Phil Le Marquand is walking 375 miles from London to Gateshead, all on Slow Ways, for a homelessness charity he was surprised to discover he’d helped set up 40 years ago
What inspired you to walk from London to Gateshead?
I wanted to do something for Oasis Community Housing. Because walking is what I wanted to do in my retirement, doing a sponsored walk seemed the logical thing to offer.
Why did you pick these start and finish points?
Oasis Community Housing has projects in South London and in Gateshead – where I live and where it started. It seemed logical to start and finish at those points. I could’ve done any walk and got sponsorship but this route focused specifically on the work of the charity. The start and finish points as well as the Peterborough project are on or just adjacent to Slow Ways routes.
I don’t think I’d have done this particular walk without Slow Ways. It made planning a route reasonably straightforward, especially with the routing function.
What have been your most memorable Slow Ways walks to date?
On this journey, I can’t choose. Every day has had its delights.
Walking up the Great Ouse was beautiful. A random stranger gave me a cup of tea and I got stung by a wasp!
Apart from that, my very first one, Gatspr one, Gateshead to Springwell. I discovered bits of my local area I had no idea existed.
What stretch are you most looking forward to?
I think from County Durham onwards. Because it is home territory and I know the end is nigh! Also I know there will be friends and supporters joining me for some of these later stages.
What’s stretch are you least looking forward to?
At the moment the flat lands of Lincolnshire though I am prepared to have my mind changed. I try to see the beauty and value in every kind of landscape.
(And sure enough we got the following update from Phil today: “I came up with this answer as something to say. Lincolnshire has been a joy from start to almost-finish. I have enjoyed every part of the journey apart from sore feet.”)
Can you tell us a bit about Oasis Community Housing and why you chose to support them?
I had begun going to my local parish church St Albans, Windy Nook and they announced a Lent activity to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ to support the work of Oasis Community Housing. OCH is a Christian homelessness charity with its headquarters in Gateshead and working across North East England and South London.
I realised this had grown out of Aquila Housing Association which I had helped start forty or so years ago with the aim of helping homeless young people. I had lost touch over the years but was excited to realise how God could take our small actions and multiply their effectiveness.
Oasis Community Housing was so much more than I ever envisaged at the beginning. I had the privilege of visiting three of the local projects with David Smith the CEO and Phil Conn the Director of Chaplaincy. I was so impressed by the professionalism, dedication and faith of the workers I met. Also I was impressed by the emphasis they put on dealing with the whole of the homeless person, treating them as individuals and not just providing something like a flat or a service.
I wanted to do something to help and because I love walking that seemed the logical thing to do.
How did you find out about Slow Ways?
I think I read an early article in the Guardian which mentioned calling for volunteers to create the routes. I read subsequent articles and stuff online. The idea just seemed to make sense, as walking was going to be a big part of my retirement. Then I discovered a Slow Way passed the end of my street. The rest is history.
Why do you walk?
I love the natural world and also to view the interaction of humans with nature past and present for good or bad. Around where I live is mainly a post-industrial semi-wild landscape. I love too the history and culture. Above all though it gives me a chance to think and let my mind go free. I can often improve my mood just with a short walk.
Have you had any interesting or serendipitous encounters while out walking?
In addition to the workers at the charity projects who are awesome, there have been:
The lovely congregation of the church at Watton-at-Stone who were so welcoming and let me charge my phone and gave me breakfast too.
The coffee shop owner and the laundrette in Sotfold. I felt like I was drawn into the community.
The random stranger who made me a cup of tea when she saw me sitting on a bench having a break.
The Ukrainian lady in Huntingdon who was so enthusiastic.
The homeless man in Peterborough.
The walker I met who had heard of Slow Ways!
Have you embarked on any other long-distance walks?
Last year I walked St Cuthbert’s Way, 100km from Melrose to Holy Island. This was my first real backpacking walk. It was in a bit of a heatwave too. Beautiful scenery, finishing with a barefoot walk across the sands to Holy Island.
Earlier this year I walked 500 miles on the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This was a personal pilgrimage and I was awed by the scenery, the history and the culture as well as the joy of walking with people from all over the world. It was inspiring meeting so many wonderful people.
Do you prefer to walk alone or with others?
I think I prefer to walk alone as I can walk at my own pace and have time to think. However I really enjoy walking with others for the conversations and the joy of shared experiences.
Growing up, did you often go for walks with your family?
Walking wasn’t really something we did as a family. I gained a taste for it at university and afterwards a bit. I remember walks in the Lake District and Teesdale.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone who is interested in long-distance walking?
Give yourself plenty of time and don’t push yourself too hard. Go slow and enjoy what you are walking through.
Find the footwear that works for you and stick with it.