Kat Keogh puts her best foot forward to meet the Ramblers’ Association.
Its members have trod along every footpath and explored every nook and cranny the length and breadth of the British Isles.
But walking charity the Ramblers Association is showing no sign of slowing down as the organisation celebrates its 75th birthday.
Walkers from across Birmingham gathered in Summerfield Park, Edgbaston, this week to mark the anniversary with a special “birthday baton” walk.
It was formed in 1935, but the association’s roots can be traced back to the 19th century, when a growing number of people turned to the countryside for rest and recreation in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.
But it seems there is more to the history of the association than a genteel stroll through the woods, with walkers fighting a century-long battle for a right to roam on paths and open spaces.
As the popularity of rambling grew in the late 19th and early 20th Century, landowners became concerned about poaching and many paths were blocked up and man traps were set on the land.
The situation came to a head in 1932, when walkers clashed with gamekeepers and staged a mass trespass in Derbyshire.
The stunt attracted widespread public support, and current membership stands at 140,000, with more than 800 affiliated groups.
Birmingham Rambler Bob Hunt, who led this week’s walk at Summerfield Park, said the movement had played an important part in ensuring people enjoyed rights of access in some of the region’s best-loved outdoor spaces.
“For 75 years we’ve been campaigning to open up Britain for walkers,” he said.
“But there’s still more to do to ensure that Birmingham becomes and remains one of the most walking friendly cities in Britain.
“Birmingham is a wonderful place to walk and it doesn’t matter whether you can only fancy a short stroll or a challenging hike.”
Retired deputy head teacher Mr Hunt, from Harborne, added that one of the Birmingham branch’s recent successes was securing the Harborne Walkway for future generations.
The path, which follows the track bed of the former Harborne Railway, was upgraded just before Christmas after the path was claimed as a public right of way.
“It was in a terrible state,” said Mr Hunt.
“When I claimed it as a public right of way, this pushed the authorities into upgrading it for people to use so everyone can enjoy it.”
The Birmingham Ramblers were also involved in a 20-year campaign to push for paths to be included on a Definitive Map of the city, where every path recorded onto the map is legally enshrined as a right of way, and cannot be closed.
“There are more than 2,000 paths in Birmingham,” said Mr Hunt.
“We have 50 plus on the Definitive map at the moment and Birmingham City Council have been working hard to ensure that more paths will be added. Having paths on the Definitive map is vital as the Ordnance Survey take their information from it when they draw up their own map.
“We have a long way to go, but at least it is happening now.”
Mr Hunt added as well as campaigning to keep paths open to the public, many people turned to the Birmingham ramblers because of the group’s knowledge.
The 65-year-old said: “Of course people like to still go walking on their own, but we organise trips to places a little further afield in places like Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
“This gives people get a chance to see what is out there, and it is wonderful, carefree way to spend the day – and we always find a good pub on the way. We offer walks for all abilities and we are lucky to have such wonderful countryside around Birmingham to enjoy.
“We walk around the Clent Hills, the Lickey Hills and around the canals in Birmingham and the Black Country, which are just marvellous.”
To commemorate the association’s anniversary, members are holding a nationwide Baton walks programme, where a special Ramblers birthday baton will travel around Britain throughout 2010.
Ramblers CEO Tom Franklin said: “For 75 years, the Ramblers has existed as Britain’s walking charity, to help everyone – no matter who they are or where they’re from – experience the joy of walking.”
* Top places to walk in Birmingham
1. Cannon Hill Park to Kings Norton along the River Rea (five miles)
2. Start at the junction of Harborne Lane and Reservoir Road in Harborne to Woodgate Valley Country Park Visitor Centre (three miles)
3. Start at the Harborne Walkway on Park Hill Road, Harborne towards Edgbaston Reservoir (up to 10.5 miles)