“WHAT’S going on? Is it some kind of mass exodus?” asked a puzzled golfer as 63 ramblers strode past down Beauchief Drive on New Year’s Eve.
In a way it was, suggested John Harker. “Every year the Winter Walks programme gets people out at a time of year you might be inclined not to stir yourself,” he said.
“When you’ve been eating too much and drinking too much it gives you the chance to burn off some calories and try out your new pair of boots.”
There’s more domestic violence and divorces caused by Christmas than any other time, he warned ominously, so it’s also a good time to get out from under the rest of the family’s feet.
The local Ramblers Association Festival of Winter Walks ran from Christmas Eve to January 2, with walks to suit everyone.
Saturday’s walk was an eight-mile exploration of southern Sheffield, and was run jointly with the Penistone Line Partnership and Sheffield CHA Rambling Club.
The large number aking part was no surprise to walk leader John Harker.
“There are a lot of positive initiatives for walking in Sheffield,” he said.
The local Ramblers have their Get Walking Keep Walking and Walking Out projects to encourage more people to take up walking, and the city council runs a vast Health Walks programme throughout the city’s parks and green spaces.
“The Walking Forum helps the city to encourage people to walk not just for leisure and health, but also for utility, to get from A to B without automatically jumping in the car,” said John.
“There’s also now a massive feed through to longer walks. The Ramblers have devised ‘strollers’ and ‘striders’ groups to help people take the next step to build up gradually instead of jumping straight into 10 to 15 miles.”
Stuart Parker and Ann Ransome from the Penistone Line Partnership had made the trip by train from Lincoln.
“Sheffield is absolutely brilliant for walking,” said Ann, as she took in the view to the hills from Beauchief Abbey. “Looking out from here, you wouldn’t think you were in the middle of a big city.
In the current financial climate the fact that rambling is effectively free is spurring more people to take up walking, added Stuart.
“This time of year people are thinking about getting fit, and joining a gym is one way, but there’s quite a bill, and often people don’t keep it up. But there are ramblers walks going on all week, and if you know a group’s going it gives you impetus.”
“I think you need to be out in this wonderful countryside,” said Ann. “What’s the point of staying in front of the fire and the telly when you’ve got all this?”
All music to the ears of walking veteran Terry Howard, chair of Sheffield’s Ramblers Association local group.
Terry and other campaigners are working with the council, the Peak District National Park authority and others to improve local paths and facilities.
A focus in 2012 will be on moorlands as the Ramblers celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Kinder trespass.
“We’re looking towards the future of Kinder. People love it so much it gets worn to death, so a lot of money is being spent on revegetating the moorland and reducing sheep on the moors to help get it back to a sustainable form.”
A sign of the city council’s support for walking will come on January 20 with the launch on the Lord Mayor’s Walk from the town hall to the Peak District boundary at Wyming Brook.
“We’ll be walking the route from noon to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Peak District National Park in 2011,” said Terry.
“A third of the city of Sheffield is within the second most visited national park in the world, and the first national park park in the UK.
“Sheffield has started to acknowledge what it’s got for walkers,” said Terry. “It’s never boasted or told the world, and we need to tell everybody to discover Sheffield, and what it offers.”