05 December 2013 by Emma Bovill
I seem to be drawn to organisations with a lot of history. I’ve worked for The Lady (first published in 1885), the Ski Club of Great Britain (founded in 1903) and now the Ramblers (established in 1935). I’ve got a lot of respect for ‘national institutions’ and the way they adapt while keeping true to their roots. So when I heard HF Holidays was running two open days in October to celebrate its centenary I wasn’t going to refuse.
The open days promised not only an insight into a unique organisation (HF Holidays is the only holiday provider in the UK that is a co-operative) but also, in my case, the chance to explore the outdoor lover’s paradise which is the Cotswolds, where the sheer abundance of walking routes makes Ordnance Survey maps look like rather appealing spiders webs.
HF Holidays runs its Cotswolds walking holidays from Harrington House in the market town of Bourton-on-the-Water. The Gloucestershire Way, Oxfordshire Way, Monarch’s Way, Macmillan Way, Warden’s Way, Windrush Way, Heart of England Way and Diamond Way (all marked with diamonds themselves) are all within a honey-coloured stone’s throw and that’s not to mention the many other footpaths and bridleways nearby too.
There were 10 walks on offer during the Cotswolds open day ranging from five to 10 miles. My walk – a five and quarter mile meander through the villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter – had attracted a mix of people. There was a family with two young children who enjoyed counting all the ‘Ways’ we came across, some members of the East Staffordshire Ramblers who were staying at Harrington House as part of a bigger group and a previous HF Holidays-maker who’d been enthused to come for a day trip.
Our walk leader Ralph Brighton had an enviable knowledge of the local history and wildlife, explaining the traditional practice of ridge and furrow ploughing, identifying curious-looking ‘Badger Face’ sheep, recounting Charles II’s adventures on the Monarch’s Way and even revealing the average local house prices, just in case we should we take a shine to any of the charming cottages we passed in the Slaughters.
As we made our way through the countryside we bumped into other HF Holidays groups (including other members of the East Staffordshire Ramblers). Some were also doing our route, while some were taking in other trails through the mediaeval village of Lower Harford and the Windrush Valley. We also passed half a dozen or so visiting Americans who couldn’t eulogise enough about the superb walking the Cotswolds afford.
Walking can be a great way to find peace and quiet, but there’s also something reassuring and uplifting about seeing other people in the countryside, enjoying the outdoors.
You wouldn’t pass the time of day with someone in a town, but on a walk in the sticks it’s the norm, even more so if there’s a four-legged friend involved. As our walk was on a Sunday we even said hello to the parish vicar in Upper Slaughter as we nosed around the church.
As a co-operative HF Holidays is inherently social, with breaks designed for groups of friends or families, or guided walks you can join if holidaying on your own. There’s a natural synergy with the Ramblers and it’s no coincidence that HF Holidays founder Thomas Arthur Leonard was once our President, or that our walk leader Ralph is also a Ramblers member and helped run the Suffolk Ramblers and Newmarket and District Ramblers for the best part of two decades.
HF Holidays places a lot of value on ethos – it began life as the Holiday Fellowship – and it was there to see on the open day, from solo walkers being welcomed into conversation to Ralph’s efforts to entertain the youngsters, evidence of HF Holidays’ work to maintain local paths to the well-planned route.
I can safely say it’s been a hundred years well spent.
If you'd like to join a walking holiday you can check out all the great offers that HF Holidays currently have. Don't forget - if you're a member you get a discount!
Emma Bovill is the Ramblers web editor. Find out what inspires her and read more of her blog posts.