Early History of East Cheshire Ramblers
The inaugural meeting of what was to become East Cheshire Ramblers was held at Roe Street Sunday School in Macclesfield on the 4th October 1973. It was organised by Lesley Meadowcroft from Manchester Ramblers Association and about fifty people attended the first meeting.
The meeting covered Rights of Way and the need for a definitive map for Cheshire. Some of those present at the meeting expressed some concern about potential confusion with Macclesfield Rambling Club and not everyone was keen on the idea of public rights of way! Concerns were raised about walkers leaving gates open, climbing walls, letting dogs loose and “How would you like people walking through your garden?” One person was particularly vocal about walkers trespassing on Big Low, Rainow.
Despite the views aired, twenty people were keen to start Macclesfield Ramblers Association and a committee of ten was established. It was made up of Chair Tom Chalmers, Secretary David Hughes, Footpath Secretary Pat Bowyer, Treasurer Alan Pedlar, Publicity Pauline Pedlar and committee members Sid Forse, Henry Trufit, Mike Corfield and Margaret Oldfield. Later Marjorie Cooper became Chair and Anne Court became the Secretary.
One of the first tasks was to create a copy of the Definitive Map of Cheshire showing the Public Rights of Way in the Macclesfield area. The only maps, available at six inches to the mile, were held in the Cheshire County Council Offices in Chester and the Macclesfield library. The committee spent hours creating maps with a scale of 2.5 inches to the mile with each footpath drawn in by hand. These maps still exist today. Routes were colour coded: Purple (Footpaths) Green (Bridleways), Yellow (Parish Boundary). They created a “real treasure trove of footpaths”. In addition a great deal of time and effort was spent to ensure that every right of way was inspected annually. In order to achieve this, footpaths were divided into Parishes and each member agreed to inspect the footpaths in two Parishes. As we do today, the data was collated centrally. In the early days it was sent through annual reports to Pat Bowyer, the Footpath Secretary. Complaints about ‘obstructions’ were passed to Cheshire County Council who, it has to be said, at that time, ‘moved very slowly in the plains’! The Committee achieved more progress in Peak Park area where the support of the Countryside Rangers was invaluable. Pat Bowyer also had great support from Donald Lee of Peak and Northern Footpaths Society.
The Committee faced a constant battle to prevent developers building over footpaths, particularly on new housing estates. In addition, major issues arose over the proposed route of the Silk Road through Dumbah Hollow. Over the years careful negotiation was required when farms were converted into private residences. No one wanted a public right of way through their new back garden. Paths were moved away illegally from farms and often via unsuitable diversions.
The group gained publicity and increased members through Pauline’s articles in the Macclesfield Express, where they allowed her a ‘few inches’ each week. A particularly difficult confrontation with a farmer on a footpath in Wincle required the intervention of the local police. Fortunately, the constable was familiar with the Definitive Map and the walkers were allowed to proceed. This resulted in some welcome but unexpected publicity! The Macclesfield Express ran with the headline: “POLICE CALLED IN OVER FOOTPATH DISPUTE”. Numbers in Macclesfield Ramblers doubled as a result! The path in question now has a stile, gate and footpath.
The group also offered support to Chris Bamsey, one of the Country Side Rangers. Together they put in stiles, improved muddy paths and helped install the bridge over Shell Brook. Another major legacy is the work the group did to secure the Gritstone Trail. Initially the route was to be called the Cheshire Ridgeway as Derbyshire Ramblers were setting up the Gritstone Way. It was eventually agreed to call the route the Gritstone Trail to match and complement the Sandstone Trail in the West of Cheshire. It’s proved to be a great success and has certainly increased footfall over the years. Forty miles of the trail were walked in the 40th Anniversary year and this year fifty miles were walked to celebrate our Golden Anniversary year.
With grateful thanks to Alan Pedlar