The Wooden Spoon

The Across Wales Walk
Tom Shepherd, winner of the wooden spoon, 1998. A hill too steep, a lane too long,
An O.S. map that’s printed wrong,
Every excuse to save your pride,
Why not accept, Wales is too wide!

Tom Shepherd carries the ultimate 'cross
Wales award at the presentation ceremony
following his encounter with a peat bog
during the 1998 event.

Photo: courtesy of Fiona Lamb

The above poem by ‘West’ member Craig Brown is inscribed upon the reverse of the infamous Across Wales Walk ‘Wooden Spoon’. This treasured icon of the event is awarded intermittently to the most deserving entrant, checker or even outside organisation that has perhaps contributed to some ‘cock-up’, endured exceptional suffering, or just made the event a little special.

Origins

The Across Wales Walk brings out special performances in many people, be they entrants or supporters. However, some people really rise to the challenge and, in doing so, pull-off highly noteworthy performances, or suffer horribly beyond what could normally be withstood. For example, in the early 1980’s one entrant, his shoes having succumbed to the rigours of 45 miles of road, moor and bog, was reduced to completing the event in bare feet! We felt that such performances were indeed worthy of formal recognition. Then in 1985, one enthusiastic entrant, Hilary Sive, became seriously entangled with a barbed wire fence as she approached checkpoint 2. During this manoeuvre Hilary sustained a ‘puncturing’ injury to a sensitive area of her female anatomy. The organisers recognised a case of true suffering and, unable to purchase a wooden spoon at Clarach, presented a wooden fork not only as a memento of the event, but also as a tool which to fend-off any similar fences in future. Hilary later presented her ‘T’-shirt to the organisers, the painful hole in the upper section being clearly evident. And so a tradition was born.

The 'Big' Wooden Spoon

The following year, I happened upon an ex-services 4 foot catering spoon in a local Army surplus store and the next event, in 1986, provided the ideal candidate. Entrant John Brake, proved to be a vocal and humorous critic of the event, the support provided, and just about everything that year! Thus for being ‘a complete pain’ (and for giving us a laugh in the bargain) John became the first recipient of the ‘full size’ wooden spoon. His colleagues on the event were quick to point out that the awarding of the wooden spoon was the only thing which had left him speechless all weekend!

In 1987, the spoon was awarded, perhaps rather cruelly, to Nev Tandy who, having completed the ridge route of the Pyrenees, was then rarely defeated by the Across Wales. However, Nev took the spoon in good spirit, literally, and when he returned it the next year, he had used his considerable woodworking skills to engrave the Across Wales Walk emblem in the bowl of the spoon! During the following year, Nev then engraved Craig Brown's poem on the reverse, and the spoon was complete.

The Across Wales Wooden Spoon

Nev Tandy's superb decoration of the Across Wales Walk Wooden Spoon.

A classic candidate emerged in 1992. Raynet, volunteer providers of communication cover for the event, are renowned for their enthusiasm and practical skills but, like us all, are occasionally prone to perhaps ‘getting carried away’? Colin Broadbent, member of North Dyfed Raynet decided to take his Landrover to the summit of Plynlimon but, whilst there, flattened the battery and was unable to start the vehicle to return home. What’s more the vehicle was stuck facing the wrong way between rocks. A problem? Well not if you heard the various radio traffic on this subject. "I’ve got rocks, a piece of wood, some chain - no problem: I’ll just lever it up, turn it round and bump-start it down Plynlimon..."!! The picture conjured of one man levering up his Landrover, then chasing it down the side of the highest mountain in mid-Wales, trying to get into the driving seat was too much! Anyway, the event ended without us knowing whether Colin’s plan ever succeeded - he may still be up there now?

In the next year, 1993, our patience finally snapped with Austin Rover main dealer Clarks, them having provided mini-buses for the preceding three years in various states of repair and maintenance. A catalogue of cock-up culminated in us being offered - as a substitute for a minibus - three Austin Montegos! Hardly a substitute, but all we had for transport of entrants during that weekend.

1994 was a terribly wet event: it rained almost continuously from start to finish and no one deserved a wooden spoon, in fact everyone deserved gold medals that year! However, one entrant had decided to borrow the appropriate OS maps from his local library and, needless to say, at the end of the event both maps resembled shredded, used tissue paper!

In 1995, Organiser Derek Norton’s inventory of essential provisions included 9 buckets of plums, 36 rolls of toilet paper and 3 bottles of ‘Domestos’. The toilet rolls and the plums were clearly complementary, as many of the entrants and supporters found out! Indeed, it was generally thought that Derek was trying to turn the Across Wales Walk into the Across Wales Run! Derek graciously received the wooden spoon in respect of his services to the ‘rapid and free movement’ of the event.

1996 was a vintage year: with the new route north of Llanidloes and a change of organiser, the potential for cock-up was enormous. However the event itself went very much to plan. Peter Stevenson narrowly avoided the award: his description of the hazards of the new route - quicksand in Mochdre Brook and a wife-murdering farmer with 60 bulls who is known to offer walkers poisoned chocolate - prompted the organisers to compile an alternative guide to the event based upon his warnings. However, the award went most deservedly to Country Walking Magazine who, having expressed intense interest in the event, promoted it in their magazine with neither the date of the event, nor the point of contact for information! The conclusion was, basically, stick to LDWA's excellent publication ‘Strider’ .

1997 was not really the year for wooden spoons memorably being held on the day of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Nevertheless, it was a really great event.

They say ...'come the moment, come the man'? Well in 1998 that man was Tom Shepherd who proved to be the ideal recipient of the wooden spoon for that year. His problems started when he misread the route description about ten miles from the finish near Llyn Craigypistyll. Instead of passing through a gate and then immediately turning left, Tom headed north along a more obvious track which took him completely off-route. Realising his error he attempted to drown himself by diving into a peat bog fully clothed until completely submerged. By his own accounts, it was touch and go whether he became the event's first fatality! However, he ultimately extricated himself from the mire and carried on arriving at CP5 soaked and wearing a'...tidemark of filth...' around the top of his head as evidence of the level of his immersion. Tom went on to complete the event and received his award with much glee! See his short report on the 1998 event.

Tom Shepherd recovers at the finish, 1998.

Tom Shepherd recovers at the finish of the 1998 Across Wales Walk

Photo: courtesy of Richard Rosser

In 1999, the most significant feature of the event was heat which produced many valiant performances, but none were really 'spoon-worthy'. Not event Tom could surpass his performance of the previous two years!

In 2000, the 37th Across Wales Walk went like clockwork. But this didn't stop Maggie Gold from serving double-crosser Clive Lungmuss a sandwich at his halfway point which, allegedly, contained a slug! However, this only came to light after the event thus receipt of the dreaded wooden spoon was avoided.

2001 was the year of FMD: not really a 'wooden spoon' year.

2002 was a classic 'spoon' year with two principal candidates. First there was long-standing checker and former organiser Derek Norton who loves to be at CP2 and cruelly cook a breakfast of bacon for himself whilst other checkers and walkers can only savour the smell. Derek had then used his stove at the Finish and, in the dark, had packed it away and left it underneath Martin Child's van for loading-up. During the ceremony, in a moment of cripplingly funny theatre Derek, unaware of its fate, was presented with the 'U'-shaped wreckage of his stove, Martin having driven over it as he left the checkpoint! The cruel tragedy of the situation, the look on Derek's face and the complete uproar from those assembled combined to make this one of the most memorable moments from any Across Wales Walk presentation ceremony.

Despite the highly deserving nature of Derek's misfortune, 'the Academy of Incompetence' who assess nominations for awards of the wooden spoon had decided that, incredibly, there was an even more deserving case for 2002. Steven Rose had been experiencing pain in his toes since leaving Anchor. He had examined his feet at a number of checkpoints and, at CP3 he had resorted to cutting his toe nails in order to relieve the discomfort. However, it was not until reaching CP4 on meeting his wife that the cause of the problem became apparent. Amazingly, Steven had completed 32 miles wearing one of his own boots on his right foot, and one of his wife's boots, a full size shorter, on his left foot! Steven received the spoon with great dignity!

In 2003 no award was made. In 2004 Bob Bills arrived at CP5 carrying a pair of very tired-looking hiking boots that he supposedly had found on the scree at Craig-Y-Pistyll. Bob presented the boots to the Organisers at the checkpoint but, clearly, these were Bob's own boots that he was too embarrassed to admit to owning. Despite his protestations at the presentation ceremony, they were ritually returned to him along with the wooden spoon. Bob subsequently re-donated the (his) boots to the organisers and they now stand on the Lamb's patio each containing various alpine flowers.

No award was made in 2005, although the committee came close to awarding it to West Birmingham member and cyclist Ralph Bradley whose story those at the presentation ceremony will probably remember, and which the libel laws and good taste prevent me from recounting in print!

2006 will long be remembered for the dreadful weather which led to suspension of the event at CP3. Not a wooden spoon year at all!

In 2007 we celebrated the achievements of Andrew Greenow who, in more than fifteen years of taking part has generally retired at either CP2 or CP3, just once achieving CP4. For persistent and dogged determination to try, try, try again, Andrews efforts were rewarded by the adulation of those present at the presentation ceremony, and the awarding of the wooden spoon!

In 2008 the tables were turned on the Organiser completely as Peter Stevenson awarded the spoon to Stuart Lamb in recognition of his valiant efforts to get to Clun on the Friday before the event through flooding, road closures etc. In short a normally routine 1.5 hour and 60 mile journey from Redditch to Clun took 8 hours and 130 miles due to the heavy flooding and road closures. Stuart finally arrived at nearly 11pm on the back of an RAC truck, the campervan's ignition system having succumbed to the heavy rain! For the Organiser it was a case of a life's ambition fulfilled!

Stuart Lamb receives the Across Wales Walk wooden spoon from Peter Stevenson in recognition of efforts to get to the start on the preceding Friday

In 2009 no award was made. However in 2010 we were subject to a recurrent source of idiocy, namely the hire of a panel van for the event. Cutting a long and tortuous story very short, our trusty van driver, Alan Wright, went to pick up the van as usual on the Friday before the event only to be told that, being 76 years old, he couldn't have one as he was over 70, this despite the fact that he'd had them from the same depot for the last five years! There then followed an eleventh hour scramble to find another van during which a firm reservation was made with Europcar Central Reservations. With Alan en route to pick up the van from Europcar, Stuart got a call back to advise that, actually, Europcar didn't have any vans anywhere in the West Midlands area! Stuart then made frantic attempts to contact Alan who, despite having assured that his mobile phone wouldn't leave his side, had packed it in his suitcase and couldn't hear it ringing. Stuart then tried to find Alan's home phone number which had already been packed in the campervan for our imminent departure. However Sarah Lamb had left to buy the bread for Clun toast and, as she is always told to do, locked the front door trapping Stuart in the house! The situation was ultimately resolved by procuring one of the few remaining vehicles from another provider within the Birmingham area and, once released from captivity, Stuart did contact Alan's home just as Alan grasped the door handle to leave for Europcar. Alan was however advised not to listen to the recorded messages left on his mobile phone voice mail! ..and yes, that is the shortened version!

Europcar Central Reservations were unable to be present at the ceremony, despite saying they would come, so van driver Alan Wright collected the award on their behalf.

No award was made in 2011, 2012 or 2013. However in 2014, the inevitable happened to Marcus Philpot: having registered at Clun he chose to sleep in his car to avoid all the snoring and disturbance in the Memorial Hall, Clun. And there he stayed in the morning when his alarm failed to raise him!

2017 is another year

...and no doubt others will deserve the infamous wooden spoon. So, if you take part and in some way screw-up, fall down or step out of line, you know what's coming to you!

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