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Andrew - My Story

Spring time 2022, and I am pushing my wheelbarrow full of tools around the garden at Goodsell House. That's when out of the blue, the idea of a barrow push challenge in aid of Maidstone Homeless Care (MHC) came to me.

Fast forward to September 2022, and I am ready to push off from Winchester to Eastbourne along the 100 miles of the South Downs Way; full of hope.

Day 1 was fairly uneventful, just a 7 mile trek to the first night Campsite at Holden Farm.

I did meet a very nice Buddhist Monk at a roadside cafe, who was amazed at what I was doing, and wished me well.

Day 2 was more of an adventure, covering around 13 miles, including having to lift the wheelbarrow over about 10 Stiles. I passed many sheep, who for some reason all looked at me as if to say: "what the heck".

My destination was a farm campsite with a much desired shower. Well, the shower had to be seen to be believed. A shower head fixed within a wooden pallet construction, and supposedly heated by a gas bottle. Sadly it didn't work.

Day 3, and the weather turned wet and windy. However, this kept me moving as not nice to stop and sit around.

Encounters included a man asking "Are you in the Army, and a Lady asking 'What's in the barrow, or shouldn't I ask'.

Also met a lovely man called Conrad, aka 'Mr Smooth' on Digital Colourful Radio - said he would mention me on his next Saturday show.

Covered 20 miles, ending at a campsite within the 'Sustainability Centre'. On entering I spotted a sign staying that the site was licensed for burials. Thankfully I made it out!

Day 4: By now, I had decided that contrary to my previously held belief, water was not a boring drink, but an absolute necessity, and so nice when finding a drinking water tap having run out.

Encounters today were few, but included a lovely couple who run a walking group and donated £20 cash.

Also spoke to a couple of tradesman at another roadside cafe, who proceeded to dip their hands in pockets and donated a few pounds cash.

Everything was still wet from the day before, and the rain continued on and off.

Was a real battle to make it to my intended campsite before dark, but just made it, having covered 16 miles. Only one other man at the site.

We had a nice chat in the lovely undercover kitchen area. Turned out he had endured a traumatic childhood. He goes walking and camping as therapy to try and forget painful memories from the past.

Lovely thing is, before we parted, he donated £10 cash.

Made me think that many homeless people suffer a traumatic childhood, and follow this with a lifetime of battling internal thoughts that hamper their progress.

Day 5, and quite an eventful one, with the weather finally improving and the sun appearing.

Encounters included a £5 donation from a man doing yoga on top of a hill, and £3 cash from an old couple who said: "we have been waiting for you. A man told us what you were doing and that you were on the way".

Made it to my intended overnight stop, a Youth Hostel campsite at Truleigh Hill.

Covered 13 miles, but started to feel the first pain from blisters towards the end of the day.

Absolute luxury, as they had a 'warm room' to dry out some clothes and my sleeping bag. Also got a shower and a nice meal.

Never again will I take such so called basic facilities for granted.

The joy of having a warm shower after a period of time, is something the Day Centre offers, and now I really know what that means to users of the Day Centre.

Day 6: Continued to feel the affects of my new found blisters, and covered 11 miles. Started the day having a lovely encounter with a video diary blogger from New Zealand.

He suggested filming me there and then on the campsite, which he did. Thought the piece he did came across well in the relaxed way he interviewed me.

With the improving weather, I was having many more encounters, each being an opportunity to explain why I was on the South Downs with a barrow, as well as giving them an explanatory flyer.

These encounters would not have happened if I hadn't been pushing a barrow. So many people said: "I have to ask......why are you up here with a barrow". Many more people either donated cash or took a flyer and promised to donate later.

All in all, I must have had at least 200 conversations, each accompanied by handing out a flyer to help raise awareness and funds for MHC

I had hoped to reach a camp site a few miles further on, but daylight and continuing painful feet meant this was not possible. This would mean a final day push of 20 miles if I wanted to complete the 100 miles on Day 7.

Day 7. Awake at 6am, as know I have to start walking by 7.30am to have any chance of making the remaining 20 miles. Even the group of Duke of Edinburgh Award girls are up early and on their way.

As often happened, my first half an hour or so was uphill back onto the Downs, as the campsites were lower down.

My blisters were complaining, but just ignored them as no way I was stopping after the backing of so many people to get this far.

I was constantly checking mileage / time as had just over 10 hours of daylight to cover 20 miles.

Kept my head down so as not to make eye contact with passers by, as every chat was another 5 minutes behind. Looked up and engaged if anyone spoke first!

For some reason there were few water taps along the way. At one point my thirst was so severe I resorted to eating wild Blackberries from the hedgerows.

Finally, after 7 days and 99 miles, I saw Eastbourne down below nestled against the sea.

However, progress had slowed somewhat due to the blister pain, and darkness was now about to fall around 7.30pm, 12 hours after setting off.

I missed a sign post, and ended up lost on the edge of Eastbourne. Then, something I can only describe as Angelic happened.

A man called Brent who had chatted to me earlier on the Downs, pulled up in his car.

"Wanted to check you made it ok and was heading out to find you". He then gave me a bottle of beer and a £10 cash donation.

"You need to go across the golf course to get back on track. I will drive behind you with my hazard lights on to keep you safe"

This was one of a few occasions where an Angel seemed to appear to guide me when needed. Other incidences included offers of food, water, directions, encouragement - all at the right time when needed.

I said at the beginning I ventured out with 'hope'. The reason I had hope, was that I had an end goal, a destination, where people who love me were waiting.

The reason for Maidstone Homeless Care is to support those who have no destination, no place of security, no hope.

Just before the finish in the dark, I had a disturbing incident, that centre users may be all too familiar with. I passed a couple in the dark. By now I was looking tired, unshaven, and was lost. They laughed out loud as they passed me, and I heard the word 'homeless' come from their direction.

This really hurt, as I thought: "hang on, you don't know my story". How many of the lovely people we know through the Day Centre could also say: "hang on, you don't know my story".

Andrew Nuttall

on behalf of MHC

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