Walking in the countryside, or rambling, became a popular form of recreation in the 19th century. For many people living in towns and cities, walking offered a welcome relief from a polluted environment and the stress of daily life. Access to the countryside, however, was becoming more of a challenge thanks to the Enclosure movement, with many private landowners closing off their land. In response, the number of walking clubs and groups that campaigned for walkers’ rights grew from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s.
In 1931, six regional federations representing walkers from all over Britain joined to create the National Council of Ramblers Federations, a body that could advocate on behalf of walkers’ rights at a national level. During the following year, 400 walkers took part in the landmark Kinder Scout Trespass. Although not all members of the Ramblers Federations were in favour of the trespass, the event added considerable momentum to the campaign for walkers’ rights.
On 1 January 1935, the Ramblers Association was officially created. The first Ramblers Association office was established in Liverpool in 1938. Ten years later the organisation began to employ a secretary, Tom Stephenson, full-time.
Over the past eight decades, we ‘ve continued to grow and change with the times. Following national trends towards devolution, Ramblers Cymru became a separate entity in 1974 and Ramblers Scotland followed suit in 1985. And in the 1990s, in response to the growing number of people leading inactive lifestyles, we widened our activities to include promoting walking as an easy and accessible form of exercise.
We proudly celebrated our 80th birthday in January 2015.
We were founded to campaign for walkers’ rights and to improve access laws which kept much of the British countryside out of bounds. In 1949, a long campaign to increase access resulted in the landmark National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. The Act required footpaths in England and Wales to be recorded on definitive maps. The Act also laid the foundation for the establishment of National Parks and National Trails in England and Wales and National Nature Reserves, the first being established in 1951 at Beinn Eighe in Scotland.
The ’right to roam’, however, still eluded walkers in England and Wales, and, in 1985, we launched the Forbidden Britain campaign to set this right. In 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (known as CRoW) finally succeeded in securing public access to mountain, moor, heath and downland.
In Scotland, Ramblers campaigning contributed to the establishment of the Countryside Commission for Scotland in 1967. In 2000 the National Parks (Scotland) Act led to the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park and Cairngorms National Park being established, and in 2003, we celebrated a major victory with the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, which gave Scotland the most progressive access rights to land, coast and water in Europe.
We also campaigned to secure public access to the coast in Wales and England. Wales announced official plans for a coastal path in 2006 and Ramblers Cymru celebrated the opening of the Wales Coastal path in May 2012 with the Big Welsh Coastal Walk.
Our One Coast For All campaign contributed to the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009, which called on government to create a path around the entire coast of England. The first section of the England Coastal path opened in Weymouth in June 2012.
The work, however, is far from finished. In 2011, we launched the Branch Out campaign in opposition to the Forestry Commission’s plans to sell off publicly-accessible woodlands in England. The campaign persuaded government to rethink their plans and continues to advocate for increased access to woodlands.
The Campaign for National Trails is currently fighting to save National Trails in England from government plans that would threaten their quality. In addition, Ramblers volunteers, members and staff work together on a daily basis to fight smaller battles to protect and expand our footpath network.
Promoting walking has always been at the heart of our mission and since the beginning volunteers have led walks for fellow Ramblers members and the public. In the 1990s however, it became clear to us that walking was becoming an increasingly specialised hobby, and that we needed to strive to ensure that everybody had an opportunity to enjoy walking.
In particular, we wanted to encourage walking as healthy exercise. Since then we - often in partnership with government, local authorities, and community groups - have reached out to non-walkers to help them take up walking. These programmes rely on a large contingent of volunteers who lead walks all over Britain.
The Let’s Get Going initiative of the early 1990s saw us reaching out to groups which were not already involved with the organisation. Lonc a Chlonc (Walk and Talk), the first major health walks programme in Britain, was launched by Ramblers Cymru in 1993.
Following the success of several initiatives in the early 2000s, such as the Walking Out project supporting short and easy city-based led walks connected with public transport, Ramblers Cymru’s Cerrig Camu/Stepping Stones project to provide the next step on for health walkers, Ramblers Scotland’s ‘Bums off Seats’ Fife walking initiative, and the Take30 campaign to help people achieve their recommended amount of daily exercise through everyday walking, we started to take a more strategic approach to our practical projects to get people walking.
In 2007 we launched our Get Walking Keep Walking project in England aimed at helping inactive people in inner cities walk independently through a 12-week walking programme. This was the first Ramblers project to receive a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund and has helped over 100,000 people.
We’re now involved with national health walk networks in England and Wales. In April 2012 we became the host of the national centre of Walking for Health in England, supporting 600 health walks schemes in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. Ramblers Cymru took on managing Wales’ health walks network, Let’s Walk Cymru, in July 2012.
In Scotland, Ramblers Scotland was a founding partner in 1996 of the Paths for All Partnership which runs the health walk programme in Scotland. Ramblers Scotland is currently running its Medal Routes project and a refreshed version of the Take30 initiative which both encourage the less active to start walking. These projects are helping to deliver physical activity legacy benefits from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
We were founded as a result of local and regional groups joining together to create a national body and this local presence remains at the heart of everything we do. In 1936, one year after the Ramblers Association was officially founded, the organisation had 1,200 members and 300 affiliated clubs. Today we’re composed of over 500 local groups and over 107,000 members.
Our work wouldn’t be possible without our extensive network of volunteers - who form the backbone of our local groups - with path maintenance, access campaigning and group led walks all taking place at a local level.
Find out more about our local groups and how they contribute to the running of the Ramblers.