THE first of 50 fundraising walks takes places today (Monday) as part of a pioneering campaign to boost physical and mental health by reconnecting people with the countryside.

The Big Smile, backed by The Northern Echo, has been launched by The Walk & Talk Charity, with proceeds being used to organise guided walks for groups of schoolchildren and socially disadvantaged adults, and provide free walking boots to those beneficiaries who need them most.

It comprises 50 walks across five counties of the north, adding up to 1,000 kilometres, starting today at Raby Castle, near Staindrop, in County Durham and finishing with a circular walk from Durham City on August 27.

Geoff Simpson, chief executive of the charity behind the initiative, said: “The Big Smile has been a long time in the planning and, after a number of warm-up events, we’re exciting to finally be on the starting line in the perfect setting of Raby Castle.

“We’ve been thrilled with the level of support we’ve received – not least from The Northern Echo – and we know the campaign is going to make a lasting impact by inspiring a new generation of walkers.”

Legendary mountaineer Alan Hinkes will be joining today’s first walk, which is led by expert guides Keiron Young and Richard Ellis.

Alan, the first Briton to climb all of the world’s highest and most dangerous mountains, said: “The Big Smile is a brilliant initiative, and it comes at just the right time after an incredibly difficult year. I’m all for anything that gets people out walking in the glorious North-East countryside, and I’m looking forward to being part of the first walk and, hopefully, some of the others.”

The Walk & Talk Trust and The Big Smile are the vision of businessman Peter Bell, a former High Sheriff of Durham, who is passionate about wanting to tackle physical and mental health issues in a positive way that also showcases the North-East.

Sponsors of The Big Smile include the world’s biggest sports retailer, Decathlon, The Northern Echo, Durham County Council, County Durham Sport, Greggs, Eversheds Sutherland, SG Petch, and the It’s Great Out There Coalition.

The Walk & Talk Trust has also announced partnerships with other important charities – The Great North Air Ambulance Service and The North East Autism Society.

•             To take part in The Big Smile visit

•             For more information about the Walk and Talk Trust, visit

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