Retro: Following the steps of event which unites nationalities

The opening parade of 2009's Waendel Walk
The opening parade of 2009's Waendel Walk

This year a unique walk that brings together people from around the world is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

The first Waendel Walk was held in Wellingborough in June 1976 after a group of pupils from Weavers School, accompanied by Bill Greenwood, took part in the Four Days March in the Netherlands.

The event impressed the group and they decided to run something similar in Wellingborough, eventually calling it the Waendel Walk aftering asking local historian Bill Lanning for his help.

Mr Lanning found out that the name Wellingborough was really a corruption of “Waendel’s Burgh”. Waendel was a Saxon warlord so Waendel’s Burgh translated as stronghold of Waendel’s people. So the name was chosen and the awards and medals were based on Saxon symbols.

By 1979, 479 people signed up to do either the 43km or 29km walk, with 355 of those attempting the longer distance. The entry fee was £2.

The walk’s base moved to Weavers Leisure Centre the following year and a campsite was set up in the school grounds. The weather that year was appalling and there were fears that the longer route might have to be pulled. The weather couldn’t put people off and 878 people took part, with some talking about the possibility of making the walk a two-day event.

As the walk was proving popular, the organising committee approached Internationaler Volkssport Verband (IVV) to see whether it would be possible for it to obtain IVV recognition. The IVV stipulated that a shorter route, between 10-15km had to be made available, free water and squash had to be provided at regular intervals, there had to be route marking and marshalling, and methods of preventing walkers from cheating by taking shortcuts. There was also a requirement for first aid posts and generous time limits for walkers to complete the walks.

The walk already met most of those criteria and was renamed The International Waendel Walk, and started to attract interest from abroad.

The first two-day event was held in 1981 with 1,564 walkers taking part and a barn dance being held on the Saturday evening. A notice was posted during the walk inviting people to get involved with helping in future years. This resulted in the formation of a new walking club, the Waendel Walkers Club.

In 1984 a swimming event was organised in conjunction with the walk and 2,427 people took part in the event over the weekend. This year was the first time that Daventry RAYNET got involved. RAYNET look after the safety of all participants out on the routes. Its members are all licensed amateur radio operators, and their vehicles have radios and hand-helds for off-road use.

More than 3,000 people took part in the walk in 1986 and a Friday night Friendship Walk was introduced.

By 1987 there were 84 team entries and for the first time a team had more than 100 members when the Hind Hotel in Wellingborough entered a team with 124 walkers. The Fenner family won the Largest Family Team Award with 18 members (in later years the Fenner family team had 35 family members taking part).

There was a spat in 1989 which looked as though it might place the event in jeopardy. One of the original founders, Bill Greenwood, formed a new walking group, Ise Valley Vagabonds, and Waendel Walkers Club and the Ise Valley Vagabonds made applications to organise the walk on consecutive weekends. After much discussion between the clubs and the British Walking Federation (BWF), Wellingborough Council agreed to buy the Waendel Walk and its souvenirs and to co-ordinate the walk with the help of both clubs. Waendel Walkers Club then decided they no longer wanted to be involved.

That same year the event was accepted as a member of the International Marching League (IML). The following year more than 250 members of the IML took part in the Waendel Walk.

In 1992, various walking groups and clubs were invited to form the International Waendel Walk Working Party to organise the annual event.

The date of the walk was changed in 1993 to allow international walkers the opportunity of walking three IML events over three consecutive weekends in Switzerland, Belgium then Wellingborough.

New Waendel routes were introduced with Wollaston and Bozeat being two villages visited for the first time.

1993 was also a very wet year and some routes had to be abandoned due to flooding. The number of people taking part also fell to just 2,990.

The following year a professional publicity agent was appointed and the Saxon helmet logo was replaced with a boot print showing the five wells of wellingborough. The number of people taking part rose to 3,476, with 517 of those coming from overseas.

The walk moved its base to The Castle theatre in 1995 with Redwell Leisure Centre becoming the base for hall sleeping. A campsite was set up at Castle Fields for the tents and caravans, and 3,350 people took part.

Cycling was introduced in 1997, and more than 200 cyclists took part in the inaugural ride. The event’s title was changed to the International Waendel Weekend to mark the inclusion of cyclists. Foot and mouth hit the country in 2001 and the event had to be cancelled.

The event continued to attract thousands of people and by 2009, 6,358 walkers and cyclists took part. Sixty-two people also tried the Waendel Swim.

This year’s event includes the traditional Friday night Friendship Walk on May 9 and goes through to May 11.