A brief history of our first 30 years, 1970 – 1999
The beginnings of the Waltham Walk can be traced back to 1968 when a team from Fillebrook Baptist Church, home of the 22nd Waltham Forest Boys’ Brigade, headed up the M1 to enter the Cleveland Hike which was then in its fifth year. Despite arriving late and the driver spending most of the weekend beneath his Sunbeam Rapier trying to coax it into action, the team gained 2nd from bottom place and headed back home with some sense of achievement and an ambition to start a similar event in the south of England.
On a cold December evening in 1969 the first Committee met to plan Waltham Walk 1970 (code named WW70), and in the evening of Friday 29th May all was ready for the first Waltham Walk. The name of the event comes from the London Borough of Waltham Forest in which it was started, and the now familiar “boot” symbol was designed by a Committee member. Twenty-three teams entered the first walk but all was not plain sailing as far as the organisation went… twenty members of the Royal Anglian Regiment arrived on the Friday without any food for the weekend! By some means or other they were all kept fed over the days and thereby managed to keep the radio communications going.
The Waltham Walk was underway!
During the first five years of WW, numbers entering slowly increased and by 1975 around forty teams entered. 1975 proved to be a notable year for several reasons. Firstly, the rain… continuous during the forty-eight hours preceding the walk. This led everyone gathering at the start in a mood of apprehension… it was still pouring down but the teams started out determined. Plans for incidents had to be changed drastically, especially one involving running through a stream beneath a bridge… the stream was a raging torrent flowing over the bridge! Overnight camp that year was fortunately on the highest ground around in Hatfield Forest and by Sunday the weather had brightened up. Secondly, 1975 saw the first win by the Kingswood Youth Centre, who completed their hat-trick with wins in 1976 and 1977. The first team to win three WWs in succession. Thirdly, 1975 saw an end to the male domination of WW with girls teams winning fourth and ninth places.
1976 – the year of the long, hot summer – saw a dramatic increase in numbers of teams entering WW, reaching an all time high of eighty-six team entries in 1979 and 1984 respectively, all though in 1994 the numbers jumped up around the one hundred mark! 1979 saw two other significant events. The first was the hiring of radios to enable checkpoint staff to communicate with each other; a job that had been carried out admirably by a succession of Army Signals Regiments, free of charge. Defence cuts had forced them to ask for a fee for their service, a sum of £400 had been suggested, more than three times the amount raised in entry charges! The second was the first win by the 15th Luton Boys’ Brigade, who have trained a succession of teams over the years, and who once won eight times in ten years! In 1990 and 1991, entries were low and it was decided to create a three-tier competition to cater for the increasing demands from the younger age range, and also to provide a permanent event for the over 19s. Various “past-masters” and “veterans” competitions had appeared periodically during the previous 20 years, but they had not been a regular feature.
The Mini Trek attracted 7 entries in 1992, and by 1996 41 teams entered. The Mini Trek walked the Sunday route after camping overnight, and the Veterans walked the more arduous Saturday route, and finished by camping overnight. This arrangement meant that all teams entering the Walk were together at the overnight camp. The Veterans entry has risen from 5 in 1992 to 13 in 1997.
Help from outside organisations over the years has been invaluable, especially the St John Ambulance Brigade, and the Red Cross, the Army and members of staff from different youth organisations. The WW Committee has seen itself change from a membership drawn from the Waltham Forest Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade to one based more broadly on experience gained in youth work in several different types of uniformed and non-uniformed organisations. One of the aims of the Committee from those early days was to combine the talents, efforts and experience of youth leaders from several different organisations, towards the common good. This aim is still relevant today.
Lastly a few useless statistics… in the first 25 years of the Walk 1,444 teams have entered of which 778 finished and were placed. 3,594 contestants have started the Walk and between them have walked some 70,668 miles! Nearly 3 times around the world! On the other hand, a number of teams from various years are probably still looking for the first checkpoint!