The First 25 Years

In 1969 I was a teenager serving as magazine editor on the committe of Epsom and Ewell YHA Group and I little dreamed then that the event that we were planning would become part of my life.

The exploits of the eccentric Barbara Moore and the John O'Groats to Lands End walk organised by Billy Butlin meant that the public's imagination had been caught by the walking craze and after much discussion and trial walks Alan (Blatchford) the Group's outdoor organiser became organizer of a thirty mile marathon walk. THis was seen as a one off challenge for the average YHA member and so little thoght was given to repeating the even that the only record of this first marathon is a sketchy account written by myself fo RAA! the Group's magazine.

'Public demand' and a request for non YHA members to be able to participate led to the second marathon being organised and from then on a complete list of finishers, marastats and articls were published in RAA! Indeed the event gradually took over that edition of the magazine and from 1968 a complete edition was devoted to the marathon and RAA! continues despite the demise of the YHA Group. Why RAA! we were often asked; it stands for round and about and has its origins in pre-marathon days when joint editors of the Group's magazine lived three large round abouts away from each other and spent many hours cycling between their respective houses.

The first five events were based on the Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel, a simple 40 bed hostel in the middle of the woods on Ranmore Common and I well remember the procession of weary finishers limping their way back up the tack to the Ranmore Road to reach their cars or down to Boxhill Station. as numbers grew the slender resources of Tanners were stretched to breaking point with over 130 staying in or camping around the hostel the night before and over 400 milling around the garden before the start. We even erected a Marquee in the garden and a terible job it was getting it down the bumpy track, erecting it and even worse packing it up late Sunday before cycling home.

Reluctantly we moved the main start to Leatherhead in 1965, to the sports ground for three years, then to Leatherhead Football Club where it has been ever since. The Marathon Walk had been named the Tanners Marathon in 1964 but our association with the Football Club group has lead to some confusion since their team are nicknamed "The Tanners".

As regulars will know there has always been an alternative start at Tanners Hatch and for most marathons it has been used as a checkpoint, as it will be for the 25th event. We have been very lucky in having enthusiastic wardens for the majority of the 25 years. In the earl days Jean (the official warden) and Jim Chaplin welcomed Tanners being overrun and I remember Jim running across a field to direct walkers and help with the marquee. They are now wardens at Ivinghoe Youth Hostel and Jim will be the official starter for the 25th event. Graham Peddie has been warden of Tanners for many years now and his help with the alternative starts, recruiting of helpers for the checkpoint and enthusiasm for the 10 miles event which uses Tanners as a drinks point has been invaluable.

In 1965 I wrote an article called "one to six" for RAA! and rereading it, it is obvious that the "Tanners spirit" which draws many of us back year after year had already been established. I wrote: "How have things progressed......Some things are obvious, the increased publicity; partly planned, partly by the walkers themselves, and the vast increase of walkers as a result.......I remember the first two years drawing out check cards by hand - a horrid job. For the last three years they have been printed by Home Counties Dairies. The first year's certificate was a very cheap and far less ambitious affair than the current one, now scheduled for replacement. Group certificates did not appear on the screen until the third walk and until the fourth, when St. John Ambulance were asked to assist, walkers had to rely on the skills of the marshalls for first aid.

Perhaps one of the biggst changes noticed is in the widening circle of helpers. Originally all helpers were YHA members, the majority from Epsom and Ewell Group; now although still a group event it has become too big for us to handle alone and many active helpers are friends, some YHA members or ex-members, but a number of them have no connection with the association but come alongeach year just to lend a hand.

In many respects the event is taking on the air of an annual reunion for regular walkers and certainly as far as Alan and I are concerned there are many acquaintances we can be sure of meeting on the first Sunday in July.........

1967 saw the formation of the Tanners Marathon Association, a committee, originally of nine, directly responsible for organising the Tanners. Over the years many of the original organizers, including Alan and myself after we had married in 1963 had moved away from the Epsom area and were no longer active members of the YHA Group, and the event had become too big for the group to handle. The committee was made up of a mixture of Group members and Tanners enthusiasts. The formation of the TMA has meant that the event continues to flourish although sadly the YHA goup is no longer in existance.

1967 also saw the numbers of entrants go over the 1,000 although the few years of very high numbers reflect mass entries by several Police Cadet groups nad indeed we have cut down on publicity to keep the numbers at a reasonable level. It was the year also that the YHA awarded Alan the George Mitchell prize for his work on the Tanners.

1969 brought the tenth anniversary of the walk and the first 50 miles event and the wettest ever Tanners. It had rained the previous year (see Stuart Bennett's article) but that was nothing compared to the downpour of 1969. Alan wrote in RAA!, "Well it had to happen sometiome, I suppose, but it was a pity that the bad weather struck us the year when the 50 was being held. After two weeks of near tropical conditions who would have thought that it could be so cold and wet? Certainly not the majority of walkers judging from the light attire and lack of waterproofs. Firtunately the organization was able to cope with the situation and thanks must go to all the course marshalls who stayed at their posts whilst as wet, and certainly colder than the walkers. Whether hey were hiding their feelings I do not know but none of them complained and some of them volunteered for 1970."

For the first 50 we made the mistake of sending the walkers off on the 30 miles circuit first with the option of completing the 20 loop afterwards. THis stretched the organization with two sets of checkpoint opening times so from then on there has been a 20 loop followed by the 30 circuit. Once again a once off event to celebrate the tenth anniversary has turned into a regular biannual event.

1972 saw veteran walkers George and Pearl Bull complete the route in just over ten hours, quite a remakable feat for George was totally blind and relied completely on pearl to guide him round.

1974 saw the introduction of the "Mini-Marathon" aimed at family groups and although initial support for this venture was limited the 10 has grown in popularity with the option of a quiz walk - mainly for families - or a straight forward walk, and we are delighted to see so many youngsters taking part.

By 1978 things were getting more sophistacated tee shirts were introduced and the idea of a logo for the year - a design to be used on tee shirts, entry forms and RAA! cover introduced. The first logo, reproduced on the back cover was of Lieth Hill tower, the highest point in Surrey. Although Tanners covers many miles of footpaths it is getting harder to pick out a distinctive landmark which can be drawn and reproduced in this way and this will tax our enginuity over the next few years. We have been saving Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel for our jubilee event and there could be no more appropriate symbol for our 25th year.

1979 saw anoter innovation, the 11:00 hours runner's start to cater for the increasing number of runners and joggers who were ariving at checkpoints well ahead of opening time. This trend reflected the growing fitness amongst many of the walkers. In the early days the busiest time at the finish was between 6 and 7 pm when the majority of the walkers clocked during the last hour often with a rush of finishers recording 9.59 as their finishing time. Over recent years the rush has been over by 6 pm with the majority finishing in under 9 hours.

After Alan's sudden death, shortly after the 21st event in 1980, Andrew Young took over the time consuming job of receiving the entries and working out the rules for the team trophies as well as continuing as treasurer. The 1981 route had already been mapped out by Alan and since then I have planned the route which nowadays has to be out in time for the winter Tanners. This is a route proving event held in January with minimal support but now itself attracting 2/300 walkers. John Prestcott, secretary of Surrey Group of the Long Distance Walkers Association, organises this and is also our regular "arrow man". On the saturday he walks around the 30 putting up the now familiar yellow arrows. On the Sunday when there s a 50, as this year, he helps on the early checkpoints then sets of after the runners, walking around the route and taking down the arrows and still managing to act as sweeper for the last walkers.

The spirit of annual reunion is stronger now than when I wrote about it after a mere six years and I am sure it is this which draws walkers and helpers back year after year. The helpers, far too numerous over the years to list, are the unsung heroes of the event and our thanks go to all of them as we look forward to the next quarter century.

Barbara Blatchford