Feature: Celebrating 50 years of rambling the Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth area

This year, local walking group Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group celebrates its 50th anniversary. In this feature piece, Bill Burton, the membership secretary, talks about the history of the group and how they celebrated their golden milestone.

The Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group celebrated it 50th anniversary with a walk on Sunday July 11.
The Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group celebrated it 50th anniversary with a walk on Sunday July 11.

Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group by Bill Burton

This year our local walking group Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group celebrates its 50th anniversary.

To celebrate the date we organised an anniversary walk on Sunday July 11. People joined us for a nine-mile walk starting at Hidcote Manor going via Ebrington and Mickleton. The walk retraced some of the areas walked when the group started, and was followed by cake and drinks.

The Mid-Warwickshire Ramblers group celebrated it 50th anniversary with a walk - and a cake, of course!

The group has survived all those years including the bad times when Foot and Mouth disease cancelled all our country walks and the recent pandemic which also stopped us walking for over a year.

The group which covers the Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth area was founded in June 1972 by Steven Wallsgrove and Vi Everton who lead the group for over 10 years. Initially they met up every two weeks of a full or half day walk. They used to meet at Vi’s flat and arrange to travel to the start of the walk. Then the group had a much younger age profile late 20s to early 40s with even some children joining the walks

Once a year the group would go to a YHA hostel organised by Ray Hands. Typical places to visit would be Millers Dale in Derbyshire and Cael-y-ffyn in Wales. Ray Harrup was the person that produced the first walks programme and he did this for many years. He was the first walks programme secretary.

In 1974 Steven Wallsgrove became the second footpath secretary and he did that roll for 40 years until his retirement in 2014. Steven was also employed by Warwick District Council in the Planning Department with responsibility for planning approval and maintaining the public rights of way.

Thanks to him the group attended formal public enquiries regarding footpath diversions and closure applications. He organised footpath clearances for some very old footpaths which had not been used for years and arrange for waymarks and the building of wooden stiles. He then walked irregularly with the group until his death last year. He is sadly missed but his records for footpath claims live on.

His family have handed them over to the area footpath secretary Michael Bird.

Phil Hellis took over from Ray as walks programme secretary and eventually also became the chair of the group for many years retiring in 2010. He was the first person in the group to organise trips aboard and was usually followed by a small band of mainly female members.

Bill Sidebottom was another distinguished chairman of the group for many years. He was also a keen fell runner and long distance walker, regularly walked 100 miles. On returning home in the early hours after his first 100 mile walk Barbara his wife heard him come in but went back to sleep. Next morning she found Bill fast asleep on the floor by the front door with no toenails. They had all come out during the walk. One year he organised a walk that included every single footpath in and around Kenilworth walking day and night to cover the 60 miles of paths. He was also one of the founders of the Kenilworth Footpath Preservation Group which still operates today keeping the footpaths around Kenilworth in good order. The group also produced a country walks book called Kenilworth and Beyond which lists 20 circular walks in our area within six miles of Kenilworth.

Annual coach trips started in the 80s with visits to Marlborough, Clifton Suspension bridge, the Mendips and Rousham House Bicester among many other places. We often shared the coach trips with the Coventry Ramblers Group.

Mary Coates was the group secretary for many years producing the vital meeting notes.

Marilyn Lowe’s popular weekend trips away with the group were also much enjoyed with weekends away at Dunfries, Stranraer, Jersey, New Forest, St Austell, East Grinstead and Harrogate. Marilyn used to plan all the walks and travel and produce a beautiful illustrate booklet for the visit with her own drawn pictures of the things we would see on the walks. I remember us all reading the booklet on the train going to Harrogate.

More recently Dr Sherrill Kennedy was our chairperson for several years and also used to organise weekend and longer trips to Northumberland, Aberystwyth and Exmoor. When she retired from work she moved to a more challenging walking area in the Peak District although she still keeps in touch with the group.

Currently the chair of our group is Alice Sin who has been a member for over 20 years was programme secretary for over 15 years.

I remember going on one of our walks and finding a lovely large orange on the side of the road. I picked it up and ate it during our lunch break. Just after I had just finished it I overheard a new walker saying she had lost her orange. I apologised and offered her my small satsuma in exchange. I don’t think she was very impressed.

Besides the weekly Sunday walks which start from Victoria car park on Park Drive in Leamington, CV31 3PH (free on Sunday) the group also organise evening summer walks, quiz nights and indoor bowls evening meetings as well as the annual Christmas dinner. The group is still strong with our numbers going from a low of 162 members six years ago to over 180 members currently. Well-behaved dogs are allowed on many of our walks and the group also hold a library of OS maps and walking books covering the whole of the UK and can be loaned out free to members.

For further details please contact me, Bill Burton, the membership secretary on 07944 149794.