15 January 2014 by Ed Wilson
"It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and tither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, leaves thrusting - everything happy, and progressive, and occupied."
These words are from possibly my favourite book of all time. Not a book describing a wayfarer walking the highways and byways in an idyllic Britain but of a mole who has decided to give up on whitewashing and go out into the fresh air and discover the world around him.
Have you guessed what book it is from? It is, of course, from Kenneth Graham's masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows.
If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet I’d recommend putting it into your rucksack the next time you go out on a walk. Find a comfy bit of riverbank, settle down with a picnic and you could easily wile away a day with the book.
Whenever I read The Wind in the Willows, it takes me back to my youth when, along with my friends or family, I would explore the idyllic Berkshire countryside. Some days we would even make it as far as Oareborough Hill and on other days we’d only get to the end of the woods. Whether playing on a swing that somebody had built in the woods, making plaster casts of badger footprints or jumping in the mud, we were on a journey of discovery.
These simple joys were only made possible by the unique network of footpaths that span across the length and breadth of our country. Which is why some of the statistics quoted in the recent Paths in Crisis report published by the Ramblers in November, really concern me.
The report highlights the fact that there are currently 100,000 path problems waiting to be dealt with and that 30% councils have cut their budgets in the last year. As somebody who loves the outdoors, I find it sad that many will miss out on the simple joy of going of walking through fields or woods with no real purpose or aim other than to enjoy the company.
It isn’t just paths that are at risk, but the freedom of being outside and playing on a swing that’s made with a piece of rope and branch, or just getting muddy. Not to mention the mental and physical health benefits reaped by going for a walk.
Despite this I’m filled with hope that maybe the picture that Kenneth Graham describes is not quite doomed to extinction.
With thousands of volunteers out every week keeping paths open or taking people for a walk, the Ramblers is making a real difference. Not just for those who already know the satisfaction of going out for a walk, but for those who are discovering the joys of walking for the first time.
We are constantly making the places we love to walk more accessible and we should celebrate this huge positive impact we have on society. So if you have benefited from the work of the Ramblers volunteers, or you want to recognise their work, why not nominate them for one of our annual awards? It’s simple to do and it will not only show how critical the work is but also that there work is really appreciated by those enjoy the benefits of Ramblers Volunteers.
I only wish I could nominate all of them.
Ed Wilson is the volunteer support and development officer at the Ramblers. You can read his previous blogs, and follow him on twitter @EW1983. Find out more about volunteering with the Ramblers.