AS physical challenges go, it takes some beating.
Walking 26 miles up hill and down dale, through bogs and over stiles, is hard work but to do it while carrying a ladder weighing about 46kg is something else.
That was the task facing a group of 10 part-time firefighters based at Settle in the Yorkshire Dales.
They were among about 900 hardy souls who signed up to do the toughest of four walks organised for the Jane Tomlinson Walk for All event, which was held yesterday.
The weather made it somewhat harder for everyone taking part. First it was hot, sunny and a little muggy and then, just as it turned noon, the heavens opened, making it boggy and slippery underfoot.
The firemen took it in their stride, finishing at about 5.45pm, more than 11 hours after they set off.
Fireman Jason Bentley, 43, said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done.
“It was hard going. When we were on the tops the heavens opened, we got soaked. We were walking in mist and driving rain. It was sludgy so our feet were sliding from side to side. Thankfully we have no injuries, just some aching limbs.
“We hope to raise £4,000 which will be split between the Jane Tomlinson charity and the Firefighters Charity.”
The fastest person over the 26-mile course was Alisa Cherry, 53, from Rodley in Leeds, who took just under six hours.
She managed to sprint over the finish line at Settle’s Market Place. She smiled for the cameras and declared the event “fun”.
“I walked up some hills but ran most of the way,” she said.
“The rain helped cool us down. I do quite a lot of long-distance events and this one is very well organised. There are lots of friendly people and lots of marshalls so you can’t get lost.”
Ms Cherry, who works as a secretary at a paints company, completed the walk/run a day after a 23-mile run.
“I do lots of running, cycling and off-road things like this. My partner, Robert, is behind me – I left him five miles back,” she joked.
“He just goes at a nice steady pace; I like to get a move on. I am a member of the Long Distance Walking Association; they organise lots of challenging events.”
In total, yesterday’s walking festival attracted about 2,000 people to the stunning landscapes of the Dales.
Walkers from across the UK, including hundreds from Yorkshire, chose to walk either 4.5 miles, five miles, 14 or 26.
They were waved off and welcomed back by three generations of the Tomlinson family – Mike, his son Steven, 15, and Steven’s grandma Alice Tomlinson.
Mike, sheltering beneath an umbrella for much of the day, declared the day a big success – despite the weather.
“It has been an excellent event, though spoiled a bit from midday by the weather, although it did not seem to put people off.
“Many of these people are coming back and have been saying that it was better than last year.
“These are great walks and it has been a great day. It has been nice to see people from all over the country and to see so many people do the walk with their dogs.”
He was helped out at the start/finish line in Settle Market Place by son Steven, who took the microphone and congratulated walkers as they crossed the line to one of his father’s favourite tunes – Black Sabbath’s Neon Knights.
As well as serious walkers, the event is proving popular with children and grandparents.
Alan Heywood, 65, from Thorpe, Wakefield was with his grandchildren Emily, nine, and Thomas, 12, who had completed the five-mile course but are now keen to come back next year to tackle a longer route.
He said: “The grandchildren have come up specially (from Gloucester) for this. Their mum, Alison, and my wife, Jean, are doing the 14 miles. We all did it last year as well. We came up this morning on the train.”
Passing the finish line wearing a Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation T-shirt, Cynthia Marsden, 63, from Westwoodside, near Doncaster, credited Jane Tomlinson and her late husband, Dave, as her twin inspirations.
“My husband passed away with lung cancer; he was a non-smoker and so all my charity work is for the foundation. Dave used to do the Three Peaks and wanted to beat his personal best.
“The 14-mile walk was hard. I did it totally alone, although I have met people. I never thought I was going to do it. I did the five-mile walk last year.”
The Dales event is expected to raise thousands for various charities.
Mike Tomlinson said next year’s event would be bigger and better.
The final For All event this year is the Lake District Walking Festival on September 9.
To sign up go to: www.forallevents.co.uk