Sam & James Dickenson
Follow The Seagulls Dartmouth 2019 – a tale of “blisters and sore legs, but also team spirit, joy and a huge sense of achievement.”
Forty-nine incredible people took part in Follow The Seagulls in Dartmouth last weekend, taking on an epic 50 mile walk to raise funds and awareness to support people living with a brain tumour diagnosis. Here, event participants Sam and James Dickenson write up their experience for us:
In late December 2017, our 4 year old son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Instead of spending a family Christmas in Devon, we spent it sitting in the paediatric intensive care unit at King's College Hospital whilst he battled to recover from the gruelling 12 hours of surgery to remove the tumour. He subsequently received radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat the early signs of metastasis of the disease to his spine. Happily in October 2018, he received the all clear and rang the end of treatment bell. So when the opportunity arose for us to take part in a two day, 50 mile trek around the South Devon coast to raise money for the brainstrust, it seemed (pardon the pun!) a no brainer!!
So this is how we came to find ourselves in Dartmouth, on a chilly April morning, at an extremely early hour waiting for a bus to take us to the start line alongside 47 other intrepid explorers. Day 1 eased us in gently...ish!! The first 6-7 miles wound from the pretty village of Stokenham out to the coast, taking in some tantalising views of the sea in the distance plus some early hills! By mid morning, we reached the coast and turning east, kept the sea on our right for the rest of the day. Our destination was Dartmouth again, following the coast along past Start Point, Slapton sands and the villages of Strete and Stoke Fleming before trundling down into Dartmouth. Sounds easy? Well the total distance was around 25 miles but the hills certainly made it feel like more at times. We were encouraged on our way by the fabulous brainstrust support crew who popped up at regular points to keep us fed, watered and enthusiastic! The weather stayed fine although an icy easterly wind blew at times and there were certainly some exposed stretches of coast. Towards the end of the day, the sun finally managed to break through making the last few hills that little bit more interesting!!
We celebrated surviving day 1 with a group meal in a local pub. I'm pretty sure everyone ate as much as they could, carb loading for the next day. A swift pint and an early night were pretty much the order of the evening as everyone was aware that the morning of the second day contained some seriously strenuous hills and would tax tired legs to their limit.
Sunday morning dawned and that easterly breeze certainly hadn't dropped. The short ferry journey across to Kingswear was chilly but as the first mile of the day was the steep climb up out of the village, we soon warmed up!! The morning's walk was every bit as challenging as we had expected. The beautiful, rugged coast line provided spectacular views but just as we reached the top of one climb, the path would plunge us back down to the next cove at sea level again! Although the going was tough and there was a lot of muttering and head shaking, the general air of camaraderie and team spirit was still strong with everyone encouraging each other as we battled through.
The check point at Man Sands provided a very welcome rest point before the last (for now) really big hill and then it was on towards Brixham for lunch. By now, tiredness was beginning to set in but it felt like we had done most of the hard graft and that soon we would be on the Greenway ferry with Dartmouth in our sights. Sure enough, the ferry carried us safely across to Lower Dittisham where we found (unsurprisingly!) another huge hill to climb up out of the village. We then descended steeply to a pretty creek within a mile or so of Dartmouth, the sting in the tail being yet one final hill to defeat before the home straight. I think everyone participating had their own thoughts about that particular hill and none of them are repeatable here!
And so downhill to the finish! Back into Dartmouth, the finish line and medals, and drinks at the pub to celebrate with our new friends. The weekend was a fantastic mix of laughter, support, humbling stories and a true celebration of what we can achieve with determination and will power. Yes there were blisters and sore legs but there was also team spirit, joy and a huge sense of achievement. Would I do it again? Yes in a heartbeat! When cancer enters your life, it becomes even more vital to make memories and our weekend in Dartmouth has left us with some truly fantastic ones.Thank you brainstrust for organising such an awesome fundraising event as well as for being there for everyone affected by a brain tumour.
Why did you sign up with brainstrust ?
“In simple words, for my wife, Susan. In 2018 my sister-in-law Louise, Susan’s sister, and I had done a Brave the Shave and for 2019 we wanted to do something a bit more energetic.
In September 2018 , whilst Suez was very ill I received the email about Follow the Seagulls, as soon as I opened it and saw it was the Fife Coastal path (near where I live) it just seemed like fate. The two of us, plus her other sister , Kirsty, and our friend ,Gilly, (who lost her Dad to a brain tumour in 2016) all signed up too.
We lost Suez on October 9th and it just made all of us so determined to complete and walk in her and Charlie’s memory, to raise money and most importantly to raise awareness”.
What was your experience of the weekend ?
“It’s almost impossible to describe the overall experience. It sounds so clichéd but it was just a whole range of emotions, from fear to exhilaration, sadness to laughter and pain to more pain!
We were all so nervous on the Friday night but resolved to battle through and be there for each other the whole time. The Saturday was such a bonding experience with so many people, hearing their stories and telling them yours, helping you to know why everyone was so committed to completing this journey.
Sunday was something else. Long, painful, emotional but in the end such a feeling of achievement and triumph as we saw St Andrew’s Cathedral and trudged the long, last 3 miles towards it. To have so many friends and family there on both days, the Saturday and Sunday, to see all of us finish was something I will never forget.
I knew it would be an emotional experience but I just wasn’t prepared for how tough it would be emotionally, probably even more so than physically. You can train to walk for miles but you can’t really prepare yourself for seeing your Mum and Dad and Susan’s Mum and Dad at the finish line waiting for you.
I couldn’t have got through the weekend without the support of Lou, Kirsty and Gilly. At times on Sunday I just couldn’t see myself walking for another 3-4- hours but the love and support from them, plus all the other walkers and brainstrust guys helped me through my low period and to push on to the end.”
Would you recommend Follow the Seagulls ?
“It’s not something to take lightly but absolutely yes. Walking is such therapy and has helped me through a lot of dark days, just putting one foot in front of another and not having to think about things you don’t want to think about.
The feeling of achievement for yourself and everyone you walk with is incredible, sharing an experience that only those on that weekend can ever have. It reaffirms what you are doing this for and knowing that you are not alone with whatever you have gone, or are going through, gives you so much strength and hope.”