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Have dog, will travel . . .
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
One woman, one dog, one bike . . . and 5,000 miles. Jan Etherington meets Maggie Scorer and Oscar as they plan the journey of a lifetime
I first met Maggie Scorer strolling along Walberswick beach last summer. We got talking, as dog walkers do and she told me about the great adventure she was planning.
She wanted to cycle around the entire British coastline, with Oscar, her seven-year-old golden retriever in a dog trailer behind her, to raise money for two charities very close to her heart – Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and SANDS, the stillbirth and neonatal charity. I told her she was very brave, wished her well and walked on.
Last month, we met again. This time she arrived on the bike . . . with Oscar in the trailer. The great adventure is about to start.
On March 14 (she was going to leave on the 15th and then realised it was the Ides of March and not auspicious) this 65-year-old mother of four and grandmother of nine, will set off from Aldeburgh, pedalling north and spend the summer months cycling around Britain’s shoreline.
“It’s impossible to know exactly how long it will take. I’m planning on about 30 miles a day, but all kinds of factors could change this – the weather, injuries, damage to the bike.”
Through it all, Oscar, a beautiful, amiable dog who loves his personal transport, will be right behind her.
“Originally, I thought of walking round the coast, but whereas I might be able to walk 20 miles a day, there’s no way Oscar could do that – and Oscar comes everywhere with me.’
He sailed halfway round the world with her five years ago – from Ireland to the Azores, Madeira, Africa to Brazil.
“He was two years old then. He would run up and down the deck and go swimming every day, on a line, with a lifejacket.’
An ex-Wren, Maggie has also run a boarding kennels, driven a camper van round New Zealand and cycled along the Great Wall of China.
“The Great Wall cycle ride was my son’s idea. He was going to do it, to fundraise for Mencap, but he wasn’t able to take time off from his medical studies, so he said ‘You do it instead, Mum’. “ And off she went.
By now, you will have realised that Maggie is unlikely to settle for a quiet life, potting on her petunias, anytime soon.
“I do have a questing spirit and I am always looking for spiritual and physical challenges. I wanted to do something this time that had a purpose and not just float off round the world, like I did a year and a half ago, when I backpacked round South America and ended up in the middle of an earthquake in Chile.”
Maggie admits she loves tackling something new and believes her disjointed childhood probably gave her the strength to adapt to change and fend for herself. As the daughter of divorced parents, she was sent off to boarding school.
“Divorce was very unusual in those days and everyone else seemed to have a happy family. I spent a lot of time on my own and I often felt like an unwanted Christmas present. The result is that all I ever wanted was a family of my own. Now, I have four amazing children, even though my first husband left when my youngest son was just three months.’
Her eldest daughter, Sally, lives in France with two children, while daughter Jenny lives close by in Butley with four children and a two-month-old baby.
“After Jenny was born, I lost a daughter, soon after birth, who would have been 38 now, which is why I’m supporting SANDS.”
The charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research is also relevant to Maggie’s family.
“My youngest daughter, Susie, has been married for three years to Dan, a personal injury lawyer, who is paraplegic and who suffers from myelofibrosis, a blood cancer. Dan was diagnosed five years ago and has since ridden the London/Paris bike ride. He has now had a bone marrow transplant, which has worked and they have a one-year-old son, Freddie.’
Her youngest child is Tom, a naval doctor, who has a daughter Iris, 15 months.
“I worked very hard at motherhood and creating a happy family life. Now, there’s just me and Oscar and much as I love my children and grandchildren – and they know I’ll always be there when I’m needed – I can conquer that empty nest feeling with exciting adventures.
“I know they’re all supportive and proud of me and they will be visiting me, when they can, en route, in half term hols – and I am taking a break to come home, on the first May Bank Holiday, for Iris’s christening in Orford.”
Maggie is strong and fit, but for anyone, of any age, this is a daunting challenge and she is well aware that she is pushing her limits.
“I feel excited and of course, apprehensive. I know there will be days that will be wonderful and others that will be awful and very lonely. Some when I will only do two or three miles, when the weather will be bad and I’ll be cold, tired, exhausted. My main health concern is my back. I did train as a massage therapist, so I will be looking for some physio en route. And I want Oscar to stay healthy, of course.”
Her local vet has offered to come and treat Oscar if there are any concerns and Salters, the dog food manufacturer, is arranging drop offs of food supplies, round the coast, so Oscar won’t go hungry.
And where will she sleep each night?
“It’s hard to book anything because I’m not sure where I’ll be. Mostly, I’m relying on the kindness of friends, strangers and dog lovers en route – and local B&Bs.”
Maggie knows there won’t be much time for sightseeing.
“But I do love lighthouses and I will be visiting as many as I can. As an ocean sailor, they’ve always symbolised security. It comes from my childhood. I grew up in Orford and the Orfordness lighthouse beam flashed into my bedroom window. I felt safe when I saw the light. I didn’t count sheep, I counted the beams – and I dreamed that when I grew up, I would marry the lighthouse keeper.”
And she cycled off, beaming.