How about a nice little stroll around Cambridgeshire on a hot, sunny, June day?
No, wait! How about a nice little, 46 mile stroll around Cambridgeshire, with some lovely scenery? …and finally, how about doing it all in a good cause; the memory of the WWII Pathfinder Squadrons.
I did… on Saturday 24th June 2023! Forty-six miles over 15 hours, of which 13.25 hours were spent walking, four pounds lighter, 6,900 calories burned, 94,000 steps and 5L of water later… they gave me a medal!
The Pathfinders flew their specially equipped, state-of-the-art aircraft, ahead of the bombers and got down and dirty amongst the deadly, German flack to drop coloured flares, accurately marking important targets and simultaneously, helping to avoid civilian casualties. The use of the Pathfinders dramatically improved navigational and bombing accuracy; this was a time when many bombs were falling more than 2 miles from their intended targets. In fact, ground observers often reported that they had heard no aircraft at all, let alone any bombs, over the target. This was made all the more galling given the losses of aircraft and aircrew could be massive for no military gain.
The Pathfinder March is an arduous, annual, 46 mile (74 kilometre), long-distance walk or run around the County of Cambridgeshire, in memory of these brave aircrew and squadrons. The March’s route visits the former airbases of the now famous Royal Air Force Pathfinder Force who were a vital component of Bomber Command during the Second World War.
The Pathfinders, forming part of RAF Bomber Command, flew Mosquitos, Halifaxes, Lancasters, Stirlings and Wellingtons. The force grew to 19 squadrons; locating and marking targets with flares ahead of the main bomber force. The legacy of this dangerous and lonely role is kept alive today by those who challenge themselves to complete the arduous route.
Starting at 0400 (walkers) or 0800 (runners) from RAF Wyton Airfield (PE28 2EA), participants follow a circular route, passing through Godmanchester, Graveley, Papworth Everard, Elsworth, Childerley, Dry Drayton, Oakington, Oakington Airfield, Longstanton, Bluntisham, Colne, Somersham, Warboys, Warboys Airfield and Kings Ripton, before finishing back at RAF Wyton. Although there are some route markers and signs some navigation is required. You can enter as a solo walker or runner and complete the whole distance or as a team (walking or running) and break the route down into a more manageable relay. There is a time limit of 20 hours for completion and the event is always set as close as possible to the summer solstice, to maximise daylight and the registration for the event opens at 0300 (walkers) and 0700 (runners). It’s physically and mentally challenging but very satisfying too and all in a good cause. I made some new friends and we had a lot of fun sharing the pain, in some lovely Cambridgeshire countryside. Blister photos available upon request!
Being a firm believer in good preparation, I started walking seriously in mid February and completed just over 400 miles of walks before the day by simply increasing distance incrementally every 2 weeks, peaking at 40 miles a month before the event and then tapering and having a holiday. It was great to have a challenge and a firm focus. I think it’s a worthy cause and I know the organisers are looking to promote and enlarge the event, in future years. Information can easily be found with a simple web search of ‘Pathfinder March’. To reiterate, the aim of it is to keep the Pathfinder memory alive and raise as much money as possible for the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA).
If reading this has piqued your interest, why not sign-up next year or perhaps you would like to make a donation to the Royal Air Forces Association. This can be done directly through their website or on their Just Giving Page. Remember, I will be here to put you back together again afterwards!
RAFA Just Giving: https://donate.justgiving.com/donation-amount?uri=aHR0cHM6Ly9kb25hdGUtYXBpLmp1c3RnaXZpbmcuY29tL2FwaS9kb25hdGlvbnMvYjBhNWIxMzBmZDUyNDE1NGEzYTRhYjAyOTZlZjEzOWU/aXNDaGVja291dEFwaT1mYWxzZQ==