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Wild Skies Shetland’s Sky Trail

Wild Skies Shetland is a registered charity based in the UK’s most northerly island, Unst. Its aim is to encourage people to appreciate Shetland’s ever-changing skies – be that the northern lights, midnight sun, a double rainbow, or a dramatic storm.

The charity has just constructed the Wild Skies Shetland Sky Trail. You can explore the trail online.  The trail consists of 13 Sky Stops, each featuring a different aspect of the skies, including dialect sayings related to the weather, music, an animated film about how the Vikings navigated by the stars, and an explanation (near some tidal energy turbines) of the links between the moon and tides. The Sky Trail features in a recent film about Shetland featuring TV presenter Kate Humble – you can find Exploring Shetland on Youtube. 

Many of the stops are starting points for excellent walks. At the Hermaness National Nature Reserve you can listen to a local man talk about a particularly ferocious storm in the 1990s (courtesy of a listening post at the tiny visitors’ centre) and then walk to see magnificent sea cliffs, Stevenson’s Muckle Flugga lighthouse, a huge gannetry, and (from April to August) puffins.

Another excellent walk takes you along Sandwick’s white sandy beach (known locally as Easting) to a bench that features Viking stories.  Sandwick used to be an Iron Age settlement that was inhabited for about 500 years around the time that we now move from BC to AD in our calendars.

A third brilliant walk is to the bay at Woodwick, which cannot be accessed by road. The bay is a funnel for copious amounts of flotsam and jetsam, hence its name. Recent finds include a beached minke whale and a tag from a project monitoring the migration of eels to the Sargasso Sea.

In general, Unst, is an outstanding place for walkers, with a varied and reasonably accessible coastline. The island’s community development group, Unst Partnership, is a proud member of Walkers are Welcome.

Image:  Catriona Waddington (chair) and Kate Humble at the top of Saxa Vord Unst

Mortimer Trail Re-invigorated

Meeting virtually in late 2021, various Herefordshire and Shropshire walking enthusiasts, saddened by how the lovely 30-mile Mortimer Trail had become neglected in recent years, agreed to give the path some ‘Tender Loving Care’. Two years on and the Trail is buzzing again!
There’s a brand-new Guidebook available in local bookshops and Tourist Information Centres, published by Herefordshire Area Ramblers Association, to update and replace the out-of-print one. Also available from David Whyman Map Sales. 
In November, BBC Countryfile magazine published a fantastic feature article about the Trail by author Julie Brominicks.  Recent visitors to Ludlow Castle will have noticed, near the entrance, a stunning new panel all about the Trail, with a similar one soon going up at the Trail’s Kington end.
Online, there’s an active Mortimer Trail Facebook page where walkers can post photos, feedback, and information about the Trail, and a Trail website hosted on the Visit Herefordshire website 
There is also now a 12-strong group of volunteer Trailblazers who look after the Trail section by section, clearing overgrowth, refreshing the way-marking, and reporting any major issues.

Trailblazer Charles Edwards, who edited the new Guidebook, says: “More people from near and far are noticing the improvements to the condition and way-marking of the Trail and are walking or running it. It’s both a great project for local people looking for a different walk challenge, and an attraction bringing people in to discover the area’s beauty, inns, shops and other attractions.!”

Trailblazer Gwyneth Bowyer, who manages the Facebook page and the volunteer Trailblazer team, says: “Countryfile’s ‘discovery’ of this hidden gem of a Trail confirms what we already knew, that the woods, hill-forts and river valleys of South Shropshire and North Herefordshire offer some of the finest walking in Britain outside the National Parks. Maintenance is like painting the Forth Bridge: just as you clear a fallen tree here, downpours elsewhere flatten the bracken across the path, or a stile starts wobbling, or a mudslip swamps the path, or a way-mark disc goes missing – but sorting them gets us out enjoying the Trail in all seasons.”

 The Mortimer Trail is so named after the mighty mediaeval Mortimer family who played such a prominent role in the region which the Trail traverses, and indeed in wider English, Welsh and Irish history, from 1066 to 1425.

The 30-mile Trail can be walked in either direction in three days (recommended) or in more or less time depending on the speed of the walkers. There is a moderate amount of hill climbing and some slippery and muddy stretches in wet conditions. Trail walkers – and dogs! – need to be able to navigate stiles.

The Trail was founded in the 1990s by local walking enthusiasts, including international expert on Trails, Professor Les Lumsdon, supported by Herefordshire County Council. The Trailblazers operate under the auspices of Herefordshire Area Ramblers Association and comprise members of Mortimer and South Shropshire Ramblers Association groups, Kington Walks, Walkers are Welcome and individuals.

Image: Trailblazers Gwyneth Bowyer & Jason Phillps at Croft Ambrey

Whitchurch, Hampshire Winner of Best UK Family Festival 2023

Whitchurch (Hampshire) Walkers are Welcome team are thrilled to announce that their partner group Whitchurch Conservation Group have been awarded the ‘Best Family Festival’ award at the U.K. Festival Awards 2023, for Whitchurch Children’s Festival, an absolutely brilliant result for Hampshire’s smallest town and testament to an extraordinary amount of hard work. A particular shout out should go to the group’s Chair, Lucie Maitland whose germ of an idea during lockdown and single minded determination underpins this success.

Jackie Browne, Coordinator for Whitchurch, Hampshire WaW said ‘having partnered successfully with Whitchurch Conservation Group in 2022/3 to deliver the various walking related projects funded by a large LEADER grant, we were delighted to provide the group with letters in support of their application for Arts Council Funding and WaW stewards for the two day event. The bi-annual Children’s Festival is a small, safe and friendly, family arts festival in Whitchurch, Hampshire, designed especially for families with pre-school and primary-school age children, celebrating all that is great about Whitchurch’s natural landscape; the River Test, Mill Trail and North Wessex Downs National Landscape. The festival was a fun weekend of arts and crafts activities, theatre, dance, storytelling, poetry and live music, with our very own WaW footpath volunteer Mick Browne swapping shears for a guitar to perform in the ‘Legends’ slot on the music stage. “

The success of the festival builds on the town’s place shaping ambitions to become a ‘destination’ town in North Hampshire. Follow the link to see this year’s Festival Highlights

Whitchurch, Hampshire win DOUBLE GOLD!

Whitchurch in Bloom strike GOLD twice in the space of a month, first winning GOLD in the South & South East in Bloom small town category, the citation recognising the group’s outstanding achievements in transforming the town centre and then following up a month later by winning GOLD in the ‘Stations in Bloom’ scheme.

This photo shows members of the team together with Whitchurch Walkers are Welcome coordinator, Jackie Browne (on the left of the picture) on the day of the judging.

Wishing to broaden their horizons, the Whitchurch in Bloom team turned their attention to the railway station, which they have now adopted as part of the Community Rail Partnership scheme and with grant money, purchased tiered planters and containers to decorate the forecourt and the station platforms. This initiative supports the wider tourism aims of the town and builds on the work at the station completed by WaW volunteers earlier this year, which saw the installation of new trail interpretation and information boards and new signage and coincided with South Western Railways renovating and redecorating the two Victorian Station buildings.

The focus for the two groups is to provide that all important welcome, a great first impression and they undoubtedly achieved that, with the judges commenting that this was ‘a Super example of people working together to transform the station’.

Ross-on-Wye for Arts & Crafts

Herefordshire has long been associated with really high-quality art and crafts – boosted by the leading Hereford College of Arts; but also, a culture of creativity – maybe fostered by a slower way of life and surrounded by the beauty and peace of the countryside?  In 2023, the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen celebrates 70 years; and the annual h.Art festival will be in its 21st year.  There is evidence of this culture found in all the market towns, with galleries and exhibitions; as well as rural open studios; hand embroidered/carved interior in a special thatched Arts & Crafts church; and spectacular sculptures throughout the countryside.  For those of us who live here, it is easy to take this talent for granted; but visitors from afar are blown away by the skill, quality & diversity of the local artists.

For walkers there is the opportunity to combine fabulous trails with exploring the arts.  The highlight of the year on early September (1-10th September 2023) is the h.Art exhibition,  with the ability to meet hundreds of individual artists and see an array of artwork across the county in the city and countryside – often in fabulous locations such as manor houses, historic barns, farms, churches and beautiful gardens; and often with a range of artists in any one location.   Combining the h.Art map with the Walking in Ross, local walks, gives lots of opportunities to “walk and browse” , or even “walk and buy”.   Or using your phone, or an old-fashioned map, plot your own walks between the venues.

A number of these and other venues are also open year-round, or studio visits can be booked.  For example, the famous sculptor, Walenty Pytel can be visited with a short diversion from Walk 5 on the walk downloads   Local Walks – Welcome to Walking in Ross or following the trail out from Ross along the Rudhall Brook; and the Wobage Galleries with its ancient barns, sits right on the Herefordshire Trail – walkable from Ross with a glorious stretch through the Perrystone Estate, or accessible by the new community bus service, the Daffodil line Buses4us

Something totally different is the modern Canwood Gallery & Sculpture Park  with both local and international artists – often really thought-provoking exhibitions; but with a wealth of local walks, or a short drive from Haugh Woods with its rare butterflies, historic geology and wildlife reserves (Herefordshire Wildlife Trust).

In addition, Ross-on-Wye itself is a haven for the creatives.  Made in Ross is the flagship shop/exhibition space upstairs in the distinctive old Market Hall; but wander the streets and you will find Gallery 54, Urchins and Living Loom as well as antiques, craft studios and vintage shops – or even art for sale in the tea rooms and pubs.    Look out also for exhibitions from the Ross Photographic Society and other groups in St Mary’s Church, which has developed as a community hub and a great place to start walks from and around Ross.

Ross Walkers are Welcome would love to share our delights with you… so come and explore the Arts with us….

Art in Chepstow and the Wye Valley

Chepstow and the Wye Valley are well known for both their history and the beautiful countryside but they also have a strong link with the creation of art both in the past and the present. A modern-day visitor to the area will probably be aware of Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey and Caerwent Roman Town. These were also the attractions that brought many artists to the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Professional artists including J.M.W Turner, Paul Sandby, and Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker spent weeks during the summer sketching and painting but it was William Gilpin’s ‘Observations on the River Wye…’ published in 1783 that created a form of artistic endeavour that was focused on the amateur artist. It was this book that also introduced the concept of tourism to the area. Chepstow Museum has an excellent collection of paintings from the time but the area also boasts many modern sculptures.

The Gwent Living Levels area has been instrumental in introducing a number of sculptures that pay tribute to the men and women who have worked in and contributed to the landscape. At Black Rock picnic site, the figure of The Engineer celebrates all those involved in the construction of the Severn Railway tunnel, the two Severn Bridges and the sea wall that protects the Levels. Inspired by the 19th century engineer Thomas Walker, who supervised the building of the tunnel, it was designed by local sculptor Rubin Eynon from Corten steel.

Close by is another sculpture in the shape of The Fisherman representing a lave net fisherman working in the shallows of the Severn estuary fishing for salmon. The giant oak figure, weighing an impressive 1.8 tons was carved by a local chainsaw carver Chris Wood.

In the centre of Magor Marsh is another figure, this time of The Brinker who traditionally would be responsible for clearing the drainage waterways using a scythe. This sculpture is built on a steel framework with steamed brown and white willow woven through to create the figure of a women resting on her scythe. It was designed and built by Sarah Hatton and Melanie Bastier.

Finally, we return to the Chepstow riverbank where a new sculpture was recently unveiled to mark the 10th anniversary of the Wales Coastal Path. The controversial installation is intended to represent a pebble and was designed by artist Michael Johnson using Corten and stainless steel. It was quickly renamed the ‘Baked Potato’ because of its resemblance to a foil wrapped spud. It has become something of a local celebrity attracting comments from all over the country, both positive as well as negative. Isn’t that the case with all modern art?

Art in the Forest

Coleford  is home to an abundance of ways to engage with the arts. Be it out and about in the Forest or in town, there is something for everyone to immerse themselves in and enjoy!

On entering the town via the industrial park, you may notice the iconic sculpture ‘Spirit of The Forest’. Paying homage to both the town’s forest roots and industrial past, this structure won the Coleford Town Council Public Art Competition and is a must see for the arts in Coleford.

Continuing you may notice a variety of murals. These were painted by Tom Cousins, a prolific mural painter within the Forest of Dean. Coleford is proud to call itself home to a number of these murals, which can also be found within many businesses in the town. Coleford Welcomes Walkers  currently have a walk in progress to take you through each one.

Coleford is also proud to support the arts through the many events held in the area throughout the year. Coleford Music Festival in July is a venue for big names and local acts alike, with offerings of music and stalls bringing the town together for a weekend of activity. The festival features a variety of genres and has something for everyone. In the meantime, you can frequently find live music at one of the pubs and restaurants in Town, such as the Art of Coffee, the Old White Hart Inn or the Dog House Micro Pub.

The Coleford Festival of Words  is an annual event supported by the local businesses like The Art of Coffee (who hosted two comedy nights this year) featuring works of music, poetry, storytelling, comedy and more.  Coleford being the birthplace of authors like Dennis Potter, Mary Howitt and Edna Healey and is proud to call itself the current residence of prolific crime novelist Andrew Taylor. The Scarr Bandstand is a natural amphitheatre perfect for a variety of theatrical and musical events. These include the Scarr Brass Fest and a production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

Coleford is also home to plenty of artistry further afield.

The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail  provides insight into contemporary and modern views of the Forest. Each sculpture draws upon the artist’s connection to the forest to tell a story to the over 300,000 visitors the trail receives yearly. it can be walked in just over an hour.

A trip to Forest Holiday’s Zog trail  will find you wandering through colourful panels and participating in a colouring sheet activity competition!

Tudor Farmhouse  offer a variety of arts and crafts experiences such as jewellery making, chunky blanket knitting, wreath making and more.

Clearwell Caves allows you to appreciate the natural cave formations of the Forest while learning of its industrial past. They also host a variety of art-centric events, such as last year’s sculpture exhibition   Keep an eye on their website to see new events as they are announced.

Creative Canopy  hosts a variety of artistic events in a variety of settings. From an artist’s gathering to a creative walk-through nature, their events bring people together and showcase the artistry of the Forest.

Stone sculpture in Kirkby Stephen

The Upper Eden area of Cumbria now firmly back in the Westmorland Dales with the expanded Yorkshire Dales National Park and the change to Westmorland and Furness Council unitary authority, has long been celebrated for its stunning landscape and geology.  Some of this area is alternatively in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designated an UNESCO Global Geopark. In and around Kirkby Stephen there are many stone sculptures to enjoy during your walks.  You may also spot our local Brockram stone or enjoy a geology walk.

Andy Goldsworthy lived and worked in the area before his international fame and was commissioned in 1996 to celebrate our culturally historical sheepfolds.  Each occupies a unique place in our villages and today there are Andy Goldsworthy Pinfold Cairns in nearby Church Brough, Warcop, Outhgill.

Between 1992 and 2008, the East Cumbria Countryside Project worked with artists to produce ten contemporary stone sculptures located at intervals along the length of the River Eden from its source in the Mallerstang Valley and Rockliffe where it runs into the Solway Firth.  We are fortunate to have two sculptures locally. ‘The Passage’ by Laura White is located next to the cascading river in Stenkrith Park.  Everyone’s favourite is ‘The Watercut’ by Mary Bourne which stands on the ancient ‘Highway’ in Mallerstang against the backdrop of the surrounding Mallerstang Edge and Wild Boar Fell.

Twelve short poems, written by the nationally acclaimed poet Meg Peacocke, have been carved by lettering artist Pip Hall on blocks of stone installed at intervals along a circular short trail either side of the River Eden in Kirkby Stephen. The aim was to introduce a permanent and integrated interpretative experience into the landscape with poems reflecting the hill farmers year.

See further information on the above and the work of Dick Capel can be seen on his website Eden Benchmarks.  Two guided walks on 8th and 14th September have been planned to include some of these artistic works see What’s on.

Back in Kirkby Stephen, the Upper Eden Visitor Centre is flanked by two carved stone seats by Kenneth Allen.  Opposite is the “Lady Anne’s Way” bronze sculpture by Diane Lawrenson, which aims to capture the indomitable spirit of Lady Anne Clifford – striding onward and determined.  Lady Anne’s Way  is a 100-mile long distance walk with historical links.

Finally, we have recently been thrilled to see a ‘Borrowdale Banksy’ emerge on the path towards Nine Standards Rigg on the Wainwright Coast to Coast footpath as illustrated.

Easy money!

Shoppers at Tesco in Dereham pass by a table of books, each book being ‘sold’ for a 50p donation to whichever cause is current for the month. In July, this was Dereham Walkers are Welcome.

Dereham report

“On 1 July, we arrived with a supply of books collected from our members, but also took over those left from the previous cause. We did a bit of moving around to try to make the display as irresistible as possible. We also took the time to top up the supply from time to time and keep it looking attractive. By whatever means, we noticed that a considerable number of books were donated to the collection by others rather than us, so far as we are aware. At the end of the month, we received the total collected – some £585, far more than we had expected. And, of course, during the month, we had our pop up on display and also left our booklet of walks for people to take, so got some useful publicity at the same time. We did have to wait for a while after expressing interest, but apart from that, we had little to do for a great return. We were told that our sum was among the higher end, though not the highest collected. So, if you’re looking for some funding and aren’t in a hurry, this is an easy way with little effort. Our thanks to Tesco.”

Art and Walking go Hand-in-Hand in Kington

As a centre for walking, and a community of local artists and makers, Kington regularly celebrates the relationship between art, walking and our local border country landscape. Kington Walks, the  organisation that runs the Kington Walking Festivals, maintains local footpaths and leads our membership of Walkers are Welcome, is closely connected to the Marches Makers, the local collective of artists and makers. The annual Big Draw, and landscape art such as the image of a giant walker cut into the hillside bracken are examples of our longstanding collaboration.

In 2023, we welcomed a new addition to the Kington Arts and Walking Scene when the Marches Makers group, with support of Kington Walks, secured funding of £12,000 to commission and install a bronze sculpture by local artist Rachel Ricketts, of Fly, the Walking Dog of Kington. He now stands on a plinth of locally hewn stone donated by nearby Gore Quarry and was formally unveiled this year by the mayor of Kington.

The conception of Fly began with local stories about the ghost of Black Vaughan, which inspired Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. Notable mythologies involving hounds in the region go back to the Mabinogi and are still raising the hairs on our necks to this day. Fly carries none of the darker historic connotations of the Hound stories but was inspired by the tale of Black Vaughan’s ghost, reduced to the size of a fly and interred in a snuffbox, invoking the power of positive transformation. Fly represents the spirit of an enthusiastic walking companion, ideally suited to his location in Kington, where he stands outside the Kington Museum. You can find out more about Fly, and Rachel’s work.

Just around the corner from Fly, walking and art in Kington are also visibly linked in the work of Kathryn Moore a Kington‐based artist who draws her inspiration from the local landscape, especially as she experiences it through walking and sketching. Kat and Fiddle Studio is her workspace and gallery in the centre of Kington. It is a great showcase for Kington’s wonderful walking country. Kathryn is closely involved with the Kington Walking Festivals, leading sketching walks and putting on her Six Pix Challenge, in homage to Kington’s 8 Peaks Challenge, and Kington’s Six Great Walks.

Kathryn has painted six views along Walk 1 of the Six Great Walks around Kington and asks participants to identify these locations with either What3words or an Ordnance Survey grid reference. The winner will be drawn from the correct answers and will receive a £50 prize.

The six images can be found on the Kington Walks website from 11th September and the originals displayed in Kathryn’s Kat and Fiddle Studio window, 37 Church Street, from 11th September to 1st October 2023.

Describing the interplay of art and the land in Kington, Kathryn says: ‘Many artists use landscape as their starting point for their chosen practice; Kington artists are no exception. The breadth of creativity among the artistic community in ceramics, printmaking, sculpture and painting, draws influences from the area’s rich abundance of material. Some may respond to the lie of the land in hills and valleys, others through the physical substance of materials in flora, pigments and minerals. The primary source is in our landscape, therefore walking, exploring, charting, documenting and discovery are an essential part of this creativity. Becoming familiar with the environs through walking, whether in a professional capacity or for relaxing pastime, increases one’s awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings.’