More than 70 people who would otherwise miss out on the countryside have just celebrated 20 years of the Peak Park Leisure Walks.
Ten times a year, people who have experienced ill health, or are socially isolated or lack confidence for independent walking are able to explore the Peak District with national park rangers and volunteers.
The oldest walker is 98-year-old Charles Harvey, a retired county court officer from Wirksworth, who comes along with his daughter. He said: “I started coming when I was 95. I used to go walking with my wife, and I’ve always liked to go out for healthy exercise. I enjoy the company, and as I no longer drive it’s a wonderful way of discovering new places.”
Diane Whelbourn, of Darley Dale, who has been a leisure walker for five years, said: “When you’re on your own it’s lovely to come out and mix with people. It gives you the motivation to exercise and get to places you wouldn’t go on your own. The leisure walks do me a lot of good - when you’re in the fresh air any problems you’ve had seem to fade into the background.”
Peak Park Leisure Walks were originally set up as a partnership between the High Peak and Dales Primary Care Trust and the National Park Ranger Service, with volunteers from Bakewell & Eyam Community Transport providing a pick-up service.
The walkers need a high level of support, and some of the volunteer rangers have been helping them right from the start.
From 2008, leisure walks co-ordinator Christina Porter secured funding for a “Next Steps” programme for the more able walkers to progress to general ranger guided walks, still supported by community transport.
And this year “Peak Park Pedals”.cycle-rides were launched to expand the opportunities for healthy exercise. Some of the cyclists had not been on a bike for 40 years but they soon took to it again, completing six rides, including two on the Monsal Trail through the newly re-opened former railway tunnels.
National Park Authority chair Tony Favell greeted the walkers for their last walk of the year and thanked the volunteers and organisers. “I wish you all a very happy 20th anniversary celebration,” he said, “and I hope you continue to enjoy these excellent walks for another 20 years.”
Then he walked some of the way with them from Bakewell along the Monsal Trail through the longest tunnel, Headstone Tunnel, to Monsal Halt. They stopped for a picnic lunch and later, tea and a celebratory cake at Great Longstone.
The cake was cut by Audrey Foster, the leisure walker who has been coming out the longest (15 years), and volunteer ranger Baz Booler, who helped right from the start. One of the scheme’s originators, Julie Hirst of the primary care trust, was able to join them there.