Botham reaches the end of the road

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IT WAS the end of an era. Ian Botham, dispatcher of Australians, all-round bon viveur and part-time pantomime star, arrived in Land's End yesterday on the final footsteps of his last epic charity walk. After eight treks across the length and breadth of Britain and the Alps, the cricketing legend has declared an end to perhaps his most laudable innings of all.

There will be no more walking for the 43-year-old, partly because of the gruelling physical effort but also, he has admitted, because of the increase in car traffic in the 15 years he has been pounding the roads and footways of Britain.

But as he walked through Penzance at lunchtime there was no time for sentimentalism. "There's no question of any personal satisfaction in this," he said. "This is just very heartening and rewarding. We've had enormous support and the buckets are filling with donations. It reassures you how good the human race can be from time to time."

He also gave an advance storm warning to the people of west Cornwall. "I've been caged up for 34 days and tonight I'm out, which sounds a bit dangerous," he said. After the celebrations, though, the achievements will remain: during this final walk, somewhere near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, Botham clocked up his 4,000th charity mile and over the past 15 years his walking has raised pounds 3.3m for the Leukaemia Research Fund.

This walk alone has already raked in pounds 500,000. When he began his first 900-mile trek from John O'Groats to Land's End in 1985 the survival rate for childhood leukaemia was 20 per cent (when the LRF was set up in 1960 the rate was just 2 per cent); today it stands at 80 per cent, though the survival rates for adults is lower, between 40 and 50 per cent.

The Leukaemia Research Fund is in no doubt about the benefits that Botham has brought. "There has been a huge leap in scientific advancement but what ground-breaking discoveries we've made couldn't be achieved without the funds raised by Ian," said a spokeswoman. "He's our biggest individual fundraiser."

Few people could emulate Botham's feat, according to Professor Neil Spurway, Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Glasgow. "With proper training, around 80 per cent of the population could probably do such a walk if they took the odd rest day in between. Only the elite few could do it every day for a month," he said.

Donations to the Leukaemia Research Fund can be made on 0181-466 4646.