It must come as quite a shock to an unassuming hiker, who wants quietly to bag a Corbett* on a May Sunday, to find the peak has been taken over by a noisy group of champagne-drinking walkers. At this time of year there is the risk of coming across the Radical Ramblers who remember their lost leader John Smith in appropriate fashion on a mountain top.
This year it was Beinn Bhan (2,939 feet) on the Applecross peninsula in north-west Scotland. A few solitary walkers appeared and hastily retreated, as we toasted John with plastic cups and proper fizz.
John began climbing Munros* as part of a change in lifestyle after his first heart attack, but tragically did not complete them before his early death.
The Radical Ramblers’ leader is Alan Haworth, former secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party and now a member of the House of Lords (with the evocative title Lord Haworth of Fisherfield in honour of the mountains he loves). Alan accompanied John Smith on many of his Munros. Last week Alan mentioned the RRs in a debate in the House of Lords promoted by Tony Greaves (Lib Dem) on the benefits of outdoor activities to the health and wellbeing of the nation.
After declaring his interest as one of three Lords who had climbed all the Munros, along with Murray Elder and Chris Smith, Alan said: ‘All three of us will be on our way to Scotland this evening for the annual John Smith Memorial Walk. This event has been held most years since the tragic and untimely death of the leader of the Labour Party, 19 years ago, and involves John’s family and friends and old colleagues from politics and wider Scottish life climbing a mountain and raising a glass to his memory. This year we will be on a Corbett in the far north-west of Scotland on Sunday, weather permitting.’ Fortunately the weather did permit.
He also referred to a recent walk on the Essex coast (which has more coastline than any other county in England) on which they discovered that the sea walls were being breached deliberately to provide intertidal habitats, at the expense of the coastal path; and he urged Essex County Council to recognise the economic benefits of having a coastal path and to do something about it.
The RRs have been walking for 30 years—their first walk was on the Sunday after the Bermondsey by-election—and Alan has kept a record of all of them, well over 300. The RRs celebrated their 21st anniversary walk, on 28 February 2004, on the notorious Hoogstraten path, Framfield footpath 9 in East Sussex. I went along at the suggestion of former MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, Paddy Tipping, to describe the campaign to get the path reopened and I was pleased subsequently to be recognised as a Radical Rambler.
Long may the intrepid Radical Ramblers walk through town and country, climb the Corbetts and drink champagne.
*Corbetts are peaks in Scotland between 2,500 and 3,000 feet, Munros are over 3,000 feet.