Hundred march for a hundred years of the WI

As the ladies from the WI set off today on their centenary challenge which will see them walking for the next six days the Dean of Ripon cast a look skywards and noted conditions were somewhat inclement.

Womens' Institute walkers taking part in the 100 Feet evnt on the Ripon Rowell walk.

Undeterred the women, all members of the Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire, put on their waterproofs and got on with the task in hand as John Dobson, the Dean of Ripon, wished the walkers well as they set off from Ripon Cathedral.

The Women’s Institute first arrived in the UK in 1915 and this year it is marking its centenary with members urged to come up with events to mark the milestone. The North Yorkshire West Federation, which has over 2,300 members and is based in Ripon, came up with the novel idea of getting a 100 pairs of feet to walk the Ripon Rowel route to mark the 100th birthday.

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In fact they have been oversubscribed and 159 are taking part - with some doing more than one day. They will spend the next six days walking the Ripon Rowel - a route of around 50 miles - in stages in a bid to raise money for charity.

Womens' Institute walkers taking part in the 100 Feet evnt on the Ripon Rowell walk.

A celebration party is planned to welcome walkers at the end of the event and in true WI fashion cake baking is already underway and bunting has been prepared.

Carol Ambler, the Federation’s chair of local and national concerns said of the celebrations: “There will be cakes, I think that there’s a lady already baking cakes and goodness knows what and we are hoping it will be a lovely day.”

She said the Ripon Rowel route, which winds its way from Ripon visiting villages, historic sites, wooded valleys, rivers, lakes and streams, before the return leg back into Ripon.

“Its very scenic but I think it will be muddy in places,” Mrs Ambler said.

John Dobson, Dean of Ripon, checks the weather before blessing the Womens' Institute walkers

Julie Clarke, Federation chairman said the idea for the walk had come from members: “We are expecting more than 150 WI members to walk with us over the six days and our institutes have created almost 50 flags which will be turned into bunting to commemorate the event.”

The event – entitled 100 Pairs of Feet – will also raise funds to help reduce nutritional anaemia among young tribal women in the Tiruvannamalai district of the Tamil Nadu state in south India, as part of a project organised by the WI’s partner organisation, the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW).

“As well as being a fantastic event for all those taking part, it will raise important funds for a very good cause. These two elements have been a vital part of the WI since it was formed in 1915, and continue to be so today,” Mrs Clarke added.

Walkers set off from Ripon Cathedral and the route will be tackled in six sections before the challenge finishes in Ripon on Tuesday.

Womens' Institute walkers taking part in the 100 Feet evnt on the Ripon Rowell walk.

Many associate the WI with activities such as crafts and baking but the WI is not all jam and Jerusalem. From its origin it has always been a campaigning organisation and encouraged women to get involved in food production to sustain the country during the First World War.

Much has been made recently about how many younger women are joining the WI and Mrs Clarke says this is something she too is aware of saying they are interested in the WI’s campaigns and learning traditional skills.