Mark and Lola walk the Pennine Way

When Mark Reed’s sister-in-law, Maria, was dying, she had an important request for him: would he care for Lola, the puppy she’d adopted just two months before she was diagnosed?

Recently, two years after Maria’s death, Mark completed a long-held ambition to walk the 268-mile Pennine Way, with Lola at his side. “It was like having a little piece of Maria with me,” he said. The pair raised more than £1,500 for St Barnabas House, the hospice that cared for Maria in her final days.

Mark and Lola on their hike

Full of life
Maria was a musician who had studied at the Royal College of Music – a talented flautist who later bought, helped restore, and taught herself to play a harp which she would cram in the back of her Volvo for jobs in and around London. “Maria had her faults,” says Mark. “Like me, she could talk for England – when she called, you’d never be able to get her off the phone. But – and I’m not just saying this now – she was a fantastic human being. Really fun, very full of life. As well as being a professionally trained musician, she was also a talented cook – whenever she came to visit, she’d always be cooking the most amazing meals for us.”

Maria was only 56 when she suffered a massive stroke, which left her paralysed on her left side. When she went to a central London neurological hospital for tests, they discovered an aggressive cancer and endocarditis. “She lived in St Albans at the time, but my wife, Teresa, who’s her older sister, wanted to look after her in her final months,” said Mark. “We turned our dining room into a hospital room, with a great big bed and all the equipment that she needed. Teresa is a bit of a force of nature, and she took over Maria’s care, sleeping downstairs with her for the six months she was with us.


Lola looking pensive

A living legacy
“While we were caring for her at home, Maria wouldn’t stop talking about Lola and how she missed her. It was very sad, because she’d only got Lola as a puppy a couple of months before her illness. She was so excited to have a dog, and she’d missed out on a lot of time with Lola, who was being looked after by a friend. Eventually, I decided I’d just go up to Barnet and get her. As she neared the end of her life, Maria was admitted as in-patient at St Barnabas House and Lola was able to visit her regularly.

The bond between Mark and Lola is clear to see. “She is absolutely lovely, a wonderful dog,” said Mark. “But it’s sad because she should be with Maria. And having her with us is a constant reminder – like a living legacy.”

Together for the journey
As soon as Lola was old enough, Mark decided to take her with him as he fulfilled his childhood ambition to walk the Pennine Way. After an abandoned attempt which ended after 145 miles because of record temperatures during the July heatwave, and completing the route in September 2022, Mark wanted to do the full Pennine Way again. Friends told Mark that if he and Lola did it again, they would sponsor him.

“People have been fantastic,” he said. “Even people who I met along the walk donated when they heard Maria’s story.”

The pair completed the walk in 17 days, spending half the nights in a tiny tent, with a mat for Lola (Mark put his coat over her if it got cold). At other times, they stayed in pubs along the route.


Mark and Lola on their hike

Highs and lows
“The highlight of the walk was definitely the scenery and being able to complete the adventure with Lola,” said Mark. “I had a real low point one day when we were going up Fountains Fell. It was pouring with rain, it was really boggy and I got very emotional. I was thinking a lot about Maria, and then I was stupid enough to put on some music which was very personal to me. I was properly done in that day, both physically and emotionally.

“My mum died when she was 41, and my brother died at 11. I am no stranger to grief. I was a police officer for 30 years, so I have a lot of life experience. But caring for Maria in the last six months of her life was a real privilege and a momentous life event. Doing this fundraising has restored my faith in humanity: you can watch the news and think how awful we are as a species, but the work people do at St Barnabas House is just incredible. It has been fantastic to do something to help and say thank you.”