Ramblers honour the author of The Rutland Round... after a good walk around Ketton
It’s easy to think about the benefits of walking - fitness, fresh air and a chance to clear the mind. But too few of us seem to find the time or energy to make it part of our routine.
Not so for the ramblers.
Often parodied as Thermos-carrying misfits, the reality of the Rutland and Stamford groups is far more attractive.
Members come from a variety of backgrounds and localities, but a common thread is good humour and witty conversation. As a result, long walks pass in no time, and new friendships can be easily forged.
Rutland Ramblers and their Stamford counterparts are closely linked. On alternate Sundays the groups organise an eight to 10-mile walk through the countryside and villages surrounding Stamford, Oakham and Uppingham.
Last Sunday’s route was a showcase for Ketton, devised and led by Margaret and Dave Cole, Rutland Ramblers who live in the village. The walk was introduced with a wonderful one-minute speech by Margaret, who said we should keep an eye out for Rutland’s vineyards, as well as ‘Ketton’s Grand Canyon’ - which most would know as the vast quarry on the edge of the village.
Leaving the brutalist outline of the cement works behind, we headed out at a steady 20-minute mile pace (about 3mph) into sheep-filled open countryside with views across to St Mary’s Church.
While some people come along as couples or friends, several of the ramblers have joined for company, or because their partner is no longer able to accompany them on walks.
Fran Jacklin from Stamford is a sprightly 81, and began rambling 30 years ago. She spent a week last month walking the 70-mile coastal path of the Isle of Wight and is clearly an inspiration to some of the younger walkers.
While her husband isn’t able to join her on the Sunday rambles, he takes a keen interest in her walking pursuits and recently worked out that she has covered nearly the length of the country.
“I had become fixated on long-distance walks,” she laughs, “So my husband took out a map of Britain and drew on it all the paths I had walked.”
Having covered the St Cuthbert’s Way in the north and the Macmillan Way down to Abbotsbury on the Dorset coast, she had only had a stretch between Robin Hood’s Bay to the Humber Bridge to complete. For someone like Fran, it’s practically a walk in the park.
Among the Rutland members is Julie Rolland, husband Gordon, and their friend Mike Crosland, who they know as much through rambling as through Rutland Lions Club.
Julie, who grew up in The Netherlands, was one of several members who went on a Ramblers Association navigation and map reading course over lockdown. Leading the course was Martin James, chairman and footpath secretary of the Leicestershire and Rutland area of the association.
Key to finding your way with a map, he says, is to look around you. “It’s no good simply staring at the map,” he says. “You need to look closely at what landmarks and features you can see around you, and turn the map as you move around.”
No maps were needed on Sunday’s walk, thanks to the Coles’ pre-planning. Walk leaders try out their routes before setting off with 20 to 30 others behind them as, I’m told, finding a route blocked by brambles, flooded or impassable for any reason is dispiriting for even the jolliest of ramblers.
Having skirted Ketton through fields and along quiet roads, our route brought us out opposite The Railway Inn in the village, before taking us to the quarry for a picnic lunch. It was then on through fenced quarry paths back into the village, emerging at Pit Lane, where we had begun the ramble four hours earlier.
Back at Ketton Sports and Community Centre, it was time for tea and cake and a special presentation to a Rutland Rambler.
John Williams has been a member of the group since moving to Rutland nearly 30 years ago, and during that time he was responsible for creating The Rutland Round - a series of linked paths that form a 70-mile route around the county. To make sure people would use the paths, and therefore keep them open, he wrote a book by the same name, first published in 2000.
On Sunday, Rutland Ramblers presented John with a wooden memento shaped like the top of a waymarker and finished with a disc badge matching those used on the round.
Thanking the ramblers for the gift and clearly delighted, John said he was pleased to see everyone again after the covid pandemic, and recalled how he also hadn’t been able to see the group so often in the early years of him joining them.
“I couldn’t always walk with Rutland Ramblers because they met on Sundays and I was a church warden - and they have things to do on Sundays,” he said.
“But I made an effort to lead at least a couple of walks a year and walked with the Harringworth group on Wednesdays.”
Referring to the fact there is no horseshoe symbol on the Rutland Round signposts, John explained he had been ‘politely but strongly’ advised against it in case every footpath marked with the county’s emblem was then mistaken by horseriders for a bridleway.
John, 86, and his wife, Tricia, moved to her family’s home village of Morcott in 1994.
The couple made regular weekend visits to Rutland, during which they enjoyed walking, and John became rights of way officer for Rutland Ramblers, a branch of the Ramblers Association.
It was this role that inspired him to create a route similar to the 100-mile Leicestershire Round.
He worked with then chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Roger Chandler.
“We used to receive funding from the Gentlemen of Gunthorpe, who gave money at Christmas to groups doing good work,” John explained.
“We could use this annual donation to put a footpath in good order, and the next year do another one, but we realised by the third year the first path would be overgrown again. It would have taken years!”
Fortunately, with the help of a newly appointed footpaths officer in Rutland, a successful application was made to the National Lottery and the group received £4,500 to get the Rutland Round mapping done.
Meanwhile, John and Tricia were checking out potential paths to include, looking out for those that offered the best views.
Their work coincided with the approach of the new millennium and there was talk on the council of recognising this through the project.
“We had a meeting and I said we could call it The Rutland Round because it rolls off the tongue, and it was going to circle the county.”
The Rutland Round opened in April 2000 and it was through rambling groups walking the paths - and encouraging other walkers to do the same - that undergrowth was cleared to make the round more accessible.
“The paths weren’t brilliant at the start,” said John. “But we walked those that were not so clear and we approached it gently with the farmers and landowners.
“The coming of the footpaths officer was good for us, and Rutland has had at least one officer in place ever since.”
While John has walked the different sections of the round many times in his life, he admits it is difficult to choose a favourite stretch.
“I like it when you’re up above Market Overton and have the views across the countryside from there, or when you have left Lyddington and the A6003 and get to the top for a rest.
“Another is coming down from Langham towards Barleythorpe and you can see Oakham, and Rutland Water in the distance behind it.”
While Rutlanders and those living in neighbouring counties have made good use of the Rutland Round over the past 20 years, many people have also come from all over the country to walk the route.
John’s book has sold more than 2,000 copies and is into its third print run.
People can join the Rutland or Stamford Ramblers for three walks before taking out annual membership (£30). For details of walks, click here for Rutland Ramblers or for Stamford Ramblers click here. The Stamford group can also be phoned on 01780 755681.
The next Rutland Ramblers walk is at Uffington and Casewick Park on Sunday, September 5. The eight-mile route begins at 10am.