Anyone who has met Richard Farquhar would know that he is a horse racing fanatic, something his father, also passionate about racing, instilled in him. Those closest to Richard also know that although he loves walking, he doesn’t participate in an awful lot of sport himself, so when he told his family he’d been thinking of walking the 2,750 miles between all 60 racecourses in Britain, they laughed at him. His plan was to walk the route over 13 months, ending up at each racecourse on the day of a meeting.
Fifty-three-year-old Richard is now five months into what he’s called his Walking the Courses journey and he’s on the way to raising his target of £1.4 million, which will be split between Pancreatic Cancer UK and Racing Welfare (a charity that supports the stud, stable and support staff of British horse racing). He’ll finish the walks next April, concluding at Newmarket’s Craven Meeting, which Richard attended for 26 years with his father.
The choice of Pancreatic Cancer UK as a benefactor was an obvious one for Richard as his father died of the disease. Richard explains that pancreatic cancer isn’t a cancer you hear a lot about, because the survival rate is so low. ‘It kills 9,000 a year in this country, but I want to help more people beat this horrible disease. That’s a huge part of what motivates me through the difficult parts of the walks.’
A walk on this scale required some serious planning so Richard was lucky enough to have the support of someone he describes as a ‘splendid Yorkshireman’, John Sparshatt, the former Chairman of The Long Distance Walkers Association, who devised the routes for him. ‘I didn’t want to be walking up the hard shoulder of motorways so the walks he has come up with are planned for, first of all, safety, secondly, scenery, and lastly, time. His view is that if you are walking 85 miles, you might as well walk 90 miles and go the pretty way. Having walked all these miles, it’s also a sentiment I concur with because I’ve seen some absolutely breathtaking countryside.’
In a typical walking day over nine hours, Richard will cover 25 miles, navigating using his GPS device, onto which he’s downloaded all the routes John planned for him. He divides the longer distances between racecourses into manageable chunks to walk over the course of two, three or even up to five days, staying with relatives and friends all over the country along the way. His eldest daughter Minty, who is working with him on the campaign, is on hand to drop him off at the start location and meet him at the end of the day.
So far he’s completed one leg in Yorkshire from Redcar to Ripon. ‘I went up onto the North York Moors, which is a staggeringly beautiful place. I was up there on a really clear day and I could see the North Sea – I’ll never forget the views because they were breathtaking,’ he marvels. While he was walking this route, he did have a slight hiccup when, eight miles north of Ripon, he was on a bridleway and his navigation device was telling him to cross a motorway section of the A1, but there was no visible bridge or tunnel.
‘My only options were to find a long way round or play a game of human Frogger, and I didn’t fancy crossing the A1(M) on my own, so that added a couple of miles, which I probably could’ve done without, but these things happen. Aside from being bitten by a Jack Russell in Somerset, I’ve had a relatively incident and dramafree passage so far.’
August will be a busy month for Richard as he walks from Beverley to Thirsk, York to Beverley, Pontefract to York and Thirsk to Catterick Bridge. After his first walk in Yorkshire in May, he’s full of enthusiasm for the county. ‘I can’t wait to walk through the North York Moors again. I now understand why people talk about Yorkshire being God’s Own Country and on a beautiful day, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.’
Anyone who wishes to join Richard along the routes and for the lap of the track at each destination racecourse are welcome, and various people have already shown their support: at Redcar Racecourse, DJ Bobby Beavers of Radio Yorkshire walked the lap of the course with him, while at Ripon Racecourse, two specialist nurses joined him. Mostly, he’s walking on his own though, and inevitably he thinks of his father a lot. ‘He was about as sedentary as I am, but I think he would really approve of this and he’d love the way I’ve tied it in with racing,’ he reflects. It couldn’t be a more fitting tribute to his father.
To donate please visit www.walkingthecourses.com