14 September 2021 by Sophia Khan
Rutland Ramblers have honoured their footpath officer, John Williams, on his retirement after 20 years in the role. John has made huge contributions to public access land and the paths of Rutland over the years, perhaps most notably being the champion behind the famous Rutland Round.
Ramblers volunteers play a huge role in ensuring walkers are able to enjoy so many of the beautiful places the UK has to offer. One of those volunteers is John Williams, whose energy and drive led to the monumental improvements in Rutland’s path network, through the creation over 20 years ago of a much-loved route still enjoyed by walkers today.
John Williams, Founder of the Rutland Round, with his wife Tricia.
The Rutland Round is walked by many, taking in 65 miles of glorious Rutland countryside. Clearly waymarked with distinctive oakleaf and acorn signs, the path has been a source of enjoyment for local people for many years, and recently during lockdown. It also attracts many visitors to the county. Whilst not as long as the South West Coastal Path or as challenging as the Pennine Way, it offers all the charm that only Rutland could offer.
But Rutland hasn’t always had so much to offer walkers. Before the creation of the Rutland Round, the county’s paths were poorly signed, with barbed wire blocking the way in places. The idea for the new routes sprang from discussion about creating a series of walking routes in Rutland. John Williams had bigger ambitions and began a campaign to create a circular path taking in all the major elements of the county.
Working closely with the newly appointed Rutland Council Footpaths Officer, the Campaign for Rural England, Rutland Ramblers, Anglian Water and the County Council, John and his team achieved Lottery funding and contributions from different sources and set about creating the Rutland Round.
The project involved lots of pre-planning, onsite checking of the route by Rutland Ramblers and in 1998 the whole route was completed for the first time by The Rutland & Harringworth Chowder and Marching Society. John put pen to paper and wrote the book, The Rutland Round, which was published complete with maps and anecdotes in 2000.
John said: “The paths in Rutland were pretty rubbish; now they are some of the finest in the country.” The Rutland Round helped the county to look at and improve its path network and to get local people interested in the paths around them.
Former headmaster John retired to Rutland in 1994. Having lived and worked in places like the Cotswolds and the edge of the New Forest, his interest in walking goes back years, along with his involvement with the Ramblers. It’s not about just getting exercise, it’s about campaigning and making sure there are decent paths for all. As a former chairman of a parish council, he is well versed in planning and footpath issues.
Meanwhile, as a member of the Countryside Access Forum in Rutland, John has been one of a small team of volunteers who provide independent advice on ways to improve public access to land. And after 20 years or more as Rights of Way Officer for Rutland Ramblers, he has only recently stepped down and passed over his mass of knowledge and files to the new team.
To find out more about the Rutland Round, look out for the Big Walk feature coming up in the Winter 2021 issue of Walk magazine.
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