A walker and a gentleman.
Ray in his garden
Ray Ward wrote a history of the Malvern Hills District Footpath Society,
‘The Malvern Hills District Footpath Society The First Twenty Years 1973-1993' which was published in 1993.
The book follows the history of the society over the twenty years, in chronological order.
He then wrote and published his second booklet about the MHDFS in 2003
‘The Malvern Hills District Footpath Society. Ten Years Later'.
This new booklet describes the society in the following ten years through the work of the various sections of the society.
Ray Ward celebrated his 90th birthday on 2nd November 2003. At that time he was the only founder member of the Malvern Hills District Footpath Society who was still an active walker with the Society.
Ray's wife was the instigator of the footpath society. She liked to walk local footpaths using an Ordnance Survey map for guidance but the paths were seldom marked on the ground and she had many animated discussions with farmers about where exactly the footpath should be. Ray's wife wrote to the Malvern Gazette saying that people need to know where the footpaths are on the ground. Ray joined her in her campaign, since he was fond of walking too. As a result of her letter to the Malvern Gazette, Ray's wife attracted 200 people to a walk which she led around Hanley Swan. The footpath society was born at a meeting of a dozen held in Ray's garden (he lived then in Hanley Swan) on 8 July 1973.
The first walk of the newly formed Malvern Hills District Footpath Society was led by Peter Price on 14th October 1973. Thereafter walks were held regularly fortnightly alternating Saturdays and Sundays. In the first few years the membership of the society averaged about 30. The society has thrived since those early years; today the membership is about 300 and walks are held twice a week every week of the year and on one week a year there are walks almost every day of the week – to make a holiday at home for walkers who can't get away.
From the start, the aim of the society was to walk the footpaths of the Malvern Hills area - just to be able to get off the road and walk. In those early days every walk was an adventure, there being no stiles and very few signs and stream crossings. After each walk all obstructions were reported to the County Council. In 1973 Peter Newman (one of the original members) took the County Council to court because they hadn't opened a footpath in Inkberrow that he had asked for. The case went to the Court of Appeal and Peter won by two votes to one. That was a landmark decision for the whole country because it made clear that it was the responsibility of County Councils to maintain footpaths in a walkable condition, and funds were increased for the purpose. Some councils said that children and the elderly would suffer and that there would be an increase in food poisoning but the National Union of farmers supported the walkers and said that farmers and walkers should work together. The attitude of the Countryside Commission changed after a meeting held in 1976 at the Chase School when representatives of the footpath society challenged the then current philosophy of the Countryside Commission to concentrate on long distance footpaths and made it clear that local people wanted local paths rather than long distance footpaths. Children and the elderly did not seem to suffer and there was no increase in food poisoning.
Ray walked all his life but confessed that until the Malvern Hills District Footpath Society was formed he had no idea what a public footpath was. He just used any path marked on the ground and followed where it went. Every Easter in his 1920s childhood, Ray walked with his father from Guiseley (terminus for the Leeds trams) to Ilkley. Ray's father walked in his second best suit wearing ordinary shoes and carried his sandwiches in a paper bag. Ray worked as a primary school teacher and taught in Uganda between 1938 and 1950. In Uganda he enjoyed walking around the villages and climbed Mt Elgon (14000 feet) a couple of times.
Ray is an inspiration to us all. Until 1988 he was leading 20 mile walks for the society. At 90 years of age he was still walking with the society once a month on the shorter walks and would lead walks of four miles in length. Each week he would walk the one and a half miles over the hill from his West Malvern home to the shops in Great Malvern.
But walking was not his only interest. He was a keen gardener; and his carefully tended vegetable garden would have been a credit to a man or woman of any age.
Ray learned to use a computer at the age of 80 in order to type his first book. He would communicate by email to his five children and eight grandchildren – and, of course, he typed his second booklet himself.
What was Ray's secret? His philosophy was that it is important to keep walking; once one stops it is hard to get back into it again. It is not just the exercise that keeps body and mind healthy but the interest in the countryside through which you walk. As a school teacher Ray was always on the lookout for things to teach children to widen their horizons and this gave him a keen interest in the countryside. This is something that cannot be got from machines at the fitness centre!
‘The Malvern Hills District Footpath Society Ten Years Later' by Raymond Ward can be bought for £1.30 (including postage) from Eugene Colwell, phone: 01684 575819.