The last time I spent a night away from home was for the Ramblers Scottish Council meeting last year in North Berwick on 6-8 March. I climbed North Berwick Law, walked along the beach, and enjoyed the birds (including purple sandpipers, a ‘life tick’ for me)—all fitted in to the interstices of the meeting.
This was at the start of the pandemic in the UK. There was hand sanitiser on every table, and we bumped elbows rather than embrace, but most of us had no idea what was coming. However, I recall Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy telling me over breakfast that we were in for a long haul—he had experience of pandemics in his former career, including the post of director of Communications at the Disasters Emergency Committee. At the time I preferred not to pay too much attention to his wise words.
This year we all gathered on zoom. It was lovely to see my friends in Scotland, but so sad not to be with them. However, despite the restrictions, there were as many successes to celebrate as last year.
As I listened to the proceedings my head was in the highlands, remembering those wonderful experiences with the Radical Ramblers, such as drinking champagne on a hill in May, in Torridon or on Mull, in memory of John Smith, Labour’s lost leader.
The morning meeting was largely the formalities: minutes, accounts, elections and motions, managed very efficiently by the convener Alison Mitchell. The motions were all worthwhile. There were some constitutional ones to modernise the governance of Ramblers Scotland and to rename the Scottish Council Executive Committee as Ramblers Scotland Strategic Committee (reflecting what it actually does, which is high-level oversight and guidance).
It was good to see and hear my old friend John Holms, vice-president, propose a motion on access. This was to step up our campaigning to prevent the world-class access rights won by Ramblers Scotland and others from being undermined. He explained that we struggle to resolve access problems on the ground, despite the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Access Code. No other country in Europe has a better framework, but the framework is only the start: implementation and attitude are vital to the success of the legislation. The main problem is that the local authorities, who are the access authorities, are failing to uphold access rights, partly due to the lack of resources, but also because they shirk confrontation.
It was an excellent motion and was carried unanimously. The Holyrood election in May, and the local elections in May 2022 will provide an opportunity for some hard lobbying. Ramblers Scotland will continue to develop alliances with other organisations, and will bring these access issues to the attention of the Ramblers GB trustees.
Especially delightful was the result of the elections to the Ramblers Scotland Strategic Committee, which now consists overwhelmingly of women: seven to two (plus a woman president, Lucy Wallace), and continuing the practice of attracting younger members.
In the afternoon we heard of some of the successes of the year. Brendan presented the annual report and the impressive work of Ramblers in Scotland despite the covid restrictions.
Sam Knight talked about the Out There Award, whereby young adults aged 18-26 (from the point when their formal education drops away) are encouraged to discover the outdoors—a new area for Ramblers. The following day the award was featured in the Observer.
Lucy Wallace (president) spoke of her daily walks with her dog Nuis on her home island of Arran; these attracted a great digital following with the hashtag #OutsideEveryDay.
Jarka Polednova, who grew up in the Czech Republic, is now walk leader for Tayside Young Walkers and Dundee Ramblers. She is also a support worker for people with learning difficulties. She well understands the power of walking in helping people’s isolation and depression during covid, and is enabling others to discover this joy.
Douglas Tullis, retiring member of the newly-named Ramblers Scotland Strategic Committee and its access subcommittee spoke about the work of the subcommittee, some cases where access is illegally being denied, and some victories. With his legal expertise and dedication to our cause he will be greatly missed.
Elaine Shepherd, publicity officer of Linlithgow Ramblers, talked about #hikethehoose, a project during the lockdowns whereby people were encouraged to exercise at home; they climbed the stairs to the equivalent of the Munro which they had planned to walk last Easter, and they camped in their gardens, raising over £2,000 for Scottish Mountain Rescue.
Finally, Eve Smillie, co-ordinator of Inverness Young Walkers, had moved to Inverness last year and set up the group in September. She had recruited seven walk leaders and between them they led fortnightly walks. She organised a snap walk on Christmas day to give cheer during lockdown.
At the end of the day I felt I had been all over Scotland, and my eagerness to return was rekindled. As Helen Todd, Ramblers’ campaigns and policy manager, wrote on twitter ‘Very glad the technology has enabled us to get together and have an AGM, but let’s hope next year we’ll be back with a proper gathering—missing the craic! #RamblersSC21‘