Wandering Woody at home as a ranger

Chris customises the Land's End sign
Chris customises the Land's End sign

A DETERMINED son who walked hundreds of miles in memory of his mum is set to embark on his next challenge.

Last summer, Chris Wood walked more than 600 miles and raised £3,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support who helped care for his mum Denise (pictured with Chris).

Chris Wood with mum Denise

Chris Wood with mum Denise

The experience changed his life and he has since won a prestigious training contract with the National Trust, whose work he experienced during the mammoth challenge.

RICHARD MENNEAR caught up with him.

WALKING 630 miles in the space of 70 days may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

But for Chris Wood it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

He completed the walk in memory of mum Denise Wood, who died after a battle with lung cancer.

Averaging nine miles a day, he raised £3,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and smashed his £1,000 target.

But it was during the walk that Chris discovered a new path that would see him win a trainee contract with the National Trust.

He beat off tough competition from 180 others for the position.

Chris, 24, said: “The walk has been the best experience of my life.

“It gave me a direction and you could say it helped me find myself.

“I came back and decided that being a park ranger is what I wanted to do.

“The National Trust is a fantastic organisation and I am very proud to work for them.”

Chris walked alone and back-packed most of the way along the South-West Coast National Trail – which starts at Minehead, in Somerset, and finishes in Poole Harbour, Dorset.

Chris, who lives in Hazelwood Rise, on the Headland, with his dad, Gerald, 55, and brother, James, 16, carried a tent, sleeping bag, air bed and clothes weighing more than three stone.

His mum was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008.

Despite a dignified battle, the disease spread to her spine and brain and she died in October 2009, aged 51.

The death was the second tragedy to hit the family after Chris’s brother, Stephen, died in 2001, aged 24, after suffocating as a result of an epileptic fit.

Chris, who also has an older brother, Paul Wood, 32, added: “It is sad that my mum can’t see me achieve my dreams but I know she would have been very proud.”

The 24-year-old said: “As I was making my way along the route I started to take a greater interest in organisations such as the National Trust and the RSPB.

“When I got back home I emailed those plus the North York Moors National Park and started volunteering.”

He joined the team at the North York Moors National Park last September and learned about habitat management and footpath maintenance among other things.

He has also spent time at RSPB Saltholme, on the outskirts of Hartlepool, but his lucky break came from Gareth Wilson, a National Trust area ranger, earlier this year.

Chris said: “He asked if I fancied doing a bit of voluntary work and I shadowed two of the rangers, Kate Phillips and Wayne Appleton at sites across the region.”

Overall he has clocked up 600 volunteering hours over the past year.

His dedication, commitment and hard work impressed and he applied for a trainee ranger position through the National Trusts’ Careership Programme.

There are only 14 positions across the country every two years, seven for rangers and seven for gardeners.

But after a successful interview and practical where he built a bird box, he was awarded a trainee academy ranger post.

Chris said: “I am still pinching myself to be honest.

“To get into a field like this, people usually do several years of volunteer work and I have managed to secure a position after a year.

“I am very fortunate.

“It is really exciting and I cannot wait for the challenge.”

He starts work on Thursday, September 1.

Over the next two-and-a-half years he will spend time on placements and at Reafe College, in Cheshire.

Chris will help maintain and improve sites at Roseberry Topping, in Middlesbrough, Penshaw Monument, in Sunderland, Moor Housewoods in Durham and Ormesby Hall, in Middlesbrough.

Trainees learn everything from dry stone walling, fencing, making log steps, how to remove invasive species such as harmful weeds, survey work, bush cutting and even chain shaw training.

Chris, who achieved a first class degree in surveying at Northumbria University, is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

The former Hartlepool Sixth Form College student said: “I am really looking forward to learning new skills.”

And despite last year’s charity trek, Chris still enjoys walking with his girlfriend, Ann Pease, 30, from Guisborough, who he met while volunteering.