What a delight it is to return to a ‘live’ AGM.  As I wrote that I was praying fervently that I would not have to eat my words!

The Group’s past year may be divided essentially into three periods.

The period October to December 2020 was severely disrupted by Covid lockdowns.  Not only was there a total ‘firebreak’ lockdown for Wales lasting a fortnight from 23rd October to 9th November but there were also lockdowns within parts of our area necessitating the conjuring up of a split walks programme.  A further complication was that until their own lockdown ended on 2nd December members from England were barred from joining our walks.  Tribute is due to leaders and especially to our Walks Officer for showing the considerable commitment necessary to ‘keep the show on the road’ in such very trying circumstances.

Just before Christmas with Covid infections rising alarmingly a total general lockdown commenced when ‘Stay home. Stay safe’ was the order of the day.  This second period of the year when no socialising indoors or out except within immediate family groups living together was permitted lasted for four months.  During this dark period members were able to avail themselves of the most welcome solace of fortnightly chat sessions on Zoom kindly arranged by our Website Officer.

The third period of our year was ushered in with the easing of Covid restrictions by the Welsh Government in May allowing the recommencement of group walks.  Whilst this was music to our ears, bearing in mind the unpredictability of the fast moving virus, it was decided to remain cautious and only publish one (rather than the customary four) month’s walks at a time.  It is gratifying to report that this arrangement has worked very well and the Group has, in fact, enjoyed a completely uninterrupted programme of walks over the five final months of our year apart from one cancellation due to storms.

Our walk statistics for the year to the end of September 2021 are presented below:-

Number of walks which took place:                      49

Average number of participants per walk:           18

Total distance group walked (May - Sept):           258 miles

Average distance per walk (May - Sept):             7.2 miles

Despite the recent further easing to no restriction on numbers who can meet outside we have retained our requirement to book places on our walks in advance with the leader.  This not only helps remove an element of unpredictability for the leader, but also satisfies possible requirements of NHS contact tracing.

It is very pleasing to report that an appeal by our Walks Officer for more leaders resulted in six new volunteers all of whom have now made their debuts.

In response to requests by a number of members some shorter Wednesday walks have been incorporated into the programme over the past few months.  These have proved most successful and our thanks are due to Graeme Cox for organising and leading the first three.  It is good to note that others of our leaders including some of the new ones have offered their services so that these can continue.

The Group has again sent our annual donation to Longtown Mountain Rescue Team.  As usual this was substantially aided by members’ contributions during periodic collections made by the lady who frequently serves faithfully as back marker on our walks.

Our two Footpath Officers continue to keep an eye out for blockages and other problems with pathways within the Group’s area, bringing such matters to the attention of the ROW staff of the Councils of Torfaen or Monmouthshire or of Brecon Beacons National Park Authority as appropriate.

Our Website Officer has been engaged on modifying our site so that essential information on walks will be more simply and rapidly accessible.  Worthy of mention is that in another guise this Officer also regularly works as a volunteer on footpath maintenance in conjunction with Brecon Beacons National Park ROW staff.

Turning to social events considerable efforts by our Social Secretary to arrange a Christmas meal and a Social Evening for the Group sadly were thwarted owing to lockdowns.  Happily, for this year, a Christmas lunch at the Coach & Horses, Llangynidr has been fixed for 11th December.

In July twenty two members were able to enjoy a short walk and al fresco lunch based on the BBNP Mountain Centre, Libanus.  This event was held in celebration of the 80th birthdays of three of our members.  The weather was excellent and we made friends with some alpacas during the walk.

In August fifteen members of our Group joined other ramblers for a 4-night Peak District Guided Walking Holiday based on HF Holidays’ attractive country house ‘Peveril of the Peak’ close to Thorpe Village and Dovedale’s famous stepping stones.  Although the holiday had been postponed from April and curtailed from 7 nights because of staffing problems we had some excellent coach trips and walks accompanied by fine weather in an area with superb contrasts of landscape.  Grateful thanks are due to our Walks Officer for all his work in the protracted organising required for the holiday and to our Treasurer for dealing with the financial complications involved.  Next year the Shropshire Hills is the location for the Group’s annual holiday.

August saw the passing at the age of 101 of Nelson Morton, a founder and formerly very active member of Pontypool Ramblers. Although probably not known to most current members reference to Nelson has often been made by long standing members such as our Honorary President.  Notably one of our new walk leaders was the Officiant for the funeral at Langstone Vale Crematorium on 14th September.

In spite of the ever lurking potential disruptive menace of the pandemic it is very pleasing and encouraging to be able to record an overall increase of 48 percent in the number of walks which took place this year as compared with 2019/20.  I extend a big thankyou to the Committee, especially to our Secretary for faithfully recording proceedings, to our walks leaders and to all who helped in this revival.

May you all keep safe and well.             Peter Hulme,  Chair   31 October 2021