Hardy Way writer completes cancer walk challenge

Margaret Marande
Image caption Margaret Marande drew up the Hardy Way route in the 1990s

An 81-year-old writer has completed a 220-mile (354km) walk through the Dorset countryside, more than 20 years after she created the route.

Margaret Marande drew up the Hardy Way, linking locations connected to Thomas Hardy's life and novels, in 1995.

She walked the route again to fundraise for pancreatic cancer research after her partner died of the disease.

She said she was "fitter than I've ever been" after completing the challenge over 21 consecutive days.

The Hardy Way takes in locations the author lived in, visited or used as inspiration for scenes in his novels.

It starts at his birthplace near Dorchester and ends nearby in the tiny churchyard of St Michael at Stinsford, where his heart is buried.

It also includes stretches of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, Cranborne Chase and Blackmore Vale.

Image copyright Margaret Marande
Image caption Ms Marande was joined by former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody and his family for part of the walk

It has since been waymarked by the Ramblers Association and county council and is a popular long-distance walk.

Ms Marande's partner Harry Holberry, who helped her research the walk in the 1990s, died of pancreatic cancer last year.

She described her walk, which began on 18 April and has raised about £3,500 for Pancreatic Cancer Research, Shaftesbury's Westminster Memorial Hospital and Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre, as "cathartic".

Supporters including Downton Abbey writer Lord Julian Fellowes and retired jockey Richard Dunwoody joined her along the route which finished at Hardy's birthplace at Higher Brockhampton on Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm feeling good - no blisters and no knee problems," she said, following the challenge.

"I feel quite a lot fitter now than I did when I started actually."

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