THIS year will mark the 56th anniversary of the popular Abbots Way Walk, which sees teams of all ages walk 23-miles across Southern Dartmoor.

The Abbots Way is a footpath across Dartmoor from Buckfastleigh to Tavistock, which is thought to have been the route the monks used to go from Buckfast Abbey to Tavistock Abbey.

The annual fundraising walk was started in 1962 by Bill Ames and is held on the first Sunday of October — this year will be October 7.

Walk coordinator Peter Challis said: ‘Bill had been a headmaster of an international school in Rhodesia and then Ghana before returning to Devon in 1962 to take up the position of Tavistock and District youth officer. He was passionate about outdoor activities as a way of engaging young people and I believe he started Whitchurch Pin Points, North/South and Abbots Way at about this time.

‘Later David Ashley, then Tony Bishop became Tavistock youth officers and continued to organise the Abbots Way Walk. In those days the event started at Buckfast Abbey and finished initially at the youth centre in Chapel Street, Tavistock, and then in the 1980s it moved to Tavistock College.’

After Tony, Jimmy James, Angela Ball, John Collacott and John Olver were the organisers with the administration being carried out by the youth office under Pam Thurgood.

At all times, the funds raised were used for youth activities in the area. These funds ran a financially assisted youth weekend for more than 15 years at the Dartmoor Training Centre with instructors from the Tavistock and District Outdoor Education Forum giving their time free of charge.

‘As a result of budgetary and organisational changes within Devon County Council in 2011, the running of the walk was transferred to Tavistock and District Outdoor Education Forum,’ said Peter. ‘The purpose of the forum is to provide, coordinate and promote outdoor activities for young people and adults in Tavistock and district.’

This year, as it is the 700th anniversary of Tavistock Parish Church and the 1,000th anniversary of Buckfast Abbey, for the first time ever, this year’s Abbots Way Walk will start in Tavistock and finish at Buckfast Abbey.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Tavistock section of Dartmoor Search and Rescue, which was also started by Bill Ames and friends. In past years walk participants have donated more than £2,000 to the Pound for the Park and Donate to Dartmoor schemes.

In view of the rescue groups 50th anniversary, participants will be able to donate to the cause this year.

The walk next month will start outside Tavistock Town Hall at 7am after each team has registered each individual walker and will finish at Buckfast Abbey by 7pm.

The walk is a 23-mile, self-navigated walk for teams of three to eight. All ages can enter from nine to 70 plus.

Peter added: ‘The event can only be run due to the excellent support of the Dartmoor Radio Club, who staff the checkpoint from Tavistock to Peat Cott and the three Dartmoor Search and Rescue teams from Ashburton, Plymouth and Tavistock who staff the checkpoint across the moor from Peat Cott to Cross Furzes.

‘The start is handled by the Tavistock and District Outdoor Education Forum, assisted Liz and Rob Dill and John Olver, while the finish is handled by the Outdoor Education Forum, including printing the 550 plus individual certificates and 110 plus team certificates. This year the certificates are printed by Buckfast Abbey.’

Anyone interested in taking part in the Abbots Way Walk should book in advance by emailing [email protected]