A particular joy of my involvement with Ramblers GB has been the opportunity to go to the AGMs of Ramblers Scotland and Ramblers Cymru. Although I am no longer a member of the board of trustees, I was fortunate to attend both meetings this year.
Ramblers Scotland’s AGM had not been held in person since early March 2020, when it got in just before covid. This year the council met at the university of Stirling, to the north of the town. The campus is close to the Wallace Monument, and next to a sinuous lake. I was up early on a frosty March morning to walk around the lake and enjoy the views.
A little later, before proceedings started, I joined Ramblers GB chair Rebecca Dawson, and Inverness Young Walker and Scottish Ramblers ambassador, Louise Harker, to climb to the base of the Wallace Monument (which was not open).
The way to it on paths, as opposed to roads, is not obvious, but by using Ramblers Scotland’s Scottish paths map, about which I wrote last year, we crossed fields to the visitor centre.
From the top the view was expansive, towards the Trossachs and across the town.
We walked back through the woods, listening for bird song.
We returned to the university as people gathered from all parts of Scotland for the Scottish Council AGM. The business was conducted swiftly, efficiently, and with good nature by the convener, Alison Mitchell. We were sad to bid farewell to outgoing president Lucy Wallace, mountain leader and wildlife guide, who has been a brilliant advocate for Ramblers Scotland.
We welcomed our new president Zahrah Mahmood, who will introduce us to new audiences, and watched a video from her as she couldn’t be with us.
Alison was standing down as convener after decades of service to Ramblers Scotland and the board of trustees, and she was warmly thanked by all present. Rebecca gave her an engraved vase. Malcolm Dingwall-Smith was elected as the new convener. He is a great choice, having formerly worked for SportScotland. He has climbed 246 Munros.
Alison made a presentation to Alistair Cant, who last year was elected a vice-president after stepping down as treasurer after more than 25 years.
I was overjoyed and honoured to be elected as a vice-president, and hope I can be of some help with the many campaigns in which Ramblers Scotland is involved. I am in excellent company with Dennis Canavan, Alistair Cant, Ben Dolphin, John Holms, Andrew Murray, and Lucy Wallace.
At the lunch break we had time for a walk around the lake, and I took the opportunity to record a video.
It was lovely to walk with Iqra Mahood and Heather Thomson, young ambassadors for the Out There Award, and to learn of their experiences with Ramblers Scotland, discovering the outdoors and gaining confidence to walk and camp.
In the afternoon we had presentations and then discussions on a range of topics. It’s 20 years since the ground-breaking Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave us freedom to roam responsibly throughout Scotland, but that access is being threatened and eroded in places. We discussed how we can make politicians take action, and lobby for improvements.
Iqra and Heather gave us a lively talk about the Out There Award and what it meant to them. They explained the many barriers for young people to gain access to the outdoors, not least the cost of equipment and training to acquire skills, a family culture of not visiting the outdoors informally, and not knowing how to start. Out There had broken down these barriers. It was an eye-opener.
Finally, we had two presentations. One was from Gordon Millar, one of 300 volunteers working on Scotland’s path map—they are making excellent progress. The other was from Gary Linstead, Glasgow City Council ranger, who has helped volunteers to create the Magnificent 11, an 11-mile walk connecting Glasgow’s green spaces, with Catherine Watt of Glasgow Ramblers as the lynchpin. It was opened last year by Cameron McNeish.
There is so much happening in Scotland, and so much to campaign about—the protection and improvement of access; the need to reopen the Dalwhinnie level-crossing; the fight against the revived Coul Links golf course near Embo, and, vitally important, the ambition to enable young people everywhere to enjoy the outdoors.
I am delighted to be a part of this movement.