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. 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.
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.
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.
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.