The biggest dog walk in the world

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Earlier this month, I went for a walk with 20,000 dogs.  Tiny chihuahuas, enormous Saint Bernards, families of huskies and all kinds of dogs in between.  We walked three and a half miles with our eleven month old puppy to complete the Great North Dog Walk. The walk begins where the famous Great North Run ends and forms a large loop across grassland and above cliffs in the town of South Shields.  It really is the biggest dog walk in the world, holding the Guinness World Record.  It began with a few hundred dogs 23 years ago and now more than 20,000 dogs take part, representing 185 breeds.

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There’s something exhilarating about walking with so many dogs, of all different breeds.  So many dogs with so many stories: those who have been brought up from birth to be cossetted and spoiled; those who were rescued from horrific circumstances; those who work and those who spend their lives at leisure.  You can see their diverse personalities: the ones that strain at the lead and jump around excitedly at being surrounded by so many dogs and people; those who walk sedately, seemingly aloof to all the excitement; those who are grumpy if another dog gets in their way.  And with them, their people, with their own stories and personalities.  There is no typical dog, just as there is no typical dog owner.

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For us, the walk illustrated perseverance – our young dog, obviously exhausted half way through, carrying on without complaint, still with the same sense of excitement he had when he began.  And it was about that doggy magic again, of not worrying about anything else, just putting one nose in front of the other and enjoying the moment.

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And afterwards was the afterglow.  As we finished, we colonised spots on the grass, groups of people and dogs.  In our own circle, two Labradors, three kinds of terrier and two spaniels.  And the people accompanying them just as diverse.  We exchanged doggy treats, strokes and cuddles with all the dogs, and home-made chocolate treats for us.  We discussed everything from homelessness to crafts and of course, the many foibles of the creatures that were our reason for being here.  So we didn’t only walk with 20,000 dogs, we also walked with more than 20,000 people, getting to know one another a little better through our common interests.   Above all, the day was about sharing – our love for our dogs, conversation, aching muscles, food and the achievements not of us, but of the creatures we spend our lives with.

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My dog ended his day lying flat out on the bed, barking in his sleep in that funny way he does that sounds like he’s laughing.  His legs were twitching as he ran in his sleep.  His nose quivered as he dreamed of remembered scents and, I hope, the happy memories of the day.

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12 thoughts on “The biggest dog walk in the world

  1. Loved hearing about this Andrea – as a dog owner and also because my dad came from South Shields and though we always lived in Nottingham, he never really left there at some level and would talk about it endlessly. He, my uncle and widowed grandma left in the 1930s in search of work in the midlands and I think it was one of the saddest things for him to tear himself away! I’ve been there twice and it was like a tour of the many places and landmarks that were familiar to me because I heard them mentioned so many times when I was growing up, plus we stood outside three of the addresses dad grew up in just so I could get the ‘feel’ of his childhood. And what a brilliant dog walk, my dog Rudi would love to go on that. The last time I was in South Sheilds – Aug 2010 – it was with my last dog Buster, who wasn’t well at the time and, in fact, took a downturn after we got home and went off to doggy heaven about a week later…but I have wonderful memories, and photos, of him lying on the beach at Marsden Bay obviously enjoying the sun on his back, I think it was the highlight of his holiday! Thanks for sharing.

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    • That’s a wonderful coincidence Helen. The walk actually takes place on the Leas, so the furthest point is above Marsden, then it loops around along the coastal path – it’s a very atmospheric coastline. I would sometimes go with my parents to Marsden when I was a child – catch the lift down to the bay and visit the pub – for those who don’t know – that’s carved into the cliffs. Can’t remember when it happened, possibly before 2010, a great chunk of Marsden rock fell into the sea so it doesn’t look the same as it used to. Given your heritage maybe you should take part in the walk one year!

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      • That would be so great, I’d love to go back up there, so much more to explore and I can always feel the connection with the place. Spent a lot of time researching my family tree a few years ago and combined with my dads endless story-telling, the connection runs deep…he lost his dad (who was a miner) to encephalitis lethargica, the virus that swept through whole communities in the 1920s, when he was just 8 years old and had to grow up very quickly, ultimately moving to Nottingham to support the family. I traced our ancestors back to sail-makers and iron workers living along that coastline. Yes, we went down the lift when we were there and had fish and chips outside the pub! Wonderful coincidence, we might even be related 😉 If you know anyone who’s a Wilkins or a Benson…

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      • Not that I know of, but then I’m from the north of the river which can make all the difference in these parts! I do have a colleague from South Shields who’s very into genealogy, so I’ll have to ask her if she’s come across any in her family tree.

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      • That would be interesting. My dad never stopped talking about Whitley Bay and we spent time there and at Tynemouth and the priory, which was lovely – took loads of pics.

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      • No Wilkins, just Wilkinsons! I don’t live so far from the priory and it is one of our most beautiful landmarks. My favourite place though is St Mary’s Island, in Whitley Bay, which is also the fictionalised setting for my book.

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  2. That sounds like a remarkable event and wonderful way to spend the day. There’s so much we as humans can learn (or perhaps remember) from spending quality time with other animals.

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    • It’s amazing what’s out there when you know where to look – I hadn’t even heard of it before I got a dog, despite just living a few miles away. And the news was full of charity walks that day for one thing or another – all people getting together and learning something in the process.

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