The 28-mile circular route takes walkers through the lovely countryside of West Yorkshire and into the heart of the Walkers Are Welcome towns of Otley, Burley-in-Wharfdale and Baildon, with a nine-mile loop to incorporate Bingley. I had the pleasure of launching this path at the opening of the Otley Walking Festival, in Otley parish church on 25 June.
All four Walkers Are Welcome towns were there, with the Walkers Are Welcome banner made up of squares designed by many of the 100+ towns.
The path was devised by a Welcome Way committee from the towns, led by the energetic John Sparshatt. They have written an excellent guidebook for which I have written the foreword. The way will encourage walkers to visit the towns and spend money there, and it shows the enormous value of Walkers Are Welcome towns to the local economy. The towns achieve their status by having good paths and facilities for walkers, businesses which support the cause, public transport and a governance structure with broad support from the community.
In opening the path I said that walking had never been more important, for our physical and mental health and well being, and the work of the Walkers Are Welcome towns in helping the hard-pressed local authorities keep the paths in good nick was invaluable. In these difficult times (and Yorkshire above all had suffered a terrible tragedy with the murder of Jo Cox), walking helps us to face the world.
Invented in Yorkshire
A cheer went up when I told the group that the Walkers Are Welcome concept had been invented in Yorkshire—nine years ago in nearby Hebden Bridge.
I cut the Welcome Way cake and everyone had a piece.
After a group photo we assembled outside the church and then set off on the first leg of the Welcome Way, nine miles to Ben Rhydding.
The walk took us over the River Wharfe and along the northern side of Wharfedale, across meadows and fields, and through woods, with splendid views across the valley to Ilkley Moor.
We walked through a lovely wildflower meadow and I saw my first curlew of the year, after hearing its bubbling call.
Part-way round we met (by arrangement) Bob Smith who produces the excellent grough website. He took some photographs
and we chatted, and he posted the interview on grough.
Eventually we crossed back over the Wharfe at Ben Rhydding to catch the bus back to Otley.
I was sorry I could not stay to walk the rest of the way over the next two days. It is a great collaborative effort, and I hope other Walkers Are Welcome towns will work together on similar projects. We could have Welcome Ways all over the country.