11 March 2021 by Keith Weller
When I retired, I was looking for something to get involved with, and someone suggested thinking back over things I’d enjoyed doing in the past. I’ve been a Ramblers’ member since 2005 and in our area, Avon, a team of Ramblers path maintenance volunteers was being set up – I remembered that, in my youth, I’d spent a couple of satisfying sessions with the Scouts clearing an overgrown pathway. So I joined the new team.
Local authorities have responsibility for the footpaths network in their area. Avon Ramblers currently has four teams of volunteers working with two different authorities – after training out in the field and covering things like health and safety and first aid – to help them keep paths well-maintained. One of those teams is Bath Ramblers Maintenance Team (BRAM), which I’ve led since 2014: the BRAM Team assists Bath & North East Somerset Council.
I normally liaise with the council’s public rights of way officers over what needs doing during our weekly work parties, getting relevant materials dropped off for us to use. The Covid-19 pandemic curtailed what we’ve been able to do recently, but there’s usually a wide range of jobs for us.
We’re often asked to replace a stile with a kissing gate which, for walkers, can be easier on the knees than clambering over a stile. We’re also kept busy putting in steps and handrails to help make pathways, like the ones we’ve worked on at Tunley, Clutton and Burledge, more accessible to walkers.
We improve ditch crossings, like the one at Shoscombe, and do bridge repairs like replacing rotten boards, as we did at Keynsham. We’ve also done quite a few major clearances; we’ve used brush cutters and pruning saws to clear fallen trees and overgrown paths at places like Pensford and World’s End, Saltford and High Littleton.
You learn fast – about things like the difficulty of digging into rock – and we go out in all weather. Probably the muckiest we’ve ever got was at Belluton in November 2019: thanks to sleet we were pretty much working in a mudbath to install a gate – we still laugh about it!
But there are plenty of less dramatic tasks for BRAM, such as putting in finger posts and waymarks. When pandemic lockdown restrictions allowed, we were able to go out in pairs to carry out socially distanced waymarking work at places like Carlingcott, or put in flag-signs at Clutton and Shoscombe.
Not all volunteers want to take on ‘heavy duty’ tasks or are free to come on our regular weekly work parties, but it’s great to be able to involve them in path maintenance. So, in conjunction with the local council’s public rights of way officers, I started our BRAM Shears and Secateurs Team. Volunteers take on a section of the 75 miles of ‘promoted routes’ in our area – like the Three Peaks Walk or the Two Rivers Way – which they can get to know, clear minor vegetation in their own time, and report any problems. They let the BRAM Team know where a path is really overgrown – we can thrash vegetation back, so that they can then keep it at bay, and they flagged up the need to install a wooden gate in lieu of a stile at Dunkerton on the Limestone Link.
We’re all part of a team, and we all love the exercise out in the fresh air: BRAM volunteers always say that it’s cheaper than going to the gym! It’s really satisfying when you arrive at a location to start work clearing and you can’t even see the ground, so you just get stuck in and by lunchtime a wide path has appeared. There’s a great camaraderie and we’ve had people from all ages and backgrounds join us – from young people waiting to go to university to local councillors.
It’s lovely that we get frequent ‘thank yous’ from passers-by, and in January 2020 we were delighted to be invited to a civic reception in the Mayor’s Parlour in Bath – BRAM and Shears and Secateurs volunteers alike, as we all work together as a team.
The main reason we do it is because we enjoy it. Friendships have inevitably developed among volunteers, and we were able to support each other through the hardships the pandemic has brought.
All of this has given me a much greater insight into the work of Ramblers, since I joined them. I’m also a Ramblers walk leader, so nowadays, my own walks can sometimes end up comprising ‘a tour of kissing gates BRAM Team has installed’: I have given up counting them!
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