23 September 2019 by Oliver Taylor
I joined the Ramblers Huddersfield group in 1997 – when I was just 15 years old.
I don’t come from a walking family, but I have always loved being outdoors. As a boy I used to be out all evening on my bike, and in the summer holidays I was always exploring and finding out of the way places. My poor mum – I was never home!
As I became a teenager, my mum thought that at least if I was exploring walking with an organised group, she could breathe easier knowing I was safe. So she did some research and I joined a local group called the Kirklees Countryside Volunteers. I was with a group of 60 year olds – but I loved it! I started with short walks, progressing to longer ones and then joined the Ramblers – and I’ve been involved ever since.
The age of fellow members has never mattered to me – we have people of all ages in the Huddersfield group now – and they are all lovely people. I think if you share a passion and an interest, as we do for the outdoors, then that binds you – and we are all young in spirit! These days, I lead about four walks a year for our group.
Footpaths are the lifeblood of all walkers.
My particular passion – shared now by a growing number of members -- is for keeping footpaths clear and open, and for preserving rights of way. I’ve become our group’s footpath secretary. Sometimes it can be hard to get people engaged and enthusiastic about this area of work. However, happily, more of our members are getting involved – you can’t walk or get any of the benefits of walking if paths aren’t clear for use!
I have organised over 15 joint, one-day practical sessions with the Kirklees Countryside Volunteers. People only need to come for an hour or so, with their loppers, secateurs or a spade, but it makes a big difference. We also encourage members to keep a pair of secateurs in their rucksack when they are out on their own walks and do bits of clearing work as they go along – it all helps to keep paths open.
It is hard graft, but it’s fun – opening paths up that have been blocked for many years, building new stiles or boardwalks etc. Our Ramblers group now really understands the importance of footpaths work. Britain’s rights of way network is unique in the world, and it is so important that we realise this.
Use it or lose it!
In my group, I’d estimate that we’ve managed to clear about four pathways a year for the last five years, so we are making a difference. Once we have opened a pathway, we will try to plan a led walk using it: use it or lose it, or clear it or lose it! It’s an ongoing job, like painting the Forth Bridge – you have to keep vegetation cut back, especially after lots of sun and rain like we’ve had this summer, when it can really spurt in growth.
There’s also the admin work I do with the local authority, on diversion orders, deliberate obstructions, looking at planning applications which may affect footpaths and so on. In a time of restricted budgets for local authorities, this can be challenging – a lot of them used to have whole footpath teams which have now been cut. But I do enjoy this side of the work, too. Locally, we’ve just helped to see off a threat to a local bridleway!
It’s often unsung work, and on a broader scale we do need more people to get involved. But I love it, and the Group loves it – we get a real sense of satisfaction and it really makes a difference; you’ve given something back. During our last path clearing session, a man out walking a dog came along and was almost in disbelief at what we had done: he said he hadn’t seen the path in a usable condition for over 20 years!
From leading walks and clearing footpaths to running local campaigns and helping to run the Ramblers, there are lots of ways to get involved as a Ramblers volunteer - find out more on our volunteer pages.