‘This will become quite a busy field’, said our walk leader, Roy Johnson, as we stood in the middle of a stubble field on Stoke Mandeville footpath 11 (grid reference SP 824104).
It was the walk which preceded the Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area AGM, and Roy was showing us the land which was threatened by HS2, East-West Rail’s new line between Aylesbury and Princes Risborough, and the Stoke Mandeville bypass. All three would happen in this one field.
But it’s a busy field now, I thought, it’s busy with skylarks. There were lots of them, flying up and singing in the early spring sunshine. It seems that no one had bothered to think about whose habitat they were destroying.
The walk itself, a circular from Stoke Mandeville, was very informative, showing us the points where HS2 crosses public footpaths, the potential effect of East-West Rail on the paths across railways, and the line of the proposed Stoke Mandeville bypass.
It is excellent when Ramblers’ groups lead walks which show issues with which we are involved. That is the difference between Ramblers and most other walking groups: we are campaigning for paths and access, and we need to show everyone what we do and consequently why our subscriptions are somewhat higher than those of the average walking club.
We also need to take our members on the less-used paths, so that their feet tread out overgrown, cropped or ploughed-out ways. That is why, in 1997, the Ramblers’ board of trustees proposed a motion to the organisation’s general council (AGM): ‘This General Council calls on areas, as a fillip to the Free Your Paths campaign, to encourage every group to organise throughout the year at least some walks on the less-used and poorer-maintained paths in the group’s and area’s territory.’ It was carried overwhelmingly, but I fear that few groups do this.
There is so much to tell our members about: our achievements and our battles. By showing people what we do, and taking them on the less-walked paths, we can encourage them to lend a hand in our continuing crusade.