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Pensioners’ sponsored bus-trek is just the ticket for village-hall repairs

29 November 2013

sam atkins

All aboard! Canon Russell consults the timetable at a bus stop in Gainford, Co. Durham

All aboard! Canon Russell consults the timetable at a bus stop in Gainford, Co. Durham

A RETIRED priest and his wife are planning to use their bus passes for a coast-to-coast sponsored ride in aid of their village hall.

Canon Neil Russell and his wife, Kathy, will set off next Wednesday from their home in the village of Gainford, near Darlington, in Co. Durham. They hope to complete the 322-mile round trip via Workington, on the west coast, and Saltburn-by-the Sea, on the east coast, and be back home by early evening the next day.

Because their passes are valid only on local services, the journey - which Canon Russell describes as "a bizarre fund-raising escapade" - will involve 14 different routes.

Canon Russell, who is 66, retired from All Saints', in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in 2008, shortly before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and he and Mrs Russell moved to Co. Durham in 2011 to be near family.

"I help in the church and community," he said. "My incapacity restricts me physically, but I still like to be involved. Parkinson's is an incurable and progressive disease, and I know that I shall be less and less able to take part in many activities. So I take every opportunity to make a contribution. I am secretary of the village hall, and on the parish council.

"Kathy and I decided we would like to say 'thank you' to the community for their warm welcome. The village hall has just had a £5000 bill for roof repairs; so, as I cannot walk far, run, or jump from aeroplanes, I decided to do a bus marathon. I have raised £600 so far. I also wanted to show that it is possible to get around with a disability.

"I have checked all my bus timetables, but the most crucial part is the first bus from home for the eight miles into Darlington. If I miss that one, then I shall be behind for the rest of the day. There is a bit of flexibility built in, but there are one or two tight moments when the time between connections is just ten minutes."

Mrs Russell had originally planned to follow in their car - "to handle any panic calls if I was stuck" - but will now accompany him. They expect to be travelling for ten hours on both days, having refreshments in bus stations along the way. "I have a good book to pass the time, and will try to update my blog, neilrussell.wordpress.com, as I go along," he said.

"It might not be the most fascinating of travelogues, but hopefully there will be some moments in it. We arrive in Workington about 7 p.m., and have booked a hotel near the bus station; but we have to be back on the bus by 9.30 the next morning.

"I shall certainly be able to reflect on the state of our bus services across three or four counties."

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