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The sports, activity and fellowship team lead for the south of England, Tristan Cooper, will be paying the price for an off-the-cuff quip, in July, when he runs 75 miles of the Kennet & Avon Canal while fundraising for the charity.

Cooper, 48, who lives in Pitton, near Salisbury, leads the Armed Forces charity’s sports, activity and fellowship team for the south of England, and has recently been accompanying veterans on canal boat cruises courtesy of Great Bedwyn-based Bruce Boats, which offers trips on the canal to the disabled, disadvantaged or elderly.

He explained: “Before Christmas, I was chatting to Bruce Boats’ publicity officer, Patrick Pease, and he said he was hoping to walk the Kennet & Avon canal in summer 2022. Jokingly, as a runner, I said ‘go on then; I’ll give you a couple of days head start, and I’ll chase you down’.

“I was joking and thought nothing more of it until, in January, he said he’d spoken to the committee, they were all in favour, and we just need to set a date for the ‘tortoise and hare’ style challenge. I couldn’t back out, so now I’m in training to run 75 miles in three days to catch up with Bruce Boats volunteers and supporters who will have set off walking six days ahead of me.”

Tristan Cooper with his sons William, six, and Joseph, four
Tristan Cooper with his sons William, six, and Joseph, four

His journey – and that of the walkers – will start at Reading, pause at Great Bedwyn, and then recommence from Bath before returning to Great Bedwyn, to enable an afternoon of festivities to take place at the finish line close to Bruce Boats’ headquarters. Cooper will be raising funds for Help for Heroes, while the walkers will be collecting for Bruce Boats, itself a registered charity.

Cooper added: “I’m hoping that me running like a loon will highlight Help for Heroes’ work in the community – a great example of which, is what we’re engaging in with Bruce Boats – and the scope of our recovery service, which continues to offer physical, emotional, and financial support, to veterans who were injured, wounded or sick as a consequence of their military service.

“Covid made it difficult for us to offer our services in the normal environment, but we continued to support our veterans in an online capacity. Now, we’re back out offering face-to-face support, but with more of a community emphasis.”

The Bruce Tunnel courtesy Richard Szwejkowski
The Bruce Tunnel courtesy Richard Szwejkowski

The Kennet & Avon canal, dating from 1723, is made up of two river navigations and a linking stretch of canal, its full length running for 87 miles – from the Severn Estuary, near Bristol, to the River Thames, at Reading – with more than 100 locks.

The 75-mile stretch being undertaken by Cooper et al, will take in aqueducts, the 502-yard Bruce Tunnel – the only one on the canal – and the spectacular Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 29 locks, between Rowde and Devizes, in Wiltshire.

Cooper added: “If anybody wants to join me for a few miles either running or cycling, I’d be more than happy to have the company.

“And if they want to buy me a drink and a pub lunch at a canal-side inn that would be even better,” he laughed.

Bruce Boats has been operating for more than 30 years and has provided special holidays for more than 25,000 people. The boats were originally designed and built by the Bruce Trust and, since 2016, have been part of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which aims to improve and restore the canal, giving as many people as possible the chance to enjoy the waterway joining London and Bath.

Tristan Cooper and Bruce Boats’ ‘tortoise and hare’ challenge takes place from 15-17 July and is scheduled to finish at Great Bedwyn Wharf on the afternoon of Sunday, 17 July. To support his efforts in aid of Help for Heroes, visit Tristan’s Just Giving page.

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Banner image: The renowned Caen Locks complex (pic courtesy Chris Sutton via Flickr)