A crowd in the countryside

Regular readers know I’m a member of a walking group.  Regular readers don’t know that one of the features of our summer programme is a series of evening pub walks: walks of only three or four miles, finishing up at a pub for a convivial meal or drink together.  Usually about eight to twelve people come along.  This time, it was my turn to lead the walk, which had been publicised round the area in a low-key kind of way.

I’d already been messaged by a Chinese woman who asked if, though they weren’t members of ‘rumbles’, a group of nine of them could come along.  Three other new-to-us people got in touch, and on the night, two other ‘newbies’ were there.  Then there were Emily and Miquel, over from Spain.

The group of nine proved after all to be eleven, and included two small children.  They were an extended family, living in various places all over the north of England, who’d snatched a few precious days staying together at a local campsite.

The usual regulars turned up.  I did a quick head count.  Twenty nine people….

The walk begins……

Have you ever tried getting twenty nine people over several stiles, down narrow paths, along the lakeside, through the woods, across the fields, down the road and back through the Nature Reserve without losing anyone en route?  Actually, because of the small children, the Chinese team left us at half time, but we had fun making new friends and promising to try out the restaurant that one branch of the family runs, many miles north from here.

Sunset over the lake at the Nature Reserve.

The pub coped admirably.  In fact only twelve of us chose to eat there, though most of the others stayed for a drink.  Here’s free publicity for The Freemason’s Arms, Nosterfield.  Great home-cooked food (try the fish and chips if you dare.  Massive), provided by a friendly, unflappable team.

Photo courtesy of Miquel, who was almost, but not quite, defeated by this plateful.

Jarrow Ramblings, part 1

Clare, Lucy, Helen and Robert pose for a group photo. None of us asked for selfies-with-Clare
Clare, Lucy, Helen and Robert pose for a group photo. None of us asked for selfies-with-Clare

I came in the other day to find a message on the answer phone.  The BBC.  Clare Balding wanted to talk to me.  Well, not Clare actually.  She’s one of Britain’s favourite broadcasters and a bit busy I dare say.  Her research assistant Lucy finally got hold of me, and asked me if I’d be able to lead Clare and team on a walk from Ripon to Ripley for ‘Ramblings’, a popular programme on BBC R4 about walking.

Why me?  Because I’m Hon. Sec. of Ripon Ramblers, our local walking group, and our details are out there, if you care to look.  Yes, but why ME?  Lucy thought, after our chat, that I’d be OK on the radio.

OK then, why Ripon?  Because, it turns out that in October 1936 the Jarrow Marchers walked from Jarrow, through Ripon to Ripley and beyond, all 280 miles to London.  In October, ‘Ramblings’ plans to broadcast a programme to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Perhaps you don’t know much about the Jarrow March.  Neither did I.  Not till I met Clare and Lucy, cultural historian Robert Colls, and Helen Antrobus, who’s a real Ellen Wilkinson enthusiast from the People’s Museum in Manchester.  The five us walked and talked our way along our eight mile route from Ripon to Ripley, and we barely noticed the rain which threatened constantly, but only delivered occasional short sharp showers.

This is a blog in two parts.  The first is our country walk, the second about the Jarrow March. But Friday wasn’t in two parts.  Every step we took, we remembered those marchers.  Robert and Helen told us the story.  Together, we drew comparisons between their march and our own hike.

I’d already dutifully planned and  walked a route.  The marchers went entirely on main roads, but if you’ve ever driven on the A61, you’ll know this is no longer a good idea.  Country paths were the way to go.

'Do we go this way?' Lucy records Clare getting directions.
‘Do we go this way?’ Lucy records Clare getting directions.

As  we set out together from Ripon, we got our instructions.  Lucy had her furry-muff-on-a-stick.  You’ll have seen those, as reporters rove round town centres talking to likely passers-by about some event that’s happened locally.    When recording, Clare’s always on the right of the person she’s talking to, and Lucy’s  there on the left with her recording gear.  It was slightly odd to walk alongside Clare as she formally introduced to the programme, telling listeners where she was, why she was there, and who we all were.  But soon we forgot about that muff.  We all chatted together easily, about that March, about walking, about each other.  Sometimes we had to repeat what we’d said, in a spontaneous ‘I’ve just thought of this’ kind of way, because some passing noise – RAF jets overhead for instance – had ruined the recording.

This was the scenery of the early part of the walk.
This was the scenery of the early part of the walk.

In many ways our walk was a scam.  The A61 passes through rolling hillsides, productive farmland, cows in the pasture, and pretty villages.  It’s all bucolic England at its best.  Our route presented a more hidden countryside.  Isolated farmhouses with dilapidated barn roofs,  ancient pastures, secret dark, damp woodlands, and tiny rather remote hamlets.

If it survives the cut, you'll hear Clare painting a word-portarit of this farmhouse during the programmme.
If it survives the cut, you’ll hear Clare painting a word-portrait of this farmhouse during the programmme.

At first though, we were on a road.  Badly maintained, rather narrow and with tall hedges it’s a bridle path these days, but it is still tarmacced, and perhaps the kind of highway those marchers would have recognised.  Later, on grass-trodden pathways, we passed Markenfield Hall, a 14th century moated country house.

We saw Markenfield Hall nearby as we walked. The Jarrow marchers didn't.
We saw Markenfield Hall nearby as we walked. The Jarrow marchers didn’t.

Those marchers didn’t.  We went through the village of Markington. Apparently the marchers were welcomed here too, though we couldn’t imagine why.  It’s more than a mile or so from the main road and history doesn’t record why exactly they made a detour.  We strode along the edges of barley fields, on woodland paths and across gorsey heath, all without meeting a soul.  Not what the marchers experienced.

This is farming country.
This is farming country.

And we talked.  That’s what I’ll remember most.  The sheer pleasure of walking and talking with a group of people thrust together for the day who quickly found themselves to be friends – just for a day.  Thanks you Clare, Lucy, Robert and Helen for a very special occasion.  It was a real privilege.

Clare strides away into the woods.
Clare strides away into the woods.

And the Jarrow March?  More about that in my next post.


The Path


Midday.  Aview from the path.
Midday. A view from the path.

What a difference a week makes.  This time last week, Amelia and I were ‘recce-ing’ the walk I was due to lead this Tuesday, stumbling around near Swinton trying to make sense of a map and  a warren of pathways.  Both reasonably competent map-readers, we found ourselves confronted by too many cross-paths, and too many waymarks that didn’t QUITE make things clear enough.  We got there in the end, of course, having met in the course of our journey several equally puzzled hikers turning their maps every which-way as they tried to choose the correct route.

This week, I competently led seven Ripon Ramblers on the walk and wondered why we’d found it all quite so difficult.  But it got me thinking about all those paths.  Paths are created by those who use them.  Roads were too, once upon a time, as all those single track and often ill-repaired ‘C’ roads meandering from village to village testify.

But these days, roads are planned.  It’s town planners, the Highways Agency, and whole bevies of committees who decide where roads will go, and how they will get there.  If they deem it necessary, they will flatten hillsides or even communities that stand in the way.

Usually.  There’s that famous farm in Calderdale which parts the two carriageways of the M62, the motorway which links Yorkshire with Lancashire.  Legend has it that at the planning stage, the farmer refused the blandishments of every official from the Department of Transport, every civil servant who tried to persuade him that The Road Must Go Through, till finally Officialdom gave in and built the road around his farm.  Sadly, it’s not true, and you can read about it here  Still, whatever the truth of the story, it nicely illustrates the fact that these days, road are normally built  where planners decide.

Stott Hall Farm in the middle of the M62.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Stott Hall Farm in the middle of the M62. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With paths, it’s a different story.  Those routes that we use every time we go out walking in the country were chosen by those who did the walking, often many centuries ago.  Well-trodden paths that have linked communities over the years are public rights of way that have to be kept useable and maintained by local councils in just the same way as roads must be.  Local authorities have a duty to ensure that they are useable by installing gates and stiles to enable users to, for example, cross from field to field. Landowners who wish to vary the route of a path must have good reason, and must provide for and maintain a viable alternative.

On Tuesday, we went along a whole variety of paths, as we always do when out walking.  Some were fine tracks covered in chippings and  linking farms.  One path was straight and wide with fine stone foundations: once it was a railway line built to haul goods to a reservoir under construction in the early 20th century.  But much of the time, we could pick out our routes across farmland only by observing a sinuous line of flattened grass where others had walked before us.  I enjoy knowing that most of these paths, whatever kind they are,  have often been used for decades and even centuries before.

Needs can change though.  That day when we first tried the walk Amelia and I had a dreadful time looking for a certain path.  We even ended up at a farm asking for directions.  ‘You’ll never find it’ we were told. ‘Nobody’s used it for ages, and it’s hopelessly overgrown.  You’d much best use the road’.  Well, it didn’t really suit us, but we could see why it had happened.  The road was more direct than the old path so people ‘voted with their feet’ and stopped using it.

We’re pretty lucky to have a great network of paths.  And besides that, in large areas of the country, we have ‘the right to roam’, meaning we’re free to explore the open countryside away from paths, following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, introduced in 2000 after a 60 year campaign. I’m enjoying those paths, whether mooching, walking purposefully, exploring, or simply ‘following my nose.’

The Ramblers association does much to promote the interests of walkers and protect the walking environment.