An arable farmer from Wiltshire will swap his tractor for a bicycle when he takes on more than 240 miles to raise awareness of mental health in farmers after suffering a mental health breakdown.
Julian Cooke, a fourth generation farmer at Charlbury Farms, a 900 acre farm in Swindon, will cycle 248 miles from London to Paris for the Farming Community Network charity which supports farmers and their families.
He began his challenge on Wednesday (July 19) and he will cycle the feat over four days, a rate of nearly 70 miles a day, to offer hope to other farmers who have faced the strain and demands of working in a pressurised environment and how it can impact their mental health.
"Around 18 months ago I faced a mental health breakdown," he said.
"As a farmer with over 35 years of experience, mental health can hit you at any time of life.
"The day-to-day demands of the job, the lack of control over industry changes, and the daunting task of planning ahead for the future started to take its toll on me.
"The pandemic did not help and everything suddenly became too much.
"What was most difficult for me was the loneliness and how isolated farming can be.
"I think another trigger was the loss of a friend who took his own life.
"That hit me very hard and I struggled to cope when they were no longer here."
Mr Cooke said he felt blessed to have a support network around him when he was feeling at his lowest.
"I was very fortunate to have help from my friends and family who were there for me when I needed it," he added.
"FCN were also terrific at providing support and counselling when I needed them most.
"I cannot underestimate the help they provide farmers with mental health and how to overcome those feelings by opening up.
"Talking really does help.
"My counsellor described my situation like filling a bath tub and the water overflowing with pressures.
"I am really thankful that my friends and family were there to get me out of thinking and feeling in the dark.
"They were my inspiration.
"Other people might not feel so fortunate and it is why I am taking on a challenge like this to show others how you can find a light in a very dark and lonely place.
"Support is available and is there for those that need it."
Mr Cooke said he will be joined by 120 other volunteers who are taking on the challenge who understand the pressures farmers face.
"We will start at the Hilton in Croyden on Wednesday at 7am and will hopefully pass Big Ben along the way before getting the ferry to Calais," he said.
"And then it will be a long way to reach the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
"It is also our aim to see some of the Tour de France action as well which, after everything, should be a really rewarding experience.
"This will possibly be one the biggest challenges I have ever undertaken in my life.
"But I love cycling.
"I enjoy seeing new places and the priceless views that comes with riding.
"It is going to be a very emotional experience for everyone involved.
"But I am determined to do it for every farmer who has or is struggling with their mental health.
"It is a really important issue which I am very passionate about.
"Hopefully I can make everyone proud - especially my family and friends."
Mr Cooke has already raised more than £4,000 for FCN.
You can support his fundraiser here: Julian Cooke's 248 mile bike ride from London to Paris