Walking, hiking, rambling, going for a potter. We have many terms for the instinctive process of putting one foot in front of the other. And yet, as a people, we take it in our stride to set a course and march with steely mindedness to distant self-imposed targets. Determined to reach the top of hills or favoured bridges – taking routes that incorporate scenic relief and maybe even a pub reward. Usually it is on Christmas Day, New Years, Easter, or any brisk Sunday afternoon after a hearty roast lunch that you will see families and friends going for a stroll. We all do it. But with it being National Walking Month, let me show you just how important the opportunity to walk is to Romsonians.
It doesn’t take much digging to find local groups that champion the health benefits and happiness to be had from a planned walk.
Starting locally, there is Walk N Talk – based in Abbotswood. These meetings (on Tuesdays, midday – Sports Pavilion) are supervised by volunteers trained in mental health first aid. By encouraging people to take a break from their busy lives and spend a moment of self-reflection outdoors, the organisation hopes the scheme will ‘challenge stigma and promote positive attitudes to mental health’.
Test Valley Health Walks is a similar wellbeing scheme. Led by volunteer walk leaders, groups are taken for 60 minutes on 2-3 mile walks on varied routes. Their aim is threefold: meet new people and keep fit while taking in the Test Valley and all its splendour. Check their website for more information.
If however you are a seasoned hiker in need of something adventurous then you may want to consider Romsey Ramble Group. They are a collective, going by their Facebook page, who take joy in exercising the Ramblers right to walk as freely as they breathe. They are perhaps one of the most active social groups to be found – organising inclusive walks by age and ability. For them rambling (“walking in the countryside for sheer pleasure”) is an all year round affair, racking up miles as they cross impressive landscapes in Hampshire. No matter the weather they take on recces with their sturdy walking boots and reliable rucksacks. Raising awareness of the environment and public rights of way as they go. Additionally they also run Romsey Walking Festival in June.
Romsey is well situated as a base to set out and tour the county on foot. On a map you can see why. We are encircled with rural scenery ideal for wandering. With the New Forest to our South, South Downs to our east, and civil parishes that dot to our north between Salisbury, Andover, and Winchetser. As the 9th largest county, we are afforded plenty of diverse terrain that can instil vigour in anyone to get up and traverse it. Woodlands, plains, coastline. The sights can be less predictable than the weather, but no less idyllic and calming. Plus there is the picturesque 44-mile Test Way Walk (ideal for those obsessed with their step count – we all know someone). Should you wish to explore yourself, bare in mind Hampshire Countryside Service has a list of mapped trails available online.
Of course the idea that walking can be a recreational, leisurely, activity can be traced to the Romanticists – an 18th century artistic movement that birthed unbridled passion for nature. Writers, poets and painters such as Wordsworth, William Blake, and Samuel Palmer, devoted works that immortalised the British landscape with a mix of adoration and grievance. It was their attempt at imbuing nostalgia for simpler times after the industrial revolution had mechanised once unspoilt lands with smoke stacks and factories. If anyone could see through the gloom and glorify green pastures and muddy tracks it was them. In a sense rambling is a continuation of this. Treating what lays on our doorstep as a gift to be explored and protected as more and more greenbelts give way to brick and mortar. Something we only know too well about.
Still, while there remains unenclosed land to walk on, and a spirited community to appreciate it, Romsey will always ramble. The late cricket commentator John Arlott described Hampshire best in his monologue on Radio 4 in 1968 as “layered like a cabbage” and you can see what he means. The borough is in a privileged position to have a unique blend of vistas trail seekers could only dream of. Remember, all it takes is one foot in front of the other.