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John Wright’s Parish Walk history
Photo: John Wright in 2014
Of all the events in the Manx athletic calendar, the Parish Walk is the one which has the longest history. And there is a collection of fascinating stories about the contests and contestants.
The idea of walking the seventeen parishes in under twenty-four hours goes back into folklore. In fact a place name acts as a monument to the first time “Ughtagh brish my chree” or “Break my heart hill” in the parish of German is mentioned in both Kneen’s “Placenames of the Isle of Man” and Moore’s “Folklore of the Isle of Man”.
Tradition states that a man named Alswith, a son of Hiallus nan ord, dark smith of Drontheim, undertook to walk round all the churches of the Isle of Man on one day. Alswith started off early one day, a fine summer morning, and he had almost completed his task when evening overtook him as he was approaching St John’s. While going up the Starvey road over the Driney (Thorny Bank), he fell down exhausted. If he had reached Kirk Michael a few miles away, he would have accomplished his task. The hill was afterwards known as “Ughtagh brish my chree”.
During the nineteenth century long solo walks were not unusual, which is not surprising as it was many people’s sole means of transport. It was for this reason that only exceptionally long walks commanded any sort of attention. One walk considered of note by the “Manx Sun”, probably on account of the age of the walker, was that in 1848 by Harry Kermode, who walked from Patrick to Ramsey and back again, a distance of 48 miles. He was 84 years old.
However, the first attempt of modern times to walk the parishes was to occur four years later in 1852. An item in the “Manx Sun” entitled “A Summer Day’s Journey” recorded the exploits of John Cannell, Coroner for Middle, of St, Barnabas Square, Douglas. On 23rd July John Cannell set off from Douglas going northwards and covered an estimated 90 miles in 15 hours on horseback. On the 7th September the same year he set out early in the morning on foot and going South first he reached Laxey by 11 p.m. His exact time was not recorded and so cannot be claimed as the first sub-24 hour Parish Walk.
However, a year later, on 17th September 1853, he started from Douglas half-an hour before midnight and proceeding northward visited the 17 parishes and four towns of the Island with 24 hours. “The extraordinary distance walked by Mr Cannell is about 86 miles”, claimed the “Sun”, but this was an exaggeration as he actually covered about 77 miles.
Twenty-five years passed before the next recorded attempt at the distance. This time the walker was Colonel William James Anderson, M.H.K, later Receiver General and appropriately Chairman of the Highway Board. Over dinner one evening at Ballasosnahan, Patrick, the subject of Cannell’s walk came up and after thinking for a moment, Anderson announced his intention of emulating the feat. It was 18878 and Anderson was 48 years of age.
He set off from Patrick the following day and in under 24 hours returned to his starting pint, having visited the 17 parishes. His exact time was not recorded on this occasion. Twelve years later he repeated the achievement in 1890 aged 60, again in a clockwise direction and covered 73 miles 7 furlongs back to his starting point in 19 hours 39 minutes.
His progress was recorded on this occasion. At his first stop at Ramsey was walking at more than 4 m.p.h. covering 29 miles in a fraction over 7 hours. He stopped twice more before reaching Rushen and the last 10 miles over the tops showed him down, but he still finished with an actual walking time of 18 hours 34 minutes. The reason he walked a shorter distance than Cannell seems to have been because he by-passed the centre of Douglas.
These then were the only officially authenticated sub-twenty-four hour Parish Walks. However, Stuart Slack in an article on the 19th century walkers tells the tale of W. T. Teare of Ramsey, who in 1887, after the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations held in Ramsey elected to walk to Douglas. He set off through Laxey arriving at Douglas at 3 a.m. He decided to carry on to Castletown by time he “hungered for breakfast, but no place was open”, so he carried on towards Port St Mary and on the way he met a woman who was filling a kettle and invited him to breakfast. The amount he ate convinced her of his story about the walk, and after his refreshment he carried on to Port St Mary, Port Erin and Peel, where he had dinner. Equipped with sandwiches he went on to Ballaugh, decided to visit a farm at Andreas and also called at Knock-y-Dhooney. He partook of some refreshment there and returned home to Ramsey, arriving at 11.30 p.m.
He was out working in his garden the following day and only mentioned his walk in casual conversation sometime afterwards. An interesting sequel to this story is that one of Mr Teare’s descendants wrote to a local paper in May 1979, from Runcorn, Lancashire, suggesting that the Parish Walk be revived!
During the nineteenth century, contrary to current popular belief, there were race walking events in the Isle of Man. In fact at the first all-Island sports held at the Nunnery in August 1868, a mile walking race was held, the winner being James Kate of Douglas. The leading Manx race walker of the late 70’s was Titus Corkill of Peel with Louis Callow of Douglas always ready to give him a hard race. Corkill reigned supreme over the one and two-mile distances with a best scratch time of 17 minutes 42.5 seconds. After 1879 the walking races were dropped in favour of bicycle races. During the next 20 years the only walking races were held at regattas.
An interesting contest took place in 1912, and it shows that race walking was still regarded as something of a joke. Two “unathletic gentlemen”, William Robertson and J.T. Campbell, engaged in a walking contest over a five-mile course, three times round a route starting from the Quarter Bridge Hotel, going to Saddle Road, Braddan Bridge. The aforementioned hostelry did a roaring trade “and some irresponsible fellows laughed uproariously”. Campbell finished a few yards ahead of Robertson. A return match over two miles resulted in another win for Campbell. The two contestants “subjected themselves to light exercises in very immodest attire and trained themselves to withstand cold baths; afterwards they were massaged with metal polish.”
In 1913, for the first time, the “I.O.M. Times” together with the Manx Sporting Club, promoted not only the Peel to Douglas “Marathon” running race, but also the first Parish Walk, other than the previous solo efforts. The race attracted twelve starters of whom only one was under thirty. On a muggy evening on 31st May, 1913, a small crowd gathered at 10 p.m. to watch the beginning of the 80-mile walking race. Unlike today’s walkers the participants simply walked in their ordinary clothes. From the start Harry Bridson of Cronkbourne Village, Braddan, and two other walkers named Gill and Hawley led the way. Through Braddan, Santon, Arbory and Rushen the three leaders had to wait thirty-three minutes for the first point marshal to turn up.
At Peel Bridson and the others stopped for 23 minutes for refreshment. However, by the time the leasers reached Jurby Bridson had another companion, E. Garrett of Douglas Street, Peel, while Gill and Hawley had dropped back and were shortly to both retire. At Andreas Bridson held a 12 minute lead and despite a nine minute refreshment stop at Ramsey, he pulled away to win by an hour and nine minutes, arriving at 4.56 pm on 1st June.
He had walked 78 miles with a gross time of 18 hours 56 minutes, from which the 33 minutes at Rushen, and 32 minutes refreshment time make an actual time of 17 hours 51 minutes. Probably statistically his time should include his refreshment time, leaving his corrected time of 18 hours 24 minutes. It was 6.05 pm. before Garrett arrived and nearly two hours later before Robert Quayle of Comely Hall, Lezayre, crossed the line at 7.59 p.m. These were the only three finishers inside the 24-hour limit, although two other walkers arrived at 1.35 a.m. on 2nd June, having lost their way on Dalby Mountain. They were J.A. Sutcliffe of Laxey and F. Glyn of Douglas.
Just to show the quick way round, John Young, a Douglas, chemist covered the same distance in 9 hours 15 minutes on horseback.
The course and speed were measured by a car following Bridson giving him an average speed of 4.4 m.p.h. The only finisher unable to receive his prize was the youngster of the party, Quayle, who was still suffering the after effects of his walk.
The intervention of the First World War prevented any repetition of the 1913 event until 1923, when the Times decided to repeat the race following the recent revival of the Peel to Douglas road run. However, there were only two entrants, so the event became a challenge match between Harry Bridson, now in his 65th year, and his namesake Gerald Bridson, M.H.K. The name may have been the same, but there the similarity ends. Harry, was a “typical working man” while Gerald, Labour member for Middle, son of wealthy parents with whom he lived, was elected to the Keys in 1919, Ironically he was medically unfit for war service, his athletic career beginning in the 1921 Peel to Douglas race when he finished in eighth place behind the great “Abba” Taylor in 1 hour 28 minutes 42 seconds. His appearance in the race prompted the Clerk of the Works that no charge would be made for any damage to the Peel to Douglas road from the weighty gentleman!
There were differences too, in their racing kit. Harry was dressed in a dark tweed suit, while the flamboyant Gerald with his bushy ginger beard flowing in the breeze was suitably rigged out in a large pair of white shorts and a waistcoat, and equipped with “1 lb. of tobacco and plenty of matches” for his journey. The 55-year-old Harry and the 31-year-old Gerald came to the starting line at the Palace at 1 a.m. on 17th May on a bitterly cold night.
At the first stop at Braddan Harry opened up a 50-second gap; at Marown this had increased to 2 minutes 35 seconds, but shortly afterwards tragedy struck when he took the road to St. Mark’s instead of the Braaid Road and arrived at Santon some 19 minutes behind Gerald. From then on Harry fell further and further behind and together with his son, who was acting as his second, riding behind him on a motor-bike. He was forced to shelter in a ditch during a violent hail storm on the way to Rushen. Finally, having reached Ramsey 90 minutes behind Gerald, the “champion” retired at Ballure Bridge. He returned to Douglas by electric car, slept all the way from Ramsey and had to be awakened on his arrival.
Meanwhile Gerald went on to finish at the Palace 20 hours 23 minutes after he had begun, amid the cheers and applause of many supporters including his fellow Labour Party colleagues Samuel Norris and Alfred Teare.
The two men met again in October of the same year in the Ramsey to Douglas walk with a similar result, Gerald finishing and Harry retiring at Laxey. The race was won by Robert Wilkinson, the 1910 Peel-to-Douglas winner. Wilkinson was a walker of note who had won the 1906 50-mile walking championship in England, and a number of races on the Island. His time was 2 hours 55 minutes, with Gerald back in 13th place in 3 hours 28 minutes.
The following year Gerald was called to defend his “title” in another challenge match, this time against a fifteen-year-old schoolboy named Marshall Braide. This was part of a “Day of Sport” involving the Parish Walk, the Marathon and the Pushbike T.T. Marshall Braide son of George Braide, a Castletown publican, was considered too young by many locals, but a close medical examination “revealed no physical defect in the youngster”.
At 1 a.m. on 4th June, 1924, “that fine specimen of fully developed virile manhood” (Bridson) and a “mere stripling” (Braide) met. Bridson was dressed in his famous white shorts and shirt complete with his walking stick and pipe and his tweed sports jacket draped over his arm. Braide was dressed in “blue togs”. They wished each other good luck and set off together to Braddan in 28.5 minutes.
At Marown and Santon they remained together, but Braide gradually pulled away and had a half minute lead at Arbory. At Rushen, he was three minutes up, and at Peel he was 20 minutes ahead. Both competitors stopped for breakfast here, with Bridson going to Christopher Shimmin’s house (Shimmin was M.H.K. for Peel). Gradually Bridson began to pull back ground, which he promptly lost when he stopped to bathe his feet at Ballaugh. At Andreas and Bride, Braide held his lead whistling “Felix kept in walking” to keep his spirits up.
At Lezayre Braide stopped for refreshment at the Vicarage and Bridson, refusing to stop for sustenance, went into the lead from Lezayre of about a minute. There is a picture of this stage of the race with Bridson striding along with his stick, pipe, blazing away, followed closely by Braide, a slim figure in sharp contrast to the rotund rival. But by the time they reached Maughold Braide had regained the lead, albeit a slight one, and Bridson, paused for a “long while” and “looked very tired” before carrying on.
Shortly afterwards the race came to a sudden end. At the Dhoon Slate Quarry Braide, who had been complaining of a stitch, was retired by his father, whilst 10 yards ahead of Bridson. So sadly what had turned into an intriguing duel was now over. Braide was conveyed to Douglas by a car belonging to Mr Bert Ashton the observer, while Bridson continued in leisurely fashion to Lonan and then to Onchan and then down to the Palace ballroom. He arrived at the stroke of 9 o’clock, thus breaking his previous year’s time by 23 minutes. And so ended the third of the Parish Walks, the last to be held for 36 years.
Gerald Bridson, surely one of the great characters in the history of Manx athletics, lost his seat in the Keys that year, but as in everything else he was a determined person. He contested a total of nine elections, six for Middle, two for Garff and one for Rushen. He also acted as starter for the first of the revived Parish Walks in 1960. He and his wife both acted as J.P.’s until shortly before his death in 1967.
The first of the revived Parish Walks in 1960 was won by Stanley Cleator of Onchan, who beat a youngster, 16-year-old Jim Harvey of Abbeylands, with Harvey’s brother Henry in third place. Cleator’s winning time was 19 hours 50 minutes 30 seconds. These Parish walkers were a unique breed. They appear to have little in common, except perhaps the courage and tenacity to keep going…
The Ultimate Challenge – a book by Dermot O’Toole
The second edition of Dermot O’Toole’s book was published in 2013 and is still available from most good book shops (published by Lily Publications) Dermot is photographed at the book launch with winners (left to right): Richard Gerrard, Murray Lambden, Derek Harrison, Jock Waddington, Vinny Lynch, Martin Lambden, Steve Gardner & Graham Young.
One Man’s Parish an award winning feature by David Wilkinson
Winner of the Factual Article Section in the 1987 Olive Lamming Memorial Literary Competition
David Wilkinson as most of us know him – giving up his time to help others
The Parish Walk was restored to the Manx sporting calendar in 1960, after a break of more than 30 years. Up until 1924 the event had occupied a secure place in our sporting heritage and newspaper reports date back for over 100 years, but the round of the parishes itself goes hack much farther. Some of these thoughts passed through my mind outside the Sefton Hotel at 12 o’clock on Saturday 21st June as the flag fell to begin the 1986 Parish Walk and 150 optimists, myself included, surged forward.
We had 85 miles of roads to cover to visit the 17 Parish Churches and some of us had over 20 hours of walking ahead before we would arrive back at the finishing post.
Across Finch Road, up Prospect Hill, and along Circular Road the human tide flowed. High spirits and good humour abounded and cheerful banter sparked between walkers and watchers alike.
Down Peel Road we marched, grateful for the shade provided by the chestnut trees lining the route. Within half an hour of starting we were at our first check-point at Braddan Church.
The two miles of road between Braddan and Marown Churches were hot and dusty with heavy traffic. Many walkers were now bare-backed, but wisely kept their heads and necks protected.
My raiment consisted of tee shirt and sports shirt, shorts with capacious pockets, and training shoes. I carried a sleeveless sweater, and sported a sunhat. Forty years earlier, competitors would have been dressed in tweed suits and waistcoats, but today such accoutrements held little favour.
After Marown Church, we left the T.T. Course and set off past Marown’s palatial new school on the long trek up to the Braaid Cross Roads.
The cheerful chatter had now subsided and sonic walkers were getting their first warnings of blisters and sundry aches and pains.
Halfway to the Braaid we were presented with spectacular views over the central plain, framed by Greeha Mountain on our right. The Island looked at its very finest; there were fields full of buttercups, the hawthorns were in full blossom, the sun was warm on my back, and only 80 miles to go.
The third church on the walk, at 11.5 miles from the start was Santan and here I calculated that I was ahead of my schedule of 15 minutes a mile.
After a short sharp climb to the Blackboards, there followed a traffic-filled mile before we reached Ballasalla and turned right at the Whitestone Hotel.
Past Rushen Abbey, over the Silverburn, through Cross Four Ways I briskly marched knowing that munificent provisions awaited me at Malew Church (15 miles). I received two jam sandwiches, an apple and a carton of orange juice. Thus victualled I enjoyed the next stage to Arbory Church and I began to overhaul some of the women walkers who had started 30 minutes ahead of the men.
A colourful scene presented itself outside the Colby Glen Hotel as walkers and supporters sat in the sun taking refreshments and giving encouragement to those of us passing by. At Colby I caught up with Ralph Martin and we fell into step. It was Ralph’s support vehicle driver, Joan, who was kindly transporting my tracksuit and provisions.
David at Ballig in the 1975 TT Relay Walk
The Parish Church of Rushen is just under 20 miles from the start and we reached it in under five hours. Rushen is a popular place for changing socks, treating corns and a general girding of loins’ before tackling the steep acclivities of Ballakillowey and that ‘slough of despond’ the Sloc at 1,100 feet.
Ralph and I made light work of the road to the Sloc and were able to enjoy wide views opening up to us on our right over the south-east of the Island.
We were now overtaking a number of young people who were regretting their fast early pace but though in some discomfort their morale remained high.
After the Sloc, we crossed the spine of the Island and gained our first views of the western side. We saw Peel Hill and Corrin’s Folly and there just visible in the hazy distance was Jurby Church, which, with good fortune, we should reach before midnight.
Left we turned at the Round Table cross-roads, a popular spectator spot on this fine evening though the cool air kept most watchers in their cars. As we dropped down to Juan Clarey’s Bridge, we were robbed of our views to the right by walls of conifer trees which grow quickly and obscure fine view points. As the road took us across Dalby Mountain I was sorry to see evidence of fresh tree-planting on our left.
All walkers received hearty encouragement from those stationed outside the Ballacallin Hotel enjoying the evening sunshine and refreshments.
Ralph’s service-vehicle awaited us at Glen Maye tea-rooms hut our stop was brief.
I never pass the Raby Farm at Glen Maye without recalling how T. E. Brown took tea there and persuaded Mrs. Corrin of the need for stiles to he erected on the coastal footpath where her land meets the sea. T. E. B. would have been a likely contestant for the Parish Walk as his enjoyment of walking is quite obvious from a perusal of his book of Collected Letters.
Patrick Church is 30 miles, and Ralph and I reached it right on my schedule. By now the race leaders would be well on their way to Kirk Michael and we relied on their falling by the wayside.
The walk from Patrick to Peel is the shortest stretch between any two churches on the route and 8 p.m. saw us at the gate of the Cathedral – 32 miles completed.
The Peel checkpoint was part carnival. part field-hospital. Here was the finishing line for the women’s and veteran men’s races and walkers, friends and supporters some supine some seated on walls and pavements cheered on competitors as they arrived. Ralph and I didn’t linger, our cards stamped we took the coast road out of the western city.
On leaving Peel we passed the former home of writer Richard Adams at Knocksharry. His memories of the Island are retold in his recently published ‘Nature Diary’ and I recognised his house from a sketch in the book.
The ‘Parish’ was turning into a literary walk with associations of Betjeman at St. James’ Dalby which he esteemed; T. E. Brown at Glen Maye; and Knockaloe in Patrick where Hall Cain had set his novel and whose grave we would pass at Maughold.
These literary cogitations had brought us to the ‘Devil’s Elbow’ where Joan was doing her meals on wheels service. The evening was noticeably colder and we realised that we would need to put on warmer clothing before long.
Kirk Michael Church (39 miles) saw us don tracksuits and with a block of chocolate in my pocket I felt that the serious work now began. Apart from my companion there were no other walkers to be seen and the motor traffic had become non-existent.
The tower of Ballaugh Church was visible across The fenlands soon after we left Kirk Michael hut the road took many deviations before we crossed Ballaugh Bridge and turned sharp left to leave the T.T. Course. At Ballaugh Church (42 miles) we were given reflective strips to pin to our clothing and sent upon our way.
Dusk fell gently, lights appeared in windows of farm houses and cattle stood silhouetted against a clear northern sky. There was no traffic and the only sound to be heard was the sigh of the wind in the long grasses on the hedges, and away in the distance the call of a curlew. I could just see the time on my watch in the gloom and I was delighted to be able to tell Ralph that it was 10.30 pm – we were more than half-way!
The cold wind was now in our faces and Ralph’s cheerful confidence began to evaporate as time passed and there was no sign of the tower of Jurby Church. It was when we were discussing the possibility of our having taken a wrong turning that there, close on our left, appeared the Church (45 miles).
The Church itself is at the end of a long drive and on the end of a bright torch beam our cards were punched by fellow Castletownian Walter Kennaugh. He was to spend a long cold night away from the civilised comforts of the ancient capital. Walter epitomised the spirit of the event and many others like him all round the course were giving of their own free time at all hours of the day and night.
As we retraced our steps to the main road from the Church, ahead of us in the east, finding a break in the cloud, rode a full moon.
Early on the 7 mile stretch to Bride Church (52 miles) it was clear that Ralph’s pace had slowed and a gap opened between us as we settled into our own paces. I had finished my chocolate and was now dipping into a packet of nuts which I had in a pocket. Joan would appear at intervals out of the darkness and was aware of Ralph’s leg trouble.
I felt in good shape and fortunately remained free of any problems. I had carried out no special training for the ‘Parish’, but I did regularly take part in race~walking events and enjoyed walking for pleasure. I had completed the ‘Millennium Way’ a number of times and most weekends in the summer I try to cover about 20 miles over the Marx hills and coastline for pleasure mid exercise.
On reaching the Lhen Trench I knew I was half-way to Bride and that the terrain would soon become more undulating. Though the wind still blew it now carried the scents of hawthorn and honeysuckle from the nearby fields arid hedges. It was on the approach to Bride that Ralph, who was about 30 yards behind me, called out that he could go no further. I went back and found him suffering firm leg pains but insisting that I carry on to Bride and alert Joan. I left him sitting beside the road; he had given everything, but his legs had said enough”. He had walked over 50 miles at his first attempt and he retired with full honours.
From Bride to Andreas Church (55 miles) the wind was at my back, the roads were flat and well-surfaced and I walked comfortably on ‘automatic pilot’. I was guided to Andreas Village by a beacon in the form of a flashing ‘zebra’ crossing.
Andreas Church is reached from the main road by way of a narrow rutted lane overhung with trees and shrubs. To the end of this tunnel of darkness I was drawn by a ‘dim religious light’, and there my card was stamped and I was told that there were three more walkers not far ahead of me. In my enjoyment of the pleasures of the walk, I had tended to forget that I was taking part in a race.
About half an hour after leaving Andreas I sensed more than saw that there were walkers ahead. First I came upon a competitor I knew, and in front of him were three more walkers with a small child trotting along beside them. Being quite happy walking on my own I increased my speed, and with a cheerful “good morning” from my fellow travellers, I went by.
Three in the morning and all was well; I had covered about 60 miles yet I felt as well as at any time in the race. I hadn’t seen the moon since Jurby but I felt confident that I was on the right road leading to Sulby Bridge where I would again join the T.T. Course.
When eventually Sulby Bridge did materialise it confirmed that dawn was breaking. A cold grey day revealed itself as I headed for the next cheek-point at Lezayre. For the first time my lack of sleep began to catch up with me and when passing somnolent houses, I became just a little envious of the persons slumbering therein, and yet I still had over 20 arduous miles to go.
It was head wind again for the two miles to Lezayre Church (62 miles) which is situated in a loop off the main road. The card-marker, who happened to live beside the Church kindly offered me a drink – I gratefully accepted. As he opened the side door of his house to get me the refreshments, a cat followed by three kittens appeared from nowhere arid darted into the house. I was pleased to learn that I was in the top ten in the race and that there was another walker only ten minutes ahead of me. I went past him at Sky Hill; he looked very weary.
Before Ramsey Grammar School was reached I heard, somewhere away to my right, the first bird-call of the day.
I didn’t recognise it but felt that if it were a mocking-bird it would be quite appropriate.
There was daylight of a poor quality by Ramsey and nothing stirred. I passed briskly through the town of skyscrapers and Victoriana.
Maughold Church was my next objective, via Port Vullen and the coast road. Though physically sound was feeling rather washed-out and the road to Maughold seemed unending. Often when I expected the Church to appear round the next bend I was disappointed. But what was this ahead? I saw another competitor with a distinctive style of perambulation much akin to that of one John Wright – and he it was, and also, There down the hill was Maugliold Church, sixty-seven miles completed.
In step with John tackled the long climb from the Church up through Ballajora and back towards Ramsey to eventually join the main road at the Hibernian. Strangely, I was now finding inclines and declines no different in effort required.
Though I hadn’t eaten for hours I was not hungry, but was grateful for the excellent Vimto cordial which John’s service vehicle provided.
From the Hibernian to the next church at Lonan (79 miles) was about 9 miles and we settled down to a speed which made the mile-posts appear at regular 15 minute intervals.
I now felt more awake than I had felt two or three hours earlier especially since ‘intelligence-reports’ told us that there were two more competitors not far ahead. The wind was flow behind us and a grey choppy sea lay to our left. I still wore my full track-suit and woolly hat, yet didn’t feel very warm.
It was as we approached Laxey that we overhauled two more walkers moving slowly but cheerfully, determined to finish the race. We wished them well and marched past knowing that we were now in the first five.
Lonan Church required us to leave the main road and make a frustrating detour into the foot-hills above South Cape before retracing our steps and getting hack to the place where we were twenty-five minutes before.
Only seven miles to go, John and I walked in unison, few words spoken. Citizens of Lonan, churchward bound, were startled to see two tramps or vagabonds passing; unkempt, unshaven, eyes staring straight ahead, and dreaming of hot baths and rest.
On the approach to Onchan Joan gave us a report on how the race was progressing overall. It was galling to realise that the winner had finished over three hours ago, yet John and I occupied joint fourth position.
Down Whitebridge, climb up the other side, into Onchan, avoid holes dug in the road by Highway Board, turn left at Church Road – not far to go now.
Onchan Parish Church saw two grateful pilgrims touch its gates and agree that they would finish the race together rather than compete to cross the line first. Royal Avenue and Port Jack were trod underfoot and there, only a mile away along the Promenade, was the War Memorial and the finishing post. We were alone with our thoughts on the final stretch thinking hack on our previous 84 miles, almost sorry in a way that it was over and wondering if my legs would stop for me or would they just carry on walking.
John and I crossed the line together at 08.42 hours on Sunday 22nd June in joint fourth position. My legs not only responded to my orders to stop but seemed quite relieved to obey. I was delighted to have completed the full course and I spontaneously uttered those heartfelt words beloved of all Parish finishers – “Never again.”.
Please respect copyright and do not reproduce the above, other than for your own private use, without the author’s permission.
Never again – how many people mean it when they say it?
How did Dudley Butt manage to smile with his blisters?
The start of the Parish Walk 1976 style
Some of the walkers identified when the top photo was published in the Isle of Man Examiner in 2003 were: Allan Quine (76), Kevin Walls (43), K Osborn (73), Jeffrey Clayton (28), Peter Callister (27), David Bawden (26), Roger Milligan (32), Peter Cannell (55) or is it Peter Griffiths (65)?, Barry Corris (54), Michael Ward (58 – number partly hidden), A.D.McBride (66), John McBride (59), James Thompson (38), Kevin Madigan (20), Michael Hammonds (87), Robert Corlett (92). (Photos by the late Bill Lambden)
Parish Walk 06 – a poem by David Cain
Published by www.parishwalk.com 29 June 2006, Copyright David Cain
Oh my God it’s here again, arrived amongst the morning mail
An invitation to compete, to strive for walking’s Holy Grail.
To face up to adversity, meet challenges beyond the norm
Both mentally and physically – and that’s just filling in the form!
Whilst friends think you’re a basket case, it’s time for action, no more talk
‘Cause when that signature’s in place, you’ve entered for the Parish Walk!
Don’t be afraid, you’re not alone, if your preparation stutters
The entry list has daily grown, complete with 1500 other nutters!
It’s time to wear the training kit, no excuses, no complaining
You’ll need the miles to get you fit, and don’t wimp out because it’s raining!
Get pounding up and down those hills, improve endurance, hone technique
Improved perambulating skills will stop you walking like a geek
Absorb advice and friendly tips, prepare, hydrate and carbo-load
Perfect the wiggle of the hips and you’re ready for the Parish road
It’s here at last, alarm bells sound, what lies in store along the way?
The tension mounts and nerves abound, the dawn of Parish Judgement Day.
So rise and shower and dress the part, assure yourself you’re not pathetic
‘Cause when you’re standing at the start, you should at least look quite athletic
In Clima-cool from head to toe, you’re feeling lean and mean and keen
You’ve donned the orange Day-Glo top, discreetly smeared the Vaseline
Behind the tape, amongst the throng, all sanity has long departed
The clock counts down, it won’t be long, then 3-2-1 at last its started
The field around the track cavorts, all marching forth, no time to lose
A sea of multi-coloured shorts, and shirts and hats and training shoes
At least the weather’s in our favour, quite overcast and later wetish
But nothing will dilute the flavour, or dampen down our walking fetish!
Stride on beyond each church and mile, take fuel on board and quench your thirst
Maintain your dignity and smile, especially when the blisters burst
Just grin and bear the mighty Sloc, defeat it with determined frown
Remember, whilst the hill’s a shock, that what goes up must come down
Beyond to Patrick, in to Peel, with over 30 miles complete
Determine how you really feel, with no sensation in your feet!
Ignore each pain and strain and ache, but don’t allow your pace to slow
Afford yourself a little break, there’s over 50 miles to go!
Tick each one off as they’re achieved, as northward up to Bride you roam
You’re satisfied and then relieved, to find you’re turning back for home
And pushed on by supporting crew, you feel uplifted, hale and hearty
And tempted by the barbeque, at the Andreas street party
Where they offer you encouragement and shout and clap and cheer
And burgers stuffed with nourishment, and if you’re lucky, beer!
Avoid the insects biting as you push on through Lezayre
And hope there’s no one fighting outside pubs in Ramsey Square!
Hit Maughold as its getting dark, you feel more tired and sorer
What fun, what joy, it’s such a lark, to race up Ballajora!
Trudge South to Lonan down the road, that takes the route through Laxey
Your legs feel like they could explode, and you wish you’d booked a taxi!
From Onchan to the Promenade, delirious you stagger
You’re on a high, although it’s hard, you start to strut and swagger
And storm across the finish line, with arms aloft in pleasure
With stories that you’ll swap in time, and memories to treasure
And everyone’s a winner, from the slowest to the fast
Whether novice or beginner, or whether first or last
Delighted a new record stands, and that its all complete
Delighted that the winner’s ‘Hands’ and not just blistered feet!
Arthur Jones – the man who should have been honoured for services to the community
Arthur Jones remembered – by Murray Lambden in 2001
The Parish Walk must be one of the only events where you have to hand your number in to be used next year and the year after and the year after……
This tradition goes back to the husbandry of Arthur Jones who maintained the Parish Walk after the “I don’t believe it can be done” early years until it became the mass participation event it is today.
He hand wrote the numbers, reinforced them with tape, cut up a sheet of reflective strip and attached a piece to each one and, best of all, attached a piece of kitchen lino which had all the churches names hand written on. In those days your card (or flooring) was clipped at each church and handed in at the end as proof that you had not merely driven around the course.
I remember my fear as an 19 year old in 1976 when I suddenly realised as I approached Maughold that I had lost my card. As Arthur drove past me in the early morning sun (I wasn’t that slow – we didn’t used to start until 3 pm!) I wondered whether my blisters were all in vain and I would be disqualified.
When I approached him beside his Ford Anglia (yes he did have a car before the Ford Fiesta was invented) I told him my story and I learnt that for all his ruthless efficiency, he also had a heart – I was allowed to suffered the final 18 miles or so as a concession!
It was always during the lonely parts of the Parish Walk you would see Arthur. He was a great delegator – so long as he had a purpose! If he didn’t set up his team of helpers (mostly his own age) to do the checking in at the churches he would not be able to slog the 32+ miles to Peel. This was a man in his 70’s that I recall (a little later than the story above). He would get changed, collect all the result boards from the various churches (before computers) and sit at Lonan Church writing out the certificates for the evening prize presentation. In those days there was only four hours from the end of the walk until the presentation and Arthur would do a 7 hour session at Lonan. Mind you, there is a tale or two to be told of the walkers who had to knock on his car window to wake him up!
The Parish Walk was not always the success it is today and it was Arthur C Jones who kept it going. Sure, there were a lot of other people involved but no one wanted the responsibility of organising the event on behalf of Boundary Harriers.
He continued to use his trusty duplicator, complete with stencils, long after photocopiers arrived on the scene. Never a man to spend 2p when 1p was enough, the supply of course instructions and entry forms were always a scarce commodity.
I was involved in 1990 when CMI were brought in as sponsors. In return for what was, and I believe still is, one of the biggest sports sponsorships on the Island, I committed Boundary Harriers to a professional image in keeping with the superb organisation.
I managed to obtain a course instruction sheet from Arthur and set about a rewrite complete with CMI corporate logos. I was amazed to discover that the course instructions still asked walkers to turn right past the shop at Patrick (which had closed some 20 years earlier) and walk over the level crossing at Ballaugh which had also ceased to exist in 1967!
I don’t think he enjoyed some of the changes – his daughter Rosa had provided the first computerised results a little earlier, when Skanco provided both software and hardware for the results, entry fees went up considerably, the number of walkers became a bit extreme for his helpers and eventually he stepped aside, although he continued his involvement with Fell Running for many years.
Another memory I have of Arthur is at the check in. Before we moved the start to the Villa Marina Gardens never mind the NSC, we used to start in the Villa Marina Arcade. We never had posh tables to lay out the numbers, but Arthur would stand over one of the high backed benches, his own number already pinned on, handing out the numbers before he joined the start line.
He dreamt of walking to Peel as an 80 year old but had his family persuaded him (!) not to try, he my not have reached the ripe old age of 89.
Others will have written about Arthur’s contribution to the arts, to badminton, to the Southern 100, to the Southern Agricultural Show, his career with the Isle of Man Bank as a manager and the devotion to his family described by Richie.
For the past 10 years or so, I have always thought when I hear the honours list, that Arthur should be among them. Even on Saturday, when I was unaware of his death, the thought of finding out how to nominate him crossed my mind.
What a shame that he was never honoured for his service to the community. While we talked about doing things, he got on and did them.
A rare photo of Arthur Jones (left of photo), on Ballahutchin Hill in 1975, by Bill Lambden
Unfortunately he didn’t keep some of the result sheets and I don’t know if I will ever have the non finishers between 1960 and 1973
Arthur’s Family – Our Dad
It was just wonderful to see “Arthur” on the Parish Walk web site. Only three days before he died, he was checking with Doug and me that we would be able to take him to follow this year’s Parish Walk. He was really looking forward to it – it was so good that, despite his debilitating illness, he was still able to look forward with pleasure to such events.
His involvement in the organisation of the Manx Mountain Marathon never stopped. Only two weeks ago he was up at the Bungalow, looking at the course and considering ways of solving a potential problem caused by a newly erected fence.
When participating and organising sporting events became too difficult for him, he still retained his love of sport by following the progress of athletes, young (and not so young!), reading the sporting pages in the Manx press and attending the matches of Rushen United Football team, and, to his great delight he saw them win the Hospital Cup last month!
Now, Arthur’s family would like to add an anecdote about the “trusty” duplicator referred to by you!
This dreadful machine used to drive his wife, Nell, to despair! Its mechanical eccentricities meant that it either threw out 20 sheets in one go, or nothing at all, and frequently the entire room appeared to be covered with black ink. Arthur would get into quite a rage with it – a rare side of him, possibly only ever seen by his wife and family and even then reserved soley for this particular machine! He could not get it to behave and so often Nell was left, quite literally, to pick up the pieces.
After his home was flooded in 1982, the family hoped against hope that this machine, which they had left, quite deliberately, to rust away in a warehouse while the house was being dried out and fixed, would be damaged beyond repair. But sadly no! It was cleaned, de-rusted and worked even more erratically than before. The situation was only saved in 1988 when the family bought a second hand photocopier as a Golden Wedding Anniversary present. Arthur thought it was for him – in fact it was really for Nell so that she could enjoy a little more calm in her life!
On a personal note, Arthur was always very fond of you, Murray, and was absolutely delighted when you took over the reins of the Parish Walk. We know he would feel very honoured by your tribute to him.
with all best wishes
Nell, Michael, Barbara, Rosa and Doug
The 1990 Clerical Medical International sponsorship that changed the face of the walk
|D Schuster Esq, Operations Director, CMI, Clerical Medical House, Victoria Road, Douglas, Isle of Man15 February 1990Dear Mr SchusterParish Walk
Due to the surprise withdrawal of Mylchreests Motors Limited, the sponsors of the above event for the past 11 years, from all sponsorship other than motor sport, I have been asked by my club to find a suitable replacement.
This is not a circular letter. I am not writing to any other prospective sponsor until I am aware of your response. I have been granted total discretion with my task but my brief was to identify a sponsor who would benefit from a commercial return such that we can establish a relationship at least as long as that maintained with Mylchreests. We were also mindful of avoiding a sponsor whose interests clash with existing sponsors.
I believe that your company is seeking a high profile local presence such as I will describe below and I would like to give you the first opportunity to consider what we can offer. Before I get to that stage however I feel I should briefly detail the event itself.
I would suggest that the Parish Walk is the best known sporting event on the Island to Manx people other than the TT races. Its origins go back to the last century when challenges were made to walk around the Island calling at each of the Island’s 17 parish churches. Apparently many wagers were won or lost on the outcome of these two way challenges which usually included stops for large meals en route!
In 1960 The Parish Walk became an open event with most of the Island’s top athletes of the day rising to the challenge of an 85 mile walk. Held annually ever since, its winners have frequently been voted Sports Personality of the Year and it combines a top class race between the Island’s (and some of the country’s) top race walkers, with a challenge open to anyone to go at their own pace to see how far they can walk.
The event is extensively covered on local radio and in the Manx papers and we believe that the previous exposure for the sponsor can be further improved. This year’s Parish Walk will be held on 23 and 24 June.
The extent of the publicity would be as follows:
* The event would be re-titled “CMI Parish Walk”.
* An initial launch with perhaps a photograph of a sponsorship cheque being presented.
* Pre race publicity in all local media.
* Entry forms circulated extensively around the Island would carry the sponsor’s name and logo.
* Programmes would also carry the sponsor’s name and logo.
* A representative of the sponsor would officially start the race from the Villa Marina gardens. Subject to the agreement of the Douglas Corporation advertising hoardings could be placed in the gardens.
* Race numbers, worn front and rear throughout the race would carry the sponsors name and logo.
* Posters and banners could be placed at strategic places around the course.
* Computerised results sheets would be available to all competitors, officials, press and other interested parties prominently displaying the company’s name.
* The sponsor’s representative would be invited to distribute the prizes at the buffet prize presentation, there ample opportunity would exist to display advertising material.
* It may be possible to produce a short amateur video of the race for display prior to the presentation and for ultimate circulation. We could incorporate prominent shots of the sponsor’s name and logo.
The event has traditionally been extensively reported, some years the coverage has extended to two pages in one newspaper. This coverage would generate considerable exposure for the sponsor, both in the text of the report, and also in pictures of the walkers displaying their race numbers.
In addition to the above there would considerable opportunities to take out supplementary advertisements on radio or in the press.
The sponsorship fee we are seeking is £500 per annum. This would allow us to replace weatherproof numbers and redesign certificates this year. This one-off expense would be offset against future inflationary effects on our budget and we are offering the sponsorship package at a fixed price of £500 to be held for five years.
David Mylychreest, the Managing Director of Mylchreests Motors Limited is prepared to provide a reference indicating his satisfaction with our past record as a recipient of sponsorship.
Each entrant pays £5 to enter the race. The entry fee and the sponsorship fee covers all race expenses, awards, certificates, the prize presentation buffet and a small contribution towards the club’s general administrative expenses. The combined male and female entry is around 130 on average.
We would not expect any potential sponsor to agree to my proposals without further discussion and I would be more than willing to discuss my proposition with a representative from your company at a mutually convenient time.
I do trust that my propositions meet with your approval.
The CMI Parish Walk – The Biggest and Best Walking Race in Great Britain for the 1990’s
The 1990 CMI Parish Walk was the biggest ever. 161 walkers entered the 85 mile trek around each of the Island’s 17 Parishes, including 60 women. Boundary Harriers signed a five year sponsorship deal with Clerical Medical International (CMI) which not only secured the finance so essential to cover the costs of the walk, but also injected their professional marketing expertise. The event attracted possibly the best coverage of any sporting event on the Isle of Man, other than the world famous TT motorcycle races.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that, with the forward planning necessary for any major promotion, the CMI Parish Walk will grow through the 1990’s into a mass participation event that will attract walkers (not necessarily experienced race walkers) from all over the UK. It will continue to place walking towards the forefront of Manx sport, and it will also attract some of the thousands who participate in hill and footpath walking as a recreation. It will bring credit to Boundary Harriers as the promoting club, and it will attract publicity for the sponsors well in excess of their expectations.
Reasons for the Popularity of the Walk:
1 It is unique. Walking the same distance around an English region is not the same attraction nor is media existence to cover such a defined area.
2 The challenge is enormous but not impossible.
3 The challenge can be spread over several attempts. It is the only event where competitors receive a certificate and congratulations for not finishing the course. Each year it is possible to walk a little further than before .
4 It has a tradition longer than any other Manx sporting event, even though it was not held annually until 1960.
5 The winners have consistently featured in Sports Personality of the year awards .
6 The success of the Parish Walk in the 1960’s resulted in a number of other annual walks being promoted on the Isle of Man, but these further demonstrated that the Parish Walk was the ultimate challenge.
7 Since 1967 the organisers have had an outstanding sports administrator in Arthur Jones as the Parish Walk secretary.
8 The Parish Walk developed walking on the Isle of Man as a sport and Manx walkers have represented Great Britain in international matches and the Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games. This further publicised walking and the Parish Walk but no walker can escape being asked “are you doing the Parish Walk” this year?”
9 Until recently, the Isle of Man has not had a serious traffic problem.
10 The organisers have attempted to meet the expectations of sportsmen in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Radio contact has been used where possible, computerised results have been provided first by the Buchan School and this year by Skanco Business Systems, and free meals have been provided at the prize presentation.
11 It was the first athletic event on the Isle of Man to attract a commercial sponsor, Mylchreests, the then British Leyland and latterly Jaguar and Rover dealer. This enhanced the value for money received by the competitors and prevented a drain on Boundary Harriers finances. This sponsorship was the longest running in Manx sport and was only terminated by Mylchreests on review of their marketing policy leading to a specialisation on motor sport.
12 CMI, the new sponsor, are marketing orientated and are therefore even more aware than the organisers of good publicity. Their marketing effort was undertaken this year as one of the leading employers on the Isle of Man in a highly competitive job market. It is therefore essential that they are associated not only with an event that attract publicity, but for the right reasons ie a healthy, well organised, fun to compete in meeting that stands out ahead of the competition in every sense. This year they helped to ensure that this was the case.
The Aim for the Future
The above shows why the CMI Parish Walk is such an outstanding event, but its potential far exceeds its current success.
The aim should be as follows:
1 Further develop the attraction of the walk to Island residents.
2 Attract elite walkers from the UK, Holland, France and other countries with a tradition for long distance walking.
3 Attract walkers from the UK who have not previously competed in an event described as a race.
1 Initially one star walker could be invited as a guest. Approximately £200 will be required for airfare and accommodation. Subsidiary sponsorship should be used and the success of this will determine expansion plans to, perhaps, inviting an overseas guest.
2 A £1000 prize could be offered to the first walker to cover the course in under 15 hours. The current record of 15 hours 20 minutes is held by Derek Harrison who was one of the world’s leading long distance walkers and also had the advantage of course knowledge. The prize would bring considerable publicity as it would be the largest prize offered in any walking event in Britain and the publicity surrounding the prize would encourage the top walkers to attempt the course even if the prize was not the main incentive. The prize would have to be paid into a trust fund under AAA rules. CMI would be invited to underwrite the risk that the prize would be won, or we would discuss the possibility of another backer with them.
3 Advertising should commence in the Race Walking Record in December each year.
4 CMI and Boundary Harriers should jointly look into outlets for advertising to ramblers in the United Kingdom and the Department of Tourism and Transport should be invited to discuss this outlet as well. The overall time limit of less than 4 miles per hour should be within the capabilities of some ramblers, and if the event is sold properly some of the walkers would see the merit in coming just to walk the first section of the course to Peel. Holidays could be sold promoting the CMI Parish walk in conjunction with the Island’s footpath walks.
5 The check in for the walk should be moved to the Villa Marina. We have outgrown the arcade. This should be discussed with Douglas Corporation.
6 Advertising should be placed in the local press the week after Easter. CMI have already proposed this idea. Manx Radio could also be used to advertise the walk the same week.
7 All this year’s entrants should receive entry forms and publicity material the week before Easter.
8 A seminar and light training session could be organised soon after the above publicity to give advice to local walkers.
9 Scaffolding should be used at the start of the race to support the sponsors banner. This should be moved to Peel and then back to the finish. One person should have the duty of erecting banners at appropriate positions around the course and have no other duties.
10 A line should be painted at the start and finish and a tape with CMI printed across it used at the start and finish.
11 A subsidiary sponsor should be found to provide drinks en route. This is likely to be a soft drinks manufacturer or a retailer. They would be allowed to advertise free in the programme and their sponsorship would be acknowledged in a similar manner to Skanco’s.
12 Church halls should be hired en route for the use of toilets, refreshments and to process results. Santon, Rushen and Bride are suggested.
13 Peel Commissioners should be approached regarding printing of result updates at Peel.
14 Radio contact and the use of cellphones should be reexamined. This becomes more crucial the larger the event.
15 Results should be processed from the front of the field as well as at the back. Results should be radioed or telephoned to Rushen and Peel. Result updates and the fastest between stages could then be displayed on a notice board at these points.
16 Accurate times should be taken at all churches. The usual helpers could still do their job at churches but a stop watch time should be taken in addition. At present our results processing allows us to record split times between churches but this is of limited value without coordinated timing.
17 The course should be measured over the next year and accurate distances recorded. Signs could be displayed at the road sign at every mile. At present some walkers are misjudging their pace because of suspected inaccuracies in the stated distances. eg it was claimed by one observer this year that the distance between Jurby and Bride is a mile longer than stated.
18 More use of marshals and route markers is necessary.
19 All officials should be issued with fluorescent bibs carrying the CMI Parish Walk logo and reflective patches.
20 Details of the walk should be sent to all schools in poster form. The children will talk about the walk, and perhaps suggest to their parents that they go to watch it. The assumption in the past has been that all local people know about the walk, and they generally do, but we must make sure that the next generation do also. The maps could be useful educational tools for teachers.
21 The programme should be further developed. The lists of competitors should be rejoined with the main section and a closing date two weeks before the walk will be necessary. Ladies and veterans former winners could be listed together with an index of all finishers.
22 An office supplies company should be approached for subsidiary sponsorship. This would involve the use of a photocopier, the supply of paper and the supply of envelopes used for all mail outs. They would be acknowledged through a programme advert and on results sheets etc.
23 T shirts should be issued to winners of the various sections declaring “I am the winner of the CMI Parish Walk” or words to that effect.
24 A T shirt could be printed each year and orders could be taken with the entry form.
25 Civic leaders should be invited to attend at all churches around the Island.
The timescale for the implementation of these ideas will depend upon successful negotiation with sponsors and the will of the Boundary Harriers committee. A large number of my ideas should be feasible for 1991.