Holkham viscount pedalling 800 miles for soldiers’ charity

The owner of Holkham Hall is saddling up for a gruelling 800-mile charity cycle ride from the Swiss Alps back to his family's north Norfolk estate.

Viscount Coke came up with the idea to indulge his new-found love of cycling and to raise money for Walking with the Wounded (WWTW), which re-trains injured soldiers to help them find new careers outside the military.

He will lead a core group of seven cyclists, who will be joined by up to 12 other riders for various stages of the 10-day challenge, which will begin on Tuesday.

Starting in the mountain resort of Crans-Montana, the route will cross into France via the Jura mountains and head across the Champagne region before crossing into England by ferry and finishing in Norfolk.

The group hopes to raise �50,000 for Holt-based WWTW, which grabbed international attention this year with its expedition to the North Pole, where amputee servicemen were joined by charity patron Prince Harry.

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Lord Coke, who served in the army himself with Scots Guards, hopes his team's challenge will continue the inspirational message.

'I had originally planned to ride back on my own from Crans-Montana but it has bloomed into something much bigger,' he said.

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'The army is very good at dealing with the medical side of things, but a lot of people are getting severely wounded for whom the army was going to be their life. This charity is there to help re-integrate them into civilian life.

'The whole North Pole expedition proved that just because you have got a physical impairment, anything can still be achieved.'

Many of the riders are cycling novices, and the average age of the team is in the 40s. Lord Coke, 46, is a recent devotee of the sport, and has been known to arrive at engagements in his lycra shorts.

'My wife thinks I've bitten off more than I can chew,' he said. 'I have heard from people who have done this before that after the third day you just want to throw your bike in a hedge, but after the sixth day you love it more than the day you bought it.

'I cycle quite a lot, but I have just got back from a very pleasant holiday in Minorca, where the nearest I got to training was on a pedalo.'

WWTW director Fergus Williams, from Gateley, near Fakenham, will also join the cyclists while organising his charity's next major expedition – to climb Mount Everest.

'The expeditions are our shop window, but the inspirational message is not just for soldiers,' he said. 'It is there to inspire everybody.

'For me, this is going to be painful. The furthest I have cycled this year is about 40 miles and we are going to be asked to do 100 on day one. This is my Everest – but for others it might be walking two miles. We are doing our bit to raise money but we would love other people to get involved and do their own challenges.

'Many young servicemen and women suffer horrific physical and mental injuries. When the wounded return home they face a very different future to the one they had planned, with challenges they never imagined and never trained for.'

While all the riders are paying for their own travel and accommodation costs, a dedicated mechanic and support vehicle has been funded through sponsorship from Tyrrells Crisps, First Utility, Holt's Auctioneers, Monki's Bar in Crans-Montana, the Holkham Estate, Smokesilver Travel, P&O Ferries and La Fuga.

David Milner, chief executive of Tyrrells, said: 'We are very proud to be able to put our name to a charity that does so much to help those wounded fighting for our country and I am personally very excited if extremely nervous to be taking part in such an adventure. As someone who has not ridden a bike since I was 18 it could make for an interesting few weeks, but it is all for a good cause.'

?To sponsor the riders, visit www.holkham.co.uk/charitycycleride or follow the team's progress via www.facebook.com/walkingwiththewounded.

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