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Cancer survivor leading the way at Walking Festival

John and Nicola Pinkerton, who enjoy walking the picturesque Co Tyrone roads.

John and Nicola Pinkerton, who enjoy walking the picturesque Co Tyrone roads.

WHEN the organisers of the Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival sought walking guides from within the local community to lead the hundreds of hiking enthusiasts who will converge on the North West shortly, John and Nicola Pinkerton came custom-made for the role.

The Plumbridge couple’s ‘Pinkerton Day To Day’ store is a central hub for the village and walking around its stunning hinterland has taken on a critical role in their lives in recent years.

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Nicola explained, “John was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and it stopped us in our tracks. He was in his late 40s and you don’t expect it to happen to someone who is still relatively young. “He was told that he needed to lose some weight and get as fit and healthy as possible to give him the best possible chance in surgery.

“We started to go out for walks and found that, as well as raising our fitness levels, it was something we enjoyed and it had a positive impact on our emotional well-being during a stressful time in our lives.

“Thankfully John’s surgery was successful and he has been free from cancer since, but we continue to walk regularly because we enjoy it so much.”

John and Nicola will lead the walkers as they navigate their way out of Plumbridge and into the Glenelly Valley for the festival’s ‘Up the Moat’ charity walk on Saturday, September 17, one of six walks that will be held over the weekend.

MacMillan Cancer Support is a cause close to their hearts and the £5 fee for walkers, as well as any donations, will go towards the charity.

Nicola and John started a local walking group in January.

Nicola added, “I’ve been living locally for 20 years and John has been here all his life but neither of us had ever been to the top of Moat Mountain until we started walking. The view from the summit is absolutely stunning. Our own local area is as beautiful as the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands.”

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The festival’s six walks offer a variety of terrain and distances to suit all levels and ages.

The ‘Origins of the Ulster Appalachian Way’ 15k hillside and trail walk on Saturday will suit more experienced walkers but the ‘Up the Moat’ charity challenge walk, an 8km hillside hike leaving from Plumbridge may be more suitable for beginners.

Wildlife enthusiasts and inquisitive kids alike will also have the opportunity to join the Bat and Moth Twilight Walk, a 3km exploration of the local habitats of these special night-time creatures led by a local expert.

On Sunday, Killeter is the starting point for three walks, including the popular Killeter Camino, a 15km multi-terrain experience. Moderate walkers can experience spectacular views along the south Tyrone section of the Ulster Appalachian Way crossing 8km of trails and heather, while more leisurely walkers can join the Killeter Community Ramble which is 5km in distance, led by the newly formed Killeter Rambling Group.

“Visitors who don’t know the area sometimes aren’t sure where they are allowed to walk through and where is safe,” John noted. “But all our routes have been well researched and permission has been granted by local farmers to pass through their land.”

Anyone who wants to donate to MacMillan Cancer can do so online at www.macmillan.org.uk or at the Pinkerton’s Day To Day store in Plumbridge.

The Sperrins and Killeter Walking Festival will take place over September 17 and 18. For more information and to register for a place on any of the walks go to www.sperrinskilleterwalking.com

Experienced and novice walkers alike are being urged to register now for the North West’s most popular hiking event....

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