A BLIND vicar said completing an 80-mile trek without the aid of her trusted guide dog proved having a disability was “not a death sentence”.

The Rev Canon Stephne van der Toorn, of St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt and St Michael’s in Brantham, took part in the group pilgrimage in Portugal and Spain over nine days.

At times the terrain, tricky enough for someone who is not blind, was a challenge for the 66-year-old.

However, she said she was determined to succeed.

Mrs van der Toorn, who has just 10 per cent of her vision, walked aided by two poles and could lean on her fellow trekkers too, as for the particularly challenging Pontevedra section.

This comprised boulders with streams flowing between them. Stephne said: “I wanted to experience the fellowship you get on a pilgrimage that you get with others walking but also I wanted to show that even though I am registered blind, I can still do things.

“Disability is not a death sentence.”

The group of 12, incluing other church members, set off from Valenca, Spain, and crossed over its border with Portugal.

The pilgrimage, known as the Portugese Camino runs to Santiago de Compostela.

It is part of the Camino de Santiago, known as the Way of Saint James, and is a network of pilgrims’ ways leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great.

Mrs van der Toorn, who lives at Brantham rectory, said her fellow pilgrims were “immensely caring” as together they negotiated narrow bridges over ditches.

“Apart from lots of blisters I took away wonderful memories and I can still see enough as I can see colours but not detail. “The rural areas we walked through were beautiful with orange trees and woodland paths.”

She added: “It is one of the highlights of my life – I never thought I would be able to walk 80 miles.” Stephne’s trusted guide dog, retriever/labrador cross, Coco, has been by her side for three years. Coco sits in on all Stephne’s church services, remaining impeccably well behaved.

Stephne has been registered blind for about ten years and only realised there was a problem with her sight when she went with one of her four daughters went for an eye test.

She was told she was going blind due to glaucoma, which is where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged.

Glaucoma can lead to loss of vision if it is not diagnosed and treated early.