Community rallies behind Devon woman walking 630 miles for retired farmer with Motor Neurone Disease

Rachel Bush, 60, from Kingston, Devon, and her faithful terrier Ruby are walking the entire 630 miles of the South West Coast Path to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association after her friend and neighbour contracted the disease. Seeing the devastating impact of MND on her friend – local retired farmer Richard Gulliford – Rachel is determined to raise funds to help find a cure. Halfway through the challenge, she’s already raised over ten times her fundraising target, with the whole community getting behind the cause.

Having started the walk in Minehead on 3rd April 2021, Rachel aims to complete the entire route by the end of the year. On 10th August at 2pm she will cross the River Erme at her local beach, where villagers from Kingston – and Richard (if well enough) and his wife Q – will join Rachel to cheer her on her way. Richard has only left the house once or twice in the last year but is determined to come to the beach if he can. Villagers have arranged for special transport onto the beach to help him make it.

Rachel said: 

‘Since the walk has started the whole village have got behind us.  It has been so rewarding to see the support and I can see that it has been wonderful for Richard and Q to see that the whole village really care.  So many people have been so incredibly generous.’

Initially not knowing anything about Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Rachel saw its impact on her friend and his family and was determined to do what she could to help. 

Richard’s wife Q said:

‘I had heard of MND but was really completely oblivious as to how devastating this disease truly is.  I have had to watch my husband and best friend deteriorate from a fit, healthy, strong man who farmed and played rugby all his life slowly become a prisoner in his own body.  Little by little MND robs the person of the ability to walk, talk, eat, breathe and do all those things we take for granted.’

‘When Rachel first mentioned the walk, both Richard & I were blown away by such a challenging undertaking she was prepared to do for us in support of MND Association and research.  We were just incredibly humbled by Rachel’s determination and generous spirit.  She is one big-hearted lady.’

Initially hoping to raise £630 – a pound for every mile walked – Rachel has already smashed her target, raising over ten times the amount and now hopes to keep raising funds. From the local church’s plant sale to villagers holding table top sales and making extraordinarily kind donations, the community is determined to show Richard and Q their support. The new target is to raise £8,190 which could fund two people with MND to undergo clinical trials for a year, getting closer to a cure.

Richard said that the gifts to MNDA are so important: ‘To generate hope that we will overcome this vile disease in the near future.  Our families deserve this. [MND Association] reminds us that we are not alone; the five thousand of us with MND in the UK have a support network.  Thank you.’

Rachel said: 

‘I hope one day research will lead to treatments and even a cure.  As I have learnt more about MND, I have realised how little awareness there is of the disease. I truly believe scientists will unlock the facts, find treatments and a cure, given the funding to do so, so anything that I can add to make that happen has got to be worthwhile.  In addition the MND Association provide such fantastic support for those like Richard and Q and I wanted to help ensure that help is there for them and other families affected by MND.’

‘I walk wearing my MND Association T shirt and it has really surprised me how many people stop me and tell me their story of MND how they have lost a wife, uncle, mother or friend to the disease. There are countless families who have been devastated by this disease.’

In spite of all that they are going through, Richard and Q are focused on remaining positive. Rachel explains:

‘I’m so inspired by how brave and courageous both Q and Richard have been in facing MND. Richard has remained positive about the good things in his life and considers himself lucky to have seen his children grow and have families of their own. He is still smiling and cheerful. Q as well as caring for Richard pretty much singlehandedly for the past 15 months has also remained cheerful and positive and still looks out for family and friends. They are an amazing couple and I am in awe of how they are facing MND.’

Asked what’s keeping him going, Richard said: ‘Friends and family, endless unconditional love.  Nature, the rhythm of the seasons: today’s new flower, migrant bird arrival, livestock back to pasture, fresh fruit and veg from the garden or allotment.’

The 630 mile SW coast path includes 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, the equivalent of four times up and down Everest. Rachel still has hundreds of miles to go on her challenge but with her dog Ruby by her side (and on a lead to keep her safe), she is determined to overcome her fear of heights and finish strong for Richard, Q and all those living with MND.

Richard said: ‘Rachel and Ruby are continuing a passionate adventure that I enjoyed with my dog, whilst promoting MND Association along the way.  Best of friends.  Walk on!’