For the past two years, Chris, a 51-year-old man from Lincolnshire with autism spectrum disorder, has embarked on a unique challenge: Walking the Wash. Living in supported living accommodation run by national charity, Ambient Support, Chris took on the 42-mile journey accompanied by his dedicated care workers, with the goal of raising awareness for autism and advocating for the Wash to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chris says: “I lived in London for 24 years. The countryside is so different. Being outside helped me to feel a part of my community and it helped my fitness. And I learned more about my ancestors and where I have come from.”
Stretching from Skegness to the Norfolk town of Hunstanton, the Wash is the largest national nature reserve by area covering almost 8,800 hectares. Five major rivers flow into the North Sea at the Wash, creating a dynamic and ever-changing environment.
Supported by his care workers, Chris overcame many challenges throughout his journey, from logistical obstacles to fitness limitations, including his asthma. By dividing the walk into legs of around one-hour and 5000 steps each, Chris persevered with the help of the Ambient team.
Chris’s support worker says: “At Ambient, we are committed to providing person-centred, responsive support, following an ‘Active Support’ approach that helps people gain skills, confidence, and control of their lives. Helping Chris achieve his dream of walking the Wash was incredibly important to us as a team.”
Chris commenced his walk in April 2021 and completed the challenge last year in 2023, covering approximately 42 miles and visiting the mouth of every river along the way. Encountering diverse wildlife, from otters and seals to geese and ospreys, Chris actively participated in environmental conservation by collecting litter during his journey. He also tried out some wild cooking, sampling fresh samphire from the marshes.
“My favourite parts included crossing the river Great Ouse by ferry and exploring King’s Lynn. We met lots of people along the way, including foreign tourists, a nice HM prison guard who took us across HM Prison North Sea Camp, and we even helped search for a lost dog,” shared Chris.
The UK government’s recent announcement proposing England’s east wetlands, including the Wash, as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site aligns with Chris’s hopes that his walk will raise awareness of the campaign. The bond between Chris and his keyworker was strengthened during the challenge, by a shared love for adventure and the great outdoors.
Chris’s keyworker expressed, “I feel honoured to have shared this journey with Chris. The sheer distance was an enormous challenge for him, and over the two years, we experienced all kinds of weather, sometimes four seasons in one day. It was tough at times, but we were disciplined, and Chris never gave up—his perseverance and enthusiasm were inspiring.”
Chris plans on continuing his walking adventures and has invited along Ambient Support staff, supported individuals and members of the public to join him in a bid to foster a sense of community and inclusivity, ensuring accessibility for all.