THE LAUNCH June 23rd 2005

The Chesterfield Round Walk was officially launched on June 23rd 2005 with the publication of a leaflet describing the 34-mile route.

The route was pioneered by members of Chesterfield & NE Derbyshire Ramblers Group, co-ordinated by Footpath Secretary, Dennis Ransby.

With the aid of grants, the workforce of community environment agency, Touchground, and help from volunteers, a number of new stiles, gates, footbridges, marker posts and information boards have been put in place. Several overgrown footpaths have been cleared; others improved, particularly a steep and slippery stream crossing in Hardwick Wood, where steps and a footbridge have been erected.
A hundred walkers turned out on one of the hottest afternoons of the year for the launch, which was celebrated with a 4.5 mile walk from the Woodthorpe Inn at Old Tupton to the Red Lion at Stone Edge. In such blistering heat, it seemed twice that far to most! The vast majority of participants were shuttled from the Red Lion to the starting point by bus, courtesy of TM Travel. Two journeys were necessary.

The leading group - led by Geoff and marshalled by Dennis, who for some inexplicable reason was in fancy dress, posing as a hunchbacked Day-Glo banana - included several vision-impaired walkers, accompanied by their guide dogs. A number of volunteers helped out with describing the various obstacles encountered, along the lines of… “We’ve reached a stile. It’s made of wood and there’s a bit sticking out…” By which time dog and handler were safely on the other side, ready to continue. It’s not my place to say so, but there were quite a few supposedly able bodied people more in need of a crane, judging by the lengthy hold-ups at some stiles. A conveniently sited ice cream van would have made a killing at some of the bottlenecks!

The second group – led by Sheila and marshalled by Beryl – included Rangers from Derbyshire Countryside Services, neatly kitted out in matching green shirts and armed with all the latest communication technology, which didn’t stop them from getting lost! Several actors from the Pomegranate Theatre, who kindly donated the raffle prizes, also participated. I was hoping to win the leading lady, but no such luck! When we reached the start, some idiot had taped up the stile. This appeared to make Beryl very angry, as she started shouting at the top of her voice and wielding an enormous pair of scissors.

It wasn’t a gypsy camp as we suspected, but Gavin and his superfit challenge walkers, enjoying a post-prandial nap. For some reason they got a spontaneous round of applause, which was more than I got, and all they were doing was lying down! They waved half-heartedly, turned over and went back to sleep.

This wasn’t the case, though. It was really a cunning ploy to get me to cut the ribbon and officially open the walk. There’d better be a photo of me doing it on this page or there’ll be trouble. I was subsequently trodden underfoot by the stampede half way through my speech.We hadn’t walked more than a hundred yards into the wood when we came across four men asleep in a clearing, surrounded by empty beer bottles and the remains of a substantial lunch.
We nearly caught the main party up at the top of Hardwick Wood, but they legged it when they saw us coming. We would have caught up sooner, but had to spend several minutes feigning outrage and surprise at the theft of the new footbridge spanning the stream lower down,
which we’d led everyone to believe would be in place. ‘It was definitely here this morning, Sheila said, searching hopefully behind bushes, as though someone might have moved it as a practical joke.
At least, most of the new steps were in place.
Well behind time, and half a mile from the finish, everyone except for the alcoholics gathered round the black-draped plinth for the unveiling of the first information board, erected only hours earlier by Touchground, in a field carefully chosen by Dennis for the number of fresh cow pats it contained. Which explains why everyone in the photograph is examining their feet! By the time the stragglers caught up, the challenge walkers had finished their book of crossword puzzles, enjoyed an afternoon nap and moved on.

The unveiling ceremony was performed by Angela Anmer who was instrumental in launching the first Round Walk 25 years ago. With the prospect of the end (and the pub) in sight, the happy band skipped the final half-mile to the finish.     

With thirsts quenched, sandwiches eaten and raffle drawn, Dennis mounted the podium, no longer in disguise, and made a most amusing speech of thanks.

The challenge walkers were seen off on the next leg of their journey with another prolonged round of applause. What for, I have no idea. They’d eaten half the buffet before we got there! Everyone perused the informative display panels and a considerable number of leaflets were sold before the gathering dispersed. The challenge walkers slept under a hedge after being thrown out of a pub in Barlow at closing time, and are due to finish in mid-September.

Robert Haslam

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