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300 North East walkers were joined by award winning travel author, Bill Bryson, at the weekend (Saturday, October 14) as they took part in an exclusive sponsored tour of the Blagdon Estate, in aid of research into childhood cancer.

The Northumberland estate, near Stannington, opened its gates to the public as part of a charity event to raise money for the North of England Children’s Cancer Research (NECCR).

Fundraisers who included families and friends of young cancer sufferers and survivors toured Blagdon’s grounds – which are normally closed to the public – on the sponsored three, six or nine mile walk, taking in the Northumberland Cheese Farm and Milkhope Centre for refreshments along the way.

Walkers this year included four-year-old Farah Smith, from Chester-Le-Street, who was diagnosed with a tumour in the back of her brain at the RVI in Newcastle at just 20 months-old.

After a happy and healthy start to life, Farah’s parents, Claire Smith, a quantity surveyor and Paul Smith, a convenience store manager, noticed that Farah had begun to regress in her development becoming unsteady on her feet and preferring to crawl rather than walk.

Over the course of a year Farah then endured treatment in the form of a cocktail of drugs that she is still recovering from three years on.

Claire said: “Treatment for childhood cancer is often equally as aggressive as the tumour itself. Helplessly watching your child undergo chemo, while developing various infections and requiring blood transfusions, is incredibly difficult.

“As a result of this treatment our little girl also suffered with Posterior Fossa syndrome which resulted in temporary loss of speech, eyesight, further issues with mobility and right side weakness. Farah also required a shunt – this would help to drain excess fluid from her brain down her spine.

“Despite the trauma of Farah’s treatment a high point for our family had to be when she rang the end of treatment bell back in April 2016 – a milestone moment. Fast forward 18 months and her scans remain clear, her hair has grown back and she has started mainstream primary school this September.

“Farah is still fighting to regain full mobility, however she is undergoing regular physiotherapy with the hope of getting back on her feet as soon as possible and has just recently started to take her first steps unaided. We are very grateful to have our little diva back and hope that she will be back to full mobility in the not too distant future.

“Our experience at the Great North Children’s hospital at the RVI has highlighted just how crucial the NECCR fund is to supporting the research into and development of safer and less damaging treatments for childhood cancers. Although we’re yet to eradicate cancer completely the studies taking place in the North-East, funded by the NECCR, are vital to advancing less aggressive treatments and developing an eventual cure for the disease.”

As a patron of the NECCR, bestselling international author Bill Bryson has attended the Big Walk for the last five years and held a special Q&A session for walkers before joining them on their tour across the estate.

Bill said: “As one of my most-loved parts of the world, it’s the warmth and friendliness of the people that make me want to return to the North East year on year.

“The Big Walk is my favourite day of the year as the event brings together so many people who have a heartfelt connection to childhood cancer. Taking part in the walk gives me the opportunity to speak to some of these people and it’s always such a privilege to learn why so many of the walkers take part.”

In Byson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, the British-American author makes reference to his time spent on the Blagdon Estate taking part in the NECCR’s annual Big Walk.

The Big Walk offers a unique opportunity to experience the Blagdon Estate – a must for those with a keen interest in the history of Blagdon or Northumberland heritage – as the grounds are usually closed to the public but Viscount and Viscountess Ridley open their gates specifically for the NECCR.

Matthew Williamson, Agent for the Blagdon Estate, said: “We were thrilled to welcome back the NECCR for the fifth annual Big Walk at Blagdon which raises thousands of pounds annually for vital research into the causes and treatment of childhood cancer.

“Few fundraising events offer such a unique and intimate showcase of local heritage against the magnificent backdrop of Northumberland’s spectacular landscape.

“The three, six and nine mile walks were devised to enable those taking part to discover Blagdon’s diverse and ranging terrain that extends from woodland and open fields to the striking scenery of the surface mines and everything in between.”

Chris Peacock, Chairman of the NECCR, said: “The Big Walk is a terrific opportunity for local history enthusiasts and keen walkers alike to visit the grounds of the Blagdon Estate and we’d like to thank the Viscount for once again opening up his home for our event.

“All money raised will fund tests, clinical trials and the equipment crucially required to continue research into childhood cancers, taking place in the region.

“We’re also delighted to have been able to welcome Bill Bryson back to the North East, he is a valuable supporter of the work we do and we’re thrilled he was able to take part once again.”

Cancer remains the number one cause of non-accidental death in young children in the UK, the money raised for and donated to the NECCR directly funds research into the causes and treatment of childhood cancer, helping to establish the North East as one of the world leaders in this specialist area of research.

The Blagdon Estate has been owned by the same family since 1700 with the viscounts being named Matthew for more than 300 years.

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