Looking back at the county’s strong tradition of boot and shoemaking, it is perhaps unsurprising that today Northamptonshire is full of passionate walkers.
Despite living in a technical age of computer games, there are still hundreds if not thousands of people who cannot wait to pull on their walking boots and head out to the county’s countryside.
And the array of organised walking events which take place in Northamptonshire is testament to this fact.
This spring and summer will be a busy one in the walkers’ calendar.
Not only is there the annual Waendel Walk (May 10-12), organised by Wellingborough Council, which looks set to attract more than 6,500 people from across the world, but there will also be the fifth Corby Walking Festival (May 4 to 6).
And the Waendel Walkers’ Club (not the organising body of the Waendel Walk), which was formed in 1981, has recently announced news of its plan to hold a new event, the Festival of Family Walking, which will take place from July 19 to 21 at Cogenhoe Football Club in Station Road.
Paul Ollett from Thrapston is the event co-ordinator of the forthcoming Festival of Family Walking.
He explained that the July event will offer the chance for food and entertainment as well as the opportunity to try out self-guided or led walks.
The goal of the festival is to encourage more people to get walking in the countryside, and to boost the profile of the Waendel Walkers’ Club.
Paul said: “We do 36 events a year and there are trips abroad, we have an association with a Belgian club. We have a flagship event at Wilbarston known as The Valley and Views and there are three distances people can do, one of which is a marathon distance of 26 miles. About 200 people take part in that from all over.
“This Festival of Family Walking is a bit of a different thing for us to try, we are trying to attract more people to walk out in the countryside.”
The club routinely arranges walks of 10km and 20km on alternate Sunday mornings throughout the year, as well as Wednesday evening walks of 10km during the summer. Walks, which are organised within a 30-mile radius of Wellingborough, cost 50p and a proportion of this money goes to local charities.
The club currently has about 180 members but is keen to attract younger people along.
Paul said: “We don’t have enough young people and that is part of the reason for holding the festival. We have no shortage of people in their late 30s, 40s and 50s, but we need more people to feed in from the bottom.”
But what prompts walkers out into the great outdoors to take part in organised walking events?
Often the motivation is the desire to raise money for charity. In the case of the Festival of Family Walking at Cogenhoe, proceeds will go to Northampton General Hospital’s Opthalmic Department.
Bob Inglis, 63, from Corby, has ongoing treatment at NGH’s Opthalmic Department, for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a condition which can cause a loss in a person’s central vision.
A keen walker who has walked thousands of miles and raised thousands of pounds for charities in recent years, he wanted to get behind the hospital department which has helped him.
He said: “The condition can cause a bleed in the central vision of the eye and I have been having injections in the eye. The department is the sort of department that gets forgotten about but they do a very good job; the eye is such an intricate part of the body.”
The annual Waendel Walk event in May sees thousands of people from the county and even from other countries flocking to The Castle theatre in Wellingborough to take part in walks or cycle rides of varying distances.
Julia Wells, international Waendel Walk co-ordinator, said: “In the last couple of years it has had more than 5,000 walkers taking part. It is split down the middle between international walkers and people from the UK.
“It is perhaps popular because it is so accessible to people from all walks of life and because of the surrounding countryside. The Waendel Walk is also part of the IML Walking Association. There are different distances and eight different routes on the Saturday and Sunday.”
More than 30 years spent doing the Waendel Walk...
When it comes to taking part in the Waendel Walk there will be few devotees with a participation record quite like Northamptonshire sisters Lesley Sargent and Pat Richardson.
The walk is now in its 34th year and Pat has taken part in it every single year, with her sister maintaining an almost perfect record, having missed out only in 2012 due to an injury.
Pat, who is 67 and lives in Finedon, explained she now takes part for the sheer enjoyment.
She said: “There was another one of us, Sandra Roberts, who has now died, and she bet my husband that he couldn’t do it. So that was how it started.
“So there was me, my sister, Sandra and my husband who did the very first one and it was a sort of bet we couldn’t do it. My husband did it for 10 years afterwards, but we carried on.”
The sisters used to do 26 miles on both the Saturday and Sunday of the walking weekend, but nowadays they opt for the lesser distance of 18 miles on both days.
Pat said: “We started off sponsoring ourselves, we were in the Redwell band and raised money for that, but now we do it every year we don’t get sponsored as people know we can do it.
“The first year we did it, we had never done a long-distance walk before and we walked it in bell-bottomed jeans and ordinary shoes. We staggered back to the pub and we couldn’t get up and walk again!”
The Waendel Walkers’ Club Festival of Family Walking will include entertainment as well as four-mile self-directed or led walks aimed at encouraging those trying country walking for the first time.
The club will also hold its annual Valley and Views walking event from Wilbarston on April 28. For details on both events, log on to www.waendel.org.uk.
Waendel Walk cycle rides and walks range from 5km to a marathon distance of 42km. See www.wellingborough.gov.uk or www.thecastle.org.uk.
For details on the Corby Walking Festival, visit www.corbywalkingfestival.org.uk or find the Facebook page.