In aid of bereaved parents

Walk4Louis 2010 Diary

Sunderland - Alrewas

The Beginning

On the 10th December 2009 Kirsty McGurrell gave birth to a sleeping angel Louis Knight. As a focus for her grief, Kirsty decided that she would like to help mothers of babies that are stillborn and raise funds to make the experience as painless as possible. 17 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK and very little is available to help these mothers rebuild their shattered lives. So she decided that she would help by providing maternity units and neo-natal units in the North-east of England with keepsake boxes. These consisted of a clay impression kit to take impressions of the baby’s hands and feet, two teddies, a glass sleeping angel and a rose. She would provide these for free. But to do this she needed to raise money through fund raising events.

Paul Taft who lives in Cramlington in Northumberland works with Kirsty’s father, Bob McGurrell. On hearing the news about Bob’s grandson Paul was moved and felt very sorry for her and when hearing about the ideas she had for fund raising decided that he wanted to help her cause as he thought it was a great idea. So he put his thinking cap on. After doing a bit of research he found that there was a Memorial Garden for stillborn and neonatal death babies at the National Arboretum. This was situated in the village where he used to live in Staffordshire. So that spawned the idea of a destination to get to. As not being the fittest person in the world he decided running and cycling was out of the question but walking was well within the realms of possibility. Having his initial idea Paul rang his Friend Phil Barker. Phil, how lives in Tamworth in Staffordshire had recently lost his Niece Holly Gale who had only been alive for 12 days after being born prematurely. After hearing Paul’s idea and being moved with the loss of Holly he decide to get on board with Paul’s idea with the walk and so the idea was born.

The Preparation

With the end location of the walk in place Paul and Phil decided that a good place to start would be the Sunderland Royal Hospital who had looked after Kirsty in her tragic time. So with these places in mind Paul asked Phil to plan a route for them to walk. After a bit of trial and error Phil managed to have a route sorted that broke down to 6 days walking. Phil then past on the towns where each day would end and asked Paul to sort out places to stay in each. The locations were Darlington, Ripon, Leeds, Sheffield and Derby. After many phone calls and a lot of frustration Paul managed to secure places to stop in all the locations and managed to get all the rooms and the breakfasts complimentary which was a fantastic offer of generosity from all the places. In Darlington they would be stopping at Morton Park Premier Inn, in Ripon they would be stopping in the Royal Oak Hotel, in Leeds it was Leeds / Bradford South Premier Inn, in Sheffield it would be the Jury’s Inn and at Derby it was another Jury’s Inn. So with the route planned and accommodation sorted it was left to Paul and Phil to get all their clothes and equipment needed for the walk. So with walking boots, clothes, 1st aid kits and general supplies bought or kindly donated everything was in place.

Final Preparations

On the 16th April Phil boarded his train for the journey up to Newcastle to meet Paul and sort out the final preparations for the walk.

Over the weekend Paul and Phil checked and double checked all there clothes and equipment making sure they had every thing. On final checks they packed there rucksacks and set off for a practice walk to meet up with one of Paul’s friends John Appleby.

John Appleby, who lives in Durham had asked Paul if he could walk the 1st day with him and Phil. Paul had no problems with this and ask John for a favour back, if he would take the rucksacks in his van for the 1st day and leave them at the 1st destination at the Premier Inn in Darlington. John agreed to this. So Paul and Phil met up with John to give him there rucksacks. On final checks with the first day’s route they said there goodbyes and Paul and Phil set off back to Paul’s.

Bob McGurrell, who was a big Sunderland football fan, had managed, through a connection with Niall Quinn (Sunderland AFC chairman) to get 2 of the clubs 1st team players to come down and set the lads off. So this would help make good press for the charity and help spread the word of what a terrific job they are doing.

Day 1 Sunderland Royal Hospital - Premier Inn, Morton Park Darlington

So with the journey ahead all planned and sorted Paul and Phil got into bed ready for their final night sleep and although they didn’t know it yet it would be their final pain free sleep for a while. They both woke up at 06:30 and got dressed and went down for breakfast. After a warm bowl of porridge they got into the car and set off for Sunderland Royal Hospital. On Arrival they were greeted by their 1st day walker John Appleby, the 4Louis team as well as Jordan Henderson and David Meyler 2 Sunderland AFC footballers. After photos were taken for The Sunderland Echo and Northern Echo 2 local newspapers and final stretches were done they were ready for the off. Here is what happened to the guys on their epic journey.

We were set for the siren to go to send us on our longest and most challenging walk of our lives that we would not forget. The siren was started by Lily Taft, Paul’s daughter and after the blast the three intrepid walkers were off, no looking back now just forwards from here on. We were walking out of Sunderland when 2 people drove past us sounding their horns, it was Jordan and David wishing us good luck with thumbs in the air.

Our first destination which we were stopping for a break was Johns house in Durham, where we were fed and watered, then after a few stretches it was on from there through Sherburn village and on towards our second break point which was Rushyford. Our spirits were still high and we were still laughing at Johns jokes as John told us 5 minutes and we would be there, but we could start feeling some twinges in our legs, the back of my knee started to become sore and stiff and Phil’s ankles were becoming a bit sore, but we were soldiers and carried on through our pain as we knew what we were doing this for meant so much to us for achieving it and to help other people as well, we finally hit Rushyford and a welcome second break was deserved but it was for only 10 minutes as we did not want to sit to long and stiffen up , so with our last 8 miles in sight we set off again , the road into Darlington never seemed to end but we carried on and on our bodies still paining , we eventually got into Darlington and asked a man and woman if they knew a quicker way to our destination of the Premier Inn , he told us a way , so we followed his directions and John told us we were on the right track as he could see Morrison’s clock, we ended up outside a garage called SG Petch which had a clock on top so it wasn't Morrison’s, so we were a little lost so we called the Premier Inn for directions which they gave us , but we must have heard them wrong and after about half an hour we were still lost , worn out , tired and just wanting to be at our destination , but after another phone call we got our bearings and after some time of being on the road we made it to the Premier Inn at about 10 pm where we met Mary and Ahmet who were very hospitable and helpful , Ahmet asked us if we would like a drink but we could not face alcohol as our bodies we so worn and tired so we had a coke and he said go to your rooms and I will have your food brought to you , he must have realised how exhausted we were , poor John after walking all that way still had to get in his van and drive all the way back to Durham, me and Phil just collapsed on our beds which we were so glad to see , had some food and went to bed to get ourselves ready for day 2 of this epic journey which had only just started .

Day 2 Premier Inn, Morton Park Darlington - Royal Oak Hotel, Ripon

After a well deserved good nights sleep the alarm went off at 6.30am to get us up ready for our next leg of the journey. We showered, changed and then went to the restaurant to fuel our bodies up for the walk. Ahmet who was very helpful met us, he showed us where our breakfast was and then 5 minutes later came over to take our cooked breakfast order. After breakfast before we set off I showed him the 4Louis folder which he seemed concerned about, he said if there is anything else the Premier Inn at Darlington could do in the future for the charity do not hesitate to get in touch with him. Ahmet and his staff at the Premier Inn were all excellent, Phil and me gave them 10/10 for there help. After breakfast as we were about to set off Ahmet said could he take some photos of which we gladly obliged, as he wanted some for his records. We left the Premier Inn and headed towards the infamous Morrison’s to get some painkillers for our injuries. After purchasing some we then made our way on our journey towards Ripon.

As we walked along the road a landmark appeared it was Darlington Football Club which we took photos of, then we marched on past the ground and out off into the sticks towards Ripon still walking through our pain, this was only our second day but there was no way we would have ever given up as we had mental strength. Our journey took us through a small town called Northallerton where we stopped for a short break by the church. I was starting to suffer with the blister I had got yesterday so decided to call into Wilkinson’s to pick some stuff to help ease my discomfort.

As I bent to get some cotton wool a worker commented on the pain and discomfort I was in, we explained what we were doing and what it was for so he popped into an office and told us to wait. When he came back he said he would like to give us a donation for the charity and he also wanted to buy our shopping, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. We thanked him for his generosity and carried on our journey. The day was getting warmer and sunnier the more we walked but we both knew we had to keep going till we made it to Ripon as the hedges didn’t look very comfortable to sleep in. It was starting to get tough but we knew we hadn’t got much further to go, so we got our heads down and carried on and eventually landed at Ripon where we received a very friendly welcome from Ben, who then showed us to our room which was up 4 flights of stairs which we could have done without, as my knee and Phil’s ankles were both swollen by this time. Once in the room we tried to relax our aching bodies by having a freezing cold bath each which took our both our breathes and made us make so funny noises from the bath room anybody passing our door must have wondered what was going on.

After we recuperated a little we then went down for tea had a chat with Ben and Emily (waitress) who were very friendly and welcoming and both made a donation to the cause. After filling up our stomachs we were both ready to turn in for the night so thanked Ben and Emily for their hospitality had a photo with them then we retired to our room for a good nights rest before the 6.30 am alarm.

Day 3 Royal Oak Hotel Ripon - Brickworks Leeds/Bradford South

The 6.30am alarm was going off as the sun came through our window, we were a little stiff and aching but ready for another day walking. We went down for breakfast where James who showed us to a table he came and took our order for breakfast, greeted us. There was a gentleman who sat next to us on his laptop who made a comment about my knee saying he thinks it could be ligament damage, we told him what we were doing and after he had finished his breakfast and was about to leave for his meeting he put £20 on the table and said put that in for your charity as what you are both doing is very commendable, we both thanked him, finished off our breakfasts and we set off from the Royal Oak Hotel at a good pace and passed the cathedral and out into the sticks again to head for our next destination with the sun shining it was a warmer day than yesterday.

As we were walking through the sticks we came across a sign which said 40, which Phil wanted to take a photo of me next to as it’s my 40th birthday this year (yes very funny I am getting old now). We then carried on our journey heading towards Wormald Green where we came upon a very steep downwards hill into the village, which Phil struggled going down with his bad ankles. So at the bottom we had to slow down the pace a little as he was in some pain till we were over took by a group of old ladies. I ribbed Phil about this, which he found a little embarrassing so gritted his teeth and sped up and left them in our wake (that was till they past us on the bus). Around 12 o clock Phil was wanting a break as his ankles were hurting but I was wanting to push on to get a bit further to find a reasonable place so as we could sit down properly, so we carried on at a good pace and he was keeping up really well with my speed until his knee gave way and he went sprawling into the undergrowth but I was in a zone and did not notice that he had disappeared and frog marched on only realising when I had got about 1/2 mile in front of him and looked round to speak to him but he was no where to be seen. I then spotted him about 3 bends back at the top of the hill limping along. I waited for him to catch up with me and then he told me what had happened, he said it was not worth shouting me as by the time he had got back on his feet I was in the zone and to far in front of him, but after a rest, a sit down and a few stretches we were good to go again and we made good progress into Harrogate.

After a short break sitting in the sun in Harrogate and picking up a few supplies for our injuries we decided we had to push on towards Leeds. We made good if uneventful progress onto Leeds, not a lot really happened until we got lost going through Leeds City Centre at one stage we were heading towards Elland Road home of Leeds United Football Club until a passing cyclist put us right and we managed to get back on track. We then approached a very large, steep hill, which we both looked at each other with fore lawn looks hoping we didn’t have to climb it but yes you guessed it we did. After half an hour of going up this hill we were both shattered and asked a man walking his dog down the hill the way to Leeds/Bradford South Premier Inn he told us we had to climb this big hill that he was walking down as it was at the top of it which was about 3 miles away, it was like climbing Mount Everest. Just short of the top we asked a woman if we were going in the right direction, she said top of hill round the corner and you are there which should take you bout 10 minutes. So we carried on and after just over an hour of pushing our selves up this almighty hill we made it to the top. We felt like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and at last we could see the chimney of the Old Brickworks, which is where the Premier Inn is. We checked in at reception went to our room, had a cold bath, showered and changed into our 4Louis charity t-shirts and went to meet the gaffer Tally who came over and introduced himself, we thanked him for his generosity and help, he then sponsored our form and left us to have our meal which we did, it was time for bed again before another 6.30am alarm.

Day 4 Old Brickworks Leeds - Jury’s Inn Sheffield

Another day and the dreaded 6.30am alarm was going off all to soon we woke up. Phil’s ankles were still sore and my knee still stiff and blisters sore so we treated and strapped our injuries and head down to our breakfast which we are greeted by Katie who was on the early shift and must definitely be a morning person as she was very bubbly and lively some myself and Phil were not. So we get a good hearty breakfast down us and set off on our walk yet again, but we are now counting the days down and the miles as we know we are over half way and not much more to go.

Another wrong turn to start the day with but managed to avenge ourselves and get back on the right track which would take us to Wakefield. We didn’t mind as it was yet another nice day, not a drop of rain about. We head back out into the country towards Wakefield and even though we are suffering we are still making good time as at least one thing its mostly downhill which helps me but not Phil’s ankles, but it’s better than walking up hill. We finally reach Wakefield and head off back out into the country again as our next landmark is Barnsley, we get our heads down and push really hard as it’s the opposite of heading towards Wakefield as this time, as we head towards Sheffield the hills start appearing so our legs have to work harder now.

We finally make it to Sheffield and can see the Sheffield Eye (a big wheel in the centre of Sheffield) so we head towards it for a photo and we then notice the Crucible, which is hosting the Snooker this week. Outside there are 2 grass bushes shaped as a snooker player and table and where the Winter Gardens are is a place called Cue Zone which is where the players go to be interviewed, and to the right of the Crucible is the Lyceum Theatre which is showing Calendar Girls. We push onto the hotel, the Jury’s Inn Sheffield that is only 10 minutes from Sheffield city centre. Finally make it we check in and get showered and changed and go down stairs for our meal. At the bar we finally meet Andy the manager who is a really nice bloke he looked after us really well and treated us to 2 pints each and then when we ordered our food added some chips as a bonus for free. Phil went to use his phone and came back and told me he had just seen someone famous getting in the lift I asked him who it was he said Anne Charleston (Madge from Neighbours) who we later found out was stopping in the hotel as she was starring in Calendar Girls at the Lyceum Theatre. We showed Andy our folder and he was touched by it, we then had our tea and went to our room, which was on the 5th floor. From our window we could see Sheffield United Football Ground Bramall Lane. Another day done and yet again we went to bed ready for another alarm call and our last full days walk.

Day 5 Jury’s Inn Sheffield - Jury’s Inn Derby

We rise to our alarm again do our normal morning routine of getting dressed and treating our injuries and head downstairs for our hearty breakfast. Phil makes a phone call to Charlotte who was heading to Sheffield to pick up one of our rucksacks, so before we leave the hotel we get a photo of me, Phil and Andy together. We say thanks for everything and then leave the Jury’s Inn and head to the train station where Charlotte is parked waiting for us. As we approach we can see her laughing as she says we look like old men with our injuries, so we give her our rucksack and set off on our way out of Sheffield towards Chesterfield. On the way out of Sheffield I spot a Brantano’s shop which we head into as since Monday I have had blisters, so I go and buy some insoles to try and cushion my blisters and make them easier to walk on, after visiting there we get back on track me limping and Phil with his 2 hiking sticks for support for his ankles.

We carry on out of Sheffield and its like Mount Everest take 2 has come back again, this big hill went on for a long way and we were relieved to finally get to the top and a flat walking surface. We head into Dronfield and walk past a football club, which is called Sheffield FC, which is the world’s oldest football club. We take a wrong turn and walk a mile before we realise, we look at the map and realise we got to go back the way we came so another mile which we didn’t want to do, but we manage to sort ourselves out and head out of Dronfield and on towards Chesterfield. The weather is still sunny and we make good time up to get into Chesterfield where we walk past Chesterfield FC new ground which opens in June 2010.

I take a photo of it and as we get into Chesterfield in the distance we can see the crooked spire. The heat is not helping me with my blisters and Phil with his ankles the paths feel on fire but through gritted teeth we persevered on. We then head on to Derby, which we reach in good time and realise many people and pubs are celebrating St Georges day, shame we weren’t celebrating it. With not being to sure where we were going and so instead of getting lost again we popped into a pub to ask for directions where a bloke at the bar thought we had just got back from the Caribbean (we wish). We leave there with our directions and find the Jury’s Inn at Derby, where we check in, this time was on the 7th floor. We get in the room and follow our evening ritual cold bath, shower, changed and downstairs for our tea. After which it is then back upstairs for bed and our last 6.30am alarm call. I can smell the sweet smell of success of our achievement.

Day 6 Jury’s Inn Derby - National Arboretum Alrewas

The alarm goes off for the final time which signals the end of our journey is near, we head down stairs for our final breakfast with our rucksack with us, we then go to reception to check out for the last time and away we go on the last leg of this epic journey. This is our earliest start of the week, as our injuries seem worse and we also have a deadline at the Arboretum at Alrewas to reach, we don’t want to be late for this. We make really good time to get to the A38; we know it’s just a straight road from here but a very long one. As we enter the A38 Phil reminds me of something a saying and action when he goes, spectacles, testicales, wallet, and watch as we had to walk along A38 for about 4 mile with no path, with the lorries and cars flying past us at some speed only feet away from us. Eventually we find a cycle path which makes us feel a bit safer away from the traffic, but this doesn’t last for long as we end up back to walking on road through Burton with vehicles whizzing by really close and some even beeping their horns and making us jump. We are about ½ mile from path at Branston when pulled over by police and given lecture about walking on the A38 when there was no footpath. We explained what we were doing and where we had already walked from and he commended us on our efforts and gave us a blue light escort till we were off the A38.

We came off at Branston near the water park and decided to walk the last 6 miles along the canal as a safer option from the road as Paul, being the fountain of local knowledge, knew where there was footpath all the way to Alrewas. We finally could see Alrewas in the distance and knew our journey was nearly over. I had to wait for Phil to catch up as he was really struggling to walk with his ankles now and was in a great deal of pain and had hit the wall a couple of times today, but he had come to far to give up now and after I spoke to him and lifted his sprits and told him we started together and we are going to finish together as we were a team. We pushed on for the line and crossed an old railway crossing and headed towards the Arboretum where we finally came round the last bend and could see family and friends waiting for us.

They gave us a cheer as we approached and then we got told to report to reception, as we still had further to go. What seemed like another mile (only joking) we followed a lady who took us back outside and along a path where we could see another lady waiting by a bush about 100 yards down this path, we had to go to her and she led us through this gate and much to our relief we found the actual finish line. We had made it at 4pm as planned; we kissed and hugged people and had some champagne, had a load of photos taken and went to sort our rucksacks out at the cars. Then me and Phil hugged, patted each other on the back and said we will get next years route sorted out soon (we will confirm date and route when sorted).

We want to thank everyone who has helped us on this epic journey as they made it possible, if it wasn’t for them we couldn’t have done it, so I’m going to rest my knee and blisters and Phil is going to put his feet up ready for next year, thank you all.