At the time, it just seemed too “easy” the other way. That was at the time.

Once in Leeds, we were going to head South, following the Trans Pennine Trail as far as Barnsley (ish) and then go across/over the Pennines to Glossop and on to Altrincham.

The car journey to Leeds was full of discussions about who had what, who didn’t have what others had, and who had forgotten things that no-one else had even thought about.

While we all had the essentials – water, underwear, basic clothing, walking shoes, foot protection supplies etc (how have I never heard of Compeed before?), there was diversity in the more luxurious items.

Some had gone big on the “clothing for all eventualities” theme with waterproofs, coats and even a woolly hat. This was despite zero rain being predicted over the 3 days. Others were far more focused on ensuring that whatever part of their bodies were going to suffer, their stomachs would not be one of them.

Baguettes, sandwiches, biscuits, porridge, wraps, fruit, buns, haribo (and supermarket versions of) and a whole host of other delicacies made up around 50% of the total load with Will and Paul especially resembling mobile cafes.

Water was the one commodity that we all agreed was vital but its weight had the group debating as to how much should be taken and how much bought whilst on the move. Indecision on everything was rife.

On we trudged, temperatures rising, from Methley(hem) to Bottom Boat (sounds nasty) to Stanley where, after many hours walking, we passed through a “Welcome to Leeds” sign going the other way.

We were only just leaving Leeds? We thought we were nearly done!

In a stare of depression, we turned to sustenance and realised the value of eating our way through such disappointments. Not only is food good, but eating it also eased the weight of our rucksacks. For a negative we managed to find two positives.

Heath Village was next (wow, what a gorgeous place!) and then past Walton (nice golf club) to Royston (can’t recall, was knackered by then but I’m sure its lovely), just North of Barnsley. Smiles and enthusiasm had shifted to grimaces and sighs. We left the Trail and hit the roads.

In Mapplewell, someone drove past and then turned around to not only make a donation but to offer to go to the local shop and get us supplies – amazing people. We were actually becoming a charity case on a charity walk.

I’m not sure any of us can tell you much about Barugh Green or Higham. There were pubs offering us a huge temptation as we passed and I have vague memories of a curry house claiming to be Yorkshire’s best (that must be a fiercely fought competition) but aside from that, we could only tell you about the quality of the paving a yard in front us – as that is where we were looking.

The exception to this was our “Sherpa”, Paul who could be regularly seen dropping back to whoever was last on the road to help bring them back – much like a Tour De France domestique. He also appeared with drinks in much the same vein.

The last 4 or 5 miles up to Dodworth were horrible. The pace slowed and the cunning plan to “get there in the early evening and hit the beers” seemed like the most ridiculous idea we had had since the one to do the walk in the first place. Every corner offered hope that we would see “The Fairway” (sounds like my golf game) – our home for the night.

My own personal experience was made worse by my colleague Will (or “Ronan” as he became know because he was up and down like a Rollercoaster ….. think about it!), offering the opportunity to “play a game” every few yards: “Here’s a good one. I say a footballer and you have to say another starting with the first letter of his surname. I’ll start. Victor Lindelof ….”. I didn’t finish what he started on any occasion.

Eventually, after over 13 hours on the road, 33 miles walked and at least 10 (failed) games of “Name the Footballer” we made it.

A pint and some really good food (with no shortage of very kind donations by several locals) later, and we retired to our rooms to assess injuries and perform the required foot related surgeries.

We slept poorly, knowing that the hills lay in wait on Day 2.

Day 2. Thursday 30th July. Dodworth to Glossop. 25 miles

Take That, One Direction, From Leeds for Lara.

All started with 5 young (shut it!) lads just trying to achieve something together. After initial success, 5 became 4 when one found it all a bit too much.

Some of you will no doubt have noticed that the end of Day 1 picture had something, or someone, missing.

Harry really hurt his ankle after about 28 miles on Day 1 and looked in so much pain that I actually forgot my own for a minute. He was so gutted and so were we that he simply couldn’t carry on but we decided to carry on as a 4-piece..

We set off on what we knew was a really poignant day for Mark, Lara’s dad, as today marked the one year anniversary of Lara’s funeral.

That reminder as to why we were doing this was all that was needed to forget the fact that whilst our numbers were dwindling, our blisters were not.

We went along the Woodhead Pass before cutting across a woodland path to Silkstone Common, or more accurately the bakery shop there, where we (heavily) sampled amazing and much needed bacon butties and amazing and much wanted iced cakes.

The staff and customers there were so supportive with donations and kind words and we stayed so long that we were way behind schedule by the time we departed. In the end it mattered little as that schedule went completely out of the window later on.

From there we wandered through the lovely village of Oxspring and on through Penistone (pronounced Pen-is-ston for the more juvenile amongst you), across a very long and seemingly never ending stretch of the Trail which entered onto the Pennine hills at Hazlehead.

As the sun beamed down (26 degrees) people started to do crazy things – none more so that Will who decided that he would try running for a few miles to see if it helped his feet. I’m no Sherlock Holmes but I don’t think it did him much good as we soon found him in the upended Turtle position on a quiet country road.

Our strength was diminishing as quickly as our water supply but as we reached Dunford Bridge, we found salvation and an oasis in the form of a lone farmhouse. The kind farmer thankfully refilled our bottles for us. But for him, we would have been in real trouble.

Somewhat less helpful was his wife who told us in no uncertain terms that the next section was “hellish”, “desolate”, “uphill” and that “men in our condition” really shouldn’t be doing it. She didn’t actually say the last one but I think that’s what the holding of her chin whilst shaking her head and looking us up and down was all about. Thanks for the water, if not the boost !!!

Up and over we went (those five words don’t really cover it), barely able to take in the amazing views across the Pennines. Conversation was mainly limited to “why didn’t we use bikes?”, “why is everyone else enjoying their day?” and, by far the most common one “how much further do we have to go?”. Sheep looked on mockingly as we criss-crossed the Woodhead Pass over rocky trails taking our life in our hands with the traffic as we did so.

Mirages and unsubstantiated sightings of Glossop between the hills became as common as they were unfounded.

Passing Woodhead Reservoir (very nice I’m sure but I barely looked at it), with 5.1 miles to go (yep, that’s how accurately we were counting them down), we learned that the Trail was undergoing repair and so were forced onto the B6105, Woodhead Road which I am pretty sure Chris Rea wrote a song about. Sat in something with an engine, I am sure its a lovely drive. Without an engine, its a *.

Torside towers over you to the left and Torside Reservoir invites you in to the right. Everything in the middle is uphill and nasty.

During a break, Will sat on an ants nest and news of that assault must have been sent to their flying counterparts who then terrorised us for the rest of the way as an act of revenge.

We eventually dropped over the other side and my Dino, “Moschops” (if you are under the age of 25, ask your parents), had decided that being extinct was a more preferable option than to going to Glossop. His demise was met with great sympathy from the first local to pass in his car: “you look a bit deflated mate”. I missed Yorkshire already.

Having politely refused an inebriated patrons innovative offer to resuscitate “Moschops”, we settled into the beer garden where some additional canvassing led to more pictures and more very kind donations.

The arrival of a couple of Paul’s rugby mates (shout out to Darren, a returning Ollie, and Stevo – who looked like he could carry us all to the finish if things got desperate) allowed us to jettison excess baggage for them to take as we prepped for the final day.

Day 2 was done and so, very nearly, were we.

Day 3. Friday 1st August. Glossop to Altrincham. 23 miles

We awoke early to see if anyone had done a Jason Orange, but to everyone’s relief, we set off from Glossop with all 4 remaining members (just about) intact.

We left at 7.30am with a view to avoiding the worst of the hot weather that was forecast for the day. This strategy immediately backfired when it was discovered that the one shop in the entire world that we could all have really done with wouldn’t be open for another few hours and that we couldn’t wait around to benefit from its services. FFS.

The route for the final day was far more urban than previous days so whilst the scenery was maybe not quite as welcoming, the sight of regular shops at which to refuel definitely was.

From Glossop, we went through Hattersley and Godley (where two people going away for a weekend saw how much trouble we had getting up off a wall and handed us cash without asking for details on the cause) and reached Hyde, who’s most memorable feature was the fact you can seemingly get your car hand washed for £1.30. Really? At that price we did discuss a team hose down for little more than a fiver but thought better of it.

From there we arrived in Denton town centre in 32 degree heat and received the biggest indications yet that maybe we weren’t looking good.

Firstly, we were bumped out of the way and then overtaken by a lady who must have been 80 years old (if you are reading this and you aren’t that old I apologise). Oh, and she had a post-Aldi big shop pull-trolley behind her too. Bad times.

Shamed, we decided to shade from the sun under a walkway to consider life and slumped down on our rucksacks for a rest. Within a few minutes a very friendly local offered £5 to Mark because “he looked like he needed it”. The regular sighting of mobility scooters generated such jealously that unthinkable crimes were briefly considered.

Worried that we could get moved on at any point (and seeking to avoid more encounters with the boys in blue), we moved on to Dane Bank (never heard of it) and then Reddish (seemingly named after our current complexions) where full on delirium led to the locals being treated to an “interesting” version of “Ocean Drive” by The Lighthouse Family.

Into the “Heatons” (Chapel, Moor and Mersey) we went where an increasing amount of people tortured us with their roadside drinking/eating habits – almost daring us to call it a day for a pint of lager shandy and a bowl of chips. It felt like being led into Shawshank for the first time with the inmates baiting us from either side.

Didsbury is a lovely village, especially when the sun is out, but none of us seemed to care as we now only had eyes on the finish – and besides, we knew that two friends of Mark from 25 years back were (unknowingly to him) lying in wait for us in Northenden with some alcoholic refreshments.

4 x Budweisers and some kind words from Tony & Anne-Marie later, and the final stretch was here.

As we crossed Wythenshawe Park we met a lady who had a 3 month old baby in a pram – the same age Lara was when she passed. She and Mark shared some tears and a hug. A really touching moment.

We hit the main road to Alty and the horn beeping started with people actually turning their cars around to give us money and take selfies. We became aware that, as we got nearer to home, more and more people knew what we were doing and, far more importantly, who we were doing it for.

We had a quick stop off at Harry’s house to catch up with him, see how his ankle was (he was doing star jumps when we got there – seemed dodgy) and to get his Dino off him so I could finish the walk in a state of inflation (arise “Moschops II”).

Worried that we could get moved on at any point (and seeking to avoid more encounters with the boys in blue), we moved on to Dane Bank (never heard of it) and then Reddish (seemingly named after our current complexions) where full on delirium led to the locals being treated to an “interesting” version of “Ocean Drive” by The Lighthouse Family.

Into the “Heatons” (Chapel, Moor and Mersey) we went where an increasing amount of people tortured us with their roadside drinking/eating habits – almost daring us to call it a day for a pint of lager shandy and a bowl of chips. It felt like being led into Shawshank for the first time with the inmates baiting us from either side.

Didsbury is a lovely village, especially when the sun is out, but none of us seemed to care as we now only had eyes on the finish – and besides, we knew that two friends of Mark from 25 years back were (unknowingly to him) lying in wait for us in Northenden with some alcoholic refreshments.

Four Budweisers and some kind words from Tony and Anne-Marie later, and the final stretch was here.

As we crossed Wythenshawe Park we met a lady who had a 3 month old baby in a pram – the same age Lara was when she passed. She and Mark shared some tears and a hug. A really touching moment.

We hit the main road to Alty and the horn beeping started with people actually turning their cars around to give us money and take selfies. We became aware that, as we got nearer to home, more and more people knew what we were doing and, far more importantly, who we were doing it for.

We had a quick stop off at Harry’s house to catch up with him, see how his ankle was (he was doing star jumps when we got there – seemed dodgy) and to get his Dino off him so I could finish the walk in a state of inflation (arise “Moschops II”).

We then headed into Timperley village for a sneaky pint – which then turned into a 20 minute tour around the beer garden (dino-distanced of course) collecting over £200 in cash from perfect strangers who either loved the cause or whose children loved the dinosaurs. Either reason was fine by us.

Then we saw the finish line and, with all the pain numbed by emotion (or was it now alcohol?), we gunned it. Nothing could go wrong now ….. nothing could stop us …. until Will’s dinosaur deflated within 100 yards of the finish.

Much like us, its batteries were fading but when replaced, and with the first rain in 3 days starting to fall (typical), we were amazed to be greeted home by so many people that we know and who have supported Mark and Rachael ever since Lara passed away a year ago.

Mark quite rightly led the team across the line after his amazing efforts, where Rach was waiting for him with tears in her eyes, champagne in her hand (for us) and Lara’s baby brother in her stomach – due in September. Such a poignant end.

A huge thank you to everyone who beeped at us, stopped to speak to us, wished us well, donated and, perhaps most of all, slowed down as we crossed the road so they didn’t hit us – we weren’t the fastest movers, especially towards the end !!!

Eugene was right, it wasn’t easy. But it was well worth it.

We were able to raise a wopping £12,636 for the incredible Lullaby Trust

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