AN ADVENTURER is gearing up for the final leg of his 6,000-mile horseback journey along the ancient Asian silk routes.
Steve McCutcheon, from Bromley Cross, will embark on his 740-mile trek from the western Chinese city of Dunhuang to the capital, Beijing, in March.
He has already travelled through India to Pakistan and then to China.
The final trek will mark the end of a horseback journey he started in November of last year, in a bid to become the first person to ride the route made famous by explorers such as Marco Polo.
The 27-year-old former Turton School pupil is hoping to raise £10,000 for Action Aid, a charity that aims to improve education in Asia.
He has been fundraising throughout his journey and has been sponsored by businesses while out in Asia.
Horses -and in some cases camels and jeeps - have been provided by contacts he has made throughout the journey.
Steve embarked on his adventure after witnessing the poor education provision in Asian schools, where he spent three years teaching.
According to the Long Riders Guild, he has already been the first person in history to officially ride from New Delhi, in India, to Lahore, in Pakistan, on horseback.
From Pakistan, his journey into China took him through the Karakoram mountain range, spanning the borders between Pakistan, China, and India. It is one of the Greater Ranges of Asia.
The Karakoram means "black gravel" in Turkish, as many of its glaciers are covered in rubble.
It is home to more than 60 peaks above 7,000m (22,960 ft), including K2 - the world's second highest peak.
Steve spent Christmas in Dunhuang, where he is busy preparing for his ride to Beijing.
He said: "On December 17, I arrived in Dunhuang to spend the snowy months teaching English in a poor Government school at the end of the Great Wall of China.
"Until the time I leave, there is still plenty to do - guides to find and skills to learn."
He added: "For anyone who knows me, they will understand my desire to see this journey through properly, not poorly.
"The time will give me the chance to tackle the challenge of learning two languages, Chinese and Uighur, and to wait out the ferocity of the desert winter."
He has already raised £1,523.08 for Action Aid International, which will be used to build more schools and support education in India, Pakistan and China.
Steve aims to raise £10,000 through his campaign, which he has christened "Riding for Education", and is appealing for more backing.
He said: "On March 31, 2007, I shall leave for Beijing and I'm setting a target of raising £10,000 by that time, which is not only achievable but absolutely necessary in order to keep on track."
You can sponsor Steve by logging onto www.r4e.org.