Bert Ward was a determined sort. The engineer, keen walker and founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers – claimed to be the first active club of its kind in 1900 – thought the countryside should be free for all to enjoy lawfully, and he knew the forces he was up against.
Once, while making one of his annual pilgrimages to a cairn on Kinder Scout where a fellow rambler had died, he was served with a writ of trespass and forbidden to enter the moor without permission. Concerned, he set up the Hallamshire Footpath Preservation Society in 1912 and was instrumental in gaining access to huge tracts of land in the Peak District.
Bert – full name George Herbert Bridges Ward – went on to become a Labour politician. He lived for many years at Owler Bar and died in 1957, entering the history books as a pioneer of walkers’ rights, with the Clarion group he established continuing until 2015.
"Nowadays we take it for granted that we can access open countryside, but we should never forget that when we are out walking on the moors that we are treading in the footsteps of giants,” says Chris Prescott, of the Sheffield Walking Forum.
“Early ramblers such as Bert Ward had to fight for many years to secure rights of access against the vested interests of owners who wanted to keep people off their land. We owe it to future generations to ensure that those heroic pioneers are not forgotten."
So, to mark the conclusion of the Sheffield Walking Festival – organised by the forum – a special free event is happening at Bradfield Village Hall next Sunday, intended to tell the story of the city’s walking heritage over the last 100 years or more.
Displays, talks and live music are planned, with contributions from the volunteers and societies that bring the festival to life every year, among them The Wildlife Trust and the Peak Park Authority.
And Bert will be honoured with an exhibition of his artefacts, on loan from Museums Sheffield. In 1910 he produced the first Clarion Ramblers Handbook which developed into a pocket-sized mine of information, local history and folklore. Copies are still sought after and used as a reference source. He also found time to help create the Youth Hostel Association locally and assisted in the purchase of the Longshaw Estate – now owned by the National Trust.
Today, walking is considered such a key selling point for Sheffield that it is being used as an economic driver for tourism through the council’s Outdoor City campaign. The festival, with its strapline ‘10 days, 35 walks, one amazing city’, has taken place for three successive years.
"Most people don't realise that a third of the city lies within the boundary of the Peak District,” says Chris. “Also Sheffield's river valleys, which were once the source of energy for early industry, now act as valuable corridors to enable anyone to access some of the most spectacular countryside in the north of England – all this within half an hour of your doorstep.”
The event, called Walking Through Time, is at the village hall from 11am to 5pm on September 30. Visit www.theoutdoorcity.co.uk/walk or call 07748 187027 for details.