A campaign aimed at inspiring a new generation of walkers reached its finale today. PETER BARRON was there for the final steps of The Big Smile 2021

IT began in the shadow of magnificent Raby Castle on June 21, and the champagne corks flew as it ended amid the world-class heritage of Durham City after 1,000 kilometres of camaraderie and positivity.

Year one of The Big Smile – 50 fully guided fundraising walks across five counties of the north – reached an emotional conclusion this afternoon, with the proceeds being used to buy walking boots for more than 1,000 children.

And organisers vowed that it is just the beginning, with plans to build on the first-year success of the pioneering initiative, launched by a new charity called The Walk and Talk Trust.

As the last walkers crossed the finishing line at Durham School, the charity's founder, Durham businessman, Peter Bell said: “What an adventure it’s been – this has not just been about walking up mountains, but moving them.”

The final walk, sponsored by law firm Ward Hadaway, started at the school at 10am this morning and finished at 4pm.

Walk leaders Keiron Young and Richard Ellis, who have completed the full 1,000 kilometres, were showered with champagne as they crossed the finishing line.

Mr Bell added: “We will move onwards and upwards in the years to come. We are on the march to change lives, but it takes faith and courage. We are on the cusp of something very special.

“The Walk and Talk Trust is about focusing on living in the moment and not being distracted by the past or the future. It’s about seeking fulfilment for the present – enjoying the happiness of now.”

Denise Thompson, head teacher of Ravensworth Terrace Primary School, in Birtley, had climbed England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, in Cumbria, with members of her staff on one of the earlier stages.

And she was at the finish to receive the first consignment of free boots – supplied by the world’s biggest sports retailer, Decathlon – on behalf of her pupils.

“The children are going to be so excited when they return from holiday, knowing their teachers climbed a mountain to provide them with these boots,” she said.

“I hope it will motivate them to love the outdoors and be active. It was a privilege to take part and an honour to receive the first boots following the finale.”

Walk leader Keiron Young said: “It's been a fantastic opportunity and the ultimate aim is to change behaviours, with schools being the conduit.”

Katherine Richards, partner with final leg sponsor Ward Hadaway, said: “It is utterly fantastic what The Big Smile has done in promoting the physical and mental health benefits of walking and talking, and I can’t wait to see where the initiative goes from here.”

The final walk concluded with a prize draw, with the names of all those who have taken part in The Big Smile over the past 12 weeks going into the hat.

First prize, donated by sponsor SG Petch Darlington, was to own a KIA Stinger car for a month, and it was won by Margaret Maxwell. That was followed by Shirley Hall winning a tent, supplied by Decathlon.

Plans are now in place to build on the success of The Big Smile by working with schools before phase two of the campaign next year.

As Peter Bell said: “This will run and run – and walk and walk.”

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