Ramblers’ groups are very good at organising walks. They lead more than 38,000 walks a year. They are outstanding at meeting one of the Ramblers‘ aims, promoting walking.
They tend though to see the led walks as separate from the other aims, of campaigning for public paths and access and protecting the beauty of the countryside, whereas our goals are interconnected. Ramblers are far too shy about telling people of the good work they do.
Made a difference
Ideally, I believe a Ramblers’ walks programme should include a mix of visits to sites where the Ramblers have made a difference. We should show our members where we have lobbied for a new footbridge, cleared a blocked or overgrown path, banged in some waymarks or prevented an unpleasant diversion—all to make things better for the public.
We should show them too where there is a battle still to be fought, where the way is unfriendly or obstructed: then everyone on the walk can send a complaint to the highway authority.
Take them over access land, so that they can enjoy the free access that we won in England and Wales under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, or show them where there is no access point onto access land, for which you are pressing your access authority (national park, county or unitary authority).
You could visit a site where you are fighting a planning application, or have prevented something nasty from happening. Tell the story, celebrate your successes. There is plenty to show our members and potential members. They need to know of all the good work the Ramblers’ volunteers do and be encouraged to help us.
Paul Rhodes of the Chilterns 20-30s Walking Group did encourage his members to help us. Last August he organised a survey walk in Great Missenden, Bucks, and put it on the programme. It helped members to learn about recording and reporting problems with the aim of getting the paths sorted. Great Missenden is a large parish currently without a path checker. As the Ramblers’ Area footpath secretary, I am keen that all the paths in all the parishes should be checked at least once a year.
Paul prepared for the day by planning seven routes of six to seven miles each, starting at a central point (near the pub) and giving people the option of joining just for half a day. More than 25 people came. They were split into three teams, each with a copy of the definitive (official) map with their route marked on it.
Between them they walked over 40 miles and found 40 problems. Paul says that next time he would make the routes shorter to give teams more time to map-read and to allow for overgrown paths and missed turnings.
However, it was a great job, and appears to have been enjoyed by all. You can read about it in South East Walker, there’s a link from the Ramblers’ website here. It’s likely that there will be more of these walks on our Ramblers’ group programmes this year—Paul is planning another in June. It certainly makes path checking easier and more fun.