Sadly, the Ramblers’ Scottish Council weekend on 7-8 March is likely to have been the last Ramblers’ gathering for a while, due to the coronavirus—but at least we left on a high.
The meeting was held in the magnificent setting of North Berwick, with a view of the sea from the hotel. I have already written about the town and some of the walks here.
Ramblers Scotland are trailblazers: they are developing some great projects. For instance, they are working on Mapping Scotland Paths, to complement the wide-ranging access rights which were introduced in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It is terrific to have those rights, but we also need paths to help us find our way. The Ramblers are working with partner organisations to agree a national definition of the paths to be mapped. The project is being piloted to test methods of identifying and recording the routes.
Another initiative is the Out There Award to help 18-26 year olds discover the outdoors, with a three-day award scheme to learn outdoor skills, try some challenging walking, and work with volunteers.
We heard from members who are achieving great things. Catherine Watt of Glasgow Ramblers talked about the Magnificent Eleven, a route which joins parks and other green spaces on the south side of Glasgow. You can see the video below on the Glasgow Young Walkers’ Facebook page.
Alison Mitchell from Grampian Area told of their campaign to reopen the path to the summit of Clachnaben in Glen Dye, Aberdeenshire.
Bekah Cork of Glasgow Young Walkers explained how they go about increasing membership and welcoming new walkers.
Wraight Shepherd of Stirling and Falkirk Ramblers, who won the Ramblers’ Best Walking Neighbourhood Award last year, told us how they did it.
Lorna Dunster from Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Ramblers spoke of how she first became a walk leader and then gained the confidence to train other walk leaders.
The Ramblers elected Lucy Wallace as their president; unfortunately she could not be with us. Lucy is a professional wildlife guide and outdoor instructor who will help to introduce many people to the Ramblers.
She follows Ben Dolphin who has just completed three years as president and has also introduced many to the Ramblers.
He has done a phenomenal job championing our cause, not only through his journalism, blogging and tweets, but also in his work as a countryside ranger. During his tenure as Scottish president he walked with all 54 of the groups. He writes about the walks, the adventures and the camaraderie here, and he illustrates them thus.
Architectural and landscape photographer Quintin Lake gave the Dick Balharry lecture (in memory of Dick who was a naturalist, conservationist and vice-president of Ramblers Scotland). He whizzed us around the entire coastline of Britain on his clockwise walk (The Perimeter), which he photographs as he goes. Unravelled, the coastline of Scotland would stretch one-eighth of the way around the globe—and much of it has no path, so it is a very tough walk. Three days later Quintin was returning to Lincolnshire to complete the last lap, ending under the dome of St Paul’s where he started in April 2015.
Ian Findlay, chief officer with Paths For All, joined us for a conversation with Ramblers’ director Brendan Paddy. He spoke about connecting people with nature, using the real-life example of his charming granddaughter Phoebe.
And we celebrated the great victory, by the Ramblers and others, in saving the magnificent Coul Links on the Sutherland coast from a golf course. The rights of access featured in the inspector’s decision.
I had a spot at the end, which allowed me to reflect on a really brilliant weekend. I thanked Ronnie Forbes who was stepping down as convener after a year, having done an excellent job for the Scottish Ramblers’ executive committee, lifting its sights. Alison Mitchell, well known to many, was to return as convener and I know will do a competent and diligent job.
There is plenty of good practice here in Scotland which is valuable to Ramblers GB. I encouraged members to nominate their volunteers for our local awards, and also for the national ones. We have three categories: innovation, inspiring walkers, and protecting and expanding where we walk.
An issue which is exercising all our brains is how best to support our members in remote and rural areas. This is particularly relevant to Scotland but also applies in England and Wales. The Scottish Council Executive Committee is setting up a working party to consider this and its deliberations will be valuable to the organisation as a whole.
It was also heart-warming that a number of younger members were elected to the executive committee, setting an example for Ramblers GB and Ramblers Cymru.
So thank you Ramblers Scotland for an excellent weekend, with plenty of food for thought and abiding memories of beautiful scenery and great company.