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The Isle of Man Parish Walk challenge
2009 Champion Jock Waddington
Jock Waddington has won back-to-back titles

If walking to the corner shop for a pint of milk is the sum total of your weekly exercise you may not be ready for the Isle of Man Parish Walk.

The walk is an established annual event involving an 85-mile race-walk around the 17 parishes of the island, all within 24 hours.

The race is a test of mental and physical strength but this doesn't rule out just entering for fun.

The first account of the race can be traced back to 1848.

Entrants also have the option of finishing at any stage but typical targets are Rushen after 19 miles or Peel after 32 miles.

The Parish Walk can loosely trace its history back to 1852, although in 1848 the Manx Sun published an account of Harry Kermode who walked from Patrick to Ramsey, a distance of 48 miles.

Quite an achievement for an 84-year-old man.

Four years later the paper published an article entitled 'a summer's day journey', recording the exploits of coroner, John Cannell of St Barnabus who set off on horse back, covering 90 miles in 15 hours.

Later that year, in 1853, he undertook a similar journey on foot around the Island's 17 parishes.

Gerald Bridson
Gerald Bridson, MHK on his way to victory in 1924

Many of the Island's great Victorian eccentrics attempted other walking challenges including WT Teare of Ramsey who seems to have eaten his way around the parishes.

The first Parish Walk comparable to today was in 1913. Organised by the Isle of Man Times and the Manx Sporting Club it was called the Parish Walking Match.

The intervention of the war prevented any repetition of the event until 1923 following the revival of the Isle of Man Road Run.

On this occasion there were only two walkers, Harry and Gerald Bridson. Despite the same name that's where the similarity ended.

Working man Harry walked in a dark tweed suit while the flamboyant and wealthy Gerald with his bushy ginger beard flowing in the breeze wore large white shorts and a waistcoat.

1960 saw a revival in road walking and in the Parish Walk.

Few events on the Island aroused as much public interest as the first modern Parish Walk in that year. From the start the roads were crammed with motor vehicles and spectators.

Throughout the night walkers received much encouragement from those who had elected to spend the night by the roadside instead of in bed.

1960 Champion Stanley Cleator
Stanley Cleator triumphed at the Isle of Man event in 1960

In 1963, when the Beatles were topping the music charts, Flt Sgt Eunice Davies of RAF Jurby and Irene Cottier became the first women to complete the gruelling 85 mile course.

Flt Sgt Davies finished in just under 21 hours. There was no walk scheduled for 1965 and the seamen's strike in May 1966 led to its cancellation that year, making a welcome return to the Walk in 1967.

Although numbers grew slowly it is unlikely that the Parish Walk would have reached the level of participation, exposure and success without sponsorship.

Despite its popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s it failed to attract significant numbers.

Fortunes changed in 1979 when a major sponsor, Mylchreest Motors funded the event, guaranteeing its future success.

Disaster loomed however when the company decided to change direction in 1990 and moved its sponsorship budget into motor sports.

Robbie Callister
Robbie Callister has won the event on several occasions

Boundary Harriers committee member, Murray Lambden had to move fast.

He wanted to make the event bigger and better so he approached Clerical Medical International and a five year sponsorship deal was brokered.

School teacher, Gordon Vale was the winner of the first CMI Parish Walk, finishing the course in an impressive 17 hours 55 minutes, an hour ahead of his nearest rival.

The new sponsor was delighted with the first venture which attracted a record 155 starters, including 60 women.

The following year the numbers grew again to 176 entrants although only nine finished the complete course in unsettled weather conditions.

Numbers continued to grow as did the profile of the event and 2001 was a new starting point for the Parish Walk.

It had a new look to it, a record 728 entrants and a new start point ~ the National Sports Centre.

Janice Quirk
Fastest Man - Sean Hands - 14:47:36 -2006
Fastest Woman - Janice Quirk 15:58:35 - 2009
Most Finishes - David Collister - 26

This entailed a complete lap of the 400 metre track and half of the tarmac perimeter before venturing into Castletown Road to Braddan.

Although the new route still covered 85 miles it avoided Douglas Town Centre and its traffic congestion.

It did however cause a few headaches for the organisers who had to perform a balancing act by moving its limited workforce from stage to stage as the walk progressed.

By 2002 the number of walkers had increased to a record 967 who, with spectators, filled the National Sports Centre to capacity.

The line up included the event's most successful competitors ever, John Cannel and Derek Harrison who between then had won no fewer than 11 Parish Walks.

By 2008 the numbers had increased to over 1,600 and the walkers braved monsoon-like conditions, raising thousands of pounds for charity. The winner was Jock Waddington and one lady walker, Bethany Clague, enjoyed herself so much she walked the course twice.

In 2009 Jock retained his title and Janice Quirk became the fastest women ever with a second-place finish in a time of 15:58:35, 18 minutes faster than Sandra Brown's 1998 record.

A record 187 walkers completed the race within the 24-hour time limit.

The Scottish Widows Parish Walk 2010 race commences at the National Sports Centre at 8am on Saturday 26 June. For entrance details please visit www.parishwalk.com

Extracts for this article were taken with permission from A Walk Through Time by Dermot O'Toole, a definitive history of the Parish Walk. The book is currently being updated for the event's 50th Anniversary and will be re released for Christmas 2010.

George wins End-to-End Walk title
21 Sep 09 |  Athletics




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