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Kendal woman's Himalayan trek in memory of lifelong best friend
The story of Julie Mayfield and Angela Harrison's friendship reads like an extract from the Hollywood film Beaches; forged in childhood and transcending every part of their lives, but ultimately ending in heartbreak.
The 1988 film stars Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as children from different walks of life whose friendship lasts the trials and tribulations of life.
Julie and Angela's tale began on May 8, 1971, when precocious nine-year-old Angela heard that a potential play mate had finally moved into her hamlet of Clawthorpe, near Burton-in-Kendal, and knocked on her door to invite her out to play.
In fact Julie and Angela were born just 10 days apart and would become inseparable through primary school and into their teenage years.
Julie said: “She was skinny and tall with a big grin – all teeth. Every time you saw her she was grinning.
“We spent a golden childhood, with Swallows and Amazon-type holidays on Windermere, climbing trees, making dens and exploring our neighbourhood.
“Even going to different secondary schools didn’t dim our friendship, always keeping in touch by letters passed across the road at the bus stops, and meeting almost every weekend for sleepovers.
“During school holidays we packed picnics and set out on adventures, charting previously undiscovered territory. My mum and dad had a boat moored on Windermere and we spent all our holidays on it by ourselves from quite a young age.”
When they married they were each other's maid of honour, and Angela was godmother to Julie's daughter, Helen.
The friends began fell walking as a way of chatting for hours on end away from the hustle and bustle of life.
But the walks became more difficult when Angela was devastatingly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Julie said: “When she first became ill she said one in four people get cancer and since her brother and sisters had children, it was best that she be the one in the four who was ill. She was very selfless.
“She had radio and chemotherapy which made her very sick but she fought it tooth and nail. She was amazing and throughout it all she kept grinning.
“As she recovered we thought she had cracked it. I floated the idea of a charity challenge for something positive to focus on, and to celebrate our 50th birthdays.
“We settled on a trek through the Annapurna region of the Himalayas and agreed to raise money for Epilepsy Research.”
Fund-raising started well with coffee mornings and walks with cream teas. But in the spring of last year, Angela complained of feeling ill again.
“It was at a coffee morning in Sedgwick and was the first indication that something was not right,” Julie said.
“She became more unwell until she was eventually admitted to Furness General Hospital.
“We had just got our 50th birthdays out of the way and she had her parents’ golden wedding anniversary. It was devastating.”
Julie was with Angela in her last hours in November, 2011.
“They told me her hearing would be the last thing to go even though she wasn’t responding. I kept talking to her about places we had been and read her messages from cards she had been sent.
“I finished reading and we were just sitting quietly. I was holding her hand as she just slipped away.”
“She was quite a spiritual person and when I went to the window I saw it was a big full moon on a beautifully clear night. I opened the window so that her spirit could leave.
“We scattered her ashes on Farleton Knott as she had asked; she wanted to be in a spot where her beloved mountains and Burton in Kendal would be visible.
"As her husband Martin threw them into the air, they were taken up by a sudden gust of wind on an otherwise still day.
“It sounds a bit Hollywood but it was just a magic moment.”
After Angela's death, Julie could not face the prospect of completing the Himalayan challenge without her best friend.
But over Christmas she was convinced by family and friends she should finish it for Angela.
Her daughter Helen volunteered to take the spare place, along with her partner and two of Julie's work colleagues at the Westmorland Veterinary Group.
On Saturday the group will make their way to Pokhara in Nepal to begin a six day trek through the Annapurna region.
It will be a gruelling trip and though they have been training on Scottish and Lake District peaks, Julie admits none of them know how they will cope with the altitude and long days.
“It was going to be a best mates trip and it will be something very different now. I'm nervous but I am excited.”
To support Julie's efforts visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Annapurnatrek