Walking to Health in the Tamar Valley, by Juliette Bowers

IMPROVE your fitness, make friends and discover breath-taking countryside with ‘Walk and Talk’ groups in the Tamar Valley and Saltash.

Free to join, the Saltash group meets weekly on Monday mornings, and the Tamar Valley one (focused around Calstock and Gunnislake) on Wednesday mornings. Attracting 20 to 30 people most weeks, they are led by trained leaders to make sure that everyone walks at a comfortable pace.

Tying up with local transport links where possible, the groups usually rendezvous at 10.30am and follow manageable circular routes of three to four miles in an hour and-a-half. Additionally, each month there is a ‘Walk and Talk Plus’, which is slightly longer and includes ‘guest walkers’ invited along to share their specialist knowledge of the area.

Walkers on the Calstock river loop during a Walk and Talk Extra in December 2012, led by the Tamar Valley AONB’s Historic Environment Project Officer, Sam Barnes (Tamar Valley AONB)

The walks have a six-month rolling programme and are an excellent way of exploring new horizons, taking in some of the most beautiful and historically-interesting locations with sensational views.

Saltash’s itinerary includes the recently opened Wacker Quay to Antony footpath along the River Lynher, Port Eliot estate, Seaton Valley Country Park, Forder to Churchtown Farm nature reserve, Coombe Park and Wearde, St Germans and Latchbrook and Tremanton.

Tamar Valley walkers can enjoy a recently opened circular around the Tamar Trails at Gulsworthy, tracking the restored remains of Devon Great Consols, Europe’s biggest copper mine a century ago. Among other routes is the Roman Fort site, near Calstock church, Calstock limekilns, Cotehele Quay and mill, Danescombe Valley to the River Tamar and viewpoints Kit Hill and Chimney Rock.

This season’s Walk and Talk Plus (Saltash) includes ‘Rivers, Railways and Castles’, which follows creeks to Antony Passage, passing Trematon Castle on its return. The Tamar Valley group’s one features  a ‘Tamar Trail Festival History Special’ along part of the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail to Okel Tor mine and Calstock Roman Fort.

On the Tamar Trails at Devon Great Consols, the Tamar Valley Walk and Talk group (J. Bowers)

Walk and Talk is based on Walking for Health (WfH), England’s largest network of health walk schemes, which help people lead a more active lifestyle. It is the brainchild of Dr William Bird, Strategic Health Adviser to Natural England, who in the late 1990s recognised that many of his patients’ problems were linked with lack of exercise and set up walks for them from his Oxfordshire practice. The improvement in their health, well-being and confidence soon became apparent!

As groups increased, Natural England and The British Heart Foundation helped promote them nationally. Today, WfH  is under the wing of the Ramblers and MacMillan Cancer Support, with some 600 schemes across the country.

Key to their success is the walk leaders, who are voluntary and trained to WfH’s guidelines.

These follow a number of health and safety procedures, from taking a register and risk assessing routes, to being aware of walkers’ health issues, carrying a First Aid kit and being prepared for emergencies

Dave Readman, who set up the walks within the Tamar Valley AONB, trained the leaders with the support of WfH’s Devon and Cornwall Officer.

He said walking groups not only improved fitness and well-being, but were hugely beneficial socially. “It’s what I call health by stealth. It is not for everybody, but for most people it is a chance to be with others who are like-minded. You’re doing something collectively, for a common purpose. Everybody finishes a walk with a smile!”

On the Tamar Trails at Devon Great Consols, left to right, Steve Yarland (volunteer walk leader), Corinna Woodall (Tamar Valley AONB Manager), Barry Gamble (Assistant Project Manager Tamar Valley Mining Heritage Project) and Dave Readman (former Tamar Valley AONB Walks Co-ordinator) (J. Bowers)

Dave Olver, 61, has been a walk leader with Tamar Valley Walk and Talk since it began four years ago and has seen people’s health visibly improve with regular walking.

He said: “It makes a terrific difference to your health and I think the group has become as much a social thing as walking.”

While Dave usually brings up the rear carrying a First Aid kit and making sure nobody is left behind, up front are husband and wife team, Steve and Maggie Yarland from Calstock. Their golden Labrador, Barney, affectionately regarded as the group’s mascot, is described by Steve as “the real leader, pushing the boundaries”. The friendly couple go beyond the call of duty, hosting for their followers a summer barbecue and mulled wine and mince pies at Christmas.

Showing the way, walk leaders Dave Olver (left), Steve and Maggie Yarland with Barney (J. Bowers)

Maggie said: “I think the walks are popular because they are well organised and give people an excuse to get out of the house.”

Jeannette Hibbert, 70, discovered the Walk and Talk groups after moving from Lands End to St Cleer and found them ideal for getting to know people. She has also done leadership training and brings up the rear at Saltash.

She said: “Saltash has hillier walks, offering different challenges to Gunnislake and Calstock, but the rewards, combining the exercise with wonderful views, are great.”

AONB note: Walking for Health participant Juliette has written this article on the scheme within the Tamar Valley and Saltash exclusively for the Tamar Valley AONB. 

 

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