This award recognises a volunteer or group of volunteers who have been a leading voice on walking matters. They may help to protect, maintain or keep an eye on every single path in their area. It highlights a real walking hero who has achieved something above and beyond to make sure the places we love to walk are protected, expanded, and maintained for future generations.
When Bob joined the Ramblers about 30 years ago, there were lots of problems on Cornwall’s paths. “If you just picked up an ordnance survey map and planned your own walk, chances were, you would hit a lot of obstructions.”
Today, there’s still work for Bob and other Ramblers to do. Sometimes that means clearing vegetation, building small bridges, putting in gates and improving drainage. At other times, it means in-depth research to try and get unrecorded paths added to the definitive map and protected for future generations.
“If every single unrecorded path was blocked up and we weren’t allowed to use them anymore, it would completely shatter the network of country paths,” Bob explains.
This can be painstaking work that requires an immense amount of commitment, as well as good collaboration with local authorities, local landowners and, of course, other volunteers.
But walking is so important, it’s all worth it. As Bob puts it, “I’ve always walked, why wouldn’t you? I enjoy looking at the countryside, you get to see parts of Cornwall most people never see – remote farms, old bits of farm machinery, wildlife, flowers, trees … and it’s good for your health. Both mental and physical.”
While the volunteer awards usually go to individuals, this one recognises a group of people who have worked as a team to protect their areas’ walking routes.
The Essex footpath secretaries were nominated for their work to stop the closure of rail crossings, where the proposed alternate routes would be no safer and the impact on walking would be detrimental.
And in fact, the work stretched beyond Essex, with Ramblers groups from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk also involved in the battle.
As Katherine Evans – the Essex area footpath secretary at the time – explains, the role of a footpath secretary is, “about access to the countryside, so people can go for a walk. We very much believe in keeping public rights of way open.”
“The closures we objected to were where the alternative route was considerably longer or the alternative route required walking on roads,” Katherine explains. “We – all of us, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex – were fighting to stop a precedent being set.”
The results of the inquiry are yet to be made public, but the collaboration involved in this work should be applauded, whatever the outcome.
“I like to walk with a purpose. When you’ve finished, you have done something notable – the path is now easy to walk and safe to walk” say Roger, who set up and leads the Taff Ely Ramblers’ path maintenance team.
His team have recently been involved in setting up the Badger Walks around Pontyclun. Roger and his team were influential in relaunching a similar series of walks, the Bunny Walks around Llantrisant, in 2010 – more than 30 years after they were established. They still monitor the routes regularly, clearing vegetation and fixing waymarks.
As well as all that, the team has been working with local partners on a long-distance route called the Penrhys Pilgrimage.
Walking with a purpose and contributing to the community are both important to Roger – but just as important is the social aspect of being part of the path maintenance team. “It’s the chat, the banter, the jokes, and sharing a mutual experience – hopefully a successful one!”.
Find out about the other categories.