Fifty years ago the Isle of Wight Ramblers’ Group was formed within the Ramblers’ extensive Wessex Area. The instigator was Joan Simpson, later Joan Deacon, who moved to the island in the 1960s to care for her mother and found walking extremely difficult because of the state of the paths. Joan died in 2012 and is still greatly missed.
The Isle of Wight Ramblers have worked tirelessly, with the council, to get the path network in order; it has campaigned for access around the coast, and it has made a huge impact for walkers on the island. So it was lovely to join the celebrations on 30 June.
The day began with a selection of walks from Rookley, Joan’s former home village. I joined a five-mile walk led by the Ramblers’ chairman, David Howarth, through woods and across fields with fine views of the downs.
We came to the Chequers Pub, south of Rookley, where we were to celebrate the opening of a 0.7-km permissive path across fields, providing a useful link between the pub and the village avoiding the dangerous Niton Road.
The landowners, Mark and Laura Holmes and Mavis Radcliffe, were there with us to celebrate. The Ramblers had donated the gate under their ‘Donate a Gate’ scheme. The plaque was made by Marcus Matthews of Redhill Farm Designs.
and I cut the ribbon to open it formally.
Then we headed to Rookley village hall where over 100 Ramblers gathered for tea and cakes and celebration of 50 years of hard work.
Jill Green, a long-standing member of Isle of Wight Ramblers, spoke of the early days, the walks and the campaigns.
I talked about what a great example the Isle of Wight Ramblers set for others, how they work as a team to get the paths in order. But we are at risk of going full circle. When the Ramblers started on the island the paths were dreadful. Then the highway authority was galvanised into action and recognised the benefit to tourism of a good path network. Under the leadership of Tim Slade, it was the first and only authority to meet the Countryside Commission’s target of having all the paths open by the millennium (actually it reached 95 per cent). Now the paths are deteriorating again because the council has few staff working on paths. We need to keep campaigning to ensure it recognises the all-round benefits of investing in paths and access.
There were still plenty of battles to be fought: the Ramblers have succeeded in getting the island included in the England coast path and access, and we managed to get the coast path reopened between Totland and Colwall in 2015 after a cliff fall.
But there were blackspots, at Osborne (Historic England) and Derwent Camp (Ministry of Defence) for instance, which have yet to be resolved. I am confident that Isle of Wight Ramblers, with its determination and zeal, will win.
Then I presented a certificate to Tim and Jackie Hough who have served the Ramblers for over 20 years.
David Howarth presented named mugs to volunteers who had been active since 1985. He gave me one too.
The event closed with words from the high sheriff, Gioia Minghella-Giddens, telling us of her admiration and respect for the Ramblers who help to make the island such a fabulous place to live. She pointed out that while the island has a reputation of living in the past, it is ahead demographically, and the rest of the country will soon have the same predominance of elderly people. It is vital that the population takes exercise to keep fit, and the Ramblers provides that opportunity. She felt inspired by what we do.
So thank you Isle of Wight Ramblers for helping to make the island a walkers’ paradise, and here’s to the next 50 years!