Recently I posted about the annual William of Orange Walk that the History with English foundation degree team host as part of the University Centre at South Devon College. The very first William of Orange Walk from Brixham to Berry Pomeroy Castle took place in April 2016. It is a 12 mile walk through the country lanes and roads of South Devon; despite the use of an iPhone to track the distance, there was a bit of debate regarding the actual length: some stated a more modest 10 miles, whilst others counted a eye-boggling 17 miles. But the bigger question here is: just why did we do this? I’ll quickly add that it wasn’t for religious devotion to the Protestant cause, but rather for history.

The origins of all of this begin back in 2015. My colleague – Jon – was excited to tell me that he had read about the landing of William of Orange in 1688. He arrived in England – in Brixham – in order to give the current monarch of the time, James II, a stern talking to. William was the hope of Protestants in the country, and he was either invited over to take the crown, or he simply turned up with an invading army to grab the crown. Either way, James II turned and ran for the Continent, whilst William became known as William III. His fateful journey to London in 1688 began on the beach of Brixham, cutting up through Devon, on into Dorset, and eventually in the capital.

Jon was happy to tell me that William of Orange past our very own college: South Devon College. Of course, the college itself was not present back in 1688. But the very fact that William walked down Long Road, just outside of our office, was a pleasing one. The college was involved in an important aspect of local history, with a clear connection to a piece of world history that defined the nation. From here, Jon’s fascination with the topic grew; he came across a writer named Les Ham who wrote a walking-book about William of Orange’s journey. Deemed ‘the Orange Way’, it offers a series of walks from Brixham to London. The very first one – from Brixham to Berry Pomeroy Castle – was one we were keen to do.

Photos from the walk in 2016

The walk seems to be growing every year (we’ve completed three so far), but in the beginning only four of us completed the entire walk. That was some way from William of Orange’s estimated total of 40,000 men, but it is at least a start. On the second walk in 2017 we passed double figures! This included other staff members from the college, as well as students from the History with English foundation degree.

The walk itself, although challenging – and with a welcoming cream tea at the end of it all – offers a glimpse into real history. History that is away from the textbooks and away from words. It is history that provides us with a chance to look, hear, and smell. Over the course of the walk new thoughts entered our mind: just where did William spend his first night (was it a fisherman’s home in Brixham or rather the nicer environment of the Seymour home at Berry Pomeroy Castle?), just where did he hold his first parliament (at the purported Parliament Cottage?), and just how did the local inhabitants feel when they saw this vast army of Dutch-men descend upon their villages? A lot of these questions could be tackled by future research and in upcoming Research Showcase Days at the University Centre in South Devon College.

All of it offers a fresh perspective on a well-known local tale. Plus, it allows a few teachers to get some exercise. A win-win all round.