In the early 1990’s the Ramblers Association was keen to increase its membership and encourage more people to get out and enjoy the countryside thereby helping to maintain and develop the wonderful path and bridleway network of the British Isles. The Association had campaigned in the past to keep these old paths on the Ordnance Survey maps. It was thought that by increasing the number of groups the overall membership would also increase.
At that time the West Essex Group had a very large membership and was already very active both on the walking front and in doing the actual hard work of path clearance, stile and bridge building and repairs, as well as challenging the County Council to deal with path obstructions, waymarking, diversions and so forth.
The then West Essex Committee, of which I was a member, decided to encourage the setting up of a new local group in Redbridge and I agreed to take a lead role in this venture. Myself and a few enthusiastic friends decided to go ahead. We were especially keen to be more adventurous and to plan walks further afield than Essex. Looking back on that time now I realise that we were all relatively young (i.e. in our mid to late forties!), still working full time in London and longing to escape to the countryside at weekends and for short breaks. We did not imagine that anyone would want to walk about London - how things have changed!
So in June 1992 me, Lennie, Jeff, Beryl and a little later Derek set about creating a new walks programme with several other West Essex walks leaders. In fact I was later accused of stealing them! Looking back on that first programme I am reminded that we set out as we intended to continue with walks starting in Henley, Hertford, Otford, Ditchling, Great Missenden, Amersham as well as several in the Essex area, and ending with a three day coach outing to Sparsholt near Winchester. It is worth remembering that it was quicker to get around the M25 in those days, and all the Committee members were walks leaders and confident car drivers.
As time went on more “youngish” walkers joined the group, often attracted by our lively walks programme and by no means always Redbridge residents. The numbers on walks crept up from 8 – 12 to 25+ and mid-week walks were added to the programme. Tentatively a few London walks were included and more recently the coach rambles, coach holidays back packing weeks and foreign holidays. Also a Social Secretary was added to the Committee and from all this many walking friendships developed (even one wedding).
21 years later I look back on the very early days with nostalgia not least because none of us thought much of 5 mile walks . They had to be 10 – 14 to be worth doing. Also three of the original committee have died and only Derek and myself potter on, with only me still leading a few short walks for the group. A few,early group members still lead walks – Colin Foster, Roger Young (who later became such a successful Chairman), Rex Bates, John Henton, June Caslaw and Bryan Cook come to mind – sorry if I have left anyone out. Why were they - nearly all men I wonder? I always did my best to encourage the ladies, and I think there is a better balance today.
So for me happy memories and great pleasure in being able to lead a few walks and join in some of the holidays so ably organised at home and abroad. It is lovely to walk with old friends even if some of us struggle along huffing, puffing and leaning on sticks.
To the present Committee I hope you can keep the original spirit of the Redbridge Group going via an imaginative and adventurous programme, and hopefully increase the current membership.
1st Walks Rambles Secretary