01 August 2013 by Sarah Gardner
There is an odd idea that exists in some quarters. Apparently some people think the Ramblers is antiquated, with little relevance in a modern world. Some of these people are my peers and when I tell them I am a Ramblers member, they inevitably make jokes about bearded long-socked men with walking sticks and rucksacks.
It's easy (and often fun) to make assumptions, but it's also lazy.
The Ramblers has members who love walking in all sorts of gear from trainers to walking boots. Some of them wear beards and long socks, some of them don't. The best type of community welcomes people from all backgrounds and embraces the new and the eccentric, and doesn't form too narrow ideas of what defines it. Our uniting bond at the Ramblers is that we are all unfailingly passionate about walking. (And if you are wondering, I walk in a variety of clobber, I don't mind, as long as I am free to move. Sadly I don't have a beard.)
I am a staunch defender of the Ramblers. I've seen what it can do first-hand. I have worked in the organisation as a staff member for 6 years and I have volunteered with numerous groups of Ramblers volunteers across Britain. I've learnt two things from this: the Ramblers knows how to work for walkers, and it knows how to have fun doing it. We recognise that we need to find our feet in a rapidly changing world. But I know this is just a matter of time, because we are as important now as we've ever been.
But don't trust me. Watch a short video in which our members, volunteers and other stakeholders, including politicians, say why they think the Ramblers is important. And take a look at our top 5 successes, taken from the Ramblers recent Impact Report, assessing our work between 2011 and 2012:
We opened the 870 mile Wales Coast path
We protected over 3,000 paths, threatened with closure or considered for diversion and helped over 1,200 members of the public with path problems
Our volunteers led 45,000 walks across England, Wales and Scotland
We became the host for Walking for Health, which offers free, short health walks, aimed at people who have done little or no exercise before
We launched a new website which includes a library of high-quality walking routes, searchable by region, difficulty, feature, length and theme, such as history, wildlife, dog-friendly, child-friendly, art walks, adventure walks...
In a nutshell, the Ramblers works to protect paths and promote walking for everyone.
Our Senior Policy Officer, Eugene Suggett recently blogged on why this is important. "It is solved by walking", he wrote. "For decades the Ramblers has poetically spoken of the ‘refreshment of spirit’ brought about by walking, not only in remote places but indeed just about anywhere; now the medics themselves tell us that walking promotes mental health and well-being, and improves self-perception and self-esteem and mood".
Nick Crane, the explorer, writer and broadcaster, spoke at the Ramblers General Council on 13 April, our members annual meeting. In addition to wittily describing his wanderings around Britain with his umbrella, he also spoke more seriously about why paths matter. "Paths represent our history and break down barriers & boundaries", he said so eloquently. The heritage value of paths is not often recognised, unlike old buildings and stately homes. Again, Eugene summarised this in a recent blog: 'Oldest Inscriptions on the land'.
Without the Ramblers these inscriptions, and the pleasures people experience from walking them, would likely not exist.
Sandra Sayce volunteers with Walking for Health and spoke about how she got involved: “After finding a Walking for Health leaflet, I made a New Year’s resolution to start walking. Everyone at the group was very welcoming and after a few months I’d become a regular, making many new friends. It wasn’t long before I did my walk leader training so I could help others enjoy the walks too. Walking for Health has been one of the best things I have ever done. I feel like I have found the real me again.”
Of course we couldn't do any of our work without our volunteers. They are truly our unsung heroes. 18,000 of them work hard to keep paths open, lead walks and check routes. They run local groups, check path diversions and closures, make representations at local inquiries and help people walk their way to health via local health programmes.
They love walking and want others to be able to share their joy. If you have ever volunteered with them, you will have experienced the sheer laughter that echoes their work. As Ian Dickin, one of our volunteer photographers says, “Walking’s been very good to me. It’s given me the greatest memories, kept me fit and made me many friends.”
Walking is free and it's easy. Some people think that the Ramblers no longer matters, but without us there wouldn't be a footpath network. If you don't think that is the case, have a look at some of the work we have carried out in the last 78 years, alongside our volunteers, local and national government and partners. If you agree with me that this work is essential, consider joining us for as little as £3 a month. Or make a donation. If you can't afford that, then consider volunteering some of your time.
If you'd like to be part of our walking community then subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter via @Ramblersgb.
Credit to Ian Dickin for his photo of Snowdon, Llyn Du'r Arddu.