Minister's race plan raises £50,000
Almost £50,000 has been raised for injured soldiers and other good causes by the Northern Ireland Secretary's planned participation in the world's longest horse race.
Owen Paterson will ride 1,000km (621 miles) across one of the world's last great wildernesses in the Mongolian steppe next month. The Mongol Derby is modelled on warrior Genghis Khan's legendary system for communicating across his vast empire.
Mr Paterson and his wife Rose have been raising money for the Royal Irish Benevolent Fund, the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries and a Mongolian charity.
He said: "We have been stunned by the generosity of the people of Northern Ireland who have shown really incredible support for the Royal Irish Benevolent Fund. So far we have raised £47,500 and we are tantalisingly close to our goal of £50,000."
Three soldiers from the regiment were killed during their recent tour of Afghanistan and another 16 were severely injured.
The Conservative MP said: "The work of the benevolent fund supporting members, their widows and children is very important. That's why we are delighted that people have given so generously. It is starting to sink in that we are going to be riding 60 miles a day for 10 days on semi-trained horses, which is quite a daunting prospect, so in the final weeks we are really stepping up our training."
Competitors will be taken to a secret starting point several hours away from Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, and given a GPS navigation aid.
In imitation of Genghis Khan's Pony Express system of communication across his enormous empire, they will change horses every 40km (25 miles) at isolated nomadic settlements. Weight is at a premium, so they will only carry 5kg (11lb) of overnight kit and clothes for 10 days. The nomadic villages will provide mutton stew and unpalatable fermented mares' milk.
Mr Paterson added: "The weather will vary from fierce sunshine to violent storms, with freezing nights. We expect to have to cross mountains, marshes, forests and desert. River crossings will be our only opportunity to wash. We have been told to expect rabies, ticks and severe chafing amongst other hazards.
"Of the 20 riders so far committed, we are the only British and the only over-50s. We are doing it now, because if we don't we never will, but we do hope to raise significant sums for our three charities."