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The 38th Annual General Meeting of the Club was held at The Alive Conference Centre, Newland, Lincoln, on Saturday 21st May 2016, commencing at 1.25 p.m.
So we have reached our 150th Ramblings! Quite an achievement in itself particularly with the magazine having been published every quarter without fail* since its inception thirty seven and a half years ago in 1979. Much of the credit for that must go to the relative longevity of our editors – we have (I think) just four prior to our current incumbent: Nigel Willis, Jeff Vinter, Maurice Blencowe and David Brace. It is also good to note that all five remain with us in at least relatively good health and that they can all be seen about on club events from time to time.
In this address I felt it worth considering what might be termed the current state of railway enthusiasm. In his 2015 update of the 1995 book Platform Souls, Nicholas Whittaker paints a much more positive picture than he did twenty years ago of how those with an interest in railways are perceived by others. In 1995 enthusiasts were sometimes derided, often pitied and certainly risked being lumped in with the dreaded ‘trainspotters’. How trainspotting went from being a mass participation hobby to being considered by many as the most uncool activity imaginable is a worthy subject for social psychologists to try and untangle but there is clear evidence now to suggest that things have changed for the better.
Our British love for celebrities and celebrity culture may be part of the reason why. Whittaker noted the number of well-known personalities (from a range of other fields) who now front or have fronted railway-themed programmes. Michael Portillo, Dan Snow, Pete Waterman, Mark Williams and most recently Paul Merton all spring to mind and all have contributed towards gently realigning opinion towards a more positive view of railway enthusiasm. As railway ramblers we could consider the Julia Bradbury Railway Walks programmes on disused lines as the most important and these are still repeated from time to time. Certainly her series coincided with a very significant rise in club membership numbers which had remained static for the best part of twenty years beforehand.
It is also fair to say that the demand for all things ‘railway’ is higher than ever. Our preserved lines are generally thriving, books and ‘railwayana’ draw higher prices than ever at auction and if your budget stretches to purchasing a former station these command a premium too. So it may be that this current greater interest in walking and exploring old lines can be seen in this generally more positive context.
This leads naturally on to considering the current perception of disused railways as places or as parts of our environment. This again has changed from seeing old lines as litter-strewn hideaways for low-life or soaking wet morasses of mud and nettles to pleasant places to spend recreational time. Two personal anecdotes back this up: a work colleague was planning a weekend away with her family camping in North Yorkshire near Robin Hood’s Bay; on suggesting that they might like to walk or cycle part of the Scarborough to Whitby line her response was “what a lovely idea”. I doubt if she would have said the same in 1995. Another friend of mine is shortly moving with her daughter to a delightful part of Scotland, near Callander. As well as extolling the natural beauty of the area to her friends I have noted her adding (and not just for my benefit!) “and there’s a disused railway line at the bottom of the garden”. But while perceptions may be changing there is still some way to go – I met a man in Devon last year implacably opposed to the conversion of the old line near to his property (but not that near to affect his privacy) into a footpath/cycleway. “It will just bring these dreadful types into the area and lower the value of my property”, he said and nothing I could offer in reply was going to make any difference to his viewpoint. Perhaps in the eyes of some the old view of ramblers as socialist, trespassing agitators still lives on!
But having said all the above, to present an over-positive view of things could also be considered inappropriate here. Some say that much railway rambling has become too safe, too sanitised if you prefer and that there is little left to explore that ‘feels’ like finding something hitherto hidden – even if that ‘discovering’ feeling only applied to the individual railway rambler concerned. But with 50 years now since Beeching, our former lines would not have survived in any useful form if no-one was looking after them so effectively they either have to be safe and accessible (partly why they are more popular with the general public) or lost altogether. Moreover there ARE still lines that are very little-known, and well worth exploring, particularly if one’s interest stretches to tramroads and you are willing to travel to more remote parts of the country. Another way of recapturing that feeling of ‘being an explorer’ is to consider the foreign scene as an alternative. As mentioned in these pages before I have travelled to Central Europe on a few occasions now to walk former railways and this July will be visiting Slovakia for a further such week. Other members I know have been to France, Spain and even further afield; there are no limits really and as an aside it is pleasing to see links forming between our club and railway ramblers overseas.
I am pleased to confirm that I am happy to continue as Club Chairman for the foreseeable future.' Mark was warmly applauded after his address.
* Jeff Vinter noted near failure in 1986 for financial reasons.
OF PREVIOUS AGM
ARISING FROM THE MINUTES
Following the Committee Meeting on 3rd October 2015 there were no items to discuss that are not covered on the Agenda at this AGM.
One of my principal duties, although not specifically as vice-chairman, has been the compilation of the walks programme as it appears in our quarterly magazine. It is a great pleasure to see the programme become steadily more comprehensive and particularly aimed at the walker who may be coming from outside the area and who is, as a result, unfamiliar with the territory. While on the subject of tributes I am sure you will agree that our editor Jonathan does an amazing job. The compliments received on the quality of our magazine continue to flow in.
For our Club members who do not or cannot participate in walks, the Ramblings magazine is their main link with the Club as a whole. It has come to my attention that would-be walkers appreciate the inclusion of further detail about access, walk surfaces and features in general that would facilitate their attendance.
Part of my duties has been to render practical assistance to the Chairman in providing a sense of direction of the Club and of managing its affairs, not least those which come to the attention of the Committee. Our idea is to promote the smooth running of the Club.
One matter which has arisen again has been the question of Club insurance. This has come up before and it seems to represent a level of concern. The most frequent specific question has been the number of walks which prospective members may attend. This is limited to three, without time limit. There is no coverage for persons who are not prospective members. The nature of the insurance cover, excepting working parties, is that for public liability. If members need further information or have more specific questions we can try to deal with them more fully under any other business.
It remains to me to congratulate the Chairman and my other fellow Committee members, and in addition our Area Organisers, for the extensive work they carry out behind-the-scenes, their skill in administration and lightness of touch in organisation which goes so far in making the Club relaxed, diverse, friendly and a joy to be a member.’
I would like to acknowledge the help and support received from the Club’s members and Officers.’
Starting with the General Fund you will see there is an increase in membership income of £800 most of which is from new members. There is also an increase in donations which almost all arise when members add a few pounds to their subscription. These donations are usually between £2 and £10.
On the payments, side the cost of 'Railway Ramblings' is less than in 2014; this is because the Spring issue postage was less. If the magazine weighs more than 100 grams the postage doubles. You will see that we have now started paying the Ramblers' Association again; there was a problem with them not collecting the direct debit which took several months to resolve.
The final result is a surplus of £2,467.
Now to the Footpath Fund. Donations were almost the same as in 2014; we made one donation which was to the Friends of Cawston Greenway. The Fund now stands at £6,540. Suggestions for projects to support are always welcome.
Our account at Santander Bank now stands at £19,320. The interest rate is currently 0.45% but is being reduced to 0.3% on 1st July. I have looked around for a better rate but found most banks do not have accounts for clubs and associations. I have however found the Skipton Building Society who will pay 1% and propose we move to them’ A motion to this effect was proposed by Marion Thornton, seconded by Nigel Nicholds and carried.
It was also agreed that we keep the same signatories – any two from Mark Jones, Jeff Vinter, Marion Thornton. A motion to this effect was proposed by Marion Thornton, seconded by Paul Hudson and carried. (Derek Wilkin had previously agreed to become a signatory if required.)
Finally, Marion thanked John Brennan for acting as Accounts Scrutineer. She offered to answer any questions, which prompted Jane Ellis to enquire about Gifts and Donations (£67); Marion confirmed that £50 was in respect of the late Brian Slater, and £17 was for access to a tunnel on the Chepstow-Tintern line.
The Accounts were formally adopted and Marion was complimented for her role as Treasurer.
There had been a slight decrease in membership numbers in the last 12 months with losses mainly in the East/West Midlands and Yorkshire areas. However there were gains in the Southern and South West areas. Compared with the previous year the number of new members had increased and lapsed members decreased.
Gas Hill remarked that members in the North East and Wales areas were similar in 2007 and 2008 but suggested that the increase in Wales could be due to having an Area Organiser in post.
As you've made the effort to be at the AGM, you can be the first to learn that a slightly special commemorative edition is virtually ready to go to print – the 150th issue of RR. I don't know when Nigel began the Club back in 1978, or the magazine first saw life shortly after that, whether anyone had any idea it would go on as long as it has, nor grow in terms of size and scope – but we have reached this milestone.So … I have commissioned a series of special articles, and the magazine will be in glorious colour throughout! There are some great photos … and more to come thanks to the number I received (including from Paul Atterbury).
One thing I'd like to encourage is that more members send in material. I have my regular contributors, which is vital, but there's always room for more and it's always a delight to receive something from a member for the first time. So, if you're happy with me as Editor, I'm more than happy to continue – and I can't quite believe I've racked up a personal tally, or will when the forthcoming issue comes out, of 21 issues already.’
Jonathan commented that he had more than enough magazine articles in stock. Kevin Arnold said it would be nice to see walk reports in print sooner rather than later. Jeff commented that the walk page on the website could carry reports, avoiding walks being mentioned where private landowner access is involved. Kevin Arnold commented on potential issues with details of walks not being printed or not printed in a timely manner. Jonathan commented that the potential exists to issue a separate walks report supplement.
In the question time following the report, it was agreed to consider producing an annual Walk Reports Supplement, as this is one area of the Club’s activity which often gets squeezed (postage weight issue) in the magazine.
Fred Thornton queried whether we report walks over private land; Mark confirmed we do but not giving too much information about access.
Gas Hill said we should avoid using anglicised place names.
Just over fifty enquiries were received by e-mail via the Club's website in 2015 and my thanks to Jeff Vinter for setting up an efficient method for enquiries to reach me. Nearly half related to requests for information on former lines that could be walked or for details of our organised walks. The most interesting of these was from a chap in Switzerland wishing to cycle from John O’Groats to Land's End on former lines as much as possible. Of the remainder, about half related to new membership enquiries or admin matters for existing members, while the rest were requests for, or provision of, a wide range of miscellaneous information relating to former railway lines.
The position is not at all onerous and I have enjoyed receiving requests from many people all over the country on a wide range of topics, none of which has stumped me yet!’
The page also has a messaging facility visible only to page administrators and we fielded a number of requests for help, ranging from how to find out who owns a particular stretch of abandoned line (and you won’t be surprised to hear that we quickly found a member who knew the answer, and much more) to a request from a potential member for a nearby sample walk. It so happened that there was one scheduled nearby and within a few weeks.
One measure of engagement is the number of unique users who 'like' our page. These users, if they have set their Facebook preferences appropriately, are notified of any changes to the page and are therefore drawn back to the page whenever this happens. Likes of our Facebook page had risen to just over 200 by the end of 2015 and stands at 257 as at 18th May. The majority of these (86%) are located in the UK but we have a small but growing interest from around the world, mostly in Australia and the US.
Another measure of the way in which the Facebook page raises the profile of Railway Ramblers is the number of people who see the page via the cascade effect as friends or friends of friends of those who “like” the Facebook page. Towards the end of 2015 our page content was typically seen by around three and a half thousand people per month. More recently, following a series of posts from the Railway Ramblers Devon holiday in April 2016, this number rose to ten and a half thousand people. This is not quite as good as it sounds because “seen” in the context of Facebook means that the information was visible to someone but of course we don’t know if they read it! Nevertheless, this sort of publicity, reaching as it does a wide demographic mix, would be costly and time consuming by any other means.’
Mark enquired whether we could potentially advertise walks on Facebook. Nigel revealed some demographics about site visitors: 78% are male, 22% female, and predominantly in the 40-60 age group. Kevin Arnold asked if Nigel could incorporate under Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) how to go about posting notifications.
OF INDEPENDENT ACCOUNTS EXAMINER
Mark Jones said there was a need to review and ask for renewal of the amount which the Committee is authorised to grant from the Footpath Fund of up to £500 per annum for the next 12 months, by formal consent of those present at the AGM. This was agreed unanimously, having been proposed by Neil Hebborn and seconded by Dave Coogan.
Due to demand from our members, some of the Chilterns walks have been repeated on a weekday, giving those who missed the first walk a chance to take part. And I thank Roger Green for these extra offerings.
Our walks in 2015 covered the counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex (or West London), Northamptonshire, with a visit across the boundary into the Southern area in Surrey, although this was officially a joint walk. , So I think it’s fair to say that we managed to cover most of the region throughout the year, giving our members a chance to join a walk in their part of the Chilterns area.
All in all a successful year, and this year is shaping up to be even better.’
The Eastern area has been without an Organiser for some time but in May of 2015 we promoted a successful walk over the route of the former Southwold Railway. Neil Hebborn’s excellent report appeared in issue 148 of Ramblings. An illustrated Area newsletter was produced and circulated in December 2015 to give advance notice of our proposed programme of walks for 2016.
Encouraged by the response to the Southwold walk, a small group including Dave and Emma Coogan; Robert Beisley; Nigel Nicholds and my brother David later got together to prove that we could put on a walks programme. You’ll have to wait until next year’s report to find out what happened or alternatively attend one of our walks this year. I am already straying outside my remit but suffice it to say that three of these walks will take place partly over private land with the goodwill of the landowners in question. These walks are partly or entirely new to the Club.
I would like to acknowledge with thanks the contribution of those named towards reviving the Area and make a special mention of the inspiration afforded by Phillip Earnshaw in the early stages. The Eastern Area has been kept alive in part by the active support of the organisers of the Southern and Chiltern areas over the years, to whom our thanks are also due.’
On behalf of the hosting East Midlands group we welcome everybody to the weekend’s events.’
South and West
At exactly the same time that Barbara has been going through her scans and diagnosis I have been struggling with a very painful ankle. I think those who have walked with me over the past couple of years will know I have been struggling at times during walks. Recent check-ups and X-rays have revealed historical damage to the ankle, along with new 'lipping' caused by impact damage and early signs of osteoarthritis. After a spell on crutches (which I couldn’t get on with) and a course of anti-inflammatories, it appears to be on the mend but will probably never fully heal. However on 16th April I did take part in the Cirencester to Cricklade walk and, although I was in a small amount of pain, I had no serious after effects. It seems that exercise may be the way forwards, if only slowly!
As I will now have to devote a lot of time to looking after Barbara over the next six months or so, whilst she recovers from treatment, plus the unreliability of my ankle, I have had to make the decision to step down as Midlands South & West Area Organiser. I did think of asking to make this a temporary measure until Barbara recovers but I feel that my ankle is now too much of a liability to be able to carry on. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past four years, which has made this decision such a difficult one, but one which I feel is right long term for Barbara, the Club and myself. The area I leave behind I feel is thriving and I am so glad that Bob Prigg has decided to take over as Area Organiser again and keep the momentum going. I wish him all the best for the future.
The last year or so has seen well attended walks to such diverse places as Cricklade, Alcester, Hartlebury, Telford, Leicester, Nuneaton, Hulme End, Kinver and Sharpness. The midweek walks in particular carry on to be a great success.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Club Officers and fellow Area Organisers for their help, support and encouragement during the past four years. I would also like to thank everyone who has taken up the role of walk leader, taken part in the walks or attended our quarterly meetings, it really is much appreciated.’
Phil’s service as Area Organiser for the last 4 years was acknowledge, including by those not at the AGM. Phil and his wife are warmly wished well for the future.
Gas Hill referred to the success of evening walks he had done in the Area.
The year began with another of our increasingly popular Capital days and then in February a good turnout for our planning meeting. March and April saw further rambles along parts of the Didcot Newbury and Southampton line. This former line has proved increasingly popular with members and further exploration is planned.
For our June event we combined a visit to the extended Bluebell Railway followed by an afternoon walk from East Grinstead to Three Bridges. Several members from other areas joined us for the day travelling a good distance to do so. Combining visits to preservation centres and lines and a ramble are popular so we may well do more in the future.
July’s walk was led by Chris Bushell and Jeff Yalden for the first time. This was an enjoyable day walking the Gosport to Fareham and then the Bishops Waltham branches.
As in previous years joint events with Chilterns area were run in both August and October with rambles along the former Staines West branch led by Roger Cleaver, and the Guildford to Horsham line, led by Neil Hebborn. Between those we returned to the Isle of Wight in September walking the former line from Cowes to Newport after a ferry ride across the water from Southampton and a pub lunch. We plan to revisit all the island lines over the coming years in response to member’s requests.
November’s walk was led by Richard Martin. Exploring more in Kent has been on the agenda for some time and Richard has a good knowledge of the area. This walk started at the former Sandling Junction and we explored the remains of the old branch to Hythe and Sandgate. We completed the day with a short bus trip to Folkestone where the former branch and Harbour station were viewed. More walks in Kent are in the planning stage.
To end the year more than 30 members enjoyed our now annual Christmas walk and social which was held on Hayling Island after a walk along the old branch from Havant. This was well organised by Peter Stitson who was also leading for the first time.
Our thanks go to all our walk leaders, Graham Lambert, John Everest, Marcus Heap, Chris Bushell, Jeff Yalden, Neil Hebborn, Roger Cleaver, Lionel Pilbeam, Richard Martin and Peter Stitson for their work in organising the events in 2015. Also thanks to everyone who attended walks and for the positive feedback received.’
We struck gold with the late summer and early autumn walks in terms of both weather and scenery. August saw us walk the old branch line from Ilminster to Chard, taking in various sites along the Chard Canal which; in Ilminster, has a section back in water (for local anglers) as well as a massive inclined plane. We even found traces of the north portal of Ilminster Tunnel. In September, we walked the Bridport branch again, a favourite from my days as a student in Exeter. The local authority has withdrawn the Saturday bus service along the branch, so I hired a minibus and drove members along the route myself. There can be few more rural bus rides anywhere in the country, along tiny lanes with grass growing through the tarmac and leaves brushing against the vehicle’s sides. Our buffet lunch at The Loders Arms was a revelation: if they serve food that good when their kitchen is out of action, as it was allegedly (though hard to believe), then a return visit is essential now that it’s been refitted.
October saw us in east Devon tracing the remains of the Culm Valley Light Railway between Culmstock and Coldharbour. This too had a personal connection, for I used to travel along this line, in a guard’s van at the end of a milk train, when it was as the ‘Hemyock Branch of British Rail’. The memory of everyone ending the day with a cup of tea and superb home made cakes in the Strand Stores at Culmstock will stay with me for a long time. It was one of those moments when everything was perfect.’
As in previous years one of the most pleasing aspects has been assistance received from outside Wales and/or outside Railway Ramblers, In March Phillip Earnshaw of North West group and I collaborated on a walk which covered the Dyserth and Holywell Town branches linked conveniently by a service bus which only runs twice daily! The “Potts” line walk which had almost become a regular fixture took place for the last time for now with the usual full support of the MoD. Although unable to take part on the day, Bob Prigg of the Midlands suggested our Blaenavon to Pontypool walk and was involved in the planning and recce. Paul Teather from North West was responsible for a well-attended walk straddling the Wales/England border around Pant and Llanymynech while Lee Holland of Welsh Railways Research Circle assisted with a visit to the site of the Manchester & Milford Railway’s abortive tunnel under Plynlimon.
The experiment which I referred to last year of scheduling more walks for weekdays, including repeats of Saturday walks, has generally proved successful; indeed our highest attendance of 2015 was 18 on Paul Teather’s walk of Friday 9th October. Overall there is little difference in attendance figures between Saturdays and weekdays so I intend to continue with this mixture. The autumn 2015 recces included canal towpaths as another experiment. The resulting walks have so far been less well supported but enough to justify continuing with them for the present, particularly as in South Wales we have the expert assistance of John Palmer and Stephen Rowson.
As anticipated, the Arenig working party did not take place this year as Ken Cole is in the process of locating to Surrey but the end of year Five Valleys Tour went ahead as usual, once again despite the effects of the weather; on this occasion a Conwy Valley rail replacement bus service added variety! The adverse weather kept the numbers down to 6 but at the request of some participants we will try a summer repeat of this adventure in 2016.
So it was a year of change in many ways but a satisfactory one overall, I think. My thanks to all who participated in or assisted with the walks, particularly those mentioned above; as ever, any ideas for future walks would be welcome.’
Newly established in our programme is a series of morning walks followed by lunch in our favourite pub, The Commercial at Chapeltown near Sheffield, where we have the use of their upstairs room free of charge for afternoon slide shows presented by Richard Lewis from his extensive collection of images taken on his travels. The great thing about this is that our many less able members have the opportunity to get together with us for these events.
Our Christmas lunch walk was as well supported as ever, with members coming from quite a distance to end the year with us, and we’re beginning to learn the lesson that these festive meals go on for so long that we usually run out of mid-December daylight, and have to abandon the afternoon walk.
In September our morning walk was followed by a guided visit to one of Leeds’s fine industrial museums, Thwaite Mills, but this day will be remembered for a sad reason – it was the final time we saw Railway Ramblers stalwart Brian Slater on a walk. He had been bravely fighting cancer for some years, but this awful disease was now getting the better of him and it was tragic to see him struggling to walk at all. His health was by then really starting to fail, and when we saw him for the last time in December he was just a shadow of his former self. He died at home with his wife Jay on Boxing Day. Members from all the different branches will have met Brian, he didn’t limit his walking to the Yorkshire area, but would travel the length of the UK to a special walk which involved private land, and he particularly appreciated the efforts of walk leaders who had arranged access for our enjoyment. Brian led countless walks for us over 20 years and that wasn’t all, he gave slide shows and organised trips to many parts of the world, usually with an industrial or railway theme of some sort. He truly was a one-off, and I for one am missing him terribly.
On a lighter note, we always look forward to our trips in other areas with longstanding friends from different branches in this great club. 2015 had its share of marvellous holidays with the very proactive North-West group. Aberdeenshire in April was a revelation, beautiful coast and countryside quite undiscovered by most travellers, and we really got to the heart of the land and its people thanks to the impeccable preparation by Phillip Earnshaw. His Ramsgate Tunnels trip in May was also very special, bringing home to us the reality of everyday life on what was the front line in World War II, with fascinating railway history; for those of us who appreciate tunnels, this certainly was “The Big One”.
Last but by no means least was our Wye Valley week, with lovely lines to discover, more splendid tunnels, the surprise of a garden steam railway to ride, and a party – whilst we were there, Fred & Marion Thornton celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary by very kindly treating a group of us to a slap-up dinner at the best restaurant in Chepstow!’
It was agreed that the Committee members be re-elected en bloc. Proposed by Fred Thornton and seconded by Keith Holliday
AND VENUE OF NEXT AGM
A start has been made on looking for a suitable venue, and the AGM weekend walks decided.
40th Anniversary (2018)
Derek Wilkin said our insurance covered the Club’s overall legal liability; for an action in a Court of Law to succeed, it would have to fulfil a test as to Legal Duty, Breach and Damage. Jane Ellis noted the risks now with considering entry into Drewton and Sandsend Tunnels. Dave Coogan referred to the Club’s recent week in Devon where two tunnels were known to be regularly inspected. Tim Chant also referred to hazards.
of Brian Slater’s Maps
The meeting closed at 4.35 p.m.
APPENDIX 1– ACCOUNTS FOR 2015
The annual accounts have been published in the same way as last year, i.e. online here, but also in print on application to the Webmaster. Note that the online file has been encrypted and therefore a username and password must be entered; these are the same as for the online gazetteer (see the back pages of the current magazine for details).
Membership Statistics, 1 January to 31 December 2015
Members in Each Area
New members who indicated where they found out about RR supplied the following information:
Lapsed Members 2015