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By Peter Barron

Stepping up to the challenge – by going the extra smile

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A campaign has been launched to inspire people to improve their physical and mental health through a series of 50 stunning walks. Peter Barron explains the vision behind The Big Smile


It’s called ‘The Big Smile’ for a very good reason – because it’s all about lifting spirits after the dark days of the pandemic, and having a lasting impact.

A series of 50 fully-guided walks through the magnificent countryside of the North, the bold campaign is being launched today by a new charity, called The Walk & Talk Trust.

Along the way, there will be huge benefits to physical and mental health. And it will lead to thousands of schoolchildren receiving a free pair of walking boots to inspire a new generation of hikers to take their first steps into the great outdoors.

The Walk & Talk Trust – and The Big Smile – are the vision of Peter Bell, successful Durham businessman and former High Sheriff of County Durham. They embody his passion for the countryside, supporting young people, the value of physical activity, and a desire to give something back to his beloved North-East.

“This initiative is the fruition of something that’s been in my mind for years,” says Peter.

“We have a massive problem, in that 40 per cent of 10-year-olds are either overweight or obese due to poor diet and the fact that children’s physical exercise continues to dwindle.

“Our aim is to get kids to put down technology, put on their boots, and explore our glorious countryside.

“Walking and talking – whether it’s with family and friends or as a way of meeting new people – costs nothing and has massive benefits across all generations.”

Every year, the charity will undertake a summer campaign of 50 fundraising 20km walks for adults, showcasing the beauty and heritage of the region, spanning Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Tees Valley, and Cumbria.

List of Big Smile walks

The Big Smile will feature 50 breathtaking walks across the North of England

All types of terrain will be covered – including fells, moorland, and coastal paths – with routes carefully chosen by professional guides, Keiron Young and Richard Ellis. The friends will walk the full 1,000km, climbing 23,000 metres – 2.6 times the height of Everest.

The Big Smile will get bigger each year but, due to Covid, numbers will be limited this year. However, a spectacular series of walks has been prepared, starting on June 21 at Raby Castle and ending at Durham Castle and Cathedral on August 27.

The Big Smile also has the backing of the world’s largest sports retailer, Decathlon; Durham County Council; County Durham Sport; and the It’s Great Out There Coalition – a European not-for-profit collaboration launched by the outdoor industry to promote the benefits of outdoor activities.

Celebrity ambassadors include legendary mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington, and North-East athletics hero Steve Cram CBE.

Sir Chris said: “My love of the outdoors began when I ventured onto Hampstead Heath as a boy, finding beautiful open spaces close to my front door. Those first glimpses of what was out there set in motion a lifetime of exploration. I’ve been hugely fortunate to travel the world in my own quest for adventure, but I still get as much fulfilment and enjoyment from walking on the trails close to my home in Cumbria. Through initiatives like The Big Smile, the Walk & Talk Trust can inspire another generation of children to fall in love with the outdoors.”

Steve Cram CBE said: “Fresh air and exercise make huge contributions to physical and mental health, and providing those opportunities to children from all backgrounds can set them up for life. We’re fortunate in the North-East to have so many beautiful areas to explore and the Walk & Talk Trust’s project to help more youngsters discover those for themselves is a great initiative. I’m certain The Big Smile will live up to its name and create a huge amount of joy for a lot of people.”

Lord Barnard said: “We are delighted to welcome the Walk and Talk Trust to Raby Castle for the first stage of The Big Smile fundraising walks taking place across the North East this summer. This is a wonderful initiative to get people out walking in the spectacular landscapes of this region.”

The Big Smile walk leader Kieron Young teaches a class of students about the great outdoors

Walk leader Kieron Young teaches a class of students about the great outdoors

Come and join us for The Big Smile

The Walk & Talk Trust is looking for people to join the walks, and enjoy a day out in the fresh air, amid wonderful scenery, without the worry of map-reading or getting lost.

The aim is to raise £200,000 this year to buy boots for as many Year 6 children across the region as possible.

There is no registration fee and the minimum fundraising target is just £99. The more money that’s raised, the more children will be suitably booted for a healthier future.

If you can’t join one of the walks, please be generous and support a great feel-good North-East project that’s designed to benefit our region for years to come.

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