Walk the Way – The Times Are a-Changin

In 1963, a talented young man called Bob declared that ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ but I don’t think that even Mr. Dylan could have envisaged the events of this year and the impact that Covid-19 has had, and will continue to have, on our lives. This tiny virus has changed the way we live our lives, changed our work practices, and changed our social interaction (not forgetting the constantly changing guidelines). On top of the pandemic come the effects of climate change on our environment and the uncertainty of the impact of Brexit on our economy. Dire times ahead are the forecast of the many pundits, and yet, in the midst of adversity, there is always a glimmer of hope.
Although many businesses are struggling to keep alive, many will fail. Indeed, some have already done so. Countless will be in the leisure industry. Airlines, hotels, travel companies are amongst some of those most badly hit, but with so many people unable or unwilling to travel abroad, the fashion for UK holidays is in the ascendant. Herein flickers that glimmer! Many people are discovering the beauty of “…this sceptred isle”: the soaring mountains; the rolling verdant meadows and woodland walks; the languorous canals and babbling brooks; the friendly faces in cosy inns; the homely B&Bs with laden tables; “…this other Eden.”
Our local tourism industry has seen a belated summer boom; probably not since the Kinder Trespass in 1932 has walking as a recreational pastime been so popular. But the great British public is all thronging to the places that everyone knows, such as Lake Windermere, Snowdon, and The New Forest, whilst across. In the British Isles lie hidden gems, awaiting the adventurers, the dreamers, and the seekers of solitude. Places that are eager to welcome walkers from near and far. This could lead to the rejuvenation of small rural communities, whilst simultaneously easing the burden being placed on already worn footpaths and over-stretched honey-pot destinations.
Perhaps this surge in walking and UK holidays could lead to a new beginning. Perhaps, if these new walkers discover the beauty of our countryside, they will find the motivation to demand better protection for our natural heritage, which is under constant threat from urban creep, industrialisation, and a lack of funding. Perhaps too, they will learn to cherish the network of Public Rights of Way, born out of the Kinder Trespass, that gives the public access to the natural wonders that surround us and that is the envy of other countries. Perhaps (finally), just like experienced walkers, they will discover that inner peace that comes from losing oneself in our beautiful countryside.
So, for those seeking places with something different to offer, somewhere “far from the madding crowd”, visit the Walkers are Welcome website to discover these jewels in an emerald crown. And perhaps we can all help to fan that glimmer of hope into a bright new future for our countryside – a future of physical & mental well-being and economic stability. To paraphrase another talented man called William…
“… this sceptred isle…
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of Covid”

Walk This Way – Government Pledge to Protect 30% of UK Land by 2030

On 28th September 2020 top leaders endorsed the goal to protect 30% of planet earth by 2030. This science-based target was endorsed by P.M. Boris Johnson, U.N. Secretary-General, Canadian Government, HRH Prince of Wales, and 65 other leaders from across the world.

Our P.M. stated
“WE MUST TURN THESE WORDS INTO ACTION AND USE THEM TO BUILD MOMENTUM, TO AGREE TO AMBITIOUS GOALS AND TARGETS. WE MUST ACT NOW – RIGHT NOW. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO DITHER AND DELAY BECAUSE BIODIVERSITY LOSS IS HAPPENING TODAY AND IT IS HAPPENING AT A FRIGHTENING RATE. LEFT UNCHECKED, THE CONSEQUENCES WILL BE CATASTROPHIC FOR US ALL.”

This and other supporting statements from world leaders have been presented at The Summit on Biodiversity convened by the President of the General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 30th September 2020. Proposals accepted at the General Assembly will be presented at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the 2021 Convention on Biological Diversity meeting to be held in Kunming, China.

What are the expected changes in land use for G.B. over the next 10 years?
In England, where 26% of land is already protected, the government said an extra 4,000km.² would be safeguarded. This represents an area equivalent to the County of Somerset. However, E.J. Milner-Gulland, professor of biodiversity at the University of Oxford said: “It’s great to get another 4%, but that, in itself, is not going to be a transformative thing in this country – and particularly if there’s no funding.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for the creation of new areas of protected “wild belt” across the English countryside and in towns as part of the Government’s planning changes to help nature recover, by creating “stepping stones” for species to migrate across the landscape. Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “What is critical is making space for nature close to where people live and we need to protect them in the long term to allow nature to recover.” He warned that many National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were “severely depleted of wildlife because of over-grazing, poor management or intensive agricultural practices”. “This wild belt could be a roadside embankment, a river valley or somewhere which is important to local people. So, we take a piece of land which is not much good in terms of biodiversity and give it wild belt status and manage it to put nature into recovery. “This is our only hope. We have to help nature recover rather than just talking about slowing its decline.”

Populations of the UK’s most important species have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970. In September 2020 the RSPB highlighted how too little land was managed for nature in the UK, and said the government had failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago. In the past decade, funding for UK wildlife and the environment has dropped by 30% – the equivalent of £250m. This means habitats are not being created, protected, or monitored sufficiently, the report says. On paper, the UK is protecting 28% of land and 24% of the sea but in practice, a lot of protected land, such as national parks and sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), are not being properly managed.

The Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership (NDP) is being launched on 5th November 2020 as a ground-breaking collaboration of organisations and sectors that will deliver for nature and will spearhead the spirit of collaboration needed to deliver the NRN.
Photo: John Strutt Charity Foundation

Walk This Way – National Tree Week

Once again, The Tree Council is marking the start of the winter tree planting season with their National Tree Week commencing on 28th November 2020. (For full information, please check their website.)

Across the United Kingdom, woodlands play a vital role in the ecosystem, with ancient woodland being one of the rarest of habitats. From mammals to fungi, birds to insects, trees are home, hotel, and supermarket to an incredibly rich and complex community of species. Veteran oak trees can have over 600 different species dependent upon them for survival: other tree species can be equally as important, by sustaining large numbers of individual species. Planting trees is a vital task to provide a sustainable future for many vulnerable and endangered species, but it takes many human generations to create one veteran oak or beech. Protecting our ancient woodlands is something that all of us should take seriously. Ancient woodlands are those that can be traced back to 1600AD (1750AD in Scotland), i.e. prior to woodland planting being common, and they comprise only 2.4% of the United Kingdom by land area.

Trees have been an integral part of mankind’s journey through the millennia and, even in this era of ever-evolving technology, we are still dependent upon them (though many do not realise it). Nowadays, we may not forage for food beneath the leafy canopy, nor fell trees with axes to build homes, but still, we need them.
Almost 100 years ago, Dr. Boris P. Tokin discovered that trees release complex organic compounds, which he called phytoncides, into the atmosphere. These compounds are used by trees and other plants to help them combat disease and decay. Recent studies are now revealing that these same compounds may also help fortify our own immune systems when inhaled, increase happiness, and reduce stress levels. Other studies are showing how time spent walking through woods may help to increase pain thresholds and reduce the incidence of type-2 diabetes.

Of course, all regular walkers have known for years the benefits of walking through woods: the feel of textured bark on your palms; the sounds of bird song and the wind whispering through the leaves; the joy of kicking up dried leaves and feeling them scrunch beneath your feet to release earthy, coffee-like aromas; and the sight of dappled sunlight painting the air. Not forgetting, the joy of sharing these experiences with like-minded friends.

To coincide with National Tree Week, many Walkers are Welcome towns will be holding woodland walks to celebrate the beauty and importance of these varied habitats, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. For details of available walks as they are added go to our What’s On page but be aware that these details are all subject change at short notice.

So, if you are feeling a bit lonely or under the weather, head to the woods for a dose of nature’s remedy.

Greetings from the Gateway to Wales

Nestled at the foot of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where Wales and England meet, Chepstow is often referred to as the gateway to Wales. Within easy reach for visitors from England, across the stunning Prince of Wales and Severn bridges, Chepstow is the ideal location from where to explore the beauties of this spectacular landscape. With local bus companies serving all the main arteries through the County of Monmouthshire, there are fantastic opportunities for linear walks on long-distance trails or local paths.

In Chepstow, the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path meets the Wye Valley Walk, the Gloucestershire Way, and the famous Wales Coast Path (the first to span an entire country’s coast). There is also a network of local footpaths, such as the Picturesque Piercefield 6-mile circular route, with its amazing views from Eagle’s Nest and Lover’s Leap, truly a walk for all seasons. It was this walk in the early 18th Century that was much enjoyed as part of the Wye Valley Tour, considered the birth of British Tourism.

The varied landscape of the area has something to offer all walkers, be it a gentle stroll along a beautiful river, or a challenging walk to really stretch the legs.

Chepstow became an accredited Walkers are Welcome town in April 2012 to coincide with the official opening of the Wales Coast Path which has its start/finish point in Chepstow. With an enthusiastic, dedicated volunteer steering group from various sections of the local community who all share the same ambition, namely to provide the best possible walking experience for visitors and residents, and open their eyes to the breath-taking beauty of the Lower Wye Valley and its rich heritage, all year round.

The town offers a programme of free walks throughout the year and a Walking Weekend in Autumn. Each of these walks being led by experienced walk leaders who either live or work in the area and want to share some of their favourite walks with you. The principal event of the year is the exceedingly popular, annual 5-day walking festival, which usually consists of 35 guided walks beginning on the Wednesday following Easter Bank Holiday Monday. The festival showcases the stunningly beautiful landscape of the lower Wye Valley and the many and varied local food producers, not forgetting the rich heritage and culture of the area. With more castles in Monmouthshire than anywhere else in Europe, the only hard decision is which walks to feature in the festival. The festival has become so popular that they have regular attendees from across the UK and the world, including visitors from Australia and Chicago. All come to discover the delightful, hidden gems; ancient woodlands, pretty villages, historic churches, and majestic rivers, all of which enchant the visitor with spectacular views.

The many walker-friendly accommodation providers of Chepstow may offer special arrangements, such as baggage transport to your next destination, drying facilities, picnic lunches, or complete walking holiday packages. Look for the Walkers are Welcome logo to be sure of a warm welcome.

With excellent road access from England along the M4 and M48, and rail and National Express services from London, Gatwick and Heathrow, with connections to Cardiff, Gloucester and beyond, there is every reason to visit us.

If you do decide to come then please get in touch, they would love to meet you!

Photo: Eagles Nest, Chepstow

New Baildon WaW Publication

Members of Baildon Walkers are Welcome Committee met with Town Council Chair, Joe Ashton, on 23 October, for a mini-launch of our new book: “FootNav: How to walk from here to there”. The event took place at Baildon’s Potted Meat Stick (the starting point for all the route descriptions in our new publication). Special thanks were offered to Baildon Town Council for the financial support that they give to Baildon Walkers are Welcome, as this allows us to continue offering guided walks free of charge; to Tony and Chris Grogan for the expert maps; and to Sara Mogford of Assembly Marketing for the design and publishing of the book.

If you ever thought you’d like to walk to one of our neighbouring towns and villages rather than get the car out, then this book is for you. It features walking routes from the centre of Baildon to 11 other local destinations, with written route-description and maps. Ideal as a Christmas stocking filler at only £5, contact Baildon WaW.

The Hidden Treasure of Unst

Unst is not a town or village but the most northerly inhabited island in Shetland and our most northern member. With just over 60 miles of coastline, there are some spectacular sea cliff bird sites at Hermaness National Nature Reserve as well as seven unspoilt beaches. If you are here in the summer months you can see puffins, gannets, kittiwakes, skuas and many others. There is also a rich sea life around the coast, with otters and seals, and the occasional pod of orca and dolphin. There are good views of Shetland from several hills on the island although most coastal walks are at sea level until you get to the north of the island, looking out to the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, now unmanned. Robert Louis Stevenson’s father and uncle designed the lighthouse and many people think he gained several ideas for “Treasure Island” from his stay on Unst. Unst is also noted for the number of Viking sites on the island, with over 40 recorded and three that have been recently excavated and open o the public.

The island has 600 of a population with three shops, three cafes, three community halls, a Leisure Centre with fitness suite and swimming pool, a Heritage Centre, Boat Museum, Gin Distillery, a Hotel, two Hostels, Health Centre, Care Centre and school for pupils aged 3-16. There is an informative website about tourism attractions on the http://www.visit-unst.com/ website. Public transport on the island is limited but the island is only fifteen miles long and three miles wide. There are a couple of taxi firms and many local people will happily give you a lift if you are on their route.

Getting to Unst takes time. It is 14 hours by overnight ferry from Aberdeen or an hour’s flight from Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen. And that just gets you to the Shetland “Mainland”. Unst is still a further three hours’ drive or bus journey after that, involving two small ro-ro ferry trips of 20 minutes and 10 minutes. But it is well worth it when you arrive!

Hopefully, 2021 will bring opportunities to visit this beautiful island, please add to your wish list.
You can find more about walking the island on the Unst Walkers are Welcome website.
WaW A-Z listings UNST

Unsuccessful River Crossing for Tregaron

Walkers are Welcome in Tregaron say “It was good to meet up with friends from our walking club again last Saturday and a very pleasant walk was enjoyed by all. It was probably most memorable for the unique method (ultimately unsuccessful) of river crossing demonstrated by Avarinah, before we found the elusive bridge over the Afon Berwyn! Thank you Ian for organising and leading.”

Tregaron’s  next walk is scheduled for 14th November, meeting at the village hall car park in Pontrhydfendigaid at 10 am. This of course depends on the Covid 19 restrictions appertaining at the time, after the imminent lockdown period.  Please check the contacts here for details.

Good luck to everyone in Wales during your Fire-break Lockdown.

Alton’s successful autumn walking festival

After the disappointment of cancelling their May walking festival, Alton were delighted to be able to host a mini 7-day festival last week. Their Town Council handled the timetabling, publicity and bookings, and volunteer walk leaders supported a programme of daily walks of varying length from 3 to 17 miles.

Because the festival had the official backing of the Council they were able to have larger groups of walkers than their current limit of 6, but they capped the bookings at 15 per walk.
Most of the participants were local, but they had one visitor from a neighbouring Walkers are Welcome town (Whitchurch), as well as others from Portsmouth and Fleet. Everyone appreciated the chance to get outside for a walk with old friends and new faces, and to explore the countryside with the best that the Hampshire autumn had to offer.

Baildon Walkers are Welcome “Sixer Walkers”

Since July, Baildon Walkers are Welcome has been offering several guided walks per month for a maximum number of 6 people. These have proved increasingly popular for people who are on their own and don’t feel comfortable walking alone and for people who do not know the footpaths around Baildon very well. A monthly e-news has been sent out at the end of each month to all those on their contacts list, with details of the guided walks on offer for the coming month. Booking is required, and when people book they are asked for the details of someone that should be contacted in the event of an emergency and to advise, in confidence, if they have any health issues which the walks’ leaders should be aware of.

The four guided “Sixer” walks in October are all fully booked. Most of the walks on offer are half a day, and between 4 and 6 miles, sometimes with an outdoor café stop in the middle. However, we have also found a demand for occasional longer walks, when packed lunches are needed.

The October walk titles have been: “A Meander on the Moor with a Café stop”; “Burley Moor Explorer” (9 miles); “Autumn Woodland Walk”; and “The Walking the Walls of Baildon”. It has been particularly pleasing to find that word about these “Sixer Guided Walks” has been spreading via Facebook and that we are able to welcome people from neighbouring towns and villages.

Chris Flecknoe, Baildon Walkers are Welcome
The photo shows some “Sixers” on a topical wood.

Walkers are Welcome Loftus – Fungi Foray 2020

Eighteen walkers set off from Loftus Town Hall on Thursday 15th October under a persistent drizzle to join the North East Fungi Recorder to carry out an examination of fungi species present in woodland known as “The  Warren” , a historic plantation dating  back at least  200 years. Over a 3 hour period the group identified over 20 species including Velvet Shank, Bloody Brittlegill , Russula Emetica , Aniseed Funnel, Birch Knight , Amethyst Deceiver and grey spotted Amanita.  Loftus say “These decomposers are fascinating organisms , many displaying exceptional colours and providing clues of tree species occupying the land through centuries. We compiled our list of species to add to the record.”

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