Jo Wilkinson, who lives in Waddington, is about to register for her 10th year participating in ‘The Four Day Marches’ at Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where she will once again walk 40km every day for four days straight.
In the third week of July, the world’s largest walking event takes place each year in the Netherlands. Nearly 50,000 participants with more than 70 different nationalities arrive at Nijmegen every year to walk 30, 40, or 50 kilometres each day for four days in the city on the beautiful Waal River. The objective in mind is to finish and be awarded the coveted Cross For Demonstrated Marching Skill (Vierdaagsekruis), and each year thousands drop out due to injuries and exhaustion.
The Four Day Marches started in 1909 and has been based at Nijmegen since 1924. In 1908 the Dutch League for Physical Education was established to promote participation in physical activities across the Netherlands, and in 1909 they organised the first Vierdaagse (Dutch for “four days event”). It was primarily planned as a military training event, however over the years it has transformed into a hugely anticipated and adored date in the calendar for civilians from all over the world.
Military personnel, families, friends and individuals come together to join in this vibrant walking event. The Flag Parade, fireworks show, parties and celebrations – festivities go hand in hand with the march. The city turns into one giant party and is alive with electric activity. With more than 1,000 performances spread over 40 different stages across 1 week, the party doesn’t stop for walkers and spectators alike – the hustle and bustle of a carnival feel with laughter, singing, dancing and tasty food is a fantastic motivator for those taking part.
Jo first took part in 2010 where she raised money for a breast cancer awareness charity, and subsequently did it for charity the following 2 years. After that, she was completely hooked and started going each year, “It gets in your blood and then you’re done for” chuckles Jo, “It is just amazing. You have to take off your English head as soon as you leave the shore and pop your Dutch head on because they are party people – the streets are full of people partying all hours of the day!”
As exhilarating as it is, there are no doubts it a mammoth challenge to undertake and Jo must train every single day of the year to ensure she is fit enough to take part. “It is an endurance challenge, so training is every day of the year for me – I never stop. I swim every morning, I walk miles every day, you can never stop as you have to keep your fitness levels up” she explains, “It also takes many years of learning how to respect your body for what you are putting it through. People think I’m crazy but for me it’s my life, I absolutely adore it. I wouldn’t know where to begin to tell you the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve got, but it is no secret you have to be very disciplined and know your body.”
Day one of the march is called Blue Tuesday, and the walkers heads north over the bridge on the River Waal into the stunning Overbetuwe region, past green orchards and beautiful villages. In the spirit of the two mighty rivers the Waal and Rhine, balloons, flags, banners and partying spectators colour everything blue!
Day two is known as Pink Wednesday, an expression of acceptance of everybody no matter who you are. Walkers head west through the picturesque Land van Maas en Waal region, walking through green landscapes and over the festively decorated market square of Wijchen, then back to Nijmegen where the whole town has turned pink.
Day three is the ‘Day Of The Seven Hills’. Heading east along waterways, through woods, lush green villages like Mook and Milsbeek and rolling vineyards, walkers are soon faced with the infamous seven hills of Groesbeek to conquer.
Day four is the final walking day where walkers are gifted Gladioli, the flower given to the Gladiators in Roman times. Crowded grandstands, rows of high-spirited spectators, DJs and brass bands are everywhere to celebrate the incredible achievement of the guests of honour – the walkers.
Due to the pandemic, the Four Day Marches had to be cancelled for the last two years, so Jo and thousands of others are keen to get back to what they love. “It is phenomenal when you complete the challenge” Jo beams, “this year hopefully I can finish my 10th and then I will be a ‘True Nijmegen Warrior’ and for me that is the ultimate because I will get a commemorative medal and put on a Dutch register to be affiliated with the Dutch Army meaning I can even march with the Dutch soldiers!”
Jo hopes that her passion for this incredible event will inspire others to take part. “There are very few English people out there who take part as it doesn’t seem to be a widely known thing here, but when I do see an England flag or the Union Jack, I gallop over to it!”
Jo will hope to achieve her 10th walk this year in July, and it is safe to say that will not be the end of her Nijmegen adventures. “It completely has my whole heart and soul – I will leave it in my Will to have some of my ashes out there, I am just totally sold on it… it has truly got into my blood.”
If you would like to know more about The Walk Of The World, visit www.4daagse.nl/en