You’ll Never Walk Alone

They do say walking is the best exercise you can do. Alan Veale meets the organisers of the Longridge 20/20, which has been supporting good causes for almost three decades

Whatever your personal circumstances, it would be hard to deny that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other does have its benefits. What better way to visit your local pub, for example? Or why not walk a bit further, say 20 miles, and visit several pubs?

To answer those questions, I met Alan Heaton from Longridge in a drinking establishment that must remain anonymous – I’ll explain later.

Alan tells me about a Tuesday evening in 1994 at a pub not far from where we now sit. He and some mates are chatting over a session of dominoes when he tells them of the time he walked a route that included all 20 Boddingtons pubs in Preston. Hey, we all like walking, so why not try something similar in the Longridge area? So, they did, but without the Boddingtons’ label. It was a route of roughly 20 miles, and so far as he can recall, Alan reckons they only had one half at each stop.

The event was so popular they did the whole thing again (with a slightly different route and participants) in 1995. But then fellow walker Ian Thompson came up with the idea to seek sponsors and raise funds for local charities. This was the birth of what eventually became known as the Longridge 20/20, and a committee of around a dozen now share responsibility for organising the annual event.

To date, there have been 29 such walks around the Ribble Valley and number 30 will be on Saturday 29th June. Up to 500 people will be donning their walking boots and hoping to avoid blisters. Each have already paid £30 for the privilege, knowing every penny of their ‘gait money’ goes to a worthy cause. This year, that will be Heartbeat, a charity providing prevention and rehabilitation to people affected by cardiovascular disease. Local firm Touchline Fabrications is also chipping in and with that additional funding, Longridge 20/20 will pay for the installation of an additional defibrillator for the town.

Circular walks start and finish in Longridge, allowing up to 500 participants, but others involve hiring buses to transport walkers to the start point for a linear route. This brings the finish line back to Longridge, but the logistics involved, restricts the numbers of those taking part. The 2024 walk, like the 20th anniversary, will be circular.

I ask Alan how much money has been raised for charities over the years. A sip of beer and a slow smile crosses his lips: “Well, we started close to home in 1996 with Hillside School for children with special education needs, and raised £600. But we only had 42 participants for that one. The biggest we ever had was for our 20th anniversary, when 549 took part on a circular route, and we raised over £19,000 split between Help for Heroes and the Longridge Cricket and Hockey Clubs.”

Alan shows me a meticulously detailed spreadsheet, indicating 30 good causes that have to date received a share of over £205,000. The charities include national ones like Cystic Fibrosis (1999) as well as causes with a personal connection to some of the walkers themselves, such as the Miles for Mitchie campaign supporting Cancer Research UK in 2017.

As I digest the statistics, I applaud the financial outcome from these annual expeditions, but I am struck by the potential unintended consequence of several hundred people being unleashed on countryside paths and narrow lanes. I ask Alan if that causes any problems.

Again, he smiles admitting there’s always a risk, but that in practice, those participating invariably do so in good spirit (no pun intended). On the day, every walker is issued with a comprehensive printed guide that includes a long list of do’s and don’ts including:
• The walk is organised for your enjoyment but is undertaken at your own risk
• Drink sensibly – alcohol consumption is not compulsory
• Follow the Countryside Code
• Please be respectful of private property

The guide includes illustrations and full written instructions for the route and contact details for anyone requiring assistance. The one Alan shows me covers last year’s walk, and I ask if he has any information about the one in June. It’s a bit like asking the Chancellor what’s inside his next Budget – secrecy around the forthcoming walk has become a tradition, which is why I can’t even tell you which pub we are sitting in as it’s on the route.

This year, like every preceding one, Alan works out the route on his own. One man and his boots. One aim in mind – walking with a purpose. I’m mindful of a song with a powerful message – You’ll Never Walk Alone – to motivate us to put aside our difficulties, while achieving so much more when we work (or even walk) together.

Anyone wishing to donate to this year’s Longridge 20/20 walk can go to the group’s Facebook page to do so.




Tedd Walmsley

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