Swindon Ramblers have been enjoying and helping to preserve the Wiltshire countryside for more than 60 years.

THe group has 375 members striding out on organised group walks by trained leaders all around Swindon and the North East Wiltshire area. The walks are held every Saturday and Sunday plus regular midweek and evening walks.

Grahame Lee, Group Chairman of Swindon and NE Wiltshire Ramblers, said: "In total we organised and led 158 walks last year, an average of three per week. On a Saturday we have what can be a five or six mile walk suitable for families and on Sundays we have a more difficult walk of about eight to 12 miles. Midweek was have a social evening walk that usually ends up at the pub. We would like to see more young people becoming involved.''

But rambling through glorious countryside is not the only aspect of joining the society, members are also entrusted with protecting the walking environment and network of paths.

"We keep an eye on planning permissions, unscrupulous landowners do not like people walking on their land so lock gates, put up electric fences of a bull in the field,'' said Grahame.

"We also help with the upkeep of the footpaths, repairing stiles, clearing vegetation, replacing way markers etc. Members of the public report problems to us and we go out as a team.''

During the last year volunteers across Wiltshire and Swindon worked for 2,867 hours to improve the public footpath network. Fourteen miles of paths were cleared of overgrown vegetation, 78 miles of footpath were surveyed and waymarked, making it easier for walkers to find their way, 11 bridges were repaired, 48 stiles repaired and 11 new gates installed to enable walkers to proceed safely.

Grahame said: “It is a magnificent contribution from the volunteers involved in this work and we are truly appreciative of their efforts.''

The Ramblers Association was formed in 1935 to campaign for walkers rights and to improve public access laws. In 1949 a long campaign to increase access for walkers resulted in the landmark Access to the Countryside Act. This required footpaths in England and Wales to be recorded on a definitive map and also laid the foundations for the establishment of National Parks.

The Swindon group was founded in 1950 and became affiliated to the Ramblers.

The group also plan themed walks using the old canal or Swindon railway tracks. They have heritage walks in winter which are highly popular as these include history and then the outward bound walks in summer including Barbary Castle, Shaw Forest, Peatmoor Lagoon, Avebury, Lacock and Lydiard House.

Swindon and the North East Wiltshire Ramblers area extends to the River Thames in the north, Wootton Bassett and Avebury in the west, Tidworth and Ludgershall in the south and the county boundary with Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the east.

"There really is a walk for everyone including many of our local tourist attractions, and our leaders are trained in First Aid, and they have first class knowledge of the area,'' said Grahame.

Swindon and the North East Wiltshire Ramblers have a committee that meets once a quarter.

The annual subscription to join the Swindon Ramblers is £35.85 for a single and £47.85 per couple. The money goes to the Ramblers central office for funding.

"There are three free walks before you are encouraged to join,'' said Grahame. Everyone is welcome to simply join in one of the walks or visit the website on www.wiltsswindonramblers.org.uk

Pictures courtesy of Swindon Ramblers