Who's speaking at this year's festival?

Brenan Rendall

Whether you are joining us for a day or across the whole weekend there will be someone inspirational to listen to at Top of the Gorge festival.

Jamie McDonald - Adventureman

After suffering a serious illness as a child - which saw him spend years in hospital, sometimes unable to move his legs - Jamie McDonald grew up to become a world-record-holding runner and adventurer. He was the first person to run right across Canada, and in March this year he finished an expedition that saw him run 5500-miles (210 consecutive marathons) across the USA, coast-to-coast. He is also a bestselling author, motivational speaker and founder of the Superhero Foundation. As well as being a Pride of Britain winner, he was also was voted one of The Independent’s top 100 happiest people in the UK. He set a Guinness World Record for ‘Marathon Static Cycling’, pedalling for 268 hours (more than 12 days) in 2013, and just before the Top of the Gorge Festival he is attempting to break the World Record for ‘the greatest distance covered on a treadmill within one week’. ‘For this record, I will need to run more than 73 miles a day for seven days,’ says Jamie. ‘The equivalent of three marathons a day for a week is terrifying, but I’ll never be in better shape to try after my American adventure.’ Find out how he gets on, and hear about the other exploits of Adventureman on Sunday afternoon at Top of the Gorge festival, when Jamie delivers one of his notoriously uproarious talks. Do not miss out on meeting Jamie - you’ll never quite recover.  





Jamie McDonald is 'Adventureman'

National Trust/ Jamie McDonald

Jamie McDonald is 'Adventureman'

Jamie McDonald is 'Adventureman'
Jamie McDonald is 'Adventureman'
Jamie McDonald is 'Adventureman'

Brendan Rendall

Brendan, who is from Wincanton in Somerset, took up running after a drunken bet in 2006, not realising it would change his life. Then a binge-drinking, overweight 28-year-old, began training in the dark so no-one could see him. Ten years later, he became the first person to run the length of Malawi, raising £35,000 for charity. Last summer he spent three months running across Africa, and in 2020 he will attempt to run the length of the continent, Cairo to Cape Town.

Earlier adventure runs, which saw him become a Yeovil College Ambassador and a winner of the ‘Somerset I believe Sporting Hero’ and the ‘Gold Award’, include the Wainwright Coast-to-Coast (192 miles) and John o’ Groats to Lands End (962 miles in 35 days). On Sunday afternoon at this year’s festival you can hear Brendan talk about how running revolutionised his life, from an existence that revolved around drugs, alcohol and partying to one full of adventure and fundraising.

He will also be running the trail marathon on Sunday - join Brendan for a chat on the trails.




Matt Helliker

An alpinist, professional climber and IFMGA mountain guide, Matt grew up amid the Mendip Hills. Here he found his passion for adventure among the region’s richly diverse crags, from granite sea cliffs to limestone outcrops such as Cheddar Gorge. This gave him a solid base to become one of the UK’s best climbers, opening up and repeating some of the hardest routes in the mountains and on rock faces right across the world, from the winter hills of Scotland, Alaska and the Alps, to the Himalaya.

His goals in these greater ranges have always been to succeed on first ascents, some of which gained Piolet d'or nominations. In 2001 Matt was awarded 'Denali Pro Mountaineer of the Year' for assisting in the rescue of climbers stuck in a storm at 6000m on Denali. His films include Citadel and Moonflower. At Top of the Gorge you can meet Matt and hear some tales from the tall parts of the world on Saturday evening.    





Susie Chan

Susie is an endurance runner who will attack any route from a 1-mile fun run to a 100-mile ultramarathon. Since she started running in her mid 30's, not long after giving up smoking, she has gone on to finish the infamous Marathon des Sables four times, run around a 400-metre track for 24 hours, set a world record for running on a treadmill for 12 hours, and has completed all the world marathon majors, including the brutal Badwater Cape Fear race. Just last year she faced a challenge of a very different kind, when a sore throat after the MDS and the Boston Marathon turned into a shock diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

Following treatment she is back on track and trail, and continues to push her limits, all the time documenting her running journeys - from soggy parkruns to multistage races - on social media. At Top of the Gorge festival, Susie will be MCing the running omnium, taking on the 10km evening race and speaking in the adventure tipi - all on the Saturday.


@susie_chan_  instagram

@susie__chan   twitter

Russell Smith 

A seasoned adventurer, Russell – who has travelled Lands End–John O Groats on a kick scooter, run home from Paris to London and traversed the widest route across the UK on foot – will MC the Top of the Gorge Adventure Tipi and stage, and tell some tales of his own.




Connor Roe

Connor Roe is an experienced cave diver from the Mendips who was involved in the extraordinary rescue of 12 boys from a flooded cave in Thailand last year. If you find Connor outside he is often climbing or running, but most of the time you would struggle to find him at all, unless you went underground, and then underwater. A local lad who fell in love with the great caves of the Mendip Hills, he learnt his specialist skills in places such as Wookey Hole and Swildon's Hole, but his cave-diving exploits regularly take him overseas, from the remote jungles in Southern Mexico to the Alpin Mountains in Slovenia.

Last year he was once again leaving the country, though this time at short notice to join a diving team. That team were the divers operating in the Tham Luang Caves in Thailand, trying to rescue the 12 boys and their football coach who had become trapped. The success of that mission was a story that gripped the world, and you can meet Connor and hear all about it firsthand at Top of the Gorge Festival, when he does and talk and a Q&A session on the Saturday afternoon.

Instagram @connor.roe92


Lindsey Cole

Lindsey’s adventures to date include swimming 120 miles along the River Thames in a mermaid suit while collecting plastic waste, cycling the length of Africa, rollerskating to Paris (not to mention Bude, in a nude suit) and running to Manchester while playing the ukulele, but her biggest challenge was 10 years in the making, and began with a seed of inspiration sewn during a time of personal heartbreak. When Lindsey’s Dad suddenly died whilst she was backpacking in Australia, she found solace in the characters from a book she had recently read, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, which recounts an extraordinary journey made by three Aboriginal girls who had been cruelly separated from their families. Their courage, resilience and determination helped her overcome her grief and put life into perspective. To channel her emotions she cycled to Paris, the first of a series of expeditions that became her medicine. Ten years after first being inspired by the young Indigenous girls’ story, Lindsey returned to Australia to pay homage to their journey by walking 1000 miles through the outback alone. She is currently writing a book, has recently become a massive cold water swimming fan and is an advocate of people with ADHD. 





Sacha Dench

A lifelong conservationist and adventurer, Sacha Dench earned the sobriquet the ‘human swan’ during a recent expedition in which she followed the migration of the endangered wild Bewick’s swan from Arctic Russia all the way to the UK. For the ‘Flight of the Swans’, Sacha overcame a fear of flying to pilot a paramotor (dangling from a piece of fabric, 1000s of feet in the air, with a propeller on her back), for 4,000 miles across freezing tundra. The first woman to cross the English Channel by paramotor, she was named a 2017 ‘Woman of the Year’ and in 2018 became the first woman for over 50 years to win the Royal Aero Club’s ‘Britannia Trophy’.

But Sacha’s background is mostly underwater. Growing up in Australia, UK and Switzerland she developed a passion for wildlife and exploring, and learnt that she could hold her breath long enough to scare people. Beating the world record for breath hold (6 minutes 22 seconds) in a training session one day led to her competing for the UK and Australia at freediving (and starring in some unusual on-screen stunt roles. Also a trained biologist, Sacha has worked in pollution investigations shark and turtle research, and co-founded volunteer group ‘Eco Divers’ (a group of divers using their bare hands and cameras to save sea life in distress). She has worked in conservation communication, including film and photography, ever since, most recently for the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.





Ishbel Holmes (World Bike Girl) & Maria

Ishbel Holmes, a Scottish-Iranian long-distance cyclist with a soft spot for canines, has ridden 20 countries solo, rescuing injured street dogs along the way. Maria is her adopted dog, whom she rescued whilst cycling across Brazil. Maria now accompanies Ishbel on all her adventures (including her trip to Top of the Gorge). Prior to cycling the world, Ishbel was a velodrome sprinter for Iran.  Before Maria met Ishbel, she only had two weeks to live. Ishbel is author of Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy. She is an avid wearer of socks and sandals, much to the dismay of her friends, and blogs about adventures on worldbikegirl.com and mental health on ishbelholmes.com

Meet Ishbel and Maria on Friday evening at Top of the Gorge, and again on Saturday and across the weekend as she talks about her adventures.


Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: World Bike Girl 

Kimberley Murray

Kim - who will be leading the warm-up sessions ahead of the running races at Top of the Gorge, and doing a talk on Saturday afternoon - is a professional skeleton athlete who competes for Great Britain on the IBSF World Cup circuit. She is currently ranked 20th in the world and is aiming to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Prior to becoming a full-time athlete, Kim was an exercise physiologist; she studied at Bath and Loughborough universities before working for sportscotland providing high performance support to Scottish athletes. Kim now runs her own business, KimFit, alongside her training. KimFit a personal training and coaching consultancy in Bath.


Twitter: @kimfitbath

Insta: @kimberleymurray88 

Ben Smith

Ben is best known for his extraordinary 401 challenge in 2015-2016, which saw him run 401 marathons in 401 days, visiting 309 different locations in the UK, covering a total of 10,506.2 miles (the equivalent of London to Sydney) raising money for charities. In 2020 he will do it again but in America where he will be running a marathon in each of the US states starting with Maine in March and ending in Hawaii in June 2020. In between marathons Ben will be cycling to each location covering 18,500miles in 104 days. Come and hear him speak on Friday 14 June at 7.30pm.





Claire Maxted

Co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire now runs a Youtube channel called Wild Ginger Running, packed full of advice, gear tests, and inspiration for trail and ultra runners of any ability, shape or size. Claire is on a mission to get everyone off the pavements and into country parks, canal paths, hills and mountains for more adventurous running that not only keeps you physically fit but also boosts your mental health too. Come see Claire talk about how to start trail running at Top of the Gorge festival on Saturday at 11.30am and join her for one of her trail races.


Damian Hall

Outdoor Journalist, record-breaking ultramarathon runner, inov-8 athlete. Despite having only started running five years ago, Damien has represented Great Britain at the International Trail Running Championships.  At Top of the Gorge Damien will be speaking about his life on the hoof in talking about what running long distances has taught him about life, the universe and everything. He will be speaking on Sunday 16 June at 1.15pm.




Jo Bradshaw

Jo Bradshaw is a former no-saying, height-hating, comfort-loving business advisor, who found adventure when a parachute jump turned into a charity cycle ride in Peru in 2004. She gave up the corporate life in 2008, retrained and turned her life around to become an expedition leader, outdoor instructor, public speaker and two times 8,000meter peak summiteer, including Everest when she was 45. As well as pushing personal goals and guiding students and adults to achieve their own personal dreams, Jo continues to fundraise for a children’s mental health charity. Jo will be speaking on Saturday 15 June at 12.15pm.


Twitter: @_jobradshaw

Instagram: @_jobradshaw