On top of the world

A passionate fell walker laid low by a rare neurological condition is on top of the world after returning to the hills with the help of a team of volunteers.

A 30-strong band of supporters took more than four hours to push and carry Kenneth Longstaff in a specially adapted wheelchair to the top of the 1,214ft summit of Latrigg in the Lake District.

The feat of endurance by Eaglescliffe running club Orchard Eagles, friends and family has helped the 60-year-old, of Darlington, raise more than £1,200 for charity.

Proceeds will be divided between St Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington, and the KeyRing disability support group, based at the town’s St Columba’s Church, Clifton Avenue.

The event will form part of a documentary on the condition Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks nerves causing the body to shut down.

Due to be screened next year, the programme is being produced by Poppy Goodheart for BBC4 and directed by Xavier Alford who has been diagnosed with a progressive form of the condition.

In 2012 Kenneth was struck down by GBS, which was first noticed by physicians in troops returning from World War I.

He spent three and a half years in hospital, including a year in James Cook’s intensive care unit, and still needs 24 hour care at his home, after becoming one of the most serious cases ever seen by his consultant.

“It was the most amazing day and one I never expected to experience,” said Kenneth. “Sitting at the top of Latrigg took me back to my childhood, where we used to picnic, looking over Bassenthwaite, where I caught my first fish, a pike.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who organised the walk and apparently they have future plans for me.”

The event was organised by David Barugh, a member of Orchard Eagles Running Club, Eaglescliffe, and husband of one of Kenneth’s former carers, Fiona.

David, a panel beater, of Eaglescliffe, said: “When I met Kenneth I was touched by his plight. We had so much in common. He had been a mechanic so be both worked with our hands and we both love Lakes. I just wanted to do something for him and wondered whether it would be medically possible to get him back on the fells. When it was and he was so keen to do so, I asked club members and they were delighted to help.”

BBC director Xavier Alford accompanied the walkers with a cameraman and sound engineer. He said: “I was diagnosed eight years ago and my condition is being controlled at the moment. Every three weeks I have to have my immunoglobin replaced.

“It is a rare condition but not as rare as you think. Research is limited and hopefully the documentary will raise awareness among physicians so it can be diagnosed and treated quicker in the future.” 

Kenneth and his wife Beverley attended the day centre at St Teresa’s for more than a year both receiving counselling and Kenneth physio, acupuncture reflexology and massage.

He also attends the KeyRing disability support group where he paints Lakeland landscapes from memory.

Kenneth said: “Both are such great organisations and now I can give them something back.”

Chief Executive of St Teresa’s Hospice Jane Bradshaw said: “I’m so pleased that Kenneth was able to fulfil this incredible ambition and return to the fells which he loves so much.

“Now he knows it can be done I’m sure there will be no stopping him, with the help of the amazing members of Orchard Eagles, and, in turn, we are very grateful to everyone’s support in helping us continue our work for the people of Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.”

Anyone wanting to add to Kenneth’s fundraising efforts can donate via https://www.gofundme.com/clime-a-mountain