It couldn’t have been a better day on 5 October for the final leg of the Northamptonshire Ramblers’ celebratory six-day walk on the Queen Eleanor Crosses Way between Stamford (Lincs) and Stony Stratford (Milton Keynes).
Led by David Yeomans of the Ramblers’ Daventry Group we set off from Stoke Bruerne in glorious sunshine.
The canal here was busy, but it soon became more peaceful.
The countryside on either side was gently rolling and the hilltop tower of Grafton Regis church came into view. We stopped for coffee where the road bridge crosses the canal.
We passed a silly sign at Yardley Wharf
and a bit further on I was pleased to see a marked-out cross-field path heading straight for the imposing spire of Hanslope church on the horizon—a path with a purpose.
Better still, the Ramblers’ logo was on the steps leading down from the canal, showing that Northants Ramblers had installed them.
Our way was frequently strewn with small apples, perhaps people on boats threw away their apple cores which germinated, or perhaps there were people living beside the canal.
We reached Cosgrove for lunch and clambered through the horse tunnel beneath the canal
A bit further on we encountered a fearless heron, more intent on fishing than on us.
Then it was back to Stony Stratford and the site of one of the Eleanor crosses which was destroyed in the civil war. We went to the sports club for tea. The chairman Joy Tripp invited me to speak to the gathering of about 30.
I brought greetings from the Area president, the feisty Bob Coles, who was unable to come. He had written ‘As president of Northamptonshire Area I am aware of the need to remind ourselves that we are a campaigning organisation and we must not allow the highway authority, Northants County Council, to use the oft-repeated excuse of lack of finance or staff when carrying out its duties and responsibilities regarding public rights of way. Many of the problems we encounter in the countryside should be put right because they pose a serious threat to the safety of users.’
Bob is dead right, and the county council (which delegates its work to a private company, MGWSP) is behaving shabbily in making traffic regulation orders to close byways on alleged safety grounds when they pose no risk to walkers (and probably not to other users either). It is doing this because it doesn’t want to spend money repairing them, yet it has a statutory duty to do so. This may well be an abuse of the TRO process and the Ramblers are looking into it.
I told the Northants Ramblers that I looked upon them as one of the best Ramblers’ Areas. They have always been keen on campaigning for paths and access. They were founded from the East Midlands Area (Northants and Leicestershire which included Rutland) in 1989 and over the years have brought some excellent motions to the Ramblers’ general council (national AGM).
Some areas are parochial in outlook, with detailed motions on issues which concern only them. Not so Northants which in 1999 had a motion calling on the government to introduce freedom-to-roam legislation in the next queen’s speech, even though the county was unlikely to benefit much from this. In 2000 it had a motion calling for government support to manage the uplands in a sustainable manner—again an altruistic view since Northants doesn’t have much in the way of uplands.
In 2008 its motion was for an amendment to the law to stop councils from using the magistrates’ court to close or divert paths, an intimidating and unnecessary process. And in 2012 it called on the trustees to work with the newly-formed Canal and River Trust to deliver maximum benefits to walkers, some of which we saw today.
I then presented certificates to seven members who had done the whole of the six-day anniversary walk, and cut the exquisite birthday cake. My only sadness was that so many old friends couldn’t be there—the president Bob Coles, former secretary Maurice Tebbutt, former chairman David Craddock and Northampton footpath secretary Jean Perkins, among others. However, it was a splendid day and the Northants Ramblers can feel proud of their 25 years of achievement.