Guest Blogger – Judy Haynes, Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire
If you ever needed proof that two people and a community group can take on the challenge of opening and maintaining the Public Rights Of Way around their Village, then you must read this.
This December saw the Bedwyn Footpaths Group celebrate its 4th Anniversary with the launch of its website, the publication of our first 3 self-guided walk leaflets and a glass or two of mulled wine!
Four years ago a friend, Tesher Fitzpatrick, and myself, Judy Haynes, founded the group after a chance discussion about the state of the local rights-of-way. As a resident of the village of 40 years I’d noticed the paths deteriorating, signs were missing, routes blocked and walkers just weren’t finding them.
An advert in the Parish News was all it took to start an email circulation list which has steadily grown to almost 70 residents and interested parties. We decided early on that we wouldn’t be just a walking group but that we would also volunteer to restore the paths.
The Wiltshire Council rights-of-way warden is supportive and advises us, as does the local Ramblers representative. I’m so proud of what the group have achieved – all village paths are now accessible and our group walks have covered all the parish’s rights-of-way, and some adjoining ones, so they are now all recognised and walked – footprints are the very best and most enjoyable way to keep a path clear!
Our greatest achievement to date has been to re-open a sunken Holloway path, blocked for at least 30 years by fallen branches and overgrowth. It was a fantastic team effort, Wiltshire Council liaised with the owner, Ramblers advised & our own working party team turned out on winter mornings with pruners, shears and saws. Finally the path surface was declared safe and viable, and the barbed wire was removed – We celebrated with a picnic in spring 2017!
When we are not out and about with our pruners, way-markers and litter pickers, we are planning monthly walks, of various levels of difficulty and occasionally hold special events to attract and encourage walkers of all ages and ability. Our 3 events last year were a fascinating dawn chorus walk with an expert birder, our annual treasure trail – always popular with families – and an accessible walk.
For this walk we invited residents and friends of limited mobility to join us for a short walk along the level wide tracks of Bedwyn Brail. The knowledgeable owner of the Brails guided the walk, he provided parking, refreshments, thoughtfully placed benches to rest on along the route, a presentation by a local archaeologist and he even provided a porta-loo in the middle of the woods! 30 people came, some recovering from injury, others with long-term mobility issues. They brought their sticks, frames, mobility scooters and the rest of us came along with our boots. It was a fabulous morning.
The most enjoyable part of leading a walk is to hear everyone following along behind chatting away and quite often they tell me they have met someone new on a walk. As a novice walk leader, I had to learn not to stop and chat too much myself or the walk ground to a halt and we never got anywhere!
Everyone is welcome on our walks. There’s no subscription, just an occasional request for donations to cover costs. Our equipment and materials have been bought with grants. This year, apart from regular clearance, we will start to repair and renovate existing way-markers, we’ll continue producing more self-guided walk leaflets and start to check for any historic paths that need recording before legislation changes in 2026.
As for events this year… I’ve still to plan those! Check out our website for walks, self-guided walk leaflets, our archive and blog: www.bedwynfootpathsgroup.org.uk Follow us on Twitter @bedwynfootpaths
Judy Haynes – Originally a country-girl from Berkshire, I’ve been living over the border in Great Bedwyn, Wilts for over 40 years and loving it here. My first passion was horses, but when that didn’t pay the bills I started and ended my career in libraries. After an accidental hip break 5 years ago I took up walking in earnest to get myself fit again. Now in retirement and running a local footpaths groups. I find this nicely combines my need to stay fit, love of the countryside, meeting new people and with the bonus that I get to visit museums and libraries to do research on historical paths.