PUPILS from a North-East school have become the first children to receive free hiking boots thanks to a charity dedicated to inspiring a new generation of walkers.

Fifteen youngsters from Corporation Road Primary School, in Darlington, received the boots from The Walk & Talk Trust, which is organising a series of 50 fundraising walks in a campaign called The Big Smile.

The first walk starts from Raby Castle on June 21 and, as a warm-up, the Darlington pupils were treated to a four-mile nature trail in the stunning grounds of the magnificent estate, near Staindrop.

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The event was sponsored by the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Chris McEwan, who has made mental health one of the priorities during his mayoral year and donated £500 from his charities fund.

“This is a fantastic initiative that is to be applauded and it is a joy to be able to support such a special day for the pupils of Corporation Road School,” said the Mayor.

“It’s wonderful to see the first boots handed out by The Walk & Talk Trust and I know this is just the start. Many more children and disadvantaged adults will benefit in the months ahead.”

The nature trail was led by The Big Smile walk leaders, Keiron Young and Richard Ellis, with the children earning points for spotting wildlife, including red deer, fallow deer, long-horned cattle, squirrels, and a variety of birds, as well as identifying different trees and flowers.

Keiron said: “The Big Smile is all about connecting to each other and connecting to nature and it’s amazing to see the kids in their new boots, enjoying themselves in the fresh air.”

Nick Blackburn, chief executive of Lingfield Education Trust, which includes Corporation Road School, said: “The Big Smile is such a tremendous idea, and we are really grateful for this opportunity to bring the children out into the countryside and see wildlife they’ve never seen before.

“I’ve heard children on the way round, saying that they can’t wait to use their boots to go on more walks, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

Corporation Road Primary School headteacher, Ann Pringleton, added: “I’ve watched the children grow in confidence and self-esteem during the walk. The Big Smile is a brilliant initiative – connecting with nature should be part of the national curriculum because it’s every bit as important as reading and writing.”

Esha Begum, 11, one of the pupils taking part, said: “We’ve had a really fun day and I think it’s really important because walking in the countryside, and seeing wildlife, is so good for mental health. I also love my new boots!”