I could hardly refuse to speak at the centenary dinner of the Chester Rambling and Hill Walking Club. They invited me three years ago.
I joined them at the Queen Hotel in Chester in mid May in plush surroundings. They greeted each other with comments of how well they had scrubbed up: very different from the normal rambling gear. I was moved to learn from vice-president Isobel Smith that they had invited me on the recommendation of the late Jerry Pearlman. Isobel and her husband Alan had met Jerry and Bernice on a holiday more than three years ago and she had asked him to speak. He said he couldn’t commit himself to such a far-off appointment and recommended me.
About half the membership was present, 135 people, which was an impressive turnout. There was a great atmosphere of camaraderie. They had issued a commemorative booklet, written by Maria Owen and published by Wodehouse, full of attractive photographs and reminiscences.
The group started just after the First World War with a meeting of local folk who were called together by Miss A Mitcham (the records did not reveal her first name).
In 1933 there were twice as many women as men in the club. One male committee member suggested that membership applications from ladies be refused unless made jointly with a man. Fortunately this was not adopted.
They rambled far and wide, by train and coach, with membership reaching a peak of about 380 in 1999. The booklet tells a great story. They still work very hard, organising and leading walks and social events; it feels like a big family.
After the dinner, the proceedings were introduced by the award-winning Chester Town Crier, David Mitchell, a member of the club. That was a first for me.
It was a large room, with noises off and no microphones, so I kept my contribution brief. Of course I congratulated them on their longevity and the joy they have brought to so many walkers, as well as their work in reporting path problems to the relevant highway authorities. However, I urged them to get more involved in campaigning, by fighting developments which threatened green spaces and anti-public path diversions, and researching lost ways for the definitive map before the 2026 cut off. My suggestions were well received.
The next morning I walked round the city walls before breakfast: I can recommend it. They are said to be the oldest, longest and most complete in Britain. You get lovely views of the River Dee