Sheffield is officially the UK Outdoor Capital, thanks to a recent online poll and a vigorous municipal marketing campaign illustrated by well-groomed 25- to 35-year-old outdoor Sheffielders on climbing walls and mountain bikes.
At almost twice this age, Terry Howard is a hard-bitten outdoor activist of the old school, and observes gently that one of the key publicity models of the campaign has illegally parked his mountain bike on a boulder some distance from the nearest bridleway.
The last walk of 2014 for the Sheffield Ramblers Association saw a busful of gaitered RA members make the most of our outdoor capital by striding out from Fox House into the winter’s early snow at Padley, Burbage and Houndkirk.
“Sheffield is the best placed city in the entire UK for providing all this countryside for outdoor adventure, but in particular it’s the number one place for walking,” said Terry, pounding through the Burbage snowdrifts. “It was recognised for that as far back as 1900 with the formation of the Clarion Ramblers, and it was those early campaigners that laid the foundation for all the rights of way and access land we’ve got to be thankful for.”
The recent downward trend in rambling demographics means that Sheffield Ramblers sections cater for all ages, including 20 and 30 somethings, and walkers aged 40+ but not yet holding a bus pass. “Walking is the outdoor activity that nearly everyone can take part in,” said Judy Gathercole, noting that despite being the largest outdoor pursuit (the RA now has 1,200 members in Sheffield for example) “walking appears to be missing from all the plans”.
Climbing and mountain biking are all very well, she said, “but a whole host of people don’t want the really macho stuff”. Such people may tend to be a little older, but still have money to spend in the outdoor economy, Judy added.
Gill Brooks had brought her London-based daughter, Sarah Noyes, along for the day.
“Sheffield is definitely the best city for the outdoors,” said Gill. “That’s why we decided to live here.”
“There is no good countryside near London,” said Sarah, looking out over the snowy moors. “It’s a winter wonderland. When I tell people there I’m from Sheffield, they say ‘where’s that?’ I don’t think they have any idea about all this.”
Sheffield Ramblers have plenty of ideas. The groups run walks of varying lengths every week, and new members can just turn up or contact leaders to find out more.
Campaigning is still part of the Ramblers’ brief, and successes like the ‘open access’ right to moorland and open countryside won 15 years ago (after several generations of trespassing and political lobbying) have spurred on activists like Terry.
This year the local Ramblers will be asking Sheffield walkers and historians to log paths and routes that are not marked on official modern maps.
“The Countryside and Rights of Way act of 2000 gave a concession to landowners that there was 26 years to claim all historical paths as rights of way,” said Terry. Many historical paths were lost during the enclosures or when grouse moors were established, he said, but if it can be shown that a path existed on old documents or that a path has been used without challenge for 20 years or more, it can be claimed as a right of way.
“We’re saying we need to get claiming now, as it can take several years for the documents to be researched. We’ve got 11 years, and after that date these paths will be gone forever.” If you like scouring ancient maps, or if you’ve been walking an unmapped path for 20 years, contact the national Ramblers Association office, said Terry. As his colleagues searched their smartphones for the path to Houndkirk hidden under the snow, Terry took one look at the white clumps of heather and forged ahead. He’s always said that Sheffield is the capital city of walking, and he’s glad the rest of us are catching up.
“There are no ‘no go’ areas for walking in Sheffield. In Arbourthorne, Manor, Darnall, there are fantastic views and open spaces,” said Terry. “You can walk from one side of Sheffield to the other in green open spaces, it’s magic.”
Recreation and right-of- way funding cuts are a problem within the city, and he noted other areas are talking about their green spaces as ‘assets’ with all that implies for income generation.
He doubts the Outdoor Capital would take that view. When it comes to access and rights of way, he said: “The council do their best. But we’re always there to remind them.”
Visit www.sheffieldramblers.org for information.