80 years of fun, friendship and fresh air...

Ramblers Dr Owen Plunkett and his wife Valerie Plunkett have been ramblers since 1979  ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (151284-256)
Ramblers Dr Owen Plunkett and his wife Valerie Plunkett have been ramblers since 1979 ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (151284-256)
A fox currently being treated at Brent Lodge

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With radical roots in pushing to open up access to the countryside for all, eight decades on the organisation now has more than 120,000 members who, every day of the week, go on walks around the country.

As well as campaigning to create national parks – it was instrumental in the creation of South Downs National Park – The Ramblers also promotes walking to tackle the burgeoning obesity crisis.

But it is more than just fresh air and taking in the scenery.

Andy Nash, 39, from Fareham, has been part of the Ramblers since 2002.

He is one of the walk leaders of Hampshire 20s and 30s – a group aimed at people under 40 who want to enjoy the great outdoors.

He says: ‘I’ve always loved walking and I saw an advert, started going along and I haven’t looked back.

‘Most of my best friends are people I have met in the group.

‘Our strap line is ‘Fun, fresh air and friendship”.

‘And it really is all of these.

‘It’s good fun to go out and meet other people.

‘It’s good for you physically and a good way to relax.

‘It’s a good way to see really nice places as well. What’s not to like?’

Typically the group has one walk a week, every week – all over Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex.

But they also go further afield – around the country and abroad.

Earlier this month the group was in Snowdonia.

‘We also have a lot of socials – from curry nights to music festivals,’ says Andy.

There are 130 members but not everyone turns up for each walk. The average number is about 15 people.

Since becoming a walk leader Andy has learned a lot of skills and now runs map reading and navigation workshops.

‘People think they can’t do it but they can,’ Andy says. ‘It’s also a lot of responsibilty to lead a group and it builds confidence.

‘It’s voluntary and I see it as a way of giving something back.

‘Hampshire is beautiful and rambling opens up people’s eyes to that.

‘There are so many fields and woods to explore and it gives you an awareness of the importance of the countryside and how beautiful it is. Sometimes we might see some unexpected wildlife we would never see in the city.’

And you do not have to travel far to walk with a Ramblers group.

Andy says: ‘Most of the members are in the south of Hampshire.

‘A fair number of the walks begin at railway stations.

‘And you can usually catch a lift with someone if you don’t have a car’.

The walks range from three-mile summer evening strolls to 20-mile hikes.

The average walk length is 10 miles but they cater for all abilities and fitness levels.

Dr Owen Plunkett, 80, is a retired University of Portsmouth chemistry lecturer from Waterlooville.

He has been a member for more than 35 years.

He says: ‘My wife Valerie joined first.

‘I was a very keen tennis player at the time so I’d drop her off on Saturday mornings on the way to a match.

‘Occasionally I would walk with her and it grew from there.

‘I love everything about the Ramblers. I love the countryside and the variety we have here.

‘I’ve made great friends and it can be good fun.

‘The only problem is there is so much to see and you can’t stop all the time.

‘We have 500 people in our group but fortunately they don’t all turn up for every walk. A lot of people join just because they support our aims.

‘A typical walk would be up Butser Hill. I’ve got bad knees but I still manage it. I just take it gently.

‘It’s a very nice walk. In fact I’ve led about 500 walks since 1979.

‘We try and share transport as often as we can. We want to be environmentally friendly.

‘We run about six walks a week and they vary in length.

‘We have walks to suit everybody.

‘On the longer ones we take along a packed lunch.

‘Sometimes we stop at the pub for a bite to eat.

‘Other times we’ll find a lovely spot to eat our sandwiches and have a cup of tea or coffee.

‘One of our leaders is obsessed with walking.

‘He has kept a log over the years and worked out he has walked 5,000 miles – most of them with The Ramblers.

‘It is very therapeutic – from a physical and mental health point of view.’

Owen’s favourite walk is Harting Down – a picturesque nature reserve bursting with wildlife.

He adds: ‘The view of the South Downs is simply wonderful.

‘Particularly overlooking Harting village, The Weald and beyond.

‘The Ramblers played a huge part in the creation of the South Downs National Park.

‘The campaign took a long time but we got there in the end.’

David Nichols, from Portsmouth Ramblers, said: ‘The Ramblers’ exists to facilitate, for the benefit of everyone, the enjoyment and discovery that walking outdoors can bring; and to promote respect for the life of the countryside.

‘It encourages walking; protects rights of way, defends the beauty of the countryside and has campaigned for many years for freedom to roam over uncultivated, open country.’

CONTACT DETAILS

Although walkers can join the national organisation of the Ramblers, there are local groups across Hampshire.

n Hampshire 20s and 30s – hantswalk.org.uk.

n Portsmouth – bit.ly/1U2kw1k or call (023) 9252 9490.

n South East Hampshire – bit.ly/1NEMR92 or call (023) 9273 2649.

n Hampshire 40 plus – hampshirewalkers.org.uk.

None of the age range groups is exclusive to those ages. Walks are planned for walkers to be able to use public transport but that is not always possible because they are in the countryside.

Car sharing is encouraged.

n For more information go to ramblers.org.uk