THE EARLY morning was cool and misty but the sun soon came out as more than 33 000 people took to the streets of Cape Town yesterday for the annual Discovery-Cape Times Big Walk.

Today’s event bears little resemblance to that first walk organised by the Spartan Harriers in 1903, when 61 people set off from Greenmarket Square in the city centre. Yesterday’s walkers could choose from 10 routes, all ending at St George’s Grammar School in Mowbray: a gentle 5km walk starting in Newlands, the traditional 10km walk from the Grand Parade, an 11km walk from Gugulethu, a 12km walk from Green Point, a 13km walk from Retreat, a new 20km walk from Milnerton (part of it along the popular bicycle lane), 23km and 50km walks from Fish Hoek, a 30km walk from Simonstown, and the gruelling 80km walk which starts at 3.45am from Mowbray and is only for the fittest and most experienced walkers.

Yesterday’s event showed again that though the races are certainly to be taken seriously, for most people the walk is very much a family affair, with babies and toddlers in strollers and on parents’ shoulders, teenagers and grandparents among the walkers, some of whom wear corporate colours, others fancy dress, crazy hats or neon-coloured wigs.

This is the oldest walk in the world and it is all for charity. Charities supported by the 2012 Big Walk are the Cancer Association of South Africa, which is involved in cancer research, prevention and education campaigns, clinics, medical equipment hire, and support to patients and families affected by cancer; the Steenberg Foundation, which helps young people exercise their right to education, employment and business opportunities; and Nazareth House, which provides a home for destitute old people and children, for babies and children who have HIV/Aids or other terminal conditions, or who have been abandoned, orphaned or abused, and offers care to those dying of HIV/Aids.

The Spartan Harriers guarantee the legitimacy of the 50km and 80km walks; the Rotary Clubs provide good-humoured marshals to keep the crowds in line; the City of Cape Town efficiently manages traffic flows, road closures, and health and safety and cleans up after the event.

Thank you all, and thank you to the people of Cape Town who turn up in their tens of thousands every year in such a good cause.