A humane, welcoming landscape

The contributions of our Japanese guests to the Walkers Are Welcome tenth-anniversary get-together were outstanding.

Takashi Oda, interpreter and tour guide, spoke about Hebden Bridge in Calderdale seen with a foreigner’s eyes.  Hebden Bridge was the first Walkers Are Welcome Town and hosted the tenth-anniversary event.

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Takashi Oda

He began by summarising his talk.

The first gift of Hebden Bridge to the world: a town full of small businesses.  It is a humane landscape because the economy is, more or less, in your own hands.

The second gift of Hebden Bridge to the world: the heritage and continuation of co-operative spirit.  I believe it also contributes to the humane landscape.

Understanding of the history of a place and the meaning of monuments is necessary to appreciate the landscape of the area.

Takashi said that on his first couple of visits to Hebden Bridge he was ‘a shallow passer-by’; he did not notice much about it.

But on later visits he took an interest in the history of the place.  For instance, he noticed that the bridges had balcony-like projections and he learnt that this was for the refuge of walkers when the packhorses, bringing goods between Lancaster and Hull, were passing through, their loads filling the width of the bridge.

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Hebden Old Bridge, erected c1510, with its balcony-like projections

He appreciated the many independent shops, and wished that his home town of Sapporo had the same.


Valley Organics Co-operative









He explained that in Japan each town has the same three stores: gas station, convenience store and pachinko (game) parlour.


Pachinko parlour in Tokyo, Wikipedia

It is a homogenous landscape and it is widespread, with franchise chains and international brands squashing local shops.  Takashi had studied the co-operative movement which started in Rochdale in 1844 and was prolific around Hebden Bridge.  This, he said, is a humane, welcoming landscape.

Walkers Are Welcome Japan
Yukiko Kamiya, director of the Japan Footpath Association (JFA), told us how Walkers Are Welcome in Japan is a solution to economic decline.

Japanese WAW logo

The JFA has promoted Machida, on the western side of Tokyo, as ‘the capital of footpath walking in Japan’ with an excellent map of the paths, and descriptions of what to see along the way.  Machida belongs to Walkers Are Welcome Japan.  Yukiko said that in the last two years more than 100,000 people have visited Machida, which came fourth in the 2014 ‘nice-to-live-in’ towns poll—no doubt because of the walking opportunities.

Machida footpath map

Machida footpath map

Footpaths and recreational walking were developed about 20 years ago, at a time of economic recession when people were looking for a better life.  The government supports this because it recognises that walking makes an important contribution to revitalising the economy.

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Map from walks guide to Misato, Saitama Prefecture, in the central Kantō region of Japan

In 2015 Walkers Are Welcome in the UK signed a friendship agreement with the JFA in Winchcombe, a fine Walkers Are Welcome town in the Cotswolds.  We hope this agreement is the first of many.

The towns which came to the Hebden Bridge get-together were impressed by the achievements of the JFA and were keen to discuss how our initiative can be extended internationally.  The problems of economic decline and impoverished communities are worldwide. Walking is a solution.  The potential is limitless.

web 3 Winchcombe

The friendship agreement

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Hand on the shoulder

Ten years ago I was on holiday in St Petersburg.  Our tour did not take us to the Finland Station, so we snuck away there late on the afternoon of 19 October.  This is where Lenin arrived in 1917 in a sealed train, courtesy of the German government, to launch the revolution and end Russia’s participation in the war on the side of the allies.

First we admired the splendid statue outside the station.

Finland Station

Statue of Lenin at the Finland Station

Then we ventured in and I spotted a mosaic of the great man in the station foyer.  I immediately took a photo.  The camera-flash went off and I felt a strong hand on my shoulder.  I was steered into a small room with three uniformed officials all jabbering away in Russian.  However, it was fairly obvious that they were telling me that it is an offence to take a photograph in a railway station.


Forbidden photo: mosaic of Lenin in the Finland Station

With difficulty, I explained that I was merely trying to record the image of the great Russian.  I offered to delete it from my camera.  But that was not what they wanted.  They charged me 100 roubles (about £2), and displayed in Russian and fractured English the text of the by-laws supporting this.

Having paid the fine, I was released with the photo still on my camera-card.  But a few minutes later one of these same officials had to help me through the mysteries of the Metro token-machines so that I could catch a train, which he did with good humour.

At the time it was quite intimidating, but I think they just wanted to frighten me and get some cash.  It is extraordinary that it is an offence to record one of the city’s most famous men.

When I got home and downloaded the photo onto my computer I was deeply disappointed.  It was just a dark smudge and Lenin was not recognisable.  But fortunately the Henley Standard came to my rescue and improved it, as well as running the story about my escapade under the heading ‘Picture from Russia without too much love!’

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The value of walking

Last weekend the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network’s tenth anniversary get-together was held in Hebden Bridge, Calderdale.  Hebden Bridge was the first Walkers Are Welcome town, inspired by local residents Andrew Bibby and Gwen Goddard.

The event was hosted by the three Walkers Are Welcome towns in the Calder valley: Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Todmorden under the umbrella of Heart of the Pennines.

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We met at the splendid Birchcliffe Centre, a former Baptist chapel.

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Birchcliffe Centre

About a quarter of the towns were represented, and the banner made of embroidered squares from some of the towns was displayed.

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We were delighted to welcome three guests from Japan who are involved in the Japan Footpath Association.

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With our Japanese visitors

The event organisers had put on a series of walks through the week preceding the conference, using public transport and exploring the magnificent moors, valleys and villages.  I was sorry to have missed them, but I did enjoy a walk beside the Rochdale canal both mornings before breakfast.

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Rochdale canal

The first speaker at the get-together was Andrew Bibby, who created Hebden Bridge as a Walkers Are Welcome town, based on Fair Trade principles, and who inspired the network.

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Left to right: founding members Andrew Bibby and Gwen Goddard, chairman Sam Phillips and treasurer Geoff Kitt

As patron of the network, I spoke next,  (roughly) as follows.

I have a soft spot for Hebden Bridge having campaigned for access, with Mo Ludlam and Andrew on the Access to Boulsworth Campaign, and taken part in rallies and photo opportunities on the forbidden moorland around Widdop reservoir.  I was here on 8 March 1999, the historic day on which Michael Meacher announced that the government would legislation for a right of access on open country.

Prentice & Meacher, Boulsworth 1997

Gordon Prentice, Michael Meacher and ramblers on the approach to Boulsworth Hill, which was forbidden land then (1997).

I first came to Hebden Bridge in 1983 when I was gathering evidence to write the Ramblers’ contribution to the Countryside Commission’s Uplands Debate.  Hebden Bridge was already on the map as a heritage centre, before the brown signs sprung up throughout the country; it celebrated its industrial heritage and used this to improve the local economy.  That innovation has persisted ever since, and has brought us Walkers Are Welcome towns—which are now expanding internationally.  We are privileged to have with us Takashi Oda, Yukiki Kamiya and Keiji Maegawa from Japan to talk about the Japan Footpath Association and their brand of Walkers Are Welcome.

The main strength of Walkers Are Welcome is to demonstrate the value of walking to the local economy and therefore the benefits of investing in paths and access.  We know that it pays.  The 870-mile Wales Coast Path cost £10 million to build and generated £32 million in its first year, paying for itself many times over.

WCP sign

Last year Prime Minister Theresa May wrote the foreword to the government’s Tourism Action Plan:

But many overseas visitors never venture beyond London, so over 50% of their spending is in the capital.  While we want tourist numbers to remain high, we also want the benefits of growth to be felt across the whole of the UK.  This is a beautiful country, offering so much to see and do throughout, and we must do everything we can to make sure that visitors are encouraged to explore beyond the capital.

Walkers Are Welcome towns help to spread visitor income—we are doing just what the government wants.

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Hebden Bridge from Birchcliffe Road

We know that we boost the local economies but we need facts and figures from our towns.  When you fill in your annual survey please give the best information you can about the difference you have made and the amount of money you have generated.

1 sign

Walks panel, displayed at Hebden Bridge station and in the town

There are plenty of access issues for us to get involved in.  Natural England is making good progress with the England Coast Path and has now started work on every stretch.  Volunteers can help to identify the route, study the plans and respond to the consultations.  We all need to be researching our historic ways before they are lost on 1 January 2026 with the closure of the English definitive maps.  In Wales the government is sensibly proposing to abandon the 2026 guillotine, and it has recently consulted on new measures for access, many of them good, some of them worrying—such as opening all footpaths to horse-riders and cyclists as a matter of course.  In Scotland, where the Land Reform Act gives freedom to roam, people are now turning their attention to improving the paths.

And over and above all this looms the prospect of Brexit.  Whatever we think of it, Brexit provides an opportunity to direct the £3 billion of agricultural money to more and better public access.  That is something for which we must all lobby.

Walkers Are Welcome towns are unique in having such a broad base of support—walkers, businesses, councils and many other interests.  This means we are well placed to influence decision makers.  Locally you can put pressure on your councillors, Members of Parliament, health and wellbeing boards and others, to improve facilities for walkers.  Nationally with the backing of our towns we can lobby ministers and the three parliaments.

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Public transport is important for Walkers Are Welcome towns: Hebden Bridge railway station

Walkers Are Welcome is a movement whose time has come.  We must gather the evidence of the difference we make and use it to influence those who take the decisions which affect us.

Wuthering bytes

Hebden Bridge continues to be innovative!

Posted in Access, campaigns, Natural England, parliament, Public paths, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Avoid the thorny Rose and Crown

I do not recommend the Rose and Crown hotel at Bainbridge in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  We stayed there for three nights last week.

rose and crown

Rose and Crown

On the plus side, it was cheap (£85 for two people for bed and breakfast), and the location is good, with a view over Bainbridge’s large village green.

Bainbridge vg

Bainbridge village green

On the minus side, we logged the following for room 14.

Shower panel did not shut properly so water leaked onto the floor
Lamp over sink did not work
Bathroom door did not shut properly
No shelf over washbasin
Broken plug in washbasin
No hot water on Sunday evening and Monday morning

A large 4-poster bed in a small room was impractical
4-poster bed blocked overhead light
There were gaps in the construction (presumably flatpack) of the 4-poster which did not inspire confidence
Bedside lamp didn’t work repeatedly
They hadn’t cleaned under bed

The dining-room floor was not swept for more than 24 hours (I tracked some lumps of cheese there)
The downstairs ladies’ loo had no lock on the door.

The staff were pleasant but when I tried to report these things to the owner he just walked away.

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The Stalling Busk summit

I wonder what is the collective noun for Ramblers’ vice-presidents.  There were eight of us at the event on 7 October to unveil a blue plaque installed by Jerry Pearlman at Stalling Busk, a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  The plaque commemorates a weekend which the Ramblers’ Access Panel spent here in August 1996, discussing access legislation.


The plaque

The unveiling was inspired by Jerry, who is a vice-president and former honorary solicitor of the Ramblers, and it was organised by Keith Wadd (another vice-president) and Mike Church of the Ramblers’ West Riding Area.  The other vice-presidents who were there were Chris Hall, Cath MacKay, Malcolm Petyt, Janet Street-Porter and Paddy Tipping and me.  Another two vice-presidents, Richard Lloyd Jones and Alan Mattingly (who were both at the 1996 meeting), gave their apologies.


The gathering at Stalling Busk

In his invitation to the Ramblers’ Access Panel to spend a weekend in August 1996 discussing legislation in the old school house, Jerry wrote: ‘when the weather is good (which it rarely is) Stalling Busk is the next place to heaven.  When it is bad it’s hell.’

That 1996 weekend was heaven and we were frustrated at having to spend it indoors.  It was a year before Labour won the general election but we were keen to influence shadow ministers and urgently needed to have draft legislation ready for them.  In the heady atmosphere of that lovely Dales valley we got quite carried away.  I recall that after we returned home we had second thoughts on some of our more far-fetched ideas, but the weekend’s work certainly took us forward.  We agreed many of the principles in the prototype Access Bill which Jerry drafted.

Paddy Tipping, then an influential Nottinghamshire MP, promoted our draft bill, and it later formed the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, giving the public freedom to roam on mapped mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land in England and Wales.

Paddy, Janet, Kate, Jerry with the draft Bill

Paddy, Janet and Jerry holding the Access Bill which Jerry drafted

Although the meeting was held in the old school house the plaque is on Jerry’s cottage next door.

Old school house

The old school house where we met on 3 and 4 August 1996

Unveiling the plaque, Janet Street-Porter said: ‘We have three basic freedoms: the freedom to vote, the freedom to be equal, and the freedom to walk in as many places as possible.  The Stalling Busk meeting was a vital step in the Ramblers’ campaign towards the third of those freedoms.’


Janet unveils the plaque while Jerry looks on

I said that while the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was a major milestone in the campaign for greater freedom to roam, the Ramblers’ job is not done.  Whatever one thinks about Brexit, it is an opportunity to ensure that public subsidies for farmers and landowners include significant spending on public access to our lovely countryside.

Paddy Tipping agreed. ‘The next campaign must be to secure greater rights for ordinary people to enjoy the land—this land is our land,’ he said.

Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, explained how the right of access had proved a wonderful asset to the park, increasing the proportion of land which was open to the public from four to 65 per cent.  He believed that this freedom was attracting visitors to the park and said ‘we should take pride that our generation can pass on to future generations such a wonderful legacy’.


Addleborough hill in Wensleydale, pictured in the background, is now access land, thanks to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act

For the record, those attending the meeting on 3-4 August 1996 were Ramblers’ trustees Peter Harwood, Cath MacKay, the late Des Whicher and me (as chairman), with Richard Lloyd Jones (president of Ramblers Cymru), Jerry Pearlman (hon solicitor), Alan Mattingly (director) and David Beskine (Assistant Director, Access).

Posted in Access, campaigns, National parks, Open country, parliament, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Paths muddle near Milton Keynes

Mention Milton Keynes and you think of a grid of roads and redways, ugly new buildings and fake cows.  But there is a lot of good countryside close by.  It comes within my territory as footpath secretary of the Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area.  Whenever I visit there, I am struck by how it feels as though I have crossed a border into the midlands.

Last month I met local path activists Gail Dunn, Kit Eaton, Donald MacCallum and David Reed to walk some proposed path-changes in the parishes of Chicheley, Emberton and Sherington near Newport Pagnell.  Milton Keynes Council had sent us a plan with the proposals.

Frustratingly, I had walked those routes at least twice before in the last 20 years (in 1997 and 2009).  This is not the first time that the council has promoted diversions, largely to put cross-field paths to the edges.  On every previous occasion the Ramblers and Open Spaces Society have objected and said that we will not consider any change until the farmers put and keep the existing definitive routes in order.

We set out over the fields with few buildings in sight and a surprising sense of remoteness—except for a crop of wind turbines which had appeared since my last visit in 2009.

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Wind turbines and wildflowers: Chicheley footpath 7 has been lost, grid reference SP 905474

The paths are still a muddle.  Many have not been marked out across the fields.

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Chicheley footpath 7, not visible. Looking NE from SP 914472.

There are some old waymarks pointing along the diversions.

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Old waymarks on route of proposed diversion near the ruin of Oldhouse Farm, SP 907475.

Some cross-field routes have been marked but not necessarily on the right lines.  Others have been cleared along the field edge while the cross-field route has been ploughed and not reinstated.

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Proposed diversion of Chicheley footpath 6 is waymarked along field edge at SP 911474.  The definitive route has been ploughed and not reinstated.

If the council were to publish diversion orders, most walkers would be confused.  Personally I see no point in many of the diversions anyway, always preferring to follow the direct, purposeful route across fields.

We have told the council, again, that we are not prepared to consider any change until all the definitive routes are in good order and well marked, so that everyone can assess the  proposals.  If the landowners really want to move the paths, the least they can do is obey the law.

Posted in Milton Keynes, Obstructed path, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eugene, the best-dressed Rambler

Last month Eugene Suggett celebrated 30 years with the Ramblers*.  He is a supreme expert on public rights of way, who cares deeply for the law and history of our paths.  Although himself sartorially impeccable, he is never fazed by even the most smarty-pants of lawyers.

Janet Davis, who worked on rights of way for the Ramblers for 32 years before she left last December (see here), says that ‘helping to recruit Eugene was one of the best things I ever did while working at the Ramblers.  Not only does he love walking and believe passionately in the whole concept of public rights of way but he has the eloquence to be able to defend them against all-comers’.

Eugene and Van

Eugene at his 30th anniversary gathering in August, with Ramblers’ chief executive Van Griffiths

Janet continues: ‘I think that everyone who has ever worked with him will appreciate his advice, support, friendship, kindness and generosity.  He also has a phenomenal knowledge of history (both generally, and of the outdoor movement and the Ramblers), grammar, the law, the peerage, the church, the royal family and section 31 of the Highways Act 1980.  In fact, in respect of the last, I can safely say that it was Eugene’s steadfast belief that the Dorset case had been decided wrongly in the courts which led to our victory in the Godmanchester and Drain case in the House of Lords.’ (This was a vital decision for us because it confirmed that a landowner must carry out overt acts to demonstrate that he has no intention of dedicating a route as a highway; he cannot keep this intention ‘locked in his mind’.)

Eugene camping

Camping in 2005

Eugene is also greatly appreciated by Ramblers’ volunteers, promptly answering their problems with great clarity and thought—there are many occasions when I have sought his advice and it is always forthcoming.  And I appreciate his fastidiousness over grammar, he never splits an infinitive or allows an apostrophe to stray.

As Janet says, it would be remiss not to mention his fondness for a pint or two of beer (another area of expertise) or glass of wine.  ‘However’, she adds, ‘be it sitting in the pub with a pint in hand or striding out in the countryside, Eugene is the best colleague anyone could wish for.’  I’ll drink to that!

Eugene on the train

Celebrating on the way home from Leeds in October 2006 after a successful access event with the then environment secretary David Miliband


*In 1987, the year Eugene joined the Ramblers:

  • They adopted a new logo at a special meeting of National Council (now General Council).
  • The ill-fated Ombersley path-rationalisation scheme was born.
  • The Ramblers’ hero, Tom Stephenson, died.
  • The Countryside Commission announced its target for all paths to be clear by 2000.
  • Fay Godwin became Ramblers’ president.
  • National Council motions were passed on planning and rights of way, the slow progress on definitive maps, and better communications between the centre and Areas and Groups (sound familiar?).
  • Ramblers attacked Department of Transport plans to close public rights of way under road-traffic legislation without consultation.
  • Ramblers held publicity schools in Northamptonshire and walked blocked paths on the Althorp (Spencer) estate, and organised footpath schools in Darlington, Bradford and Brentwood.
Posted in Access, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments