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-  One man, his dog, and a 7,000-mile litter sweep / The Sunday Telegraph / March 2016  -

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Photography: Chris Watt

Ever since he was a boy, Wayne Dixon has dreamt of walking the coast of Britain. A proud Lancastrian, born and raised in Blackburn, something inside him yearned for adventure.

Joining the military at 17, Dixon gave three years’ service to the Royal Army Medical Corps in Germany, before devoting the next five to foreign exploration. He spent entire seasons picking olives in Greece, and also flowers in Holland. There was an 18-month stint in Israel – working in a factory, doing construction jobs and cleaning Portaloos. Anything to fund his unquenchable wanderlust. “I just wanted to travel,” he says. “I was desperate to see the world.”

Dixon’s travel bug was hardcoded into his genes. His father, John Dixon, was an avid rambler. Author of more than 30 historical walking guides, John’s own thirst for discovery had seen him take in landscapes from rural Lancashire to post-Cold War Russia.

Though John’s marriage to Wayne’s mum Christine ended in divorce when Dixon Jr was just nine, the bond between father and son grew stronger with each walking holiday they shared – to Crete, Turkey, portions of the South West Coast Path (a 630-mile stretch from Minehead to Poole Harbour). By the late Noughties, they vowed to fulfil Dixon’s childhood fantasy together. All 7,000 miles of it.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. John Dixon died from a heart attack in 2012, aged 63. But, rather than abandon the plan, Dixon was more motivated than ever, desperate to achieve the colossal feat in memory of his father. What’s more, as John had rescued a dog 10 days before he died, Dixon now had a custom-built companion.

“I’d like to think he was sent to us for a reason,” says Dixon of Koda, a stoic Northern Inuit that looks more wolf than hound. “He’s filled a massive hole of bleakness and sorrow with joy. I feel like I’m walking with my dad.”

I find Dixon and Koda at RSPB Hodbarrow, a nature reserve on the edge of Lake District National Park in Cumbria. Having set off on February 1, they are a month into a voyage which, at a rate of five or six miles per day, will likely take two to three years to complete. “The longer it takes, for me, the better,” reports Dixon, dressed almost exclusively in khaki. “I’m in my element.”

A smiley, softly spoken man of 44, Dixon is weighed down with a 50lb canvas backpack bursting with kit. There’s a tent, two sleeping bags, waterproof clothing, wind-up radio, torch, camping stove, and a selection of Koda’s best-loved toys. Dixon quit his job as a youth support worker following his dad’s death – to support his grieving sister Max and take care of Koda – so his budget is tiny: £10 a day. It’s mostly spent on water, cooking fuel and food. One month in, the only thing Dixon claims to miss about regular life is BBC 6 Music. He can’t get it on his wind-up radio. Single for the past five years, he confesses to be relishing his lack of responsibilities. “As for loneliness, I’ve got him,” he beams, ruffling Koda’s mane.

First achieved by marathon walker John Merrill in 1978, a journey on foot around Britain is often seen as the pinnacle for walking enthusiasts; Mount Everest for the rambling set. Many have attempted the 6,824 mile round-trip – a loop of England, Wales and Scotland’s shorelines – though only a small fraction have completed the whole epic trail. (The official figure is unknown, though Dixon believes it to be 48.)

Devoted hikers make this lengthy pilgrimage for a variety of reasons: in the name of charity, material for a book, or simply to enjoy the majestic surroundings on our doorstep. The driving force for Dixon’s own effort is particularly novel.

Alongside his twin fundraising efforts – for mental health charity Mind (his father was bipolar) and the Northern Inuit Society – Dixon hopes to leave each patch of land in a healthier state than it was when he found it. For every step he and Koda takes, they’ll be bagging up litter.

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“I started litter picking about a year ago when I was walking the dog,” explains Dixon, a purple bin-bag in one hand, metal litter picker in the other. “I realised it’d really annoy me if I was in these really beautiful places, but seeing all this rubbish.

“Walking the coast is quite a self-indulgent thing, and I wanted to give back. So it came to me: I’ll walk the country, but pick up litter as I go.”

Dixon gazes out across Hodbarrow lagoon, the impressive Black Combe dominating the sky as the midday sun gives the water a silk-like shimmer. It’s the sort of blissful scene you’d expect from a postcard, except without the robust pile of rubbish.

“All this kills animals,” sighs Dixon, poking at the detritus with his litter picker. Among the debris is a camping chair, rusty tin cans, broken bottles and food trays, all in varied states of decay. Dixon predicts the junk has sat here for at least two years – that’s when cutbacks hit the reserve and the on-site warden was let go. As if the litter wasn’t suitable proof, Dixon later confirms they were never replaced.

“We need to bow our heads in shame at our litter problem, big time. The thousands, millions, who died in the First and Second World War, all those people that died for our freedom – just look what we’ve done with it. It’s beyond belief.”

As it turns out, Dixon’s walk is a topical endeavour. This weekend sees hundreds of community events take place across the United Kingdom, under the banner of “Clean For The Queen”. Launched by the Government – in collaboration with charity Keep Britain Tidy – the campaign encourages citizens to scrub their neighbourhoods free of muck in honour of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday.

But while the cause is a worthy one and the statistics shocking (litter has skyrocketed by 500 per cent since the Sixties), Clean For The Queen has largely been met with hostility. The general consensus is that, in an age of landmark austerity, the initiative is dressed up as David Cameron’s “Big Society” in action, yet merely demands free labour from the masses.

Sought out to help promote Clean For The Queen during his own clean-up venture, Dixon’s view is more philosophical. “Hopefully it will encourage people to not drop litter, and to be more aware of their surroundings,” he says. “It’s not the Queen or Prime Minister that lives in the towns where the litter is. It’s us that’s got to live there, but it’s like we’re becoming blind to it.”

After a brief respite in a Millom pub – pint of Coke, bowl of water for Koda – Dixon is back on the road. Next up is Haverigg, then north to Stainton, Stilecroft and Bootle, being careful as they pass the nuclear complex in Sellafield.

Dixon swears his goal is simply to appreciate Britain’s natural magnificence, raising money for charity and making the environment a little bit tidier as he goes. He invites anyone who’d like to help to follow his journey on social media (@WayneKoda on Twitter) and join him when he’s in your area.

And yet, a wide smile spreads across Dixon’s face when I ask whether he’d welcome an invitation to meet Her Majesty. “It’d be nice, yeah,” he says, laughing. “I’ll be happy just completing it, that’s my reward. But then, the Queen is a dog lover, isn’t she?”

Dixon and Koda amble into the distance, and I make my way to the local train station. As I stop at a junction, the driver of a people-carrier pulls up, lowers the window and flicks a Mars wrapper out of the window. I walk over, and place it in the bin just a few metres away.

Donate to for Wayne’s Mind and Northern Inuit Society fundraising pages at uk.virginmoneygiving.com and gofundme.com








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