The History of Walkers Are Welcome
Hebden Bridge is a market town in West Yorkshire. It lies close to the Pennine Way and is surrounded by beautiful countryside, making it a popular location for walking, climbing and cycling. The picturesque Rochdale Canal runs through the heart of Hebden Bridge which attracts tourists who want to enjoy a walk along the towpath or to take a trip on one of the canal barrages.
Rewind the clocks back to 2006 …
BBC News Report: “Hundreds of homes have been affected by flash flooding and lightning strikes during heavy storms in West Yorkshire.”
Radio Leeds: “At the height of the storm, the River Calder rose more than five feet in just 20 minutes. It took engineers until around 5.30 this morning to reconnect the electricity supply to large areas around Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.”
“One of the most violent storms Hebden Bridge has seen in many years has left Market Street flooded, the road to Todmorden blocked, power cuts, loss of TV reception and debris scattered throughout the area.”
Many businesses lost thousands of pounds in stock forcing many to stop trading. Hebden Bridge was struggling. As well as repairing the damage to the flood damaged homes and shops, somehow Hebden Bridge needed to attract the visitors back into the town which was in desperate need of economic regeneration.
It was from this devastation that a group of volunteers led by Andrew Bibby put together a scheme to welcome walkers back into the town. Working closely with the local shops and businesses with support from the town council, they put together criterion which aimed to encourage recreational walking, both for local people and visitors to Hebden Bridge, and to campaign for better facilities for walkers, including the adequate maintenance of existing footpaths/bridleways and the creation of new footpaths.
With support from various organisations such as the Ramblers Association the ‘Walkers Are Welcome’ initative was launched in 2007 in Hebden Bridge. This would permit Hebden Bridge, along with other towns, to officially announce ‘Walkers are Welcome’.
The first towns to come onboard as a ‘Walkers Are Welcome’ town were Ross on Wye, Moffat and Prestatyn but as the benefits of becoming a WAW town began to spread through media coverage, more and more towns began to look at the criteria and started working towards obtaining the accreditation of being a town that welcomes walkers.
There are now over 100 member towns with a steady flow of towns applying for the status of being a WAW town.
The aim of a WAW town or village is to:
- be attractive for walkers with excellent information on local walks
- ensure that footpaths and facilities for walkers are maintained, improved and well signposted
- contribute to local tourism plans and regeneration strategies
- promote the health benefits of walking and increase participation
- encourage the use of public transport
Julia Bradbury, expressed her support by saying:
“The Walkers Are Welcome Scheme is a truly innovative project. It’s such a simple concept: set up an accreditation scheme for walk-friendly towns, then encourage the towns to network together for support, advice and ideas. That simplicity has led to jaw dropping success…”
Walkers know that where the friendly footprint logo is displayed, be it a shop, café or pub, they can be assured of a warm welcome. This is why we are proud that Walkers Are Welcome are partners with The Outdoor Guide.
‘Walkers are Welcome’ in Kirkby Stephen
I met up with Ann Sandell, secretary of the national committee, who lives in Kirkby Stephen to talk about how Kirkby Stephen achieved its WAW status.
“We have always had an increasing number of walking visitors in Kirkby Stephen but we were attracted to Walkers are Welcome accreditation as a way of advertising that we really did welcome walkers and we wanted to improve that experience.” said Ann.
The town council was approached for support and who endorsed the action of applying for WAW. An exhibition in the town was organised to showcase local walking facilities such as walking groups, accommodation etc. within the town. Next a steering committee of like- minded people was set up who surveyed every inch of the Rights of Way within the township boundary plus a few in nearby parishes and recorded maintenance needed and long-term improvements required. Most of the repairs were made within three years. There is now a now regular maintenance of paths and rights of way.
Kirkby Stephen is a hub for walkers. Not only is it nearly the halfway point of the long distance trail of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, but the town can claim that there are 10 other long distance trails through or near to the town.
- The Lady Anne’s Way – a 100 mile walk, named after lady Anne Clifford, a 17th century woman of some character and standing who repeatedly travelled between her castles of Skipton, Pendragon, Brough and Brougham which she renovated.
- A Pennine Journey devised by David and Heather Pitt based on Alfred Wainwright’s 1938 Pennine Journey. The walk is a circular one from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall and back with its 247 miles being divided into 18 stages.
- Howgill and Limestone Trail is 76-mile long-distance walk from Kirkby Stephen to Settle. This is another walk devised by David and Heather Pitt inspired by Alfred Wainwright’s walk.
- The Castles of Eden Walk was published by Mark Richards in May 2017. This fabulous 42 mile heritage trail through the Eden, Lyvennet and Lowther valleys links these historic sites from Kirkby Stephen to Penrith. The walk also connects the Settle-Carlisle railway line to the West Coast mainline at Penrith.
- Swale Way, which takes a 77 mile route from Boroughbridge via Richmond to Kirkby Stephen following the River Swale.
- The Dales High Way published by Tony and Chris Grogan is an exhilarating 90 mile route across the Yorkshire Dales and into old Westmorland, from Saltaire to Appleby. The route passes through Newbiggin-on-Lune village close by Kirkby Stephen
- Westmorland Heritage Walk, one of the oldest long-distance walks, a very challenging 200-mile walk from Arnside anti-clockwise around the old county of Westmorland.
- Yorkshire Dale Centurion Walk, described as an adventure walk to suit all and divided into short sections around the Howgills and Dales, just avoid the bits you don’t fancy.
- Yoredale Way From Kirkby Stephen to Boroughbridge, this walk seeks out and follows the River Yore through North Yorkshire.
- The Eden Way. Following the River Eden from Sea to source high up in Mallerstang valley.
Kirkby Stephen WAW have also developed a lovely wheelchair friendly walk around the nearby village of Brough. I joined Ann on the walk and it was really interesting to learn more about our neighbouring village. It is so easy to get in the car and drive through this little place, and never give it a second glance…. But explore by foot or on wheels gives you such a different insight into a place. Brough boosts a castle, a church, an ice cream parlour, a river, country lanes, and scenic views.
There are other wheelchair friendly walks nearby to Kirkby Stephen. The Podgill Viaduct walk, which starts from the car park at Stenkrith Carpark, near Nateby and follows the disused railway track through to the pretty village of Hartley.
The Smardale Nature reserve is only a couple of miles outside Kirkby Stephen, which is again wheelchair friendly. Details of the walk can be found on the wheelchair walks.
Kirkby Stephen has a railway station on the scenic Settle/ Carlisle Line which passes through Yorkshire Dales National Park, however visitors are often caught out by the fact the station is about two miles out of the town! It is quite amusing when friends travel up to Kirkby by train and say that they will ‘jump in cab’ to get to our house… Oh no they won’t! We don’t have many taxis in Kirkby Stephen and the railway station is unmanned. It is worth noting that the northbound exit from the station is not very accessible.
Foot passengers must take the foot bridge to the other side of the platform to reach the car park. Because of this wheelchair users and people with prams and buggies have to use the path which leads down to the road. It is a steep, rough and badly damaged path, with no lighting. However there are talks going on with Northern Rail to repair the path and make it more accessible. No fear! I’m on the campaign to make sure it happens. On a more positive note,
Kirkby Stephen as a town is thriving. It can boost that every shop is occupied within the town…. That’s why the new flags are flying. The new café – The Bothy, which is inside “Mad About Mountains” is brilliant…. It has a pizza oven and a space age coffee machine and more importantly it is wheelchair accessible!
This year the town is hosting the Walkers are Welcome Annual Get-Together in October. Already the committee has put together a varied programme of walks and activities for visiting members of WAW towns from around the country. The two day conference is likely to attract over 100 visitors to Kirkby Stephen, with many of the participants staying longer so that they can take advantage of the week of organised walks around the area.