What a way to celebrate your 70th birthday – completing a gruelling 52-day charity walk along the South West Coastal Path.
But that was the staggering feat achieved by Rotarian, Chris Dowse, who has managed to raise £13,500 in the process.
The walk started at Minehead in Somerset and finished at South Haven Point in Dorset, a total of 630 miles and the longest natural trail in Britain.
Over a period of three months, Chris ticked off various sections of the coastal path, calling in to Land’s End, before finishing on the date of his landmark birthday.
On average, Chris walked 12.3 miles a day, carrying with him helium polio and prostate cancer balloons to promote his fundraising.
“Everybody was keen to find out what the idiot with the balloons was up to,” explained Chris.
“It became clear, after a while from talking to people, that I was being talked about in the pub and youth hostels!
“A couple in Ilfracombe emptied their pockets of all their loose cash, a Dutch lady videoed me talking about what I was doing and was in floods of tears when I finished, and another lady came up to me in a car park at the end of a day’s walking and gave me a donation, having seen me at odd times through the day.
At 630 miles and 115,000 feet of ascent, it was something which I was not sure I could achieve.”
“One day, I met four different lots of people, all of whom had seen me at some point in the preceding weeks.
“Because of the balloons I was wished ‘Happy Birthday’ on a daily basis!”
What makes the achievement even more staggering is that Chris lives in Scotland, in the Perthshire village of Comrie – more than 500 miles from Devon and Cornwall, and is a member of Rotary Crieff.
Following the walk, the club made him a Multiple Paul Harris Fellow for the achievement.
“My Crieff colleagues had disguised it perfectly and I was very humbled to receive it,” said Chris.
Chris chose the South West Coastal Path because he was looking for a challenge.
“At 630 miles and 115,000 feet of ascent, it was something which I was not at all sure I could achieve,” he admitted.
“But I was determined to do unless I was forced to stop by something out of my control, and if that happened I planned to return to complete.
“My greatest fear was hurting myself in some way, which happily didn’t happen – not even a single blister!”
He said there were very few low points – walking on loose pebbles at the western end of Chesil Beach into a strong head wind was one and finding his pockets full of water at the end of the only wet day he experienced, was another.
“On the other hand, the highs happened every day with constant ‘wow’ moments,” he added.
“The amazing generosity of numerous people was humbling and this has altered my view of human nature.”
At 630 miles and 115,000 feet of ascent, it was something which I was not at all sure I could achieve.”
The retired farmer chose to fundraise for the two causes because he had prostate cancer 10 years ago and to help complete Rotary’s mission of eradicating polio.
Throughout the challenge, Chris and his wife visited a number of Rotary clubs on the route to promote their fundraising, which has well surpassed the £5,750 target.
Now the challenge has been completed, Chris admitted he neither felt elated or a sense of anti-climax, merely a feeling of having done the job and remained in one piece.
On the final day of the walk to South Haven Point, Chris was accompanied by some of his family over the last few miles.
He added: “Obviously, I am fired up by the walk and the knowledge that I accomplished it and I have been looking at the next challenge.
“The next long walk is likely to be for my own amusement as I don’t think I can go back to the same people again too soon to raise funds.
“However, maybe in five years when I’m 75!”