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Kennedy coin

The idea of walking from Keswick to Barrow originated in 1966 as a result of a statement made by the late U.S. President, John F Kennedy, that "every American should be capable of walking 50 miles a day".

We have researched further back ('Time' magazine, 22nd Feb 1963) and found that in 1908, U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt had issued an Executive Order requiring all Marine Corps Officers to be able to walk 50 miles within 20 hours. In 1963, U.S. Marine Commandant David M Shoup unearthed the Roosevelt Executive Order and sent this curio to another presidential believer in vigour, JFK, who replied asking if U.S. Marines were still fit enough to complete this test. The president's response was published and soon everyone was in the act: Americans were taking an old-fashioned 50-mile walk. JFK's brother, the Attorney-General, Robert F Kennedy, upheld the honour of the Executive Branch (i.e. the deskbound Government officers), by completing 50 miles from Great Falls, Virginia, to Camp David, Maryland, in 17 hours 50 minutes. "I'm a little stiff" he admitted, "but that's natural, never having walked 50 miles before".

In 1966 the first Royal Naval Polaris Submarine, HMS Resolution, was under construction at the Barrow Shipyard where several American experts were involved with the project. The idea of the walk was conceived and plans were soon under way to organise it and build relationships between the submarine crew and the Shipyard workers. The initiative was taken by the Installation Manager (Submarines) to formally challenge the Commanding Officer of HMS Resolution to form a team and walk from Keswick to Barrow, approximately 50 miles, on 1st April 1967.

The Commercial Department of Vickers heard of this challenge and joined in the walk making it a three-way contest with the crew of HMS Resolution and the yard team. The HMS Resolution crew finally won the team contest in the face of severe competition but a Shipyard worker claimed the honour of being the first person back to Barrow.

The first walk started from Castlerigg Stone Circle but the walk length was reduced by moving the start away from Keswick to prevent any problems which might arise through congestion on the difficult entry to the town. The more convenient start point of Rough How Bridge was established, three miles south of Keswick, with a final measured distance of approximately 40 miles.

Read the original Vickers Press Releases from the 1st Keswick to Barrow walk.

Although not originally planned as an annual event, the walk gained popularity with the Furness people and soon became an important part of the calendar. This first walk was intended to increase the social relations between the Royal Naval crews and the workers in the shipyard. As the walk is still going strong today thanks to the organisational skills of the companies originally involved, it must have been a success!

Within just 9 years, the walk had grown from 86 participants in 1967 to 1,732 walkers in 1976, and people from across the UK were taking part. In 1974, a team from HMS Vulcan travelled over 400 miles from Dounreay (Thurso, Caithness) in the far north of Scotland to take part in the walk. Dounreay teams have been regular participants since then. Nowadays it is common for around 2,500 walkers to start the K2B, and charity donations of over £350,000 are made in the autumn after each walk. Teams still arrive from the north coast of Scotland to the south coast of England, and many points in between. From 1967 to 2016, £3.75M has been donated, and more than 2.5M miles have been walked.

A range of trophies and shields is presented on walkday and at the annual Awards Evening. The “Resolution Cup”, offered by the HMS Resolution crew for the first team of walkers home, has been awarded every year since. This challenge cup has been won 10 times by Royal Naval teams and 40 times by Shipyard teams.

The year 1982 was a significant one for creating K2B speed records which stand to this day. Local man Dave Kelly finished in an incredible 3 hours 59 minutes, averaging 10 mph, to take the “Best Performance Cup”, and the Rolls Royce team, “RR&A Flashers” achieved a time of 6 hours 50 minutes winning the “L. Redshaw Cup” for the Best Overall Team Performance. The fastest lady, Charlotte Finch, achieved her record as recently as 2015 with a time of 5 hours 6 minutes 28 seconds to win the “J.M.Redshaw Cup".

There are several participants who have lasted the test of time, with six people having completed the walk at least 30 times. The more times you complete the Keswick 2 Barrow walk, the higher your rank in "Ye Ancient Order of Barking Dogs". This ‘order’ has been a part of the Walk’s history for many years. For those who have finished the walk over 30 times, the award is a silver tankard. After 40 completions, a ruby glass is awarded. We are delighted to have awarded the very first ruby glass to Gordon Ingall, on his successful completion of the 2013 walk, despite atrocious weather conditions on the day. There are also awards for those who complete the walk once, 3 times, 7 times, (a china tankard), 20 times, (a china plate), and 50 times: a gold award yet to be designed! As at 2016, there are 59 walkers recorded as having completed at least 16 walks, so we expect more walkers to target 20 then 30 completions in the years ahead.

With so many people taking interest in a ‘big walk’ for charity, there have often been large donations. The 1974 walk raised £7,300, a sum worth nearer £72,000 in 2017 value. This money was split between a total of 27 charities operating in the Furness area, each receiving between £150 and £500. In 2016, £350,905 (plus a forecast £50,000 value of Gift Aid) was donated to 270 charities. A donation of £30,000 cash plus £4,600 Gift Aid was made in 2013 to a single charity, Alice's Escapes, creating a new record for the largest-ever single donation.

The 21-mile Coniston to Barrow Walk (C2B) was introduced as a limited trial in 2010 as an easier version of the K2B, primarily to allow younger children to experience the concept of a long sponsored walk. The intention is that they might move on to the K2B as they grow through their teen years. The trial was successful and the C2B is now going from strength to strength, and is so popular that team entries have to be capped for logistical and safety reasons. There were 1,598 C2B finishers in 2018. A small increase in capacity is anticipated for the 10th C2B in 2019. The route and timing run parallel with the K2B from Coniston southwards: it shares the same checkpoints, timing facilities, safety support and attractive Furness scenery through to Barrow. The money raised and the charity distributions are combined with the K2B donations.

The year 2016 marked the 50th K2B, so we decided we would be 'Going for Gold' with two significant route improvements, the first bringing the walk's start very close to its origins near the magical Castlerigg Stone Circle. The second change was made to omit several miles of the busy Ambleside to Coniston road, and bypass it with a very attractive route using the network of tracks available. A record 3,236 walkers started from either Keswick or Coniston.

For 2017 a completely revised website was introduced to give a better user experience. An entry fee was also trialled this year with included bus travel to the start; following the success of the trial, the committee plan to make this part of the yearly entry process to the walks. The 1st April 2017, marked exactly 50 years since the first K2B.