Lancaster teacher's mum walks 500 miles in her daughter's memory

The mum of an inspirational Lancaster teacher who died at the age of 32 has undertaken a 500-mile walking challenge in her memory.

Thursday, 7th January 2021, 3:45 pm
Jackie Brindle pictured in 2017 with daughters Anna, Heather and Grace.

Jackie Brindle has been walking every day since World Mental Health Day on October 10 2020, with the aim of completing her 500th mile today, January 7 - which would have been her daughter Anna's 35th birthday.

In doing so she is raising much-needed funds for mental health charity ACE and the Samaritans, as well as helping her own and other people's mental health by getting outside in all weathers for a walk.

Anna passed away on November 16 2018. An inquest later found she had hanged herself at her Lancaster home, although coroner James Newman said her intention was ‘not clear’ and recorded a narrative verdict.

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Anna died in 2018 at the age of 32.

She was a popular English teacher and former head of year at Our Lady’s Catholic College, where staff and pupils were left heartbroken.

Headteacher Helen Seddon said Anna was “an excellent teacher” who had a passion for her job and inspired her students.

"Losing Anna has been indescribably hard," Jackie said. "I thought the grief and guilt would actually kill me in the first year.

"She was so full of fun and life, and when I spoke to her on the phone just two hours before she died she was talking about Christmas and plans for the New Year.

Jackie and Grace during the 500 miles challenge.

"I still dream I find her alive and it's not too late to save her. I know she will be with me as long as I live.

"I am still here though and I want to make the best of life and be thankful for the time we had.

"I had been wanting to do something to raise money for mental health charities for some time when I heard the Proclaimers song on World Mental Health Day on October 10 and I just thought 'Yes - I can walk 500 miles!'

"It seemed perfect - difficult but achievable, and as I was sleeping badly, barely leaving the house for days on end and getting next to no exercise it would be good for me at the same time.

Jackie and Mark during the 500 miles challenge.

"I checked to see how far I had walked that first day off work - two miles! Oh well, it was a start!"

Jackie has been joined on her walks by friends and family members, including her parents, husband Mark and youngest daughter Grace, where lockdown restrictions have allowed - and colleagues of Anna's from Our Lady's Catholic College in Lancaster have also been fundraising themselves through their own Team English.

Jackie and her group have now walked more than 6,000 miles between them since October 10 - enough miles to follow Google Maps' walking directions from Lancaster to Kathmandu.

Jackie, who is 53 and lives in Garstang, said: "The support I have had with donations, and from others joining in, has been just amazing. It's been great to see so many sharing photos of their walks and messages of support to each other.

Anna was a popular teacher at Our Lady's Catholic College in Lancaster.

"It's been difficult at times when I've had to drag myself out of the house, and Mark had to come and rescue me once two miles from home when I was in too much pain to walk back. On the whole though it has been wonderful.

"Even on the worst of days, feeling low, in physical pain and with foul weather - I have felt so much better for getting out of the house even for a short walk.

"It has been difficult to meet with others in person for walks in the current situation, but I have walked with family, friends and colleagues when restrictions permitted, and others have kept me company on the phone while I walked with cordless headphones looking to passers-by like I was talking to myself!

"It's been a pleasure to see more of my neighbours, and exchange a few words with others in passing, and also to walk alone in silence on the lanes and paths around Garstang, enjoying the wildlife and beautiful views.

"It is easier to see many things in the winter and I have loved seeing birds, occasional deer, a barn owl, squirrels, and a great sighting of otters playing in the Wyre.

"I find it helps to dress in walking clothes when I get up in the morning, and keep boots, wellies and waterproofs near the front door then I can just get up and get out when I have the chance without it being a huge effort - pockets ready stuffed with gloves, tissues, mask and hand sanitiser.

Jackie completing her 200th mile in Garstang in November.

"It has helped me a lot. I was struggling with my mental health and I have always felt better for going out for a walk and it was lovely that others joined in."

Jackie started the challenge during a visit to Northumberland, and since then has done a walk of some kind every day - including short walks while on crutches with an injured knee.

"It has helped keep me going," she said. "There have been a few tears along the way but I am really proud of myself."

Jackie, who works for Lancashire County Council, said despite being due to complete her 500-mile target, she plans to carry on further.

"We have got a lot of miserable weather ahead to get through," she said. "The main benefit has been mentally, but I must be a bit fitter physically as well.

"It was really good over Christmas and New Year because I find that a really hard time, and it kept me going a bit.

"It has been a lot harder than I originally anticipated when I started out in October, with many days when I had to mentally force myself to go out.

"My 500 miles on Thursday will be for teachers everywhere and for all those struggling with their mental health, in memory of Anna.

"I feel quite emotional now I am on the verge of reaching the target."

Jackie was planning to finish her challenge at Anna's memorial bench outside the Butterfly House in Williamson Park, but due to the new lockdown restrictions will now make the end closer to home either at the top of Nicky Nook or at the Royal Oak pub, where Anna worked before becoming a teacher.

You can donate to Jackie's fundraising page here until January 14.

Jackie walking with crutches in the dark and the rain during the November lockdown.
Anna in the Lake District as a child.
Anna loved walking in the Lakes.
Jackie and her parents enjoying a Christmas walk instead of Christmas dinner.
Anna passed away in 2018 at the age of 32.
Jackie with five of her team and Corky the dog on the Tolkien Trail in December.
Jackie Brindle in Little Britain fancy dress with daughter Anna.