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The Ramblers
Founded 1 January 1935 (1935-01-01)
Focus Walking
Area served United Kingdom
Product Walking
Members 123,000[1]
Mission Promoting walking

The Ramblers, formerly known as the Ramblers' Association, is the largest charity registered in England and Wales and in Scotland,[1] with around 123,000 members.[1]


North flank of Kinder Scout

In 1931, the National Council of Ramblers' Federations was formed because walkers felt that a national body to represent their interests was needed.[2] On 24 April 1932, the Communist-inspired British Workers Sports Federation, frustrated at the lack of resolve of the newly formed Ramblers, staged a mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District.[2] During the mass trespass, the protesters present scuffled with the Duke of Devonshire's gamekeepers and five ramblers were arrested. The National Council of Ramblers' Federations did not endorse the tactics of the trespassers.[2]

This mass trespass is often seen as the pivotal turning point in the history of the Ramblers. In 1934 the Council decided to change its name, leading to the official founding of the Ramblers' Association on 1 January 1935.[2] On 21 and 22 April 2007, the Ramblers celebrated the 75th anniversary of the illegal trespass of Kinder Scout and the imprisonment of those who participated.[3]

From 1948 onwards its secretary was Tom Stephenson, who was a leading campaigner for open-country access and for the first British long-distance footpath, the Pennine Way.[2]

Labour politician Hugh Dalton, an avid outdoorsman, served a term as president of the Ramblers Association.[4] Dalton was an environmentalist before the term came into fashion. As Chancellor in 1946 he started the National Land Fund to resource national parks, and in 1951 as Minister of Town and Country Planning he approved the Pennine Way, which involved the creation of seventy additional miles of rights of way.


The paved surface of the Pennine Way on Black Hill

The Ramblers' Association and its members long felt that there was a need for a change of image following on from the last change in 1987. London-based brand agency Spencer du Bois, which specialises in not-for-profit organisations, was commissioned to create and effect the rebranding.

It surveyed all members and received almost 6,000 responses, which revealed that there was a shift taking place within the membership, from elderly, retired, middle class and predominantly white members, walking in the countryside, towards a younger, more ethnically diverse membership for whom walking was an increasingly urban activity. The rebranding targeted this new and evolving demographic.

In 2009, the Ramblers' Association was rebranded as the "Ramblers" at a cost of £35,000 and a new logo emerged incorporating a younger, more all-inclusive urban image.[5]

Charitable objectives

The Ramblers has five main charitable aims as detailed below from the Ramblers Charity Commission summary:

In summary, the aims of the charity are:

  1. To promote walking
  2. To safeguard paths
  3. To increase access for walkers
  4. To protect the countryside
  5. To educate the public

Ethos and core beliefs

The Ramblers as a charitable organization, that believes in the positive impact that walking can have on people's lives. Although it is a membership-based organisation, the Ramblers believes that its work benefits society as a whole, and that rambling in the countryside is a right. The Ramblers also argues that Britain's network of public paths is an invaluable part of its national heritage and that the relevant authorities have a duty to invest in them. Since its inception, the Ramblers have campaigned for full rights of responsible access to all of Britain's green spaces, culminating in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the CRoW Act). Access in Scotland had traditionally been more liberal, than in other parts of the United Kingdom, and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 extended these rights so as to make made Scotland, along with the Nordic countries, among the most walking-friendly countries in Europe, with walkers having the right to access virtually all land.


A paved path in the Peak District, near Marsden, West Yorkshire, constructed by the Ramblers

There are 485 Ramblers groups in about 50 areas, and around 350 other affiliated bodies, such as societies especially interested in walking and pedestrianism, for example the Footpath Society.

Each of the Ramblers groups is structured into areas and sends representatives to an area committee. Once a year a general council is held, whereby representatives from each area meet to discuss the priorities of the Ramblers for the forthcoming year. The trustees that are legally responsible for the Ramblers are also elected at this time.

A criticism of Ramblers groups is that they traditionally attract retired heterosexual, middle-class people on walks and not people of other age groups or from ethnic minorities. However, there is a concerted effort to change this. Ramblers' groups have now been formed targeting specific age ranges - 20s and 30s groups are the most common - the largest one being the Metropolitan Walkers based in London. Recently 40s and 50s groups are also being formed due to the popularity of the 20s and 30s groups.

Increased emphasis on urban walking has also resulted in a number of specialised groups being formed, the main one being the London Strollers who specialise in short, urban, leisurely walks under 8 miles (13km). It is hoped that these initiatives will attract those from ethnic and other minority and underprivileged groups. Whilst the Ramblers have attracted new members from younger age groups, there is still a lack of ethnic diversity within its membership.[6] Other initiatives include the formation of the Gay City Strollers, a collaboration between the Ramblers and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation Manchester. The project is an urban walking programme targeted at the city's gay and lesbian community.[7]

Funding cuts

In 2009, the Ramblers introduced funding cuts due to the loss of membership revenue with a 5,000 reduction in membership numbers. Ramblers suggested this "certainly resulted in part from difficulties we have experienced in processing and servicing memberships during the year. Also, the economic downturn coupled with a large structural reorganisation and a reduction in marketing has had an impact too."[1] Although the economic downturn was cited, this was against a background of increased retail sales of walking gear during the economic downturn. The funding cuts were especially difficult for Ramblers Scotland who saw funding cut by 75% to just £100,000 per annum. Ramblers Scotland was told to reduce staff numbers from 7 to just 2 and to close their office in Kinross. Dennis Canavan, the chairman of the Ramblers Scotland, mailed every Scottish Ramblers member about the possibility of forming a totally independent Scottish walking group as it was felt that having a London-based Ramblers association meant the Ramblers was too London- and urban-based and out of touch with Ramblers Scotland and other ramblers groups.[8] Funding cuts also resulted in the threatened closure of the Wales office of the Ramblers Wales and redundancies at Ramblers headquarters in London. Hike, a magazine aimed at Ramblers aged 18–30, was discontinued and there was also a reduction in spending on rights of way, countryside protection and freedom to roam by both Areas and Groups to £82,000 (2008: £133,000), and centrally to £2.3m. (2008: £2.7m).[1]

Subsequent years have seen finances stabilise with the Ramblers winning grants from government for running Walking for Health—a scheme to encourage walking for health purposes—jointly with the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.


The Old Nags Head, Edale. The traditional start point of the Pennine Way, as stated on the black sign (bottom left)
Map showing the route of the Cotswold Way

A long term goal of the organization was achieved in 2000 with the passing of The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which grants the freedom to roam in the open countryside in England and Wales. The Ramblers has also been at the forefront of those campaigning for a consistent scheme of access to the whole coast of England and Wales (under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009).[9]

A campaign in the summer of 2003 was conducted "to work for safer road crossing points for users of public rights of way" in order to make the authorities and the public at large aware of the attendant dangers of crossing some extremely busy roads.

Pennine Way, the Pilgrims' Way, the Saxon Shore Way, Offa's Dyke, The Ridgeway and many others routes, as well as innumerable shorter paths, become very popular over the years. Gloucestershire-area members of the Ramblers were also responsible for devising (in 1953) and promoting the line of the Cotswold Way.

Along with the Long Distance Walkers Association, the Ramblers is recognised by Sport England as the governing body for "Rambling" in England.[10]

Present campaigns

The Ramblers have just launched (2010) a campaign to monitor the level of funding cuts to highway authorities, as it is believed these will have a significant impact on footpath provision.[11]

The Ramblers were previously campaigning against the expansion of Stansted Airport, as this will be detrimental to the enjoyment of walking in the area.

The Ramblers is active in promoting "walking for health" schemes (under its "Get Walking, Keep Walking" initiative).[12]

Confrontation with landowners

Throughout its history, the Ramblers have often been involved with other countryside user groups and landowners.

No right of way sign in Dorset, England

Notable confrontations are:

Madonna won a battle against the Ramblers in 2004 after walkers were banned from the pop star's country estate for half the year because of the risk of being shot. Fifty-four acres of the 1,132-acre (4.58 km2) Ashcombe Estate on the Wiltshire/Dorset border were opened to walkers under new right-to-roam laws, but the Countryside Agency agreed that ramblers will be banned from the open part of the land from September to February—during the shooting season. During the rest of the year the small section of land will be open. "I didn't have a go at the ramblers!" Madonna protested. "Jesus Christ! I didn't have a go at anybody… When we bought Ashcombe, we did think, 'Oh, there's a path: people are going to be bothering us all the time.' But no one did. I haven't got anything bad to say about the ramblers."[13]

Jeremy Clarkson, the TV presenter and Top Gear host who lives on the Isle of Man, became frustrated at the lack of privacy at his home when ramblers deviated from a pathway to take photographs of his dwelling, hoping to catch a glimpse of the star. Clarkson's property bordered a small 250-metre strip of land that had no definitive status as a public right of way but was used by walkers regardless. Clarkson aimed to close access to this small strip of his land, thereby forcing ramblers to take a small diversion to stick to the official public right of way and therefore protecting his claimed right to privacy on his own property. In May 2010 the former transport minister, Hon. David Anderson MHK, accepted the conclusions of a public inquiry that all except five of the paths claimed at the inquiry as Public Rights of Way have been dedicated as public rights of way and should be added to the Definitive Map.[14]

Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, the millionaire property tycoon, has had a long-standing dislike of and dispute with Ramblers, describing them as "scum of the earth". In 1999 Mr Hoogstraten erected a large fence across a footpath on his country estate in East Sussex. Local Ramblers staged a protest against the erection of the fence outside the boundary of Mr Hoogstraten's estate. On 10 February 2003 and after a 13-year battle and numerous legal proceedings, the path was finally re-opened.

How the groups work

The Ridgeway with Uffington Castle, Oxfordshire in distance on left

Locally, walks vary in length: short distances of three to four miles (6 km); a medium range of five to six miles (10 km), or seven to nine miles (14 km); or for the more experienced ramblers, ten to fifteen miles (24 km). Consideration is given to the difficulty of the course and the terrain, whether stiles, steep hills, and busy roads are to be crossed, and the number of members who may be expected to take part. Ramblers take their turn in volunteering in advance for the list of leaders of the walks. Leaders walk out the designated route in order to reconnoitre it, bearing in mind that certain features of the route may change before the actual day of the walk. Crops in fields growing or harvested, foliage on trees changing, footpaths overgrowing—all will make a difference to what Ramblers will encounter. With many walking groups consisting of elderly people, particular care is taken to ensure that the walk is both feasible and not too strenuous for these individuals.

Lunch will normally be taken en route and may consist of a picnic or a lunch taken in a pub that welcomes Ramblers. Historical problems with group size, dirty boots, and general anti-Ramblers prejudice means that not all pubs welcome Ramblers; therefore, the walk leader will be familiar with suitable pubs to visit before the walk. Sometimes a pub may be used as a starting and end point for the walk but this can create problems for pub owners due to the capacity of the pub's car park.

Many members of the Ramblers are not active members of a group however, but are members to support the access and advocacy work of the Association. Similarly, there are many members who are not users of long-distance paths, but are more interested in preserving the diversity of the existing footpath network. The majority of Ramblers will drive to the walk starting point, but car sharing is encouraged to lessen the environmental impact of car usage.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Ramblers Annual Report and Accounts 2008-09
  2. ^ a b c d e
  3. ^
  4. ^ Matthew Hilton et al. (2012). A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain: Charities, Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector since 1945. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 187. 
  5. ^ Rebranding
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Funding Ramblers Scotland
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Which sports do we recognise?". Sport England. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Get Walking Keep Walking". Ramblers. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  13. ^ Rees, Paul: 'Listen very carefully, I will say this only once', Q, May 2003, pp84-92
  14. ^ Isle of Man Government Highways website

External links

  • Official website
  • Walk: the Magazine of the Ramblers
  • Ramblers re-branding
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