I Remember

When asked to contribute to a booklet on an event which has covered more than half my life, I suddenly realised how lucky are people with the gift of total recall. So many memories, yet so many hazy half certain facts seem to cloud those memories, names which appear in old documents ring bells yet putting faces to them in many cases is difficult.

3rd July 1960 starting at 9 a.m. sharp so the original leaflet says, was the official start time of the Tanners, and Pam Jones (later Watson), chairman of Epsom and Ewell YHA Group gave the signal that was to herald 25 years of Tanners with, we hope, many more to come. But although that was the official start, the roots as I recall were when a group of members of Epsom & Ewell YHA, were on a Whitsun walking tour between Milford and Holbury hostels, and were talking about the walking exploits of a then well known lady called Dr. Barbara Moore. Alan Blatchford suggested that road walking was easy, and a cross country walking reliability trial was the real challenge. As outdoor organiser for the group, it fell to Alan to do the planning and much of the donkey work, a task he carried out with his original enthusiasm until his tragic early death.

The first walk was a closed event limited to YHA members, and was envisaged as possibly being a one off even; the entry fee was 1/- (5p) which even in those days was considered good value. In researching for this article I came across a hand-written set of accounts for the event signed by Alan, and indicating that was a loss made, and the group had to subsidise the event by one olld penny. The event soon became open, and the early years saw many entries from Police cadets, thanks mainly to the efforts of a Policeman member of Epsom & Ewell YHA, and there were a good many from Army cadet units, indeed on one particularly hot day a large group of lads were forced by their CO to walk in full battle order carrying heavy packs. Needless to say most of them fell by the wayside. In contrast to this one year the end of the heat wave saw many entrants start off lightly clad, and a rapid temperature drop saw some of them arrive at checkpoints almost frostbitten.

Publicity for the event was a major concern, and 192 saw a large heading on page 5 of the now defunct London Evening News, and in 1963 it seemed as if every pub and notice board in Surrey were plastered with red and white posters. By the early 1970s large footprints with hairy legs were everywhere to be seen.

The walk and its organisation has been largely free from controversy although I do recall one year getting involved in some correspondence with the National Trust over supporter's cars causing aggravation, indeed over the years this has been one of the few perennial problems. I have also found a long forgotten letter from Viv Kelleway seemingly trying to make the peace between Alan Blatchford and myself, who had apparently fallen out over moving the event from Tanners to Leatherhead. I also remember a row with a national newspaper reporter, who in the middle of Ranmore common, expected to be told the whereabouts of a well known personality and showed little interest in the efforts of hundreds of others walking the event.

I feel fairly sure that Barbara Blatchford and I are the only two who have been present at every event, although she has walked many more than I have. My four attempts resulted in one solitary certificate, one card showing me 8 minutes out of time, and two glorious disasters.

If the long hot summer which is forecast at the time of writing comes about, I am confidently predicting my hat trick of failures.

On one of my walks I met Alan Blatchford coming in the other direction making remarks about cabbages which at the time seemed meaningless, but I soon found myself knee deep in the things, which had been planted long after the route had been planned, and had obliterated the footpath. Here again though, over the years problems with regard to the route have been few and far between, and mainly due to mindless removing or turning round of route arrows by "persons unknown".

If I ever needed an alibi for the first Sunday in July for the last 25 years the Tanners would have provided it. I hope the Tanners and I are to be blessed with at least another 25 years, and if so I hope to see many of you in 2009.*

Alan Virgo

*Web note - The occurrence of foot and mouth did indeed happen causing one event to be cancelled. The 25th year and ultimate Tanners will now be 2010