The Ramblers try to arrange for a member of the board of trustees to go to every area AGM. They are normally held between November and March. With 59 areas in England, Scotland and Wales, that is potentially quite an undertaking, but a worthwhile one. It is an important means of communication: trustees learn what is happening in the areas, gather good practice and report to the centre, and members can find out more about what the Ramblers are doing in the three nations.
I have been to five AGMs this season including my own area (Bucks, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex). A particularly enjoyable part of an AGM is the walk. This is usually held before the meeting, which is useful as I can gather information for my talk.
My most recent AGM was Somerset Area, which embraces the county of Somerset and the western half of North Somerset.
We met in the Quantock village of Nether Stowey at 10.30 am and walked through fields to the village of Over Stowey, stopping in the crocus-adorned churchyard for coffee.
I had time to pop into the church and see the fine Burne-Jones windows on the north aisle.
On the next stretch we walked through Rectory Wood
and then onto a hilltop where, but for the mist, we would have seen over the Severn estuary to the Welsh hills. Instead the vista was dominated by Hinckley Point power station.
We joined the Coleridge Way and took a footpath above a stream which is a bridleway.
On the way back we took a detour over Nether Stowey castle, built in the twelfth century by Alfred of Spain.
The two rows of council houses (presumably now privately owned) were visible from the keep, not a bad design but stupidly sited outside the village of which they were supposed to be a part.
As we walked back through Nether Stowey I looked for Walkers Are Welcome town signs, as Nether and Over Stowey have recently been accredited. I was pleased to see a couple and I know that there will soon be many more. Their website is here. With the Ramblers’ Sedgemoor Group the towns are organising the Quantock Walking Festival, details here.
The walk enabled me both to see some splendid countryside and to learn from those to whom I chatted—about their walks and working parties, their publicity successes and recruitment problems. They have done excellent work helping Natural England to identify the route for the England Coast Path, and in fighting path changes at public inquiries. In my talk after the AGM I was able to emphasise the role of Ramblers’ areas, as campaigning units, helping to coordinate the groups, and acting as the hub for information flow between the centre and the membership.
Somerset Area was struggling to find officers; the secretary was willing to become the chair but needed someone else to take over as secretary. Fortunately, although no one offered at the AGM, he has since found a volunteer to become secretary, which is wonderful news. We need a Ramblers’ Somerset Area to lobby the county council, and the part of North Somerset in its patch. Somerset County Council does not have a good record on rights of way and a Ramblers’ terrier at its heels will help to achieve results.