Allen Thomas - Protecting where we walk award

  • Name: Allen Thomas
  • Volunteer role: Footpaths officer
  • Volunteering with the Ramblers since: 1993

Why he was nominated:

Allen is a founder member of the Lower Wye Group and for almost 20 years he has served as the group's footpaths officer. In that time he has walked almost every footpath in the Lower Wye area, maintaining contact with the relevant departments of local government to ensure any footpath problems are given the necessary attention. Working for many years with Monmouthshire's Countryside Access Department he has put in thousands of hours of hard graft repairing paths, installing stiles and gates and writing a booklet of walks covering the Lower Wye valley - which has raised thousands of pounds  for footpath maintenance over the years.

A walk and talk with Allen Thomas

What does a typical day of volunteering look like?

The short answer is that there isn’t a typical day! But there are a number of similar days that crop up. For example, one of the most common chores is clearing undergrowth with shears and loppers – dealing with the usual annual growth that, if it wasn’t cleared away fairly regularly, could cause paths to be closed or impassable. It’s exhausting, it’s dirty, it’s tiring, you get scratched. But you have fun. The people who do it are of a particular nature and it’s great to work together and feel at the end of the day that you’ve done something worthwhile and you get something out of it.

What made you want to volunteer for the Ramblers?

The Lower Wye Group began life in 1993, which is when I first joined the Ramblers. I was on the initial steering committee and held a number of posts before settling for footpath officer in about 1997 and have held that ever since as Lower Wye’s longest serving committee member. When we first started walking as a group, we were novices. We had no Ramblers’ experience and found all sorts of problems: blocked paths, broken bridges, damaged stiles, gates that didn’t open. If it wasn’t for the army of volunteers out there, the footpath network we enjoy just wouldn’t exist. It was this realisation that that spurred me on to volunteer.

How do you feel you make a difference?

It’s the feeling of having done something useful, which will benefit everyone and that if we didn’t do it, the paths would become un-walkable. At the end of the day if you have cleared a path that was previously blocked or you’ve repaired a stile that was broken, you’ve done something useful. Now again people thank us but we don’t do it to get acknowledgement because by and large we’re doing it under the radar!

How has walking changed your life?

That would be for others to judge I think, but I don’t know what I’d do with my time if I’d never been captivated by walking. It’s taken me to lots of places; I’ve walked and climbed in Snowdonia, Lake District, Scotland, the Alps, Nepal, South America. If I’m going to go somewhere, I’ve got to see it properly and walk. You see places on foot that you would never see driving.

If you could change one thing about walking, or the walking environment, what would that be?

We’ve made great progress with access in recent years, which is a great thing. If anything I’d like to be 40 years younger!