Walking with the London Blind Ramblers

Supporting visually impaired walkers to get out walking

(Image courtesy of London Blind Ramblers)

The London Blind Ramblers is a group affiliated to the Ramblers which organises guided walks for blind and partially sighted people of all ages. It currently has around 40 members and organises about 30 walks in spring and summer each year. Most are within and around London, although sometimes they venture further afield when there is a local Ramblers group willing to host them for the day.  


20 years of rambling 

For over 20 years the group has been organised by Valerie, whose husband David is totally blind, and together they have enjoyed the opportunity to walk with a group of fellow keen Ramblers and explore different places. With wonderful views being such an integral part of a sighted person’s experience of a walk, some may wonder about the appeal of walking for blind and visually impaired people. David explains what the attraction is for him: ‘What I love best about walking in the countryside is that it’s so silent. Just the sound of the birds and the trees. And despite not being able to see, different walks are still interesting. They have different challenges and different characteristics. Some are more hilly, some more wooded and some are by water. And although most of our members cannot see, the different scenery can bring a change in atmosphere. For example, a walk in Epping Forest is a very different sensory experience to a walk in Hampton Court.’ 

Several Ramblers groups have been offering their support for many years, and the ‘joint walks’ have become a popular feature on the programmes of both the host group and the London Blind Ramblers. As Jackie, who organises the joint walks with West London Ramblers reports, ‘it’s always a very interesting and enjoyable day with the social aspect of chatting and having lunch together every bit as important as the walking, although of course everyone enjoys that as well.’ 


Supporting London Blind Ramblers 

London Blind Ramblers relies upon the support of other Ramblers groups who devise the route for the walk and provide a leader and sighted guides. Typically, 10 or 12 blind or visually impaired people join each walk with members aged from mid-20s right up to over 80. Walks can vary in length from 5 miles to up to 8-10 miles and always cater for everyone’s abilities to ensure a great day out for all. The group also has a few sighted members who help organise travel and offer general support on the day, but most of the sighted guides need to be provided by the host Rambler group.  

In 2020 Valerie’s dedication and hard work in organising the programme of walks for the group over so many years was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours with the award of a British Empire Medal ‘for services to blind people in London.’ Valerie is now gradually handing over the organisation of the walks to younger members. The London Blind Ramblers are actively seeking new Ramblers groups who would be willing to host a walk and provide sighted guides to support those needing assistance. Geetha, a longstanding visually impaired member, stresses that ‘we have our own insurance, so groups don’t need to worry about that’. But since the pandemic, the number of Ramblers groups able to support the London Blind Ramblers has decreased.  


Planning and leading walks 

Geetha realises that groups who haven’t worked with the London Blind Ramblers before may be unsure about what hosting a walk would entail and is keen to stress it isn’t much different to any group walk. Generally, it is most convenient if the walk can start and finish at an underground station, with easy access to toilets at the starting point. There also needs to be a suitable lunch stop, ideally with benches where members can sit and eat their packed lunches and a café or pub for hot and cold drinks. The host group also needs to provide sighted guides. For those new to being a sighted guide, we have a list of handy tips to help you.  


The London Blind Ramblers would love to hear from any new group interested in helping them to continue to offer a full and varied programme of walks. For more information visit https://londonblindramblers.org.uk/  or contact enquiries@londonblindramblers.org.uk   

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