South Wales Evening Post

THE GREAT BILLY BUTLIN RACE

- By Robin Richards Sportsbook­ofthemonth.com price: £12 (PBK), saving £3.00 on rrp In associatio­n with

ON a bitterly cold Friday morning in February 1960, more than 700 walkers assembled at John O’groats to participat­e in the Great Billy Butlin Race to Land’s End, 900 miles south. Scotland was experienci­ng terrible weather: several would-be competitor­s were deterred by the 10ft snow drifts before they reached the start line and many others were completely unprepared for the wintry conditions. Those who did compete in what remains the first and only walking race traversing the length of Britain included peers of the realm, a blind man, a chap with a wooden leg, a sizeable number of unemployed folk plus a smattering of clerks and waitresses. No-one was kitted out with any Bear Grylls-type hi-tech kit we would invariably encounter today, while all competitor­s were expected to provide their own food and accommodat­ion and to finish the route within 28 days. Holiday camp pioneer Billy Butlin offered a first prize of £1,000 to both the winners of the men’s and women’s races. Bear in mind, you could buy a house for £1,000 back in 1960. The authoritie­s, playing the role of killjoys, wanted the race abandoned because weather conditions were so bad and it was evident that a large number of people were completely unprepared, either for the adverse conditions or a race of almost 900 miles. Not surprising­ly, more than 150 competitor­s gave up on the first day, but the rest soldiered on, although not everyone was imbued with lashings of Olympic spirit. Cheating was rife as exhausted walkers took short cuts or thumbed lifts from passing traffic. Neverthele­ss, the race became a huge national event which enjoyed extensive media coverage. Race leaders became minor celebs, pursued through towns and cities by hordes of autograph hunters. Doncaster’s Jimmy Musgrave was first home, winning the men’s race in an astonishin­g 14 days, 14 hours, 32 minutes. Musgrave averaged more than 60 miles a day, and a little over two days later, 19-year-old Wendy Lewis from Liverpool won the women’s race in 16 days, 19 hours, 30 minutes. Eventually, more than 170 competitor­s finished the race; so impressed was Butlin that he gave many extra prizes to those who crossed the finish line at Land’s End. This is such a great story from our black-and-white history it makes you wonder why no-one has since organised anything similar.

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