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How joining Ramblers changed my life

January 19, 2022

snow on a tor and trig point

We stand in a circle, six strangers, socially distanced, making tentative introductions. It feels like being parachuted into an alien country.  The surrounding moorland is familiar, but meeting up with people away from the limits of our household ‘bubble’, feels illicit. I’m on Dartmoor UK in August 2020, permitted by the new rules after lockdown begins to ease, for my first walk with Ramblers.

I’d caught a plane from Dubai as soon as Emirates airlines started flying again. When the whole world changed as the pandemic hit, KP and I agreed that it made sense for me to take Hazel (our Border Terrier) to the UK for the security of our home country during such uncertain times. Staying in Devon and being a two minute walk from open moorland gave wonderful freedom during lockdown but very limited human contact except via Zoom. I’m comfortable with my own company and often crave solitude but I was missing KP and my friends and wider family. The ordinary routes to making connections in a new place were completely shut down too.

So putting on my walking boots and striding out on a new path, in more ways than one, is liberating. There are clouds overhead as we start the walk, but a hazy light makes the water in the leat* gleam like silver. Tufts of bleached grass stick up like piles of blonde clippings on a hairdresser’ floor. Derek and Christine, the walk leaders, take us along the edge of the moor, we clamber over wooden stiles, cross Willsworthy Bridge, march along country lanes via the village of Zoar to stop eventually for a break near Wheal Jewell Reservoir. The sun comes out and we perch on a circle of granite stones – handily spaced at the regulation 2 metre gaps. Everyone gets out vacuum flasks and drinks tea or coffee while I sip water and vow to be prepared next time. As we begin our return across Kingsett Down, the heavens open in a fierce deluge of rain so intense that shafts bounce off the ground and it puddles within minutes. A strong wind blows it into our faces and we all start to laugh at the absurdity of such a dramatic change in weather. We tread as quickly as possible over exposed, lumpen moorland with no chance of escape. At the end of the six mile hike we are drenched but smiling.

*Leats are small man-made canals on Dartmoor used to transport water for drinking, to power waterwheels and then the mining industry.

walking boots, a cup of tea and a view of Dartmoor

On Great Links Tor looking out to Sharp Tor and beyond

The Ramblers Association (known as The Ramblers) is a charity founded in Britain in 1935 to assist people who wanted to get away from towns and cities to walk in the countryside, escaping their polluted environments and the stress of daily life. It has evolved over the years but its central goal is still ‘to protect the ability of people to enjoy the sense of freedom and benefits that come from being outdoors on foot’.  For a small annual subscription you have access to a programme of walks throughout the UK led by volunteers, and it helps to support access to land and pathways for all.

I was familiar with a few walks on Dartmoor but joining The Ramblers opened the door to discovering an array of beautiful and interesting places I had never visited, most a short distance away. As lockdown eased I began to meet more people at every hike. Walking through magnificent countryside while getting to know other members, or just letting the bubble of gentle chatter wash over me, became part of the pleasure.

standing on a tor

On Ger Tor looking down on Tavy Cleave

Tavistock Ramblers (a local group within The Ramblers) was started in 1976 by Rosemary and Graham who were then youngest members but now are over 70 years old. They still lead walks most weekends (at a brisk pace) and we benefit from their in-depth knowledge of Dartmoor.  I’ve learned so much from them and other members of the group that enrich my love of the area.  There are the wild moors, peaceful country lanes, numerous types of stiles, bucolic villages with pretty thatched cottages, historic remains going back to the Bronze age (like Grimspound pictured below), the legacy of mining, geology formed 370 million years ago, unique plant and animal life – which I now know so much more about.

After that first meeting, I started to join both walks on the weekend. My ‘lockdown spare tyre’ diminished, I felt stronger, fitter and enthused about the wonderful hikes to KP, my family and anyone else who would listen.  The welcome from the group is always warm, inclusive and generous. It gave me a respite from the confinements of lockdown and a degree of loneliness that I hadn’t realised I felt until joining.  During the second restrictions, I missed my weekend rambles desperately but met up with individual Ramblers members (as permitted), exploring yet more new territory.

When Rosemary walked over 130 miles (210km) over ten consecutive days along the new Dartmoor Way in aid of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Tavistock, I joined her for two of them. A very special couple of days. I was with a group of other Tavistock Ramblers to welcome this amazing 74 year-old as she ended her hike in Tavistock – in an absolute torrent of Dartmoor rain!

Every time I step out with Tavistock Ramblers my shoulders relax and a sense of contentment floods through me. I take a deep breath and start to grin; I call this ‘The Ramblers smile’.

The Ramblers Association, contacted me (seeing things I’d shared on Instagram) and invited me to be an ambassador for some of their campaigns, which is a pleasure and an honour. I’ve written some articles for the national website (as well as some for our local newsletter). You can read them here (no surprise that one is about food):

From Dubai to Dartmoor

The perfect packed lunch for a ramble – my way!

Wild and wonderful: a winter walk on Dartmoor

looking down on a stone circle

Grimspound – a Bronze Age stone circle

a stone clapper bridge over a river

Bellever Clapper bridge

Walking is free and you don’t need a lot of kit but my last two Christmas lists have included a variety of hiking gear. I swapped my 30 year-old Barbour (too heavy for longer distances) for a Paramo jacket which I love, stocked up on some warm base layers, gloves and hats and have just invested in a rather smart backpack (so my shoulders don’t ache), and some Altberg boots. I really recommend Taunton Leisure for their excellent customer service. I learned from my first experience and always take my lunchbox, flask and distinctive Orla Kiely enamel mug. My fellow ramblers now tease me as I take a picture of it for Instagram before taking a welcome sip of tea.

As the freedom to see family and friends and other activities open up I don’t attend quite as many walks. However, there is always a spring in my step and a smile on my face as I arrive at a meeting place, exchange “hellos” with the delightful bunch of ramblers, and stride out onto a path that leads to yet another wonderful walk.

“I love walking because it clears your mind, enriches the soul, takes away stress and opens up your eyes to a whole new world .” – Claudette Dudley**

I couldn’t agree more. Thank you Ramblers.

** This is quoted widely online but I can’t discover who Claudette Dudley is. Let me know if you do!

Find out more:

The Ramblers – joining as an individual is £36.60 a year which gives you access to the programme of walks across the UK. Worth investing even if you are just visiting the UK.

Tavistock Ramblers – my local branch and a lovely bunch. There are self-guided walks on the website too.

Dartmoor National Park – a wild and beautiful place.

Dartmoor Way – just one of many trails across and round the area.

All images taken on my iPhone 11 plus

river

River Plym

I share my Ramblers walk on Instagram stories if you’d like to connect there. If you’d like regular updates from me in your inbox sign up here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2022 1:28 pm

    This was certainly a perfect activity to help get you through this time!

  2. January 23, 2022 4:34 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful club. I love walking with people, but nearly always end up walking alone (even the dogs abandon me!)

  3. February 27, 2022 9:08 pm

    You live in a fabulous area. There’s nothing remotely like those terrains in my region (southeast Pennsylvania). Thanks for the tour.

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