John o' Groats to Lands End Association Presentation Dinner
We had the privilege to spend the weekend with the Land's End to John o' Groats Association in Torquay, for their annual presentation dinner. We heard heartbreaking stories of people's journeys, made new friends and had the honour of receiving two awards. It was an evening we will never forget!
The John o' Groats to Lands End Association is the only group in the UK to recognise and award, the effort and sacrifices it takes to complete the JOGLE (John o' Groats to Lands End) and LEJOG (Lands End to John o' Groats) journey.
I do say journey as they have many different criteria to complete the journey such as walking, paddling, travelling by motorcycle... and of course other recognitions such as youngest, oldest, most charity money raised and so on. It's awesome.
The association was established in 1983 and is a very traditional association. You can visit their website here for more information and to apply to join yourselves!
The members and committee are all lovely and very friendly people. We were made to feel very welcome.
The whole event was spread over the weekend, with the AGM and other 'things' going on. We didn't attend for the entire weekend because we are hiking on our 2023 charity adventure and don't want to take too many days off at this stage. The main reason, however, is that the event is held in Torquay in Devon. For us, that is a journey of over 500 miles!
We decided to break up the drive by going to my parents on Friday, who live roughly in the middle between us in Aberfoyle and Torquay, to spend the night. We then drove the rest of the way on Saturday morning. We arrived in Torquay at about 3 pm on Saturday.
I have said it before but I'll say it again, one of the things that is most striking when on the south coast of England is the difference in climate compared to Aberfoyle in Scotland. I know that might be stating the obvious, but it really is quite stark. Torquay felt like a warm spring day. We were even listening to the sound of a Cuckoo. It felt odd but really nice!
Arriving in Torquay we found our hotel, checked in, deposited our bags, checked what room the event was happening in that evening and headed straight out for a walk. The hotel was located just a 5-minute walk from the seafront, with a wonderful promenade that was wide enough for all 3 of us to walk side by side. It was wonderful after being couped up in the car for nearly 2 days.
We went straight onto the beach where Sarah and Eve immediately started to collect sea shells.
Walking down the beach we saw a small line of shops that as we got closer were actually cafes and restaurants, including a Costa Coffee. We got a cup of coffee and Eve a Frappe, found a bench and sat watching the light fade across the bay towards Haldon Pier. It was beautiful, watching the lights change colours and roll up and down like they were alive. We could have happily sat there all night in the warm air watching the day fade to night.
We returned to the hotel to get changed and ready for the evening meal and presentation. We don't own a lot of formal clothes, and what we own doesn't fit us very well anymore.
Arriving in the room where the event was happening, we were the only ones there! We assumed we had arrived first, so had a quick scout around to find our seats, making sure Eve was seated between Sarah and me. We then saw everybody else in the bar adjoining the room. We took a deep breath, wished each other luck and headed in.
The room was noisy and hot, but we found a small table in the corner where we sat and immediately got approached by a family with a son called Harry who was approximately 5 months older than Eve. Harry was also autistic, but very different to Eve. Eve is introverted, Harry is defiantly an extrovert! Sarah spoke to him and his mother whilst I went to get a drink for us.
The room for dinner and presentation was very smart. There were round tables laid out to silver service standard with a large table at the front with lots of trophies on. It felt very formal and I'm not afraid to admit it but I felt very out of place. It looked similar to a wedding reception, but without a top table.
We all sat down and started talking to the people around the table. Their stories were amazing. There was a lady who had flown over from Sweden specially for this evening, a couple whose husband had a world record as the fasted person to ever cycle between John o'Groats to Lands End (he had also run it!). At our table was also Brian the association chairman. A very friendly man who was very proud of the association, and so he should be. It's genuinely wonderful. As another member pointed out, there is one common thing that connected everybody in that room...we had all completed JOGLE or LEJOG (including Sarah as a support driver!)
The food was wonderful. We had vegetable soup to start, followed by sweet potato curry (including Eve) with baked apple and fruit compote for pudding. Eve had... ice cream for pudding! The food was really good, and Eve particularly liked the soup. Eve and I agreed it still was not as good as Sarah's homemade soup!
After the meal, we all thanked the hotel and the serving staff, who were absolutely excellent.
Then came the awards...
I'm not going to list every award as there are many. If you would like to see them all, the association has a website page dedicated to the awards here.
I should mention that some of the stories of why people had undertaken the journey were heartbreaking. There were stories of a man doing this in memory of his recently deceased wife that brought Sarah to tears along with a number of other people. There was also a story of a man who had always wanted to undertake the journey but couldn't due to ill health. Instead, he had sent a Paddington Bear toy on the journey on his behalf. When he received it back from the association after completing the journey he passed away just 3 weeks later! There is a lot more to the stories but I don't feel it is appropriate to write about them here in too much detail.
We thought there was a good chance that Eve would get the award for the youngest person to make the journey, however, the criteria were for 'the youngest person by any means not just hiking'.
Jack Adams/Richard Elloway Trophy
Presented by Jack Adams and Richard Elloway, this trophy is awarded to the youngest person to have completed the journey by whatever means other than as a passenger in a motor vehicle during the preceding year. He or she should be 25 yrs old or less upon completion of the journey.
Eve was awarded the Jack Adams/Richard Elloway Trophy! Her name is permanently engraved on it for everybody to see. Sarah and I couldn't be prouder!
For 2022 Eve was the youngest known person to make the journey from John o' Groats to Lands End (or vice versa) by any means. Eve also still holds the world record for the youngest person to ever walk it!
I took Eve up to receive the trophy and had to give a small speech. I looked at Sarah whilst I spoke holding onto Eve who was not facing the room.
What came shortly afterwards caught both Sarah and me totally off guard... I genuinely had no idea that we were going to receive another award.
The Charlie Hankins Memorial Trophy
This was presented by various committee members, and is awarded to the person who, in the opinion of the Committee, demonstrates the most courage, fortitude and determination whilst completing a journey between Land's End and John o' Groats or vice versa by whatever means.
I was gobsmacked (genuinely) to have been selected by the board for the Charlie Hankins Memorial Trophy. I feel honoured and privileged and I can't thank them enough!
I was called up, gave a small speech and carried the trophy back to our table. The trophy was HEAVY. I struggled to hold it!
The whole evening so far was absolutely delightful!
Then came the raffle! I felt bad as we hadn't brought any tickets. We did not have any cash. The prizes were epic, there was a whole bottle of whisky for one prize.
But there is more... the final thing was all the children (there were 4) got called up to the front (I went up with Eve) and were given gifts from the committee. Eve got given a Disney Aristocat mug and socks, which she loves!
By now Eve was exhausted and struggling to stay awake. The autism was definitely showing and she had reached her limit. Sarah said her goodbyes and took her to bed. I stayed for a short time to talk to a few people. I was surprised to find out how many people there also had an autism diagnosis. We briefly spoke about the hike, their journeys and autism. It really was quite refreshing.
Writing this blog and the Facebook posts that we do can feel like a one-way conversation sometimes, where all I do is tell people what I think and feel. Social media and this blog are about community and trying to get people to think, talk and comment, including if it's the total opposite of what I have said or written. I am always willing and happy to admit if I am wrong, so please, if you are reading this make a comment below!
It was so nice to hear people talk back, telling me their stories, feelings and thoughts. It really was refreshing to hear!
After a while, I decided to leave as most people were retreating to the bar, and I'm not a drinker and social communication is hard. I was already tired!
Getting back to the room, Sarah had already got Eve into bed and she was sorting herself out. Sarah was surprised to see me back so soon and said I could go back down and socialise. I politely declined and we got into bed, cuddled and fell asleep.
The whole evening was an absolute pleasure, even if it felt slightly overwhelming and exhausting.
We woke the next morning feeling just as tired as we had the night before.
Going for breakfast we met with a lot of association members again making conversation before we said our farewells and started the long journey home.
We decided to drive straight home as Eve wants to continue hiking tomorrow. For the whole 10-hour journey, Eve didn't stop holding or fussing over her trophy. It's her new most prized possession after the cats and Ella. We got home at about 7 pm exhausted but happy.
The whole experience as I have said was an absolute pleasure and I can wholeheartedly recommend joining the association if you can or want to.
Please can I pay particular thanks to the committee and of course Brian the chairman who made us all feel welcome and showed us friendship.
I sincerely hope the association can last for another 40 years, and we will try to do what we can to help. If you can please give them your support!
To the John o'Groats to Lands End Association... THANK YOU FOR A WONDERFUL EVENING, FROM IAN, SARAH AND EVE