Wealdway 40



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Wealdway 40th Anniversary Walks

Walkers from Ramblers and other walking groups across Kent and Sussex joined together in September 2021 to host a walking festival to mark the 40th anniversary of the Wealdway long-distance trail. The Wealdway trail stretches for 82 miles through Kent and East Sussex, from Gravesend to Eastbourne.

Ten Ramblers groups and the Meopham and District Footpaths Group (MDFG) hosted 26 free guided walks over the five weeks to 29 September. Each walk included a section of the Wealdway and distances ranged from a 1.5 mile stroll around Tonbridge Park to a 15 mile ramble from Tonbridge to Groombridge and back to Tunbridge Wells. The walks were open to everyone, not just Ramblers members.

An impressive 388 walkers took part in the Wealdway40 festival, walking a total of almost 1,800 miles along the Wealdway (and many more miles on other paths). In addition to the 26 festival walks, four intrepid members of Maidstone Ramblers, Giles Day, Les Holmans, Des Relf and Chris Spicer, took on the challenge of walking the whole 82-mile trail over six days, arriving at Eastbourne Pier on 10 September.

The highlight of the festival was the 40th anniversary ceremony on 26 September, by Tonbridge Castle where the Wealdway crosses the Medway bridge in the centre of the town. The Mayor of Tonbridge, Councillor Roger Roud, told the story of the Wealdway and its significance to Tonbridge and the surrounding area. Later, the Mayor joined one of three walks which set off from Tonbridge Castle after the ceremony. Malcolm McDonnell, member of the Ramblers’ Board of Trustees, spoke about the importance of protecting public rights of way and thanked local Ramblers members for their contributions to maintaining the extensive footpath network in Kent and East Sussex.

A special visitor at the Tonbridge ceremony was Brian Buttifant, 84, of Kemsing. Brian was one of 500 walkers from the UK and Europe at the official opening of the Wealdway at Camp Hill in Ashdown Forest on 27 September 1981. On that day, Brian and fellow members of the Long Distance Walkers Association had set off early to walk the 35 miles along the Wealdway from Eastbourne to Camp Hill, arriving just in time for the opening ceremony. Also present at both the 1981 opening and the 2021 anniversary was Mary Blinks of Tunbridge Wells Rambling Club.

Neil Whittall, Chairman of Tonbridge & Malling Ramblers, is confident that the Wealdway40 festival has encouraged new and returning walkers to enjoy a ramble in the wonderful Kent and Sussex countryside. “We were delighted with the enthusiastic response from the volunteers who planned and led the 26 walks”, said Neil. “For Ramblers and MDFG members, it was an opportunity to discover footpaths beyond their usual walking routes – and to make new friends.  For non-members, it was an opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of walking with a group, and we look forward to welcoming new members during the autumn as a result of our ‘flying the flag’ for the Wealdway.”

 Ramblers gather for Wealdway40 ceremony by Tonbridge Castle © Scott Wishart

 Neil Whittall introduces the Mayor of Tonbridge, Councillor Roger Roud © Scott Wishart

 Ramblers trustee Malcolm McDonnell speaks at Wealdway40 ceremony © Scott Wishart

 Malcolm McDonnell and Ramblers © Scott Wishart

 Neil Whittall acknowledges Geoff King at Wealdway40 ceremony © Scott Wishart

Applause for Brian Buttifant © Scott Wishart

For a photographic record of the celebration walks see our Gallery

Banner photo shows members of North West Kent Ramblers on the Wealdway near Luddesdown © Jack Yan