TWO weeks ago we told the story of Ivy Bayliss, the 51-year-old mother of eight, who in 1960 took part in a race from John o'Groats to Land's End and finished eleventh (see June 19 edition for the full story, or log on to www.blackcountrybugle .co.uk)
The race was sponsored by Billy Butlin to promote his holiday camps, and had been inspired by Dr Barbara Moore, a vegetarian campaigner who had made the same walk, with much publicity, shortly before.
We asked if anyone else from the Black Country had taken part and we have been emailed by Peter Goddard with this tale of his own experiences in the gruelling race, very much a case of youthful exuberance confronting harsh reality.
Peter writes, "The achievement of Dr Barbara Moore in 1960 impressed me immensely, so when Billy Butlin announced he was organising the race, I couldn't wait to enter. I was 19 and working as a Technical Apprentice at W & T Avery's, the scale makers of Smethwick. It never entered my head that the company might not grant me the time off, so I was shocked and annoyed when they refused my application. By this time my friends and family knew of my plan to enter the race and being a rather stubborn Black Country lad I decided I would compete anyway, and suffer the consequences on my return.
"I can therefore say with some authority that the achievement of Jean Cooper, the second oldest entrant, finishing the walk in 11th place from a starting line-up of 715 was truly monumental, and deserved far more reward than the paltry £50 she received.
"I remember well the long train journey up to the north of Scotland, an excited teenager embarking on his first real physical challenge in life. It was a slow journey, giving me time to really consider the daunting prospect ahead of me. It was a crazy situation! There I was, nearing John o'Groats for the start of an 891 mile race stretching the length of Great Britain, not having made any preparations whatsoever! All I had with me were a few basic clothing items and very little cash. I'd hoped to complete the race wearing my everyday clothes, a pair of pumps and my 'Harold Wilson' gabardine mac. It was February 26, 1960, a bitterly cold day and the weather forecast was dire! The race was due to start at 5pm and it was likely to be dark within an hour or so! Where was I going to be spending the night? Where would I eat? I was worried now.
"I was shocked when I stepped from the train at John o'Groats station, at around 3.30pm. There were hundreds of people milling about, lots of cameramen and reporters, dozens of cars and vans. What should I do, I asked myself. I felt totally lost and alone despite the surging crowd.
"People seemed to be heading for a building close to the John o'Groats Hotel which dominated the scene, so I followed. A long queue was forming and I was told I needed to register to formally enter the race.
"As five o'clock approached the 715 competitors were lined up on the main road, a few words were spoken on behalf of Butlin's and then we were away! Another shock! A walking race? Hundreds of people sprinted away leaving me shell shocked! I really had thought it was going to be a walking race. Most competitors followed suit, me included, but within a mile or so I resorted to walking and very soon found myself amidst a few stragglers at the rear. The reality of my situation then struck home. Darkness fell and I just kept walking without knowing where or when I should stop. Eventually, I came to the first check point in a small village community, sandwiches and tea had been provided in the village hall and I was able to sit in there for the night. The pattern had been set, simply walk until you came to checkpoints and hope for refreshments and a place to shelter from the biting Highland winds and driving rain.
"Within two days my feet were heavily blistered and walking was difficult, I rarely saw any fellow competitors apart from Anthony Lanning from London who was in a similar predicament to myself, so we teamed up.
"The days were long and hard and the weather unrelenting, my feet getting worse by the day, but still Tony and I struggled on.
"Waking the length of Lock Ness was a wonderful experience though we never caught sight of Nessie!
"We were in a pretty bad shape as we neared the Scottish border, the checkpoints were waiting for us to arrive to enable them to close up. We were stony broke and totally reliant on the generosity of the local village communities we passed through for our food and shelter.
"We reached the outskirts of Carlisle after 13 days on the road and when we saw the billboard outside a newspaper shop our spirit was broken. 'Race leaders reach Bristol' it read. We were devastated, demoralised and very distraught. 370 miles in 13 days and the race leaders had covered twice that distance. We were simply shattered. We did not have money to get us home so we resorted to the only other course available to us, we decided to thumb a lift.
"Incredibly, virtually the first lorry that came along stopped to pick us both up and he was heading towards the West Midlands! I couldn't believe our luck, but more was to follow. His planned route brought us down the Birmingham New Road, and I was dropped off at the junction with Newbury Lane, just a mile or so from my home in Tippity Green, Rowley Regis!
"My folks were pleased to see me but not my boss, he gave me the sack!"
Have you a similar story to tell? Have you ever been badly prepared for a great challenge? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or drop us a line at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.