The clue is in the name! This club organises walks over disused railway lines, and non-members can sample up to two of these before joining.
Our walks are split roughly 4:1 between walks over official railway paths and walks over old trackbeds which are privately owned. The reasons for the privately owned trackbeds being in the minority are (1) we do not trespass on private land, and (2) it is very time-consuming to arrange access with sometimes dozens of separate landowners. There is no national registry of who owns old railways and so our volunteers have to find out the hard way – by research, letters and visits to find out who owns what, followed up by personal requests which, of course, have to be handled with some skill. Railway Ramblers is very fortunate to have voluntary walk leaders who are prepared to undertake this work for the benefit of members.
How does the club’s publicise its walks?
Our area groups publish periodic local newsletters, usually by email, which set out what is happening in each area. Practice varies from one area to another: some produce a large newsletter which covers an entire year in advance, while others issue newsletters more frequently. Most send out two newsletters per year. All of our walks are also published quarterly in advance in our magazine, ‘Railway Ramblings’.
Who can join the club’s walks?
Our walks are open to all members from any area of the club. Occasionally, our area groups organise long weekends or even entire weeks of walks, so that members can enjoy a railway walking holiday in different parts of the country.
What is the situation with insurance?
Many of the old railways that we visit present no problem because they now form part of official traffic-free trails, and the structures on them are maintained and inspected regularly.
The club carries Civil Liability Insurance, which covers all members plus non-members on ‘taster events’ (as described above) – but not friends, family or other casual participants. People who join our taster events must intend to join the club. Civil Liability insurance should not be confused with accident insurance: it does not cover members for accidents, but for things such as any damage that our visit might cause to private property, unlikely though that is. Theoretically, a group of 20 or so walkers passing over an old railway bridge might, just conceivably, weaken the structure, e.g. by dislodging some masonry or mortar from the arch below. This type of risk is remote, which is probably why the premiums for Civil Liability insurance are usually reasonable.
In the past, our civil liability cover has been an important factor in persuading some official bodies, such as the Army, to let us walk old trackbeds which they now own.
Anyone who is concerned about risk can arrange their own, personal insurance cover, but in practice our walks are no more dangerous than any other walk, and probably a lot less dangerous than some other outdoor pursuits, such climbing or even cycling.
What is the pace like? How fit do I need to be?
The pace and physical demands on our walks is more Rob Bell than Bear Grylls. We tend to be a bit slower than a typical Ramblers’ group because we stop to examine structures and artefacts along the way. Generally, you should have a reasonable level of fitness and be able to manage 7 or 8 miles at about 3 miles per hour.
We recognise that a number of our members are older and appreciate a shorter walk, so – where possible – many of our walk leaders design their walks with early drop-out points so that those who prefer a shorter walk can be accommodated. However, our leaders’ ability to do this depends on the location of the walk, which in turn governs the level of available public transport. For example, since the rail replacement bus service between Maiden Newton and Bridport (Dorset) was withdrawn in 2015, anyone tracing that route – which is only partially open to walkers anyway – will find no public transport at all between Maiden Newton and the outskirts of Bridport.
What about the history of these railways?
Many of our walk leaders research their routes in advance and bring along resources such as archive photographs, books and historical notes. Several of our members do the same, and part of the fun on these walks is comparing present day scenes with historic photographs.
Services for walk leaders
We have developed resources to help our walk leaders design and plan railway walks ranging from straightforward events over official railway paths to walks which require negotiation with landowners. The latter are often the most interesting walks, but they take a lot of time, effort and skill to arrange. Even with a walk over an official route, there’s a lot to consider, including lunchtime and transport arrangements: it’s no good reaching the lunchtime pub after the kitchen has closed, or the end of the walk after the last bus has gone. We do not publish these resources on the Internet, but they are available to walk leaders from our Secretary, who can supply them on a CD.
We also have a useful ‘Walk Template’ (see links below). This produces a lot of information which doesn’t lend itself easily to a short rubric that we can publish in our magazine. However, it helps to ensure that our walk leaders do not overlook anything, and there is much to be said for that.