Captain Barclay

I found the following story in Matthew Beaumont’s Night Walking (2016).

It’s well-known that Charles Dickens was a celebrated walker. He had boundless energy and was a frequent insomniac, so he would often clear his head by walking late at night. In a few instances, he wrote to friends that when he couldn’t sleep, he would sometimes get dressed and walk to his country residence, Gad’s Hill Place.

He lived in London. Gad’s Hill Place was in Kent. More than 30 miles away. And he would do it in a single night, and go straight to work the next day.

“No doubt he [Dickens] secretly harboured dreams of bettering Captain Barclay, a celebrated athlete who, in 1809, when pedestrianism first became a sporting activity, walked a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours for a thousand guineas” (150).

Robert Barclay Allardice of Ury, known popularly as Captain Barclay, was a Scottish aristocrat and soldier who is considered one of the fathers of the modern sport of race walking. His athletic feats before the thousand-hour walk are as follows (according to Wikipedia):

  • In 1801 Captain Barclay walked 110 miles (177 km) in 19 hr 27 min in a muddy park
  • In 1802 walked 64 miles (103 km) in 10 hours
  • In 1805 walked 72 miles (116 km) between breakfast and dinner
  • In 1806 walked 100 miles (161 km) over bad roads in 19 hours
  • In 1807 78 miles (125 km) on hilly roads in 14 hours

During his thousand-mile walk, the only conditions were that 1.) the hours had to be consecutive and 2.) he had to walk a complete mile during each hour–i.e. no running ten miles in one hour and then sleeping for a full 8-hour night. However, he could presumably finish his mile with most of the hour left to go, and take a quick nap during that time.

The walk took him 42 days with his spirits increasing as the days went on. In his very last hour, he finished his final mile with 45 minutes to spare (taking a leisurely 15-minute/mile walk).

Unsurprisingly, he lost a considerable amount of weight during this feat, dropping from 84.5 kg (186 lbs) to 70 kg (154 lbs).

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