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Today We'll Be Waving Off Inspiring Walkers To Start The Great Big Walk

29/05/2017 10:20 BST | Updated 29/05/2017 10:23 BST
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As some of you might remember I ridiculously thought it would be a good idea to walk across the country for charity last year. It was 150 miles of coast-to-coast hell and a complete relief when it was over.

So when I got a call from organisers of 'The Great Big Walk' you can understand why I made crackling noises down the phone and pretended I was on a train in a tunnel.

Thankfully a follow-up email clarified that my sporting prowess wouldn't be required in order to wave off a group of incredibly inspiring walkers much fitter than me, as they embarked on an amazing three-week adventure of their own.

That adventure is called The Great Big Walk and will see members of the public walk across the nation over 21 days, visiting community projects. It's all in the lead up to The Big Lunch, the highlight of the Great Get Together weekend (17-18 June), set to be the biggest community celebration the UK has ever seen and one which marks a very important anniversary.

Next month it will have been a year since Jo Cox, the Batley and Spen MP, was senselessly murdered in her constituency. To mark this milestone and throw a positive light on her memory, Jo's husband Brendan and her sister Kim and have joined forces with The Big Lunch, a National Lottery funded initiative encouraging people up and down the country to come together. Who would have thought getting up off your backside and having a chat and a slice cake with your neighbours' matters so much! Walking, talking and eating together are basic acts that help us humans connect with one another.

Luckily I have been enlisted for the talking, not walking, part of this great plan so Lycra clothing across the land can breathe a sigh of relief that it will not be inflicted on my thighs any time soon. Instead, on Monday me and my baggy clothing, will be heading to Batley to support some extraordinary members of the public as they start their incredibly long walks home.

From Yorkshire there will be five routes heading to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Wales and London, as each of the walkers head home for a Big Lunch. I speak from experience when I say that it is not just physical hardship that is the biggest hurdle on long-distance walks, there are the mental challenges. The sense of isolation, anxiety, questioning your own abilities and that applies in so many other walks of life too. That's why I feel strongly about the power of coming together and talking (and walking, if it so takes your fancy).

All of the walkers will have their own motivation for wanting to take on such a gruelling challenge and I doff my imaginary cap to them from the comfort of my very real arm chair, as it isn't an easy undertaking. I'm told there's more than 100,000 events expected to take place across the country inspired by Jo Cox's belief that 'we have far more in common than that which divides us'. What powerful and inspiring words to keep them going.

I had equally inspiring words to keep me company on my own walking endeavour. Some of the kinder media publications described me as 'shattered' 'struggling 'and 'absolutely knackered'. And they were right, but it made me even more determined than ever to make it to the finish line. So I'm in no position whatsoever to offer training advice to anyone, but for my tuppence worth I will say it's important to 'tie your laces and bring snacks'.

The one thing I do know though is that visiting community projects and people that benefit from them will be humbling and emotional at times, but always rewarding.

Isolation and loneliness is like a disease that's spreading. As the population gets older and increasingly diverse, this issue is only going to get worse. It's never been more important to come together and support one and other so it's reassuring to know there are so many individuals, families, groups and organisations taking strides to do just that.

I know these guys are going to have an incredible time on their Great Big Walks and I urge anyone who sees them along the route to beep, honk, wave, clap and wobble any bits you feel like wobbling to show you care. And let's make them welcome in every town they pass through. When the wind is howling and the rain relentless, it's amazing what a stranger holding out a custard cream can do for your flagging spirit. So from all the way up in sunny Scotland right down to the coast in Cornwall, let's see which town can give them the friendliest welcome (and the odd biscuit). Over to you.

For more information about The Great Big Walk and to arrange your own Big Lunch, click here