On Location: Walking into a middle-class minefield

EVERYONE ELSE from the Staines Rambling Group had chunky walking boots with unbreakable inch-wide laces, military trousers tucked into thick green socks, and a back-pack carrying water and a first aid box. So I felt like a kid arriving at PE without his kit, expecting the head rambler to make me do the whole walk in my underpants.

But while a part of me felt unprepared, another part thought: "We're only going round Richmond bloody Park." Maybe we should have taken flares and a crocodile gun and a machine for transmitting Morse code, in case we took a wrong turning by the tea bar and ended up in a swamp in Nepal.

So I couldn't help feeling embarrassed, as we strolled off like a team of Sherpas, at being overtaken by nine-year-olds on skateboards, and women in high heels going up the shop for some teabags.

The walk passed some fascinating points; deer herds, a view of Twickenham rugby ground, and a flock of parakeets who've bred after two escaped from a cage in nearby Putney. But after walking for an hour, we passed a map that informed us we were a few hundred yards from where we'd started. We'd just gone round and round in a series of loops and not gone bloody anywhere. I felt so cheated. This must be how Patrick McGoohan felt in The Prisoner, with no one else bothered that they were being so cruelly deceived. "But look," I pleaded, "over there's where we started. Can't you see what they're doing to us."

Completing a walk from Reading to Oxford, or across the Pennines, or even the perimeter of Richmond Park, has an appeal; a smug satisfaction of conquering something or other. But where's the sense of achievement in having walked over there, and round a bit, and along and back again?

It may be that the indifference to where you're going is part of the attraction, as any need to think is taken care of by the leader, who walks the route beforehand, carefully mapping it and working out stopping points for tea-breaks and lunch. A register is taken at the start of the ramble. This would have been essential for a school trip, but probably not quite as necessary with this group. There was never much likelihood of a Staines rambler slipping off for a fag and turning up three hours later riding an electric caddy they'd nicked from the golf course.

So you follow the leader - andthis is the problem. It's too organised. The exciting part of walking is the uncertainty - taking a path that could go anywhere, or going round so many lanes you aren't certain of the way back. Leaders of rambles should encourage members to live a bit, saying: "The route is left. So let's recapture our youth and go RIGHT."

Instead, the affair reeks of suburban sensibleness. Including the most suburban trait of all: the newsletter packed with exclamation marks. For example: "then we retired to a local hostelry for some much needed refreshments!"

"You learn a lot from the experienced walkers," someone told me. "One thing I've learned is how to get round the thorny problem of pub landlords not allowing you in with muddy boots. Now, you know the shower caps you get in hotel bathrooms. Well, what I do is collect them up and bring them on a ramble. You see, they're the ideal size for wrapping around your boots before entering a pub, ensuring none of the mud goes over the carpet." Though if he'd written that down, it would have ended "...over the carpet!"

One of the charms of rambling is that you can wander in solitude, clearing your mind and contemplating your own thoughts. So I can see why it wouldn't be appreciated if a speed-freak turned up with a portable CD player and tried to get everyone to sing along to "Smack My Bitch Up".

But much of the conversation which did take place revolved around the process of rambling. I can understand discussing matters that arise from rambling: wonderful views, the shape of twigs, or the time someone got caned on a hip flask of tequila on the South Downs and had to call a cab. But this was talk of rambling itself: the best place to start in The Chilterns; how many loops on a new rucksack; and where we're rambling on Boxing Day.

Which may be why the most enthusiastic and passionate ramblers appeared to be Valerie and John, who led the Richmond ramble. For they were fascinated by geology, botany, the parakeets, and a path in which no trees had ever been planted, in order that it remained possible to see St Paul's Cathedral. And when we stopped for lunch, John had the All-Day Breakfast with an extra sausage, always a sign of a man who's full of life.

But everyone in this safe suburban pastime has now been thrust into a political challenge against the upper class which, if they win, will place them in a magnificent tradition.

For Richmond Park was the subject of one of the bitterest battles against the enclosures. The son of Sir Robert Walpole arranged for the gates to be shut, and the public to be excluded. On several occasions, the walls were torn down by demonstrators until a brewer called John Lewis, armed with a mass petition following a militant campaign, won a court action. Walpole junior was ordered to re-open the gates and place ladders by the walls. Then, with admirable cheek, the brewer took out a further court action, insisting that the rungs on the ladders were too far apart, and he won again.

The origins of modern-day rambling lay in the industrial working class, as workers sought refuge from the stifling atmosphere of the mills and factories. But landowners objected to grubby oiks on their property, and it took decades of campaigning, and celebrated "mass trespasses" to establish the right to footpaths.

Now the modest aspirations of the modern rambler have put them in a similar camp to their 19th-century counterparts, as certain landowners, such as Nicholas Van Hoogstraten in Sussex, are determined to prevent them. In Van Hoogstraten's case, a public footpath has run through part of his land for several decades, so he's illegally built a barn across it to stop ramblers, referring to them as "the scum of the Earth".

Only the most appalling creature could act in that way against the harmless, mostly retiring, and mostly retired, world of ramblers.

Could the resistance to these attacks lead to a split in the rambling fraternity between militant and moderate factions? Perhaps we'll soon be seeing news-flashes, in which we're told that a barn has been blown up, with responsibility being claimed by the Provisional wing of the East Sussex Ramblers' Association.

But my proposal is for a special ramble which starts in a stagnant pond, winds its way into Van Hoogstraten's living room, stops off for cream tea in his bedroom, and finishes with the splendid view from his kitchen? I'd remember my especially thick boots for that one! And I wouldn't bother to wrap them in a shower cap first!

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own