Today I attended a gathering at Painswick, Gloucestershire, to celebrate the life of Tony Drake (1923-2012), former Gloucestershire Area footpath secretary for the Ramblers, member of the Ramblers’ board of trstees, and much else.
More than 100 Ramblers and others assembled for speeches and the unveiling of a fine memorial to Tony.
On my way I stopped for a walk on nearby Painswick Beacon on the Cotswold escarpment. The view took in much of Tony’s country: the Cotswolds and a chunk of Gloucestershire including the River Severn and the May Hill in the Forest of Dean, the Welsh Marches and the Brecon Beacons.
Tony became area footpath secretary in the early 1950s at the time that Ramblers were claiming paths for the first definitive maps, and he only retired in 2011. He devoted his life to our cause. He had a vast knowledge of rights of way and a great interest in the minutiae of path law, the structure of gates and stiles, and long-distance paths. He must be the only Rambler who can claim credit for the creation of three such paths: Offa’s Dyke and the Cotswold Way national trails, and the wonderful, wild Cambrian Way across Wales, between Cardiff and Conwy, which has no formal status.
Tony did much work in Wales and regularly attended meetings of the Welsh Ramblers.
He lobbied the Ordnance Survey to show ‘white roads’ on their maps with reference to public rights there, and he fought (sadly without success) the loss of paths from the definitive map when they were eroded by rivers. He was also active in the Youth Hostels Association. The range of representation at the event today reflected his influence—Ramblers from England, Scotland and Wales, the Open Spaces Society, YHA, Cotswolds Conservation Board, Gloucestershire Mountaineering club, Ramblers Holidays and Gloucestershire County Council were all present.
The event was held at Hambutts Field on the Cotswold Way, an appropriate spot given that Tony invented the Cotswold Way and was for many years a member of the committee which managed Hambutts Field. This had been given to the Open Spaces Society in 1983 and now belongs to a local trust, the Hambutts Field Charitable Trust.
Mavis Rear, a long-standing friend of Tony and former secretary of Gloucestershire Ramblers, organised it all, with great efficiency and flair.
Speakers were Benedict Southworth, chief executive of the Ramblers; Janet Davis, Ramblers’ policy officer who had worked with Tony for more than 20 years and who gave a very full account of all his achievements for the Ramblers; Mark Richards, outdoor writer and lifelong friend of Tony, and myself as president of the Ramblers.
I had the honour of unveiling the memorial, which was the Footpath Heritage Trophy, first presented to a parish in Gloucestershire in 1980. It had been housed by Frank Wragg, who had given it a coat of paint before it was erected on its permanent resting-place at Hambutts Field, a lovely setting in which to remember Tony.