MUSICIAN Paul Whittering will set out on a 1,200-mile bicycle ride from Swindon to Spain tomorrow, raising money to protect a South African ecosystem from mineral miners.

The 45-year-old played with Swindon band Shrink between 1988 and 1992, but in recent years has dedicated himself to voluntary work in Scotland and in Groot Marico, South Africa.

During his time at Tara Rokpa Centre, a Buddhist retreat in Groot Marico, Paul discovered The Eye, a large dolomite hole described as an oasis, which is the source of the Marico River.

The river is the only source of clean water for around 65,000 people in traditional African communities, but it is under increasing threat from nickel prospecting and mining.

Since swimming in The Eye and hearing of the threat to its future as a clean water resource, Paul has taken it upon himself to support Mmutlwa Wa Noko (MWN), a charity protecting the ecosystem.

Paul, of Prospect Hill in Eastcott, said: “It supports an ecosystem and local animals. What would happen to them if this place is damaged? It’s ancient, thousands of years old. Who knows how long it’s been there?

“You hear something terribly sad and it gets you right in the solar plexus. I felt like I had been hit. I just thought ‘bloody hell.’ It really made an impact on me.”

He added: “I swam in The Eye and I have never been anywhere quite so amazing. The water is so cold too, while everything around it is baking hot.

“It’s so cold and so refreshing.”

He will set out from the town hall in Swindon, spend the night in Newbury with friends and then cycle to the south coast to catch a ferry to Normandy.

The plan is to eventually pick up the Camino de Santiago, a traditional pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain.

Paul is not a complete amateur when it comes to long distance rides, having reached Istanbul from Swindon on two wheels in 2008 as well as from Swindon to the Isle of Arran, where he volunteers with another retreat centre.

“It’s a wonderful process when you strike out on a bike. You never know where you’re going to end up,” he said.

“When I cycled up to Scotland I had no idea where I was going to sleep. There was no way of knowing.”

You can follow his progress via a blog:

Fundraising for Paul’s latest trip is well underway, with more than £900 raised since he launched the campaign at his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary on September 19.

As MWN is not a UK charity, Paul is unable to establish a formal donation page, but would invite anyone interested in supporting the charity to donate to a special bank account.

It is purely for holding money and Paul is not able to withdraw from it personally. The account number is 86508316 and the sort code 09-01-28.