Walking group chair: 'experience the joys' of our footpaths

Ken Hawkins and his wife Catherine

Dereham Walkers are Welcome chair Ken Hawkins (right) enjoys stunning countryside with his wife Catherine (left). - Credit: Ken Hawkins

In our latest Dereham column, KEN HAWKINS explains how walkers are being made more welcome than ever before. 

I have been Chair of Dereham Walkers are Welcome since it gained accreditation in June 2016. Walkers are Welcome is a nationwide, non-profit-making organisation, launched in 2007 to encourage towns and villages to be ‘welcoming to walkers’, who will not only enjoy good quality walking, but also contribute to our local economy.

Since gaining accreditation, Dereham Walkers are Welcome has been:

· making sure that all of Dereham’s paths (public rights of way) are kept open and in good condition - including dealing with nettles, brambles and fallen trees

· regularly clearing paths of litter

· promoting self-guided walking routes through production of a pack of 14 walks (3000 were distributed around the town free of charge) - now available to download from its website

· reporting regularly to, and holding official endorsement from, Dereham Town Council

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· supporting our local businesses and economy by encouraging visitors to the town

Dereham Walkers are Welcome chair Ken Hawkins

Dereham Walkers are Welcome chair Ken Hawkins - Credit: Ken Hawkins

I am delighted to report two recent examples of our work.

First, we have, as a result of securing a grant from the Co-op’s Community Fund, just designed and printed a booklet of seven short walks in and around Dereham, for people who are less active or recovering from poor health. This booklet is available free of charge from the library or can be downloaded from our website.

Second, with the considerable help of our friends in The Ramblers, we have refurbished two sets of steps that enable walkers on Dereham Footpath 1 to cross the A47 east of the town.

Dereham Walkers are Welcome and Ramblers volunteers repairing the sets of steps near the A47

"With the considerable help of our friends in The Ramblers, we have refurbished two sets of steps that enable walkers on Dereham Footpath 1 to cross the A47 east of the town," writes Ken Hawkins. - Credit: Dereham Walkers are Welcome

We also run regular group walks throughout the year: our website carries details of upcoming walks and descriptions and photos of our previous walks.

All of this work supports the 41 public rights of way within the Dereham town boundary, ranging from a short path that lies along an existing roadway, to the lengthy (nearly 2 mile) track between the fields out from Dumpling Green.

These paths form a dense network of routes enabling walkers to get from the town into the surrounding countryside within just a few minutes; many run past or through our residential areas, old and new.

Across the whole network, there are only four gates and one stile - and none of the paths cross fields where livestock can be kept.

During the pandemic, more and more people have discovered the benefits of walking as an exercise that is free, easily accessible and a great way to maintain physical and mental health at a stressful time.

Our local footpaths have never been more important. Fortunately, most of our local paths need little attention to remain in good condition, but a few present problems.

Before and after the repairs: 18 new boards were installed to repair steps near the A47, in Dereham.

Before and after the repairs: 18 new boards were installed to repair steps near the A47. - Credit: Dereham Walkers are Welcome

A couple are prone to muddiness, even when the rain has stopped, but decent footwear can deal with this. A couple more ‘enjoy’ rampant growth of vegetation during spring and summer, and we try to visit these regularly to cut this back. Just three have more difficulties:

· one isolated path near Swanton Morley is impossible to walk, though is not connected to or near any other path

· one path has been ploughed out and is the subject of constant pressure to have it reinstated, or properly diverted

· one path is walkable, but is close to the A47 and collects a lot of unpleasant litter from there

Dereham Walkers are Welcome aims to continue to work on maintaining and protecting our footpaths for future generations, and encouraging more people of all ages and abilities to experience the joys of using them.

Future plans include promoting the creation of an all-weather path around the Neatherd, so that this attractive part of Dereham is available all through the year to everybody, including wheelchair users and those with buggies and prams.

We are also contributing to the current consultation on a new town plan for Dereham and working closely with other local organisations such as aboutDereham and Dereham Heritage Trust.

If you would like to know more, or support our work, please see our website at www.DerehamWaW.org.uk, contact us via dtc.fpwarden@talktalk.net or call 07505 426750.

Dereham is one of over 100 locations across the UK that have Walkers are Welcome accreditation. For national information see www.walkersarewelcome.org.uk