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West Brom mom walked from John o'Groats to Land's End

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 19, 2014

  • Ivy Bayliss retired from Dart Spring Ltd, West Bromwich, aged 60. Around 10 years earlier, in February 1960, she had taken part in Billy Butlin's race from John o'Groats to Land's End

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BUGLE reader Joan Cooper of Greets Green, West Bromwich, is justifiably proud of her mother Ivy Bayliss, who passed away, aged 84, some 20 years ago. The mother of eight worked at the Dart Spring Company for 18 years and in all that time she never lost a day through illness or was late for work.

But Ivy is perhaps best remembered for a remarkable feat of endurance – in the winter of 1960 she walked from John o'Groats to Land's End.

Long distance walking hit the headlines in January 1960 when health enthusiast and vegetarian Dr Barbara Moore (1903-1977) walked from John o'Groats to Land's End, eating only nuts, honey, raw fruit and vegetable juice along the way. She was something of a celebrity at the time, had already walked from Edinburgh to London, and in the summer of 1960 she walked from San Francisco to New York while espousing vegetarianism. She was reputed to be a "breatharian", an idea that it is possible to live without consuming food.

Holiday camp owner Billy Butlin(1899-1980), spotting an opportunity for some good publicity, then organised a walking race between the two landmarks with a £500 prize for the winner and smaller prizes for those who completed the distance.

"Mom's friends at the Dart Spring said she should do it, because she was well known for walking everywhere," remembers Joan. "Every week she would walk from Greets Green to Dudley, to visit her sister, and walk back again; she would never take the bus."

Ivy's workmates persuaded her to take part and Joan remembers going to wave her mother off at the station for the train journey to Scotland. She didn't see her again until Ivy reached the checkpoint at Kidderminster. "The Dart Spring laid on a coach for the family and her friends at work to go down and see her," said Joan.

715 walkers started the race from the John o'Groats Hotel on February 26, 1960, with Billy Butlin circling overhead in his private helicopter. Around 200 dropped out on the first day and only 138 arrived at Land's End.

The walkers had to use public roads, making their own arrangements for food and accommodation, and their progress was monitored by teams of Butlin's Redcoats (in plain clothes so that the walkers would not know when they were being watched) to catch anyone who cheated. Joan remembers that at least one walker was caught catching a bus while one pair had a pram and took it in turns to push each other along the way.

The local press came to photograph Ivy's preparation for the great walk and she was photographed skipping in her back garden. But she really didn't do that much training beyond her usual walking everywhere, be it to the shops or further afield.

The race was won by Jim Musgrave, 31, from Doncaster.

At 51, Ivy was the second oldest walker in the race and she arrived at Land's End on March 23, finishing a very creditable 11th and receiving a cheque for £50 from Billy Butlin.

She did the whole walk, around 900 miles, in just one pair of basketball boots, which she completely wore down at the heels.

Joan recalls that after the walk her mother returned home at about 7pm and, true to form, she was up early the next day and clocking on at work at 8am. Ivy's colleagues at Dart Spring were very proud of her. There were flowers and a celebration cake for her when she got back to work and her friends gave her a This is Your Life style book of photographs charting her progress on the walk and the management bought her a carpet for her front room. The mayor and mayoress of West Bromwich came to see Ivy and the Dart Spring even arranged for singer Frankie Vaughan to meet her.

Ivy retired when she was 60 and our main picture shows her receiving a retirement gift from the management, surrounded by her workmates.

Years later, aged 79, Ivy's eldest son Leonard took her for a holiday to Cornwall and she returned once more to Land's End.

Do you remember Ivy Bayliss working at the Dart Spring? Do you remember her epic walk or did you even take part in Billy Butlin's race yourself? Have you, or someone in your family, ever done a similar test of endurance. Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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