Hats off to the Queen – however, we are celebrating a Silver Jubilee on Friday 4th March

Back in March 1997 we launched Get Wiltshire Walking in Salisbury, with a slogan March Forth on the Fourth of March. It was a dreadfully wet day and what we had hoped would be a terrific launch with a group walk in the morning, was a rather damp squib!

The plan was to have a drummer from the Army to drum the beat, and quicken the pace, and invite  the public to join a group, to walk more briskly, and for the sounds of the drumming to attract passers-by as well as creating great media for the local radio & TV.

At the last moment the Army drummer had to withdraw, as he had been assigned other duties, and with the rain pelting down, not even BBC Radio Wiltshire were prepared to step out of the taxi in which they arrived.

Our hardy band of walkers swiftly disbanded and the few of us that remained, trudged off

Launch of Get Wiltshire Walking – Dr William Bird second from left, Dawn Vernon far right

towards the town hall and Salisbury Cathedral for the photographs.  The day was rescued by an inspiring and passionate talk by Dr William Bird, who had created health walks around his Sonning Common practice only the year before.

Rain-soaked Tuesday,  the 4th of March 1997 may have almost started off on the wrong foot however, since that day, Pam Rouquette, a community physiotherapist at the time, took the lead in delivering healthy walks and since, has been the driving force behind encouraging hundreds of Salisbury residents every year to join in healthy walks.

Under the local authority TravelWise banner, we not only established a walking forum in Salisbury but in five other market towns in Wiltshire.  These benefitted tremendously by adopting the Doorstep Walks, an initiative developed by NHS Salisbury’s public health manager, Dawn Vernon, who herself had been inspired by Dr William Bird’s healthy walks in Sonning Common. 

Get Wiltshire Walking was striding out in Salisbury, right from that day early in March, twenty five years ago.

We caught up with Pam Rouquette and recorded an unusual Talking Walking interview along a route that connected many of the local spaces in which Pam has had a hand in conserving.  And this Friday, the 4th of March will be marking that Silver Jubilee with a lunch at the Salisbury Museum café, at which to meet up with Dawn Vernon, Nick Cowen the Rights of Way officer (now retired) and former Tourism officer, Howard Piner, each of whom were instrumental in launching Get Wiltshire Walking and the Doorstep Walks.

Digging around in the Museum of Walking archive, we’ve unearthed one of the original documents encouraging Wiltshire residents to apply for funding their own walking forums as part of Get Wiltshire Walking.  Not only is it an application form, but a toolkit of various affordable initiatives to encourage more walking in local neighbourhoods, including access for the less able, Doorstep health walks and finding safer ways for children to walk to and from school.  These were added to through Pam’s quiet determination and creativity, to include walking maps (that highlighted walking routes over roads – that became an exemplar promoted by the then central government Department for Transport and the Regions), Footsteps in the Park to help those through rehabilitation, IntoCity walks (routes) to encourage commuters and shoppers out of their cars, and Bus walks that offered linear walk into the surrounding countryside.

25 years on, have we seen a significant rise in the number of people walking?

Certainly in Salisbury, and with the growing expertise and huge volunteer effort, led by first, the British Heart Foundation, Natural England, MacMillan Cancer charity and latterly by the Ramblers with their newly re-branded Wellbeing Walks, group healthy walks have sprouted everywhere.  Well done Dr William Bird, Dawn Vernon and Pam Rouquette.  The pandemic has made us all realise how important walking can be, not only for getting around our local neighbourhoods but also as a stimulus for changing our mood.

We invite you to March Forth not just on the Fourth of March, whether independently or in groups, let’s Get the World Walking.

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