THERE is always the opportunity to instill drama for walk leaders in Sheffield.
Scheduled as part of Environment Weeks and the Walk Sheffield 2011 annual festival of the Shanks’s pony, last Sunday’s ‘Water Walk’ began from the prosaic surroundings of Meadowhall railway station car park, threaded its way around the pedestrian refuges of the shopping mall’s access freeways, crossed the River Don, and eventually emerged under the Tinsley viaduct at a stretch of green and pleasant urban waterway that takes you all the way to the city centre.
“It’s very peaceful,” said Rita Webster, as the small party of urban walkers set off along the canal towpath.
“It’s a different world to when you look across there,” she added, nodding to the distant bustling of the early morning retail traffic.
The Walk Sheffield festival is put together by Sheffield Walking Forum, a partnership of walking groups and promoters who meet every month or two to coordinate ambulatory activities in the city described cheerfully by Sunday’s walk leader Stella Longden as the ‘walking capital of the world.’
Stella is from Sheffield U3A (aka University of the Third Age), who can number 32 separate U3A walking groups in Sheffield on their own.
Then there are the various ramblers’ groups, the council’s Health Walks programme, and many others offering walks for all age groups and fitness levels.
“Walk Sheffield is an initiative to get people walking,” said Stella, “It’s aimed at people who don’t normally walk very often, and the aim is to have a theme for each walk, so there might be a bit of learning in it too. So today we’re learning a bit about the canal.”
Equipped with leaflets and book, Stella stopped every now and then to describe the route and the local history nearby, not least how the tranquil ribbon of water used to be a key element of Sheffield’s industrial success.
“I like urban walks. I think walking is a good way of learning about the environment and about your neighborhood. Some people don’t even know the canal exists, so you can tell them a bit of local history and they’re impressed how areas that were industrial are now used for other things like recreation.”
One of the organisations involved in Walk Sheffield is Get Walking Keep Walking, who are offering Sheffielders a ‘Get Walking Pack’ including a free stepometer and walking plan, with support from volunteer walking ambassadors. (Tel 2053954 or www.getwalking.org.uk ).
Walk Sheffield organisers are aiming to get more people making shorter journeys on foot rather than by car or bus.
The programme continues until Sunday, with guided walks around the city every day, ranging from one to eight miles.
The festival has been taking place every year for over five years.
“For me, the attraction is that walking is good exercise, it’s good for you mentally, and it’s a social thing too,” said Stella. “It’s easy to speak to people if you’re walking, even if it’s just about the weather.”
There was no problem here on Sunday, with the group discussing nature, culture and history as they strolled, as well as the grey clouds overhead. Herons and crows battled over territory, and the walkers admired the catches of anglers en route.
“I just like to know more about the city I was born in,” said Linda Finnigan. “There’s a lot of it I still don’t know at all.”
Linda and co-walker Betty Parkin are exploring Sheffield river valleys - not least because they’re fairly flat.
“It’s fascinating that we’ve got these rivers in an industrial city, but now they’ve become country walks,” said Betty. “l wouldn’t have seen them as country walks when I was a child!”
“People often think they’ve got to go to the Peak District to have a walk, without realising this is on their doorstep,” said Stella, as she strolled along a peaceful tree lined waterway in Attercliffe.
“Some parts of this walk look like they might have been like this 100 years ago,” said Frank Holland. “You look at all the people who go to Meadowhall, and maybe one in a thousand of them come and find this place too.”
lMusic tour on two legs, page 8.