In praise of AGMs

Why should we bother to go to an AGM?  Well, for lots of reasons. To start with, if you are on the Committee, you have to go, unless you are trekking in Katmandu, and even then it’s  a bit careless to arrange your trip at the same time. But more importantly AGMs often turn out to be very enjoyable days  and Herefordshire Ramblers AGM at Little Dewchurch was one such occasion.

We had a glorious day for which 32 of us turned up, including Martin Shepley, chairman of the hosting Ross group  and guest speaker. We also welcomed Richard May, a Ramblers Trustee, who had traveled all the way from Norfolk, an impressive commitment (Richard is on the far left of the team photo).  The morning walk was lovely and was  confidently and cheerfully led by Annie, who knows the patch intimately.   Because of our large numbers and some treacherous stiles the pace was slow with plenty of time to chat  to friends whom we may not see that often.  It  was particularly rewarding for me as an ex-Trustee to catch up with Richard and find out what’s going on.  But lots of business gets done too: we exchange information on recent and planned walks, on new path claims, on recent work parties and long-standing footpath problems.  We share ideas for recruiting new members.

Then of course we return for the main point of the day….  lunch, when another very strong team, the Ross caterers, lay on some excellent soups and cakes.

The AGM itself is over in 30 minutes flat as chairman Arthur Lee, leads us nimbly through all the business and now it’s  time for our two speakers.  Martin is a Director and walk leader for Ramblers Holidays and has some great pictures of a recent trip to Georgia and Armenia. Then Richard updates us on the Ramblers’ main achievements and plans. There’s plenty of time for questions (fortunately there are plenty! ) and we are finished by 4.00 pm, and the hall cleared and tidied in 15 minutes.  I think we all leave with a spring in our step. Herefordshire Ramblers are in rude health.




Does the England coast path actually work?

Recently 11 of us completed the Cleveland Way. It is a magnificent route with the inland section providing wonderful high-level moorland walking followed by the fine coastal section from Saltburn to Filey. The coastal section is mainly on completed sections of the England coast path, so it was interesting to see what difference that made where you already enjoy a good coastal path and national trail.

For most of the route, the England coast path makes no difference, though I suppose in the future the coastal margin will be useful as erosion takes place  and the coast path finds its natural route without the need to make constant diversions.

However at Sandsend, north of Whitby, there is an opportunity for the England coast path to come into its own. We reach Whitby golf club, right on the cliff top. The Cleveland Way here takes the main road for one mile but, as I hope you can see, the golf course is clearly within the coastal margin, denoted by pink semi-circles – so it ought to be accessible.  However it is not. Fierce warning notices say “no public right of way” etc etc, so we compliantly walked along the busy main road. But I realised later we should have been able to walk across the golf course, as you can across hundreds of other golf courses where a right of way exists.

On getting home I reported the problem to National Trails who forwarded it to North Yorkshire council, the highway authority.  This was their reply: “Thank you for your enquiry. We are working with the relevant authorities to try and improve access at this location.   You will be updated with any progress made.”

I will chase this up in due course but it does not look very hopeful.  The key question is: is there lawful public access across the golf course? If not, why not. We should be told.



North Norfolk coast path is so different

12 of us have been walking the North Norfolk coast path from Hunstanton to Hopton on Sea. For us, veterans of the South West Coast Path, it is amazing how different the walking and seascapes can be. Unsurprisingly this walk is much flatter and the going generally easier with little in the way of the steep ups and downs of the south-west and fewer spectacular cliff-top views. Instead you get the marshes, peace and calm  of the different estuaries – with wonderful bird-spotting opportunities (as for example round Blakeney pictured here). If you know your waders, you can tick off a whole section of your bird book.  Waders do tend to stay still  long enough for even the inexperienced to line up the binoculars.

Usually the path is well defined with lots of boardwalks but occasionally you get tested on more difficult surfaces such as the shingle beach between Cley and Weybourne.

A new experience for me is that from Weybourne to Hopton on Sea the England coast path has been implemented. On this section we did encounter minor problems: repair works to the groynes meant we had to re-trace our steps at one point; some of the route through Great Yarmouth on a busy main road was unpleasant and works on new steps at Hopton were still taking place. And the concept of spreading room, or “coastal margin”, to use its official name, is not understood by even experienced walkers.  The idea behind the coastal margin is that as the cliff erodes, the path is automatically realigned. Without this legislation it would be necessary to modify the Definitive Map every time the route changed as  a result of erosion.

The England coast path is  a wonderful project but there is a need  to improve the visibility and to explain the concept, especially the difference from a traditional coastal path, as for example is already enjoyed in Wales.

I’ve found a lost way

2026 is the only date that matters for those of us trying to prevent the thousands of roads and paths which do not appear on the Definitive Map from being lost forever.   Any claim relying on historical documentary evidence has to be submitted by 2026.

I was keen that Herefordshire Ramblers should play their part and decided to try and drum up support from our members. But I could only encourage others if I knew what to do myself – so I got going. I went on the course; I  read the Bible, Rights of Way – Restoring the Record, by Bucks and Wadey; I joined the Hereford Archive Centre.  And of course I succeeded in enthusing myself!  I’m now  a dedicated path researcher who (almost) longs for  a wet day (but not Mondays  when it is closed) so I can get down to the Archive Centre.

Here is just one example of the detective work which can be so satisfying. There was strong  evidence of a bridleway from Bredenbury to Thornbury from  a Railway plan as the bridleway happens to cross this long-disused track. But would that be sufficient to substantiate the claim? I wanted more evidence, but failed to find any until in desperation I tried the online newspaper archive  which enables you to search for any item in any local paper from about 1880 to date. Searching for “bridle roads” in the year 1900, when the railway line opened, I realised that many news items were reporting meetings of  local rural district councils. Bingo! Rural District Councils were the highway authority at this time so I immediately returned to the Archive Centre to look up Bromyard RDC from 1900 – 1902. The minute book was in beautiful condition and meticulously indexed, and there under “Wacton bridleways” was all the evidence I needed. See the featured  excerpt. The RDC was clearly taking decisions about this bridleway, proving this was a public highway in 1900. And the maxim is: “once a highway, always a highway.”

So I took the photos, submitted my claim and today I received  a letter from Herefordshire telling me that my claim was considered high priority for investigation because the evidence appeared “very robust”. My claim would be considered in the next 12-24 months. (In Herefordshire medium priority claims take about 16 years, low priority claims an indefinite period.)

So I am chuffed and wondering whether to let this sort of work take over my life.




walk-leading is fun but not for the faint-hearted

I’ve led three walks recently – and after each one I was mightily relieved to get everyone back safely.

In July I led a wonderful walk for Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Radnor hills, catching the bus from Kington to Llanfihangel Nant Melan and walking back via Caety Trelow, Glasbury and Hergest Ridge. As we crossed near the top of Caety Trelow a short but violent  thunderstorm hit us, with thunder and lightning pretty well overhead.  There was no cover. So there was nothing we could do but put on our waterproofs and keep going. After 20 minutes or so, the storm subsided and we carried on our walk. Shortly afterwards I received advice from the Ramblers about what to do in such a storm, which seemed to include rolling ourselves into  a little ball. I don’t know if that is the safest thing to do but it psychologically difficult to carry out.  Just for that short time we felt extremely vulnerable.

Two weeks ago I led a party of 11 (not Ramblers)  on the Three Welsh Peaks Challenge  – to climb Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan in 24 hours.  Despite a good weather forecast the rain soon came down  and when the remaining nine of us (two turned back earlier) reached the top of Snowdon at 9.00 a.m.,  those with less good waterproofs were getting very wet and miserable, despite the elation of the summit.  Soon into the descent one lad started shaking violently and his speech was incoherent.  He had hypothermia. This being Snowdon, I decided to return to the summit  and the cafe was fortunately just opening. We were able to warm him up and get a seat on the train down. Thank goodness for the cafe and mountain railway!  After that, things improved, including the weather. The ascent of Cader was straightforward and that of Pen y Fan at night with our head-torches positively inspiring. A great achievement, but enormous relief on my part.

That brings us to today, a gentle seven miler with Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Mortimer forest and Herefordshire Trail. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the Vinnals car park was completely closed because of a moto-cross rally!! We had to re-group nearly two miles further away.  We duly set off on an un-checked forest track, recommended by a helpful jogger. The track was lovely with stunning views and pretty level as well, so spirits were high, when we eventually linked up with the Herefordshire Trail at Burrington. But our return, we knew, involved crossing the race-track. We were on a bridleway which didn’t appear to have been closed for the day. There was however lots of red  tape blocking our path and some fierce warning notices. So we waited while  a few cars roared by at enormous speeds, drivers helmeted, but us defenceless. Anyway we crossed the track and reached the summit, High Vinnals, with its glorious panoramic views.  Here it was strangely quiet, which was good because we knew we had to cross the racetrack again. But then we heard the racing was over and we could complete our walk (11 miles not seven) in peace. And another huge sigh of relief for the walk leader.


Partnership is hard, hard work

Today was a good day for Bromyard walkers. A work party of five Ramblers and the local parish footpath officer installed  a gate to replace two dodgy stiles and some steps up a very steep bank. It was a long day from 10.00 till 5.00 pm and we were all tired by the end but the job was done, and as usual with the Ramblers, it was done well.

But this one day of work was the  culmination of more than a year of planning, persuading, cajoling and pleading to get the necessary funding. The need for the job was identified 18 months ago by the local parish footpath officer and by Bromyard Walkers are Welcome.   The total cost if done by a contactor would have been over £1,000. If volunteer labour could be used, the cost would be £350.  Herefordshire Council has little money for rights of way work. Worse,  their contractors Balfour Beatty, are bad at working with volunteers.  They will not even obtain landowner consent.  It was only through the persistance of Balfour Beatty’s  helpful locality steward (there are thankfuly always exceptions!) that funding for the gate was obtained, so £150 was funded with  £200 to go. Here the local parish council stepped in, thanks to a new and supporive chairman. The parish council is not the highway authority, and it has no money delegated to it for rights of way works  but they wanted to support the efforts of the parish footpath officer and agreed the £200 from their own resources.

So by February 2017, after umpteen meetings, the funding was in place and the materials ordered. Even then there was a long delay with Balfour Beatty’s supplier, and the materials were not delivered till July.

Now we can celebrate – but getting this sort of thing together is hard, hard work. The work on the day is just the tip of the iceberg.




Techno Tom

Sadly  I have fallen in love with walking technology. I used to be  a map and compass man but now I use an  iphone6 with several different apps. I have the whole of GB at 1:25,000 via the OS app. I’m already a subscriber @£20 p.a. to their service on my PC and the app comes free with that.  You seem to  need to  access the particular areas you need via your home wifi before you set off.  But once there, you are relying on GPS – you don’t need a mobile signal. As a fail-safe I also use GPS GB (free) which doesn’t have  a map but tells you your current  grid ref. and height wherever you are.  Most useful climbing  a munro when you really want to know how high you’ve got!

I also use Viewranger. If I need their premium maps, that will cost me extra so I tend to use Viewranger for tracking my route. This gives you brilliant stats on distance, altitude, speed, timing, and will work without purchasing their premium maps – not that these are particularly expensive.

Yesterday I was on the Brecon Becons with my friend Jim and discovered on the top of Pen y Fan (pictured) on a wonderfully clear day  that the Viewranger background map of GB is excellent for working out the view. There is a built-in compass so you can orient yourself and then expand or contract the map as you need, depending on the distance. So we could be sure that we could actually see Exmoor, something not possible with a paper map.

This brings me to my last app, Peak View Scanner. This is supposed to tell you exactly what mountains you are looking at over a 100km range but on my phone it doesn’t work properly. Very obvious large mountains do not appear whereas tiny hills do. Very frustrating.  I have logged these issues with Peak View Scanner but to no avail. Hence the Viewranger map comes into its own.

But of course I always have a paper map just in case. And that compass is in my rucksack!