VIDEO - Saxon warrior marches through Sleaford on mission to reduce male suicides

A historical re-enactment enthusiast dressed as a Saxon soldier has passed through Sleaford on his 300-mile march to raise money and awareness for a men’s mental health charity.

Lewis Kirkbride, 37, is on a 20-day recreation of King Harold II’s ill-fated route having defeated a Viking army at Stamford Bridge, near York in 1066 only to be beaten by William and his Norman conquerors at Battle, near Hastings.

The father-of-two from Durham is contending with authentic chain-mail armour weighing four-and-a-half stone, as well as carrying shield, sword and spear.

He is taking his passion for Anglo-Saxon history to raise funds and awareness for men’s mental health social enterprise, ManHealth and to combat cases of suicide in men.

Saxon warrioer Lewis Kirkbride, setting off from Sleaford. EMN-200110-165005001

Setting off on Friday, September 25, he arrived in Sleaford on a wet and windy Wednesday afternoon after a 24 mile march through the Cliff Villages and along the Viking Way from Lincoln.

He said: “The media coverage has been getting through and I was getting people sounding their horns in support and my brother turned up as a surprise to join me and that helped the miles pass by.”

The final stretch yesterday was tough for Lewis, battling against driving rain and spray from passing traffic, staggering along the boggy grass verge of the A17 to get into Sleaford. At times it was quite scary, he said and someone offered to drive behind him with their hazard lights on to screen him from the worst until he reached Holdingham.

Lewis said he was also developing his first blister from the walking boots he has been wearing.

Mental health campaigner Lewis Kirkbride with Samantha Lovell of Sleaford, who lost her brother Christopher (pictured) becaise of mental illness. EMN-200110-165016001

A fellow re-enactor from Leicestershire met him at Sleaford and put him up for the night before setting off from Navigation House visitor centre this morning (Thursday) to make a relatively short, seven mile trip to Threekingham where he had been offered to stay overnight in a caravan. He said: “That way I could do the Lincoln to Sleaford leg in one go and then have an easy walk the following day.”

He appreciated reaching the flat land of the fens saying that he could understand why the Vikings wanted to stay here too.

He will continue to Bourne and arrive in Peterborough on Saturday, being seen off by more re-enactors from the city’s cathedral on Sunday morning, getting a mounted escort of re-enactors on horseback heading into Sawtry at the end of the day.

After just seven days’s walking Lewis has hit his target of £10,660, so far collecting £10,817 via his web page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/1066battlewalk and now hoping to reach £15,000.

On the march. Lewis and his entourage march along Carre Street heading out of Sleaford on his 20-day re-enactment of King Harold's journey from Stamford Bridge to Hastings. EMN-200110-165027001

He said to have reached this much already was brilliant. “That will help 500 more men for a year,” he said.

“I have been doing a lot of training and preparation physically for putting that armour on every day and it has been getting slimy and sweaty and smelly, but it is a perfect metaphor for people having to get up and shoulder that burden of anxiety and depression on a daily basis but have to keep going.”

But he said his journey has been helping spread the word in a ripple effect: “I am getting people coming up and saying hello and then saying they have had anxiety or depression.”

Lewis said: “With male suicide the highest it’s been for 20 years and County Durham experiencing some of the worst male suicide statistics in the UK, the recent lockdown and social distancing restrictions couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Harold had to defend his kingdom by first defeating a Viking army near York on September 25, then marching south in 20 days to face the Norman invaders at the south coast on October 14.

“Like the battles of 1066, mental health problems can invade your life and attack from all sides,” said Lewis. “We do our best to fight, but putting on a brave face every day takes a lot of energy – a bit like heavy armour weighing down on our shoulders every step of the way.

Lewis said: “Covid-19 has caused so many events and activities to be cancelled this year – it’s worrying to think about how many people are feeling isolated and cut off at the moment.”

Lewis adds: “Men still aren’t asking for help or talking when they need to. It can feel like we are alone with nowhere to turn when mental health services and communities around us are struggling to support these men – but I want to show that people are willing to listen. Nobody needs to suffer in silence.”

He said: “Depression can strike anyone at anytime; I had a tough few years and couldn’t open up to family or friends – it wasn’t that they didn’t care, but things were complicated and taking the first step was a struggle.

“Organisations like ManHealth are so important at a time when suicide is the biggest killer in men under 50. People looked at me and saw a healthy young man with a job, a home, a wife and a happy family, but I was losing my own battle with depression and anxiety.

“I wish I’d got talking about my mental health much sooner.”

Since its launch in 2018, ManHealth has opened 13 peer support groups across the North East and has launched a webchat and connect service, making it easier for men further isolated by the global pandemic and approaching crisis to access support.

Among the small party who joined Lewis setting off from Sleaford was Samantha Lovell, who has lived in the town for four years and lost her brother, Christopher Ealden, who is believed to have taken his own life aged just 35 on July 25. He worked as a paramedic in Bracknell and she said he had been suffering from mental ill health and had just seen the break up of his marriage.

Samantha said: “I am just doing whatever I can to raise awareness and save as many lives as we can.”

Lewis’ route takes him through our area over the next few days

• Day 7 (Thursday) – Sleaford to Threekingham 7.5 miles – Starting point Navigation House visitors centre off Carre Street, NG34 7ZD

• Day 8 (Friday) – Threekingham to Bourne 12.0 miles – Starting point Manor Lane/Laundon Road junction

• Day 9 (Saturday) – Bourne to Peterborough 16.1 miles – Starting point Bourne Library PE10 9EF

• Day 10 (Sunday) – Peterborough to Sawtry 11.1 miles – Starting point Peterborough Cathedral

• Day 11 (Monday) – Sawtry to Papworth Everard 17.9 miles – Starting point Sawtry Post Office PE28 5UR