Walking ten to 15 miles daily on a west to east coast trek of the country will seem daunting to many people but that is exactly what a 66-year-old, chiropodist patient is doing and all to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Steve Ankers, an avid Liverpool FC fan, originally from the North-West, has lived and worked in Lewes for twenty years - he plans to make the return to his old stomping ground a memorable one.
Mr Ankers, who has more recently worked as an Assistant Director for East Sussex County Council, as a planning officer for the South Downs Society and as a voluntary regional advisor to the National Trust, is completing the 158-mile journey in six enlightening and culturally-enriching stages.
Canal towpaths, promenades, disused railway lines and city streets will be the kind of locations you can expect to see Mr Ankers trudging along each day - no hiking through open moorland.
At the age of 66, he admits his fitness is not what it was.
“I am not someone who does an awful lot of walking normally - I am really challenging myself,” he said.
“My feet aren’t what they used to be, it’s not easy and I’m truly knackered by the end of each day but I’m loving it. Meeting such wonderful people has been a joy.”
Having undergone major heart surgery ten years ago, the BHF is an organisation of particular significance to Mr Ankers.
Almost £700 has already been raised, but it is hoped that at least £1, 000 will be raised by the time Steve is hobbling his final few steps along Spurn Head - the Humber’s long, narrow sand spit.
Mr Ankers has recently completed the first stage, which saw him start his journey at the Merseyside seaside resort of New Brighton - a sentimental starting-point which is host to many of his cherished childhood memories.
He quips: “I was so thin in those days that I used to hold onto the top of my shorts to prevent them falling down; this is not a problem for me anymore.
“I like to visit seaside resorts, particularly in the north - places that are a bit past their best but resiliently continue. It’s the old British holiday living on.”
It all began at New Brighton’s Fort Perch Rock, where Mr Ankers set off to the booming sound of cannon fire. The dramatic send-off had been personally arranged to monument the fundraising coast-to-coast trek by the fort’s owner.
The Great British weather made it a troublesome start for Mr Ankers: “It was blowing a gale and the waves were lashing violently over the Mersey.
”Having to deal with the battering wind before trying to hold a professional meeting with an organisation was a recurrent theme.”
Mr Anker’s love of travel extends beyond the typical destinations, and he plans to visit many of what he describes as the grottier locations - believing them to be interesting and likeable in their own quirky way.
“There are many hidden gems in unfashionable places,” he passionately demands.
As a keen advocate of good causes, Mr Ankers also has and will continue to meet many admirable organisations and witness numerous charitable projects along the way.
A particular highlight of the first stage for Mr Ankers was a visit to Anfield’s Homebaked project, which is ideally located opposite the Kop of his beloved Liverpool Football Club.
Homebaked is a community-run bakery, offering fresh and affordable produce and a Community Land Trust. A number of people with a diverse array of skills voluntarily offer their services to the cause, including architects and accountants.
Profits are then fed back into the community via numerous local regeneration projects, including insuring affordable housing.
Projects such as this, play an integral role in Mr Anker’s journey. “This is what I believe in: organisations which build things the community needs, as opposed to what would make more money,” he explains.
Other highlights of the first stage include a visit to the Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire, a registered charity without police funding that is run by two knowledgeable volunteers.
Steve dressed up in full-armed response gear and as Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley in a museum crammed full of anecdotes and artefacts.
Mr Ankers also got to see his friend and fellow Lewes resident complete the Manchester Marathon and inevitably, passing through Liverpool could not be completed without stopping off at Anfield to watch the Red’s play on their home turf.
The itinerary covers an eclectic mix of people and buildings of social and cultural significance. By the time that Mr Ankers can see the black and white lighthouse of Spurn Head, he will have met a multitude of organisations including the Sobriety Project in Goole and met the man at the heart of a project in Lancashire responsible for striving to make the National Trust more accessible to a wider audience.
Mr Ankers, who has long had a passion for the work of the National Trust, said: “I want to give the National Trust the attention it deserves. It’s a wonderful organisation and I think it’s been wrongly given some bad press in the past.”
But, this walk isn’t just about people and organisations; local history and culture play an equally important role. Steve plans to visit Nostell Priory, the Pontefract liquorice festival, the National Coalmining Museum in Huddersfield and the Moravian Settlement at Droylsden.
Mr Ankers said: “I just think local history is fascinating. It’s a thrill for people like me: I have a social conscience. But, sadly it is struggling to stay afloat.”
His self-declared affection for the niche and the odd is also evident with a planned visit to the luxury cat hotel in Dewsbury.
One of the final stop-off’s will be at Withernsea for the lighthouse museum which can boast as being the only museum in the country about Kay Kendall, Withernsea’s very own ‘50s big-screen actress.
A museum about Kendall, who was known for her role in Genevieve, the 1953 comedy about a London to Brighton vintage car race, has “an appeal to people of a certain age”, says Steve, adding: “It’s such a niche thing but I love the unique and the odd.”
Mr Anker’s event-filled march across Northern England will also be forever chronicled in a book, due to be published next year.
He said: “You don’t need to be a global traveller or take a year off to do something interesting and write about it.
“I still have work commitments in Lewes and I’m not overly fit. I’m not spending an awful lot of money but I am having a good time and all for a good cause.”
The semi-retired environmentalist and writer said he felt ‘frustrated’ since his last book was published and after dabbling with fiction, decided to write a travel book with a hint of satire.
This coast to coast fundraiser will be the ultimate basis for that book - it promises to be filled with anecdotes captured during his journey and will inevitably be slightly humorous in tone.
Prospective titles include: ‘The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions’ and ‘Getting my Twix en route; 66’.
Mr Ankers passionately talks about a crowd of travel writers at great length and is relishing the opportunity to become one himself. He is already enjoying his initial experiences and jokes: “It’s like being Michael Portillo - except I have to arrange all the meetings myself.”
Kim Brophy, fundraising manager for the British Heart Foundation, said: “It’s only because people like Steve take on challenges like this that we’re able to keep funding research. Heart disease continues to devastate the lives of thousands of people every day.
“Every contribution, big or small, will help our scientists find the next life-saving breakthrough.”
Donations can be made to Steve’s official fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Stephen-Ankers-the-Road-to-Hull-is-Paved-with-Good-Intentions.
Written by Stuart Fry.
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