Aylesbury Ramblers Celebrate 50 Years – The Story so Far

Aylesbury & District Ramblers Group officially came into being on the 1st October 1966 although a lot of preparatory work, organisation and meetings went on before that date. Ray Knowles and his wife Jennifer were founder members; Jennifer’s father Bill Pike was heavily involved with the group’s formation and Jennifer says that she remembers it happening and going on the inaugural walk. Current member Diane Bonwitt was the first Group Secretary, followed by Ray Knowles then Clive Bostle in 1988, followed by others, including Graham Seymour and Jim Cornwell, who also chaired the Group when Oliver Statham stood down until Dan Sullivan became Chairmen and soon after Jim Robinson became Secretary which leads us up to the current arrangements.

Before Ramblers went ‘corporate’ their old green logo was accompanied by the slogan “Working for Walkers” and from the outset we met the aims of this simple and excellent summation of what the Ramblers are all about. In addition to organising programmes of led walks and promoting walking  the Group carried out lots of path maintenance installing bridges, steps, stiles and clearing under growth remembered by former Group Chairman and current parish footpath checker Robin Carr who joined the Group in 1971 (see photos from 1976-77). These were grim times for footpaths in Bucks especially in the north of the county which was referred to as “bandit country” and work such as ours was vital to keep paths open. Frank Ridgeway former member and parish footpath secretary also remembers carrying out this work from the 1970’s as does current member and former Group Footpath Secretary Ed Kendrick from a later date.

In the early 1980’s The Aylesbury Ring route was identified by two of our members, Ray Knowles and John Maples and in 1989 the Aylesbury Ring detailed route was published in “The Vale of Aylesbury Walker” a Ramblers publication written by current members Peter and Diana Gulland who also used to organise and lead local walks for groups coming out of London by train.

In 1991 on 6th October the Group celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a walk following the original route of the inaugural walk from Wendover Library car park.

Following the step change in BCC activity with rights of way 1993 saw the fully way marked, Aylesbury Ring adopted, added to their promoted routes and officially launched by BCC in Market Square.

1995 saw Ramblers 60th anniversary and the Aylesbury Group celebrated this by walking the “Aylesbury Wheel”, a 60 mile route around Aylesbury via Leighton Buzzard, Tring, Princes Risborough, Thame, Brill and Winslow in 10 mile stages over six months using a hire coach.

Up to early 2000 the path maintenance work mentioned before had continued but faded and had now completely stopped due partly to BCC Rights of Way taking up the challenge in the 1990’s and greatly improving the path network under Mike Walker and partly pressure from health & safety limitations linked to the “you cannot do that attitude” of the time.

In 2000 The Round Aylesbury Walk a 12 mile route conceived and talked about for years was launched after Mike Roe, a current member and former Group Footpath Secretary approached AVDC and got some money towards paying for way markers and signpost arms.

In 2010 Ramblers celebrated its 75th anniversary and the late Oliver Statham could not let this pass purely as a celebration when the government had just announced the route of HS2 which was going to destroy so much of our best walking area. He set to and organised eight walks on one day in different directions around Wendover to highlight the destruction the HS2 route will cause in which over a hundred people took part.

2011 saw the launch of our website which the Group Committee had been considering the possibility of for some time. This followed the introduction of a specimen edition of a “Members Tips & Queries Corner” whose content  lent itself to being on a website was circulated with the walk programme with a call for a volunteer to start a website. The specimen edition was not a success in terms of members input however Maurice Crump volunteered and set up our excellent and successful website.

In July of the same year, Roy Johnson, current Group Footpath & Countryside Secretary carried out a full survey and tidy-up of the 32 mile Aylesbury Ring mentioned earlier then went round the route to get photos for an article for South East Walker and to place on our new website. He realised as he drove round the outside of the Ring that there was another route begging to be identified around the outside. This route utilised the high or higher ground and was the basis of the idea of the Outer Aylesbury Ring our 54 mile, fully waymarked route with walk guides and maps with “The Best Views in the Vale of Aylesbury”.

2011-2013 saw the Group working tirelessly on the Outer Aylesbury Ring which was developed and launched in Wendover Woods on the 18th May 2013 and the whole project involved the efforts of some 80 group volunteers which was a magnificent effort by all. This was followed by a Walking Festival on 7th September with 18 concurrent circular walks covering the whole Ring with walks ranging from 4 – 12 miles.

2014 – Building on the willingness of our volunteers to establish the OAR and in response to continuous cuts in rights of way funding by BCC, which incidentally as part of wider cuts to public services generated a new attitude more of accommodation rather than prohibition towards volunteers, Path Check& Maintenance Walks were launched in May. Every month we blitz a parish or a route clearing stiles, gates, etc., replacing way mark discs and performing what simple repairs we can. We now have over 20 people participating with an average turnout of 10 members.

2015 – Following up on this work member Bill Piers started a NorthBucks Ripple group replacing stiles with gates and carrying out repairs under the direction of BCC and is currently establishing a “Donate a Gate” for North Bucks.

During the Groups existence  we have delivered a well-established and varied walk programme, have encouraged members to adopt a parish, check its paths, maintain them as far as is possible and report any problems to BCC – they have been variously known as Parish Footpath Secretaries, Parish Footpath Representatives and currently Parish Path Checkers. Currently we programme about 145 led walks per year; organised one or two walking holidays per year, have social events such as Summer Party, Winter Meal and AGM Social Evening and have 25 path checkers covering 55 of the 111 parishes within the AVDC area.

Now in 2016 we have reached our 50th Anniversary which we are celebrating by donating three gates to replace stiles on the Outer Aylesbury Ring and are having a group event with three walks in the morning followed by lunch and a social get together at Green Park in Aston Clinton on Saturday the 8thOctober. Then we plan to press on as an active group to continue the tradition for another 50 years and beyond.